Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Find me on WordPress

Dear readers,
I have now migrated to WordPress. Please find me at this link and read my latest blog on the earth-shattering exhibition of Japanese video artist Tabaimo at Parasol Unit.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Trinity Buoy Wharf and life ever-lasting

What is it with artists creating digital works that have a long life-span? Recently I saw John Gerrard's 'Oil Stick Work' at Canary Wharf that will go on for 30 years and now on my visit to Trinity Buoy Wharf (above) I see that Jem Finer's 'Longplayer' is a sound installation that will reach completion in 2999. Is this a ploy by artists to get lots of exhibitions? Is it a case of digital art gone mad - just because we have the computer technology to create digital works that play continuously without repetition should we use it? These are the questions we should be asking.

In Finer's case, as in the case of John Gerrard, there is reason behind this madness. 'Longplayer', which is the melodic sound of Tibetan singing bowls played in the lighthouse here, is a thousand-year composition that reflects the number of times the earth has spun around the sun – a mind-blowing idea. It's intended as a travelling exhibition, which does provide an interesting aspect to the concept of a gradually evolving work because not everyone will hear the same thing – and that's what art is about, subjectivity. 

On the other side of the coin, destruction in art has always been a popular pastime - take Cai Guo Qiang's gunpowder works that explode and disappear in a cloud of smoke – but now the fashion is longevity, in digital art anyway. It seems artists as philosophers will always be obsessed by time and death.  

Parliament Hill Fields' Art Deco Lido is one of my favourite places to go to swim, sunbathe and picnic. On a recent visit, after taking a dip in the freezing cold water that looks so sparkly and inviting, I noticed Ruth Corney's fantastic photos of the many characters that visit the pool. The Lido is excellent for brazenly people watching and Corney's shots capture not only the many individuals of all ages that come but also the strange behavioural instinct that comes over Londoners when entering the Grade II listed arena - friendliness.   

Monday, 17 May 2010

I'm looking forward to seeing the new addition to Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth: 'Nelson's Ship in a Bottle' by artist Yinka Shonibare. It will be launched on Monday 24 May.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

John Gerrard's tunnel vision

Art on the Underground is one of London transport's greatest assets, bringing fun and culture to our daily journeys. Its latest commission to be unveiled is an installation by Irish artist John Gerrard in Canary Wharf station. 

As the suits descend the escalators in the futuristic, grey interior of the ticket hall they now face a different view – Gerrard's huge digital moving image of a landscape depicting a grain store in America. It's called 'Oil Stick Work (Angelo Martinez/Richfield, Kansas)’ and will be exhibited here for one year until 14 May 2011. Angelo Martinez is the small figure who is painting the barn black. The scene runs 24 hours a day, the light altering according to the time, and it turns showing different angles of the building.  

Gerrard is the only artist working in this hi-tech medium of realtime 3D and this work is designed to gradually build up digitally over 30 years – it began in 2008 and ends in 2038. 

I met the artist yesterday to discuss the purpose of public art. "All good art is public art in that it’s not selfish," says Gerrard. "It speaks to society in a real, meaningful sense. In this context the term is very appropriate because 45 million people use this station daily. It’s an ideal setting."

'Oil Stick Work' has an environmental message - like many of Gerrard's other works, it comments on depleting oil supplies. The site used to be one of the biggest oil producing regions of America and the work is due to reach completion on the day that American oil supplies are predicted to run dry. It's also in the artist's words, "a dreamscape", "an anti memorial", "an exit into another world", "a mirror to a computer-powered world". My favourite description of Gerrard's is, "It feels like a postcard inserted into this end of the station."

But the real significance of 'Oil Stick Work' is that it's constantly unfolding underneath the City, which was built on things such as oil and grain wealth. And, as well as the moral message, its minimalism suits the space, giving commuters a five-second glimpse of a work with many layers of meaning.  

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Jannis Kounellis litmus test

I like to play a game when I go to exhibitions – to try and guess what the artist is on about by simply looking at the art. This is the test of ‘good’, ‘successful’ art according to some critics, so I thought I’d try out the theory during my first visit to a Jannis Kounellis show at Ambika P3 gallery in Marylebone (on until 30 May). 

Looking round, I jotted down some notes: ‘reminds me of a past time’, ‘fits with the industrial-looking space’. The main installation (above) is like a coal train and standing next to it you can feel its gravity. The black fabric stretched across it looks like the curtains you get in the theatre. In the adjoining space, smart black coats hang in a sort of locker room – entering it there's a sense of isolation and it reminds me of London's banking culture. I especially liked the silk negligee strung up by a metal hook and wire – perhaps a feminist comment? But, what does all this mean? I'm still thinking about it – a sign of a good exhibition.

Upon reading the literature afterwards about Kounellis, a Greek artist living in Rome and a proponent of the Arte Povera movement (which is, in part, to do with using "found", recycled materials), I found that many of my observations were correct. He chooses the locations for his work carefully, having shown in warehouses, churches and castles before, he likes to integrate theatre into his work and the smaller pieces here symbolise human presence and man's existential difficulties. 

Kounellis, you've passed the test. I didn't need to read all your brochures to get some understanding of your work.  

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Some/Things magazine party

I went to the party to celebrate the first and second issues of Some/Things magazine on 8th April – lured by the fact that Jarvis Cocker was DJing – and found myself in an artists' studio space surrounded by models with black lipstick and their hair in top knots and men wearing top hats. That’s the sort of East London party it was but I also gained an insight into a print publication daring to do things differently. 

Some/Things is a Paris-based bi-annual arts book, produced in limited editions with strong photography and no adverts – issue one (above) includes photographs and text by one of my favourite Magnum photographers who I once saw give a talk, Antoine d’Agata; issue two, fiendishly entitled ‘The Black Book’, features a behind-the-scenes shoot with Gareth Pugh (pictured). 

The hefty issues of Some/Things are made from quality paper stock and are hand bound in Lithuania, where editor in chief Monika Bielskyte is from. She says that print must offer something extra if it’s going to compete against digital media: “With the digital media evolution one has to completely reconsider making a paper publication today. Some/Things tries to offer readers something that is associated more with books and deluxe artist publications than with magazines." 

Bielskyte works with a team of 10 staff including her partner James Cheng Tan, associate editor Raina Lampkins-Fielder, fashion editor Carlo Zollo and stylist Ellen Af Geijerstam. Interestingly, the colour palettes change each issue. “Every issue has a sub-title that encapsulates the emotional, conceptual and aesthetic universe we want to explore. The two issues we've published are both anchored in quite austere and minimal aesthetics graphically and colour-wise – black and white imagery is predominant. However, the issue we are working on now, 'Farewell my concubine', is going to be very different in intense colours of flesh red, blood black, deep indigo and visceral greens,” says Bielskyte.  

Some/Things is not sold on the newsstand but at select boutiques and galleries in 18 countries.


Monday, 29 March 2010

Foyles bookstore literary event

On 20 March I went to Picador Day at Foyles bookstore, part of a series of events for writers where you can hear authors from different publishers talk about their books. There were 15 people on the panel, who were mainly novelists along with poets and biographers, and the day was split into four categories: 'Family and Self', 'Writing of Place', 'Poetry and Beyond' and 'Becoming a Writer'. It was mostly directed at people who want to write books, but as a journalist I found it inspiring and gained a few helpful hints and tips for my own work. Here are five quotes from the authors that I found most enlightening.

1. Jon Ronson on 'Family and Self'. Although he didn't recommend writing about your personal life, having done it himself in The Guardian, he did have this to say: "Always put yourself in as a slightly unreliable narrator. Never patronise the people you're writing about and consequently portray yourself in the worst possible light."

3. William Fiennes on 'Family and Self'. His favourite expression is "Truth in conference with the imagination". He was speaking about how to write memoir and how a fiction writer can look back and use their imaginations to make the past more colourful.

2.  Jim Crace on 'Writing of Place'. On answering a question put to him from the audience about how to prioritise your information, he said, "Evoke a response with images of place such as light falling on a broken piece of glass in the forest, don't try to tick all the boxes."

4. Prof Gerard Woodward, who teaches creative writing at Bath Spa University, on 'Becoming a Writer': "Don't borrow a voice from your favourite writer because this is often a mistake."

5. Jim Crace, who before becoming a novelist was a journalist, on 'Writing of Place': "Accuracy is important [when writing about real places] because the reader will notice any false notes."

The next writers' day at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, will be on 8th May with Vintage publishers covering 'Classic Travel Writing' and 'Sex in Literature'. Tickets are £18 full price, goody bag included.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Kensington Palace exhibition 'The Enchanted Palace'

London's Kensington Palace is a rather gloomy and melancholic historic royal palace, the curtains drawn to preserve the contents and the State Apartments fairly bare except for the paintings and a few items of furniture. But that's all to change on 26 March when its new exhibition 'The Enchanted Palace', which features fashion and installations, opens. 

These pictures are from Wildworks, a Cornish theatre company, which is collaborating with the palace to transform the rooms. Above is a re-imagining of Queen Victoria's bedroom, where she was proclaimed queen (she grew up in the palace).

For 'The Enchanted Palace' Vivienne Westwood, Stephen Jones, Aminaka Wilmont, William Tempest, Boudicca and illustrator/set designer Echo Morgan have each been assigned a room and will make costumes in response to the setting and the princesses who lived there. Westwood is making "a dress for a rebellious princess" inspired by Princess Charlotte, daughter of King George IV, Jones will display his hats in the Privy Chamber inspired by 18th-century busts, Wilmont's "dress of tears" is based on the tradition of mourners collecting tears, Tempest has Queen Victoria's bedroom and is creating a dress echoing the oriental bird pattern of the wallpaper, Boudicca will show "dresses the colour of time" and Morgan's "dress of the world" will be decorated with prints of antique maps.     

History, theatrical set design and my favourite designers – what more could I ask for.  


Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has done it again; created another film as loveable as his previous hit Amelie (2001). I went to see the new release of Micmacs and am still marveling at Jeunet's character-building techniques, brand of French humour, visual aesthetic and childlike imagination. 

The plot involves eight misfits who recycle scrap in their Batcave-esque workshop, one of whom is the main character, Bazil. They all embark on an adventure to help Bazil get revenge against two arms dealers responsible for his father's death from a land mine and the stray bullet that's buried in his head. 

It's a thriller, of sorts, and the action sequences are some of the best and most original I've seen for a long time – an aspect that the critics have not paid much attention to. This is surprising considering action is not what Jeunet is known for. Take the slow-motion scene when the guns are thrown into the air at the video shop in the opening scene when Bazil gets shot, or the flicker of the girly calendar during the explosion at the weapons factory – genius. These details, and in particularly the animated interludes characteristic of Jeunet, make a second or third viewing of Micmacs essential. 

The automated sculptures that feature in the film are another highlight. They were made by the Parisian artist Gilbert Peyre. I could watch the mouse puppet, the walking stool, the weight lifter and the dancing skirt and blouse again and again. His website is I will be sending him a thank you letter.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

London jotter's introduction

Welcome to the London diary of a magazine journalist. I love this city and all the culture it has on offer and I hope to convey some of its flavour in sights, sounds and energy. Check my blog for cultural events including arts, book and film reviews, profiles, launches, parties and bijoux finds.