Friday, May 18, 2007

On The Corner Of The Street

In one of the wealthiest parts of London a homeless man lived in an abandoned car, his wealthy neighbours kept a watchful eye on him and with occasional gifts of food, clothing and blankets he lived a peaceful if marginal life. Poverty and wealth lived side by side without any tension. One day the homeless man fell ill and was taken to hospital, he remained in the care of the hospital for some weeks but eventually he was well enough to leave, he returned to the abandoned vehicle to find it hat been removed, despite the intervention of his neighbours who tried to stop its removal the local authorities towed it away. The authorities had been made aware that this vehicle was the mans home but an illegally parked and unlicenced vehicle was all the authorities saw, the elderly, homeless man left the street corner where his home had once been and walked away, his neighbours never saw him again.

These were the thoughts that came back to me as I looked at Gunther Herbst’s paintings at the One In The Other gallery. A series of paintings by Herbst show the uninhabited scenes of temporary shelter constructed by the homeless taken from Herbst’s own photographs of homeless shelters. In Herbst’s paintings the materials we see for the construction of these temporary shelters are predictable, the scavengeable discarded remnants we see every day that litter our streets, pallets, tarpaulin, a car, trolleys and tressell tables are the materials of construction. The scenes for these shelters are emptied of people, habitation is only implied through scattered and crumpled bedsheets, a cheap checked plastic bag and a lone shoe. From these real scenes Herbst’s has constructed fantasy elements, one shelter is shown as a raft on a river another painting is rendered as a hybrid between a photo journalistic scene, a Mondrian painting and a piece of graphic design.

Herbst’s intentions are to make us question the difficult feelings we have about homelessness, he states that we do not think very much about this issue. Herbst’s paintings are nicely crafted and his cause is noble but I doubt that on leaving this show he has added anything further to our thoughts and feelings about homelessness. Herbst removes the real face of homelessness, the individuals and the real sites of their temporary homes are missing from Herbst’s paintings and do not compel me to think more deeply about the homeless. The emptiness in these paintings reminds me of the street corner in North London where a man’s home used to sit and the empty space that now remains, but every time I pass that street corner I am reminded of the man and where his home stood anyway.

Like the neighbours and the local authority some of us will see that empty space where a man’s home sat and be reminded but others will have long since forgotten that the homeless man and his impromptu home ever existed.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Story Told Round A Campfire

The Future Is Unwritten is Julien Temple’s documentary about the life of Joe Strummer, Strummer died in 2002 at the young age of 50, the lead singer of the Clash spent his early years constructing personas to distance himself from the perceived notions he feared his upbringing might give. The son of a diplomat and public schoolboy his early life was spent in a variety of exotic locations with his family following where his fathers work took them, he later became a figure rooted in London, in the shadow of Trellick Tower the Clash spoke of a London of divisions of class and race. Perhaps it took the son of a socialist father employed in the service of the British establishment, who had seen more of the world by secondary school age than many of his contemporaries might see in their lifetime, to eloquently narrate the world of the Seventies and Eighties.

The lead singer and main spokesman and driving force of The Clash eventually became an international figure playing to huge audiences around the world. Once in this orbit of world fame and international celebrity he attracted famous figures who saw themselves as counter or at least aside from popular culture, it is through the words of Strummer himself and his friends and acquaintances old and new, rich and poor, the famous and unknown which director Temple builds his story of his friend Strummer’s life. Later in Strummer’s life as a regular visitor to Glastonbury he conceived the idea of the ‘campfire’ around which likeminded and perhaps in some cases disparate and non-likeminded people can celebrate life and conversation, this is the construct by which many of the reminiscences of Strummer’s friends are displayed. With a backdrop of various locations including the nighttime skylines of London, New York and LA Strummers colleagues and friends give us an insight into the life of Strummer and the history of his music from his early west London squatter days in the band the 101ers through his time with The Clash and in later years his appearances in films and his world music flavoured gigs with his Mescaleros band.

Strummer was greatly admired and respected by his friends, colleagues and acquaintances but in many cases he ruthlessly left behind these people in search of greater fame and different experiences, in later years he returned to those he had discarded through his life and asked for a return to the things he had always been seeking, Joe Strummer wanted to be a man of the people, to produce music that questioned the status quo, about those left in the wake of the decisions and actions made by the political classes. Ultimately the fame that the Clash received would bring this in to question, how could you be a man of the people in dialogue with an audience in an 100,000 seat arena?.

After the collapse of the Clash Strummer found it difficult to reconcile both the success and fame he had received with the emptiness of life without the band. No longer touring or in the studio it took many aborted studio sessions, minor film roles and a return to the ideals of his past to bring him back from this creative void, finally returning to music and stage in a real sense with the Mescaleros. Through the film we hear voiceover segments and interviews with Strummer, we hear his broadcasts and the musical selections from his ‘London Calling’ radio show for the BBC World Service. The events of Strummer's life are covered in interviews with his early band members in the 101ers, Clash members Mick Jones and Topper Headon and a various assortment of film and art stars, session musicians, family and friends, these interviews and voicovers are complemented by Temple's well researched and cleverly edited use of film clips and news footage.

The resolution of this life story is with his return to past friends, Strummer's flaws, faults and failings are evident and explored with honesty in this film but with the films final moments we see the truth of his character, amidst the fashion, music and punk band posturing was a man who cared about people and was obsessed with ideas and creative life. Strummer’s life was an open minded search for a place where the creative, imaginative and marginalized can gather together and give the best of themselves, with the Clash he was a catalyst for a focussing of a generation's energy. In the dark and depressing days of the late Seventies and through the Thatcher inspired selfishness of the Eighties he shouted and rallied for a collective strength, for a world to come together through music and dialogue.

With the spirit of Joe Strummer looking on it is a charming thought that we can re-tell history and discuss our ideals for the future in many and varied ways, we can reconcile old friendships and create new ones and collectively we can celebrate life, conversation and creativity around a simple campfire.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

138 Eyes

To stare at part 4 of Russell Herron’s 69 magazines project is to feel like a stalker or a celebrity obsessed fan. If our modern obsession with celebrity is difficult for you to take your first impressions of this show at the Rhythm Factory will surely have you cringingly looking away from the unflinching eyes of Martine McCutcheon, all 138 of them. Those eyes appear on the covers of a variety of magazines which detail McCutcheon’s appearances on TV listings and gossip magazines, glossy newspaper supplements, lad mags and mid range womens glossies between 1996 and 2003. From ‘Tiffany’ the promiscuous teen soap starlet of Eastenders we chart her progress through to the ‘real’ Martine seven years later, through this succession of appearances on these covers we see the story of the public life of McCutcheon.

Anyone familiar with Russell’s 69 magazines project and his other works will know that this territory is an ongoing theme. Celebrity, history, media portrayal and the construction of image run through his work and with this particular project the magazines are not only about the changing image of the woman herself but how an image can change over time and how the media and ourselves as viewers and consumers construct that image in our own minds. For some Martine is portrayed as Granny’s favourite teenage granddaughter for others she is the curvy, pouting, lad mag girl, occasionally she is the down to earth clothes horse sporting fashions that twenty and thirty-something women can aspire to. But it is beyond the face on the cover that my mind fixes on to life beyond Martine, the societies within societies that each magazine markets to and portrays and the communities within communities that all celebrities inhabit and that some of these magazines are examining. TV quick readers will get their fill of Martine and the edited snippets of the activities of her fellow Eastenders actors and others across Emmerdale, Corrie and the like, the fictional world of Tiffany being more of interest than any insight into the actress beneath the mask of her television character. The loaded magazine fantasy of either Tiffany the character or Martine the actress is subordinate to her attractiveness as fantasy girlfriend material, in Cosmopolitan she is the young female clothes horse, hey girls, do the diet, ditch the old boyfriend for a better one, buy the fashions and you too could become fantasy girlfriend material too. On the covers of Hello or OK magazine McCutcheon inhabits a world in which her latest relationship break up exists in the same community with talk of Liza Minelli’s wedding or the announcement of a new Hollywood stars pregnancy.

You could chart your success and position in society using Martine as a mirror, she and the magazines that depict her are your measure, in the mirror of celebrity does the image that you see mean A, B, C or maybe only Z. Which list are you?

Where is the real Martine McCutcheon behind the face on these covers? Considering the varied nature of the magazines she appears on you can be assured that you will never really find out, no matter what these magazines might tell you. Like an actress in a variety of guises ‘Tiffany’ becomes lots of ‘Martine’s’ but on these 69 magazine covers you know you are looking at but not really seeing Martine McCutcheon. That world beneath the glossy cover is not your own but if you can suspend reality you can fool yourself that it is real and you too are a part, if only fleetingly, of it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Look but dont touch

It is a strange experience to view Anya Gallacio’s art, the real or truth of the natural world and the unreal or fiction of the art object lose their usual definitions, you can easily be lost between questions of the ambiguous or the obvious. A sense of the contemporary or classical also blur when seeing Gallacio’s sculptures, when the sculpture contains those elements of real and faked natural materials and processes my mind begins to wonder and wander. I feel that I am supposed to be reacting to something deeper than my initial response, but I always return to the response of observing and feeling rather than speculating and theorising.

Gallacio’s latest exhibition at the Thomas Dane Gallery combines a variety of sculptural works. When the questioning of these sculptural elements subsides to looking and feeling the materials she has employed begin to draw a pure emotional response. A bronze cast apple tree with highly decorative polished porcelain apples ceases to be the representation of a fruit tree but a means of absorbing details of materiality, the shiny apples create small reflective flowing forms of the world they are mirroring, the cast bronze of the tree shows the aged gnarled outer skin of the trees bark, you begin to see life and death contained within this facsimile of the living plant. Similarly the life and death of a seemingly insignificant plant is elevated to a reflection of beauty and sadness when the stems of brussel sprout plants are cast, the strong woody stems have reached the point at which the plant is beginning to exhaust itself and die but prior to this inevitable death Gallacio has intervened and with the casting held this process in time. This giving plant has been stripped of its food and as its leaves give way to a dry, papery rotting the bronze cast memorial to the plant makes you bring your eyes close to observe the fine detail of the structural elements of the decaying plant, the compulsion to touch the delicate looking textures of the sculpture is overwhelming. Casts of Jerusalem artichokes also draw you to observe the structures and textures of these seemingly insignificant plants, rendered as casts these tubers now become sculptural objects, this selection of cast plant matter brings to mind the use of natural forms of plant and leaf structures in Roman decoration.

The largest and most impressive piece is the macramé hand notted hop twine sculpture that hangs hammock like across the largest of the galleries three rooms, this 30 metre long patterned object drapes, stretches and flattens as it is secured to the gallery wall. The repeated pattern alters under the structural changes induced by its placement, from one repeated unit the contorted structure alters these units to many of its possible variations.

Gallacio’s art sits resolutely in the real world with the materials she employs in her work, these materials may seem ambiguous or insignificant but if you just keep looking you will still be looking and feeling long after the speculations and theories have disappeared.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Spring Selection 07

Radio Rebelde’s Sounds of Now and Not Quite Now-Spring 2007

1.Lonnie Liston Smith-Astral Travelling (1973 ‘Astral Travelling’, Flying Dutchman Records)
2.Mike James Kirkland-What Have We Done (c.1995 ‘Vintage On Vinyl Part 4’, Bootleg White Label)
3.Dwight Trible ft Billy Higgins & Charles Owens-A Love Supreme (2006 ‘ Free Spirits Presents Acknowledgement’ 10”, Kindred Spirits)
4.William Parker Quartet-Song Of Hope (2003 VA- ‘Southport Weekender-Gilles Peterson’, SuS/concept Music)
5.Gary Bartz-Uhuru Sasa (1997 ‘Harlem Bush Music-Taifa’, BGP Records)
6.Yusef Lateef-Mahaba (1957 ‘Other Sounds’, Original Jazz Classics)
7.Hu Vibrational with Yusef Lateef-In The Field (2006 ‘Universal Mother’, Soul Jazz Records)
8.David Alvarado-Polygons (2002 12” promo, Ovum Recordings)
9.Woody Guthrie-Dust Bowl Refugee (2000 ‘Dust Bowl Ballads’, Buddha Records)
10.Tin Hat Trio-Compay (‘Book Of Silk’, Ropeadope Records)