Posted by at 11:30 am  Echo Effects, Old Men Travelling, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Dec 232011
wordstall graffiti

Grinding through the slow moving traffic, the blackened pillars, the open wrought iron gates come into view on the right. There is a spasm of nervousness as I indicate and pull over to the centre of the road and wait for a break in the oncoming line of cars. The metalled drive curves up the hill, through the park like acres of grass and trees – oaks and beeches. No sign of the inmates or the Victorian pile of the asylum. Damp December morning, a week before Christmas. Reluctant to get there too soon, I ease slowly over the speed humps and watch the stark trees for signs of life. For something! I imagine corpses swaying and slowly spinning in the breeze, hanging from the massive branches and leave them, pass them by, not knowing who they might be, whose side were they on, speed up, jolting over the humps, putting that image behind me. Are the inmates better cared for than my imagination does for them?

Oh, look over there, the first signs of human life, little figures skip skipping through the long grass. Little Englanders, mostly men, cared for on this reservation, free to roam and dream of distant empires. Well, they look happy enough. Well fed – even a bit on the pudgy side like little round steamed puddings; full of roast beef and, Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes followed by spotted dick and lumpy custard. Don’t look now, they’ve noticed me, in unison their heads turn towards me. Can they see my pro-European disposition, my tendency to see England as a small peninsular off the north western coast of Europe that got cut off by the incoming tide leaving the marooned islanders to believe that they had done it themselves.

Ukania with its dreams of fratricide, its dreams of slaves beaten into submission, cutting the sugar can on distant tropical islands. How quickly the years pass. How unreliable the memory.

Ukania – are you suggesting we look in the mirror and see Serbia? I remember both the dark streets of arrival in Belgrade and the bright sunshine the following morning as we strolled the castle grounds.

How the little Englanders cheered for their pinkly glowing champion. Though at the end of another week a different narrative seems to be gathering ground –  turning a blind eye to the petit gesture of the veto and getting on with what needs doing. But then again it’s Christmas.

Reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando one of the many things I have been struck by is how she describes the changing character of people over the three centuries of Orlando’s life. The shift towards allowing an uncertainty of identity. Of course she wrote in the midst of both her privileged background and the ‘wild’ community of the Bloomsbury group. A threat to certainty – it must have been deeply disturbing for many readers. The older idea of fixed identities – take Dicken’s characters, for example – was passing. We became more interested in the complexity of our inner lives, the complexity and conflicted nature of our desires.

In twenty years (God willing) we’ll be able to look back and see the where, when and who of the coming paradigm shift – what out of all the stuff we’re reading – will form the texture of the future?


Fraternité, Brüderlichkeit

 Posted by at 5:57 pm  Hitting the Potholes, ON the STREET  Comments Off
Dec 212011

Or walking on the shadow side, let’s call it - ”On the inability of the english to fraternise”.

What is it about us, as if a gap of 20km makes us in some way unable to be friendly with the people over there? An island race? I am enjoying reading Norman Davies’s extended demolition job of that notion; Vanished Kingdoms… (2011),The Isles… (1999), and ‘Not Forever England’ in Europe, East and West (2006).

Call me obstinate if you like (judged by the opinion polls, I am clearly in the minority), but I like this thing of being european. It is a big topic! So here is one way of making a comparison ‘feuilleton style’.

‘Feuilleton style’? I have recently come accross a splendid website which provides a summary of the best current Unter der Stück pieces of writing out of Mitteleuropa, and they are ALL IN ENGLISH! –

And there among the pages and pages of good stuff, was that article describing the habit of “self-imposed national isolation”. Ah yes! An article about David Cameron’s Veto (2011)? No, actually the article was talking about the behaviour of Serbia over the last few years.

Bizarre of course comparing Serbia with England, or the nostalgia for a ’Greater Serbia’ with that Daily Mail way of longing for a ‘United Kingdom’. Norman Davies has an even better way of describing the state of (self-imposed national isolation) sentimentalist mind – “Ukania”.

Ukania: the mouse that roared – like the Grand Duchy of Fenwick. Or Ruritania: Somewhere that never was, and soon enough will no longer be.

Cut Off! Or down there at the coal face?

 Posted by at 7:59 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 182011

A flaneurish sort of project and I guess shadow is a good, appropriate word to describe this flaneur’s progress: ogling the poor, the shoppers who can’t be far from dropping and the leaden rust of Anselm Kiefer together with supplemental readers of paperback books (what are the titles, who are the authors, I want to know). It’s all air-conditioned alienation in free fall towards Christmas and beyond. The tantalising glimpses of what may or may not be the mysterious Higgs Boson down in the depths of the LHC at CERN and to top it all a planet glimpsed only a few light years away with seemingly similar qualities to this planet which we are pleased, at times, to call home.

    Cameron is so deeply in the pockets of his rich friends who gamble their way through the days with guarantees provided free-of-charge by the government courtesy of this strange conglomeration known as tax-payers. And then we seem to be abandoning the old high streets which in turn are being taken over by betting shops, pawn shops, pound shops and charity shops. Maybe the country is now financed by the Lottery. Meanwhile, if I had any or ever get any, I plan to keep my gold coins in ancient leather bags, smelling of wine and goats, under the floorboards under the bed in a secret place I don’t yet know. Gambling never did exert any pull for me.

    But physics might if I could get a bit more of a handle on it. Physics is bursting with linguistic energy – quarks, worm holes, dark matter, the above mentioned Higgs Boson which sounds like a joke but is also known as the God particle – language that has become poetic to keep language in the game at all because as I understand it the work is done with what looks to me like pages of incomprehensible mathematical formulae or experiments buried deep at the coal face of the LHC. The excitement palpable as they push on ‘deeper and deeper into both inner and outer space.

    Meanwhile the EU – possible minus ‘national interest’ Cameron – has to sort out a political model that has the clout to oversee the workings of the single currency. And surely this was bound to have to be engaged with sooner or later. No easy matter though – ferociously complex negotiations compared with that, the work at the LHC (in my ignorance) I imagine as a relatively simple matter. A bunch of big beasts with many different interests to fight for with their battle hardened advisers, fighting for strategic advantages and alliances with devious ploys. I can’t say the work appeals to me, yet at the same time I relish the unfolding story as it will continue to appear in daily instalments. And I like the fact that the market goes on its usual hysterical fashion because politics is a quite different activity with its own traditions and rhythms. Are we witnessing a further shift in the balance of powers between the great estates – the political, industrial, financial and the media? And not to forget the rest of us, the so-called public willing on our champions and booing who ever we consider the enemy. It is been an interesting year and next year surely looks to see that interest increase. Interesting times we are living in.


The Big Cut

 Posted by at 10:05 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 142011

Let’s begin with the first issue. In the beginning, when wood engraver Ebenezer Landells and writer Henry Mayhew began working together, in a kind of obstinacy each issue contained a humorous idea in what was called ‘The Big Cut’. It was July 17th 1841, the first copies being based on the satirical word taken from France, Charivari, and for two years the humorous ideas continued under the name of The Big Cut, illustrations in the form of a woodcut image and accompanying text.

Then in 1843 a series of drawings was begun by John Leech, the first being called Cartoon No 1: Substance and Shadow. The full page drawing showed a crowd of ragged paupers stood in a gallery, some of them looking up at the richly framed elegant portraits on the walls. On the opposite page, divided by a thick margin, there was the text; the government had “determined that as they cannot afford to give hungry nakedness the substance which it covets, at least it shall have the shadow. The poor ask for bread, and the philanthropy of the State accords – an exhibition”.

And so on. It seemed to Charivari owners that the right thing to do thereafter was to replace ‘The Big Cut’ with a cartoon. It may have seemed at first that this turnaround invention would never outgrow its usefulness, the cartoon flourished, but over time the absence of ‘The Big Cut’ took its toll, there was a process in which everything sweetened and softened itself, and eventually dissolved into thin air. The last issue was published in 2002.

Creating ‘The Big Cut’ was like walking along Oxford Street in December in the opposite direction to the crowd (in search of less fashionable memory sites).

Yesterday I also visited the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey, south London to see the exhibition of new work by Anselm Kiefer. The twenty or so works, more or less all also created in a kind of obstinacy, were spread through three large rooms on the south side of the White Cube concourse. Grey, grey lead sheet leaves, and the colours of rust. “Many of the large-scale works have undergone an accelerated process of oxidisation” the exhibition notes explained, and I almost forgot to describe the eagle wings of lead spread wide, and rising above the solid sheets of tomes or tombs, reminding me of George Basolitz’s upside bird. ‘Sprache der Vögel – Folcanelli’ was scrawled on the white wall along with alchemist references to lead and sulphur elsewhere. Weight. And there was counterweight and balance, and perhaps there was also weightlessness. And there were dried sun-flowers with long stems, also painted grey with streaks of black. And, who knows, somewhere there may have been gold hidden, it was not at all clear; ‘Antonin Art….id Heliobabel’.

The gallery walls were very white and there was a small of fresh paint everywhere. In the first room a tall boy/girl dressed all in black leant against one of the walls reading a paperback. I hesitated to call him/her employed. In the next room, there were three more boy/girls in black also leaning against the walls reading books. I noted that it was cool and silent everywhere apart from the rushing sound of an air-conditioning fan. Taking flight, like The Big Cut, it could have been a demonstration of transience I supposed, in another story, such as in Kiefer’s largest works in the third studio room, which, with their cracked surfaces similar to dried up river beds, appeared to be cut the monumental geometries of the Tempelhof Airport, lines of perpendiculars, perspectives toward vanishing points, and curvatures of buildings; built in 1929, transformed in the 1930’s by the architect Albert Speer, and closed at the end of 2008.

A humorous illustration, I remembered my own passage through that airport's halls in November of that year on the way to Alexanderplatz, and cut deeper, since neither kinds of work benefit, or could ever benefit, from being described figuratively or in any other way as cartoons.

Where do we start?

 Posted by at 12:27 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 092011

Where else should we start but with the failure? If we take that old story of God and Adam and Eve and a certain serpent in their Garden of Eden, this paradise of plenty, we have a man and a woman created fully adult yet fully child-like, held in innocence until the breaking of the injunction to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. How were we to get out of our child-like dependence? It had to be by breaking the rules. There is a sense in which every part of the story is necessary to give some insight into our predicament as thinking animals; held in animal nature with minds that soar to the heavens. Of course we might see it as tragicomedy or we might see it as a policier – it was all a set up, the cops planted the evidence via an agent provocateur and then arrested us with smirks on their faces.

    Whatever it was it was surely necessary for our innocence to be rudely disillusioned though whether that means we should leap directly into the murk and confusion of guilt must be rather doubtful. But let’s leave the question of guilt to one side for the moment, let us see it as a struggle through to awareness. And awareness it has to be said is an opening to something bigger. The room that we were in suddenly gets bigger. The Garden of Eden became an exercise in limitation: let’s check this out. Is this really the case? So we have exploration, development of hypotheses, dialogue, feedback and I could add the overused cliché of journeying.

    So, it’s thanks God (Mum, Dad) for all you’ve given us but hey, this garden is beginning to get a bit on the small side. You know it as well as we do, after all you’re throwing us out, but actually we got there first . . . well Eve here got chatting to some serpent and well you know how these things happen I guess, one thing leads to another. Anyway, we’re off and thanks again. No hard feelings eh! Yeah, we are a bit scared but I think we‘re going to be okay . . . there is one thing though, one last thing, could you give us your blessing. We’d like that if you could see your way to bless us, we would really appreciate that.

    The garden we’re in currently is that of the Market and the great patriarchs of the Market have told us that we must never interfere with its pure workings. So we have to work (if there are any jobs) harder and longer with less complaint, be flexible, go here, go there for less money and at the same time consume, consume, consume.

    Is it time to leave this Garden of Market? I suppose that depends on who you are. For those cocaine fuelled traders and bankers, millionaires, billionaires presumably not. It remains snouts in the trough time. For the rest of us?

    You mean you’re getting itchy feet, too?

    Perhaps thinking moving into another sort of space where less is more . . . meanwhile there’s ever more exploring to do, learning to keep up with and the never ending spiral of dialogue.


No Sure Signs of Progress Here

 Posted by at 8:08 pm  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 052011

We are also writing history:
                    Again we work between space and space – /  And both are dark.

Writing history in what appear sometimes to be altogether dark times, even downright evil. Is God truly about to make another sudden landing here on earth in 4 weeks time, or will he put it off this year because we have been too naughty? Or rather, not writing history, but transcribing it, setting it down
                         – With no mistakes.

Please, suppress your groans, this is not a boastful claim. It is not that errors don’t take place… Oh, they do, they do, and all the time! Take it as read, the truth-telling is dishonest. It is only that the effort is towards accuracy.

Accuracy, rather than originality (…or even point of view). And despite the surrounding dark there is enough light here to be going on with. Could we be doing with more? It is not an option at the present time, we must work within the limits of our technology. Just about enough to see across the page.

It is true of course our eyes do peer and wander towards the circular rim, eccentric, where light meets shadow, and memories and imagination creep in so that he who is telling us all this, appears to admonish.

As at this moment now soon.

Such as when the historian, poor dead Tony Judt receives a terrible bashing from the most recent New Left Review for his “grand narrative for today’s Eurocracy”. Oh dear! I used to rate Postwar, I thought the other day in central London walking along Piccadily, but like everything, now I see, only another dazzling failure.

Passing an open courtyard on the north side of the street an amazingly tall red painted angular metal tower. I walked into the courtyard and spent several minutes mingling with the small crowd walking round the circular base of the pryamidical cone. It is Tatlin’s Tower, I told myself excitedly, named after the Russian who designed it in 1921, and this was an exact scaled down version of the original, which (I am reminded, we have visited here before) in fact was never built.

Go to look at it if you can while it is there, it is free!  Looking up, what you see is a breath-taking spiral, a cut-away cantilever cone like a crazy helter-skelter with vertical planes of slender steel. And what you feel is a sense of being in common, of a human intelligence, and a location where people can meet and disseminate ideas under the cover and protection of what could be described a sort of shade or shadow. It reminded me of something old and historical, about a joined-up vision, or, if you prefer that simpler old-fashioned word, about solidarity.

Telling it better than putting it in books, and the wall installations, if you can slip by the brocaded doorman of Royal Academy unnoticed and continue past the toilets under the stairs, include the structural engineer’s further admonishment having calculated the margins for error (with no mistakes), “the long and slender members shown on Tatlin’s original drawing would have been even harder to realize in a full size tower”, predicting its certain collapse before completion.

'Bede's Copyist' by Chris McCully

I have no proper name, yet his is tall
On Europe's stones and in the candleflukes
Whose culture briefly held a sparrow's brawl
In a crowned head. We set it down in books,
A lettered Latin – that bird, this birth, that stall -
    With no mistakes.

Outside, the snow almost obscures the park,
Our wooden Christ's obliterated face.
Inside, with all the negligence of grace
His habit falls across my page's mark.
Again we work between space and space -
    And both are dark.

Skulking in darkened streets

 Posted by at 9:48 am  Atelier  Comments Off
Dec 022011

Steps echoing in the empty night street. Damp raw air, unkempt privet, acidic soot coating every surface. My God, what year is it? Spilling backwards out of a window, silently, over and over again.

    Probably an old black and white film made by desperate men in crumpled suits and greasy ties. These are evil times. To rule the roost the cock must terrorise the hens. Divide and rule, don't hesitate to tell lies and be ready. Don't leave anything to chance, make sure you've got the sources and channels of information under control and functioning smoothly. Search out the advisers who have that certain brilliance, that finger on the pulse of next week, the speed that enables them to be several steps ahead of the others.

    Better to disarm your enemies than get involved in hand to hand fighting. Make sure you're in the chauffeur driven armour plated, blend in when necessary, vehicle, dusty from the deserts . . . but we were skulking in the darkened streets, longing for a quiet life, a family life, not this dog eat dog existence . . . but what year was this? It never became clear. The question, back then, was how to step into the limelight, but then more questions arise: what was possible, what doors were open, what windows forgotten by careless homeowners. Skulking in darkened streets with robbery in mind, eyes narrowed, mouth tightened to a thin slash of a sneer.

    The silent night imposes its will. Over and above the greasy streets, in back rooms, after the children are asleep, we'll mark out the changes required, sketch the route map, programme the satnav.

    When will we be there?

    Ah! that's not an easy question to answer. When is the baby due? Has it even been conceived? There's a proper order to everything. What grabs your attention because that is where you are going in everlasting and unfolding majesty or ignominy or probably both.

    Let's take the step to walk and transform how it looks.