Blog : Posts from August 2009

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On the telly

In which we read ahead in the schedules


Regular readers might recall that, a few months back, I produced a few posts referencing the French Revolution, partly because it seemed relevant to events, and partly because it was on the top of my head at the time.*

Well, if you enjoyed those, you might be interested in something else I noticed. Browsing through the BBC’s websites the other day, I noticed that the new series of Mastermind has started. And one of this week’s specialist subject is, it says, “The Life And Times Of Maximilien Robespierre”. It’s on Friday at 8pm,** if you’re interested in French Revolutionary things, and if you’d like to watch.

* to be honest, I thought I’d mentioned it more than I actually have

** That’s the 4th of September. Unless you live in Wales, in which case it will probably be on some time the following week

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Steamy

In which we dream of speed and vampires


August is, as you can see, another quiet month.

A strange dream awoke me last night, so strange I was tempted to turn it into some kind of ghost story. It involved a pair of fu dogs, possessed by a pair of non-human, vampiric, shapeshifting creatures. The dogs themselves would move, when nobody was watching them; and bringing them into your house brought untold dread along with them, because the vampire-type creatures needed them and would do anything to get them back.

In other news: I rather liked the news story, the other day, about the team who broke the world steam car speed record. I like slightly quixotic challenges like that one. 139mph, with all the team’s modern technology, is only 12mph above the previous, hundred-year-old record. For that matter, it’s only 13mph above the 1938 steam train record, set by Joe Duddington of the London & North Eastern Railway on a special test run with the A4 class Mallard. The train had a slight advantage: nobody, when computing train speed records, has ever bothered about the effect of hills or slopes, so Mallard was going hell-for-leather downhill. It did have rather more work to do than the Inspiration, though, weighing 167 tons* itself and pulling a six-coach train behind.

* according to Wikipedia, at least

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Second Season

In which we spot something getting under way again


Fans of supernatural TV drama series Being Human, currently making its move up the channels to BBC1, might be interested to know that location filming for its second season is just getting under way.

How do I know? Because, on my way home yesterday, I spotted a chap tying up temporary road signs for the benefit of lost Being Human crew members. They’re bright pink, so you can’t really miss them.

Being Human location shoot signs

These particular signs are on Bedminster Bridge. “BH LOC” is pointing towards Bristol General Hospital, one of their main shooting locations. “BH BASE” is pointing, presumably, towards the expanse of waste ground waiting to be developed between Cumberland Road and the new museum: that’s where the shoot’s trailers all parked up when they were shooting the previous series, so I assume that’s where they are now.

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Stencilled Out

In which we join the queue


It is, according to Venue magazine, possibly “the biggest cultural event of the decade”. With it only having a few weeks left to run, we finally made it along to the ever-busy Banksy retrospective at Bristol Museum.

I said “ever-busy”: half an hour before opening time, the queue already snaked back and forth along University Road. It took us, in total, about 100 minutes of standing and queuing before we reached the doors of the museum, including the half an hour before the doors opened. A man and a TV camera walked up and down the line, asking people if they thought that Banksy’s mysterious non-identity was important. I wondered if it might be the man himself asking; more likely to have been an interchangable local-news presenter, though. He didn’t really resemble the photos of Banksy that have already been published in the press.

Coincidentally, the other day, Bristol City Council accidentally admitted that the mystery around Banksy’s identity is key to his financial success:

“[D]isclosure [of the name of Banksy’s limited company] may lead to the identity of the artist being at risk, which is crucial to his commercial interests”

Because – we assume – if you know that he’s a nice middle-class boy who went to Bristol Cathedral School, it does take something away from his “urban guerilla” image. But I’m not convinced that this matters too much. The important aspect of his “mysterious anonymity” is that it lets the viewer identify with him, whilst enjoying the glamour of the folklorique “cunning outlaw” figure. His work, too, is empty enough that you can subsititute your own feelings whenever you like.

You certainly get value for money at the Bristol show. Yes, I know it’s free; but I’ve been to free shows before and come away feeling short-changed. At Bristol, you first enter a room packed with work, before going on to two more Bansky-filled rooms. After that, there’s a whole museum to explore, with at least a couple of Bansky works or alterations in every room. It turns the building into a sort of game, a trick puzzle, which doesn’t really do the collections justice.* The items on show seemed to have been chosen to appeal to teenage boys, too: a dildo in the geology section, a bong amongst the porcelain. Hanging Banksy’s paintings – coyly attributed to “Local Artist” – alongside the museum’s permanent collection also doesn’t do his painting skills any favours: you notice the crudeness of his brushwork much more when you have better work to compare it to.**

It’s ironic that it was the Daily Mail who first printed Banksy’s alleged real name, because, from his work, he strikes me as the sort of person who claims to be radical and shocking, whilst at heart being inherently conservative, supporting rather than challenging existing prejudice. Take, for example, a classical landscape painting with burnt-out car added in the foreground.*** Its title? Landscape near Hartcliffe. A title to make the locals snigger – at any rate, the well-off locals who can look at the painting, laugh to themselves, and feel pleased that they are rich enough to live in a nice part of the city. Similarly, his paintings and statues of riot police behaving unexpectedly do their best to reinforce the stereotype of police being brutal, inhuman and mechanistic. Treating them with humanity and respect would, to be honest, be a far more radical and challenging standpoint.**** Most of the “great ideas” in his works aren’t that shocking or subversive at all; the sort of ideas that a GCSE art student might consider shocking and subversive, possibly. A painting of the House Of Commons Chamber, the chamber and press gallery both full of chimps, for example, is hardly a very deep and complex idea.*****

There is, I have to admit, one very very good thing about the whole exhibition. Two, really. It got people to look at some art, and it got people into the building. Most of the locals who were there, I’m sure, would never normally dream of going into their city’s museum, despite the quality of its collections. Making them aware it’s there has to be a good thing; making everyone want to travel round every room of the place is definitely a good thing, because it’s far too easy, with any museum, just to visit the one or two rooms you want to and ignore the rest. It’s a shame that this led to people treating the place like an Easter egg hunt, though; and a shame that the art they came to see wasn’t better art when they got there.

* I saw some people who were slightly confused by the rare Pokemon cards in the Oriental Dragons display, thinking they must have been a Banksy addition. No, they’re a proper museum exhibit

** Of course, his paintings are still rather better than I could manage myself

*** I suspect – with no evidence other than a good close look – that the majority of the scene is a printed reproduction, with just the car overpainted.

**** It’s also easy to nitpick at the many small, obvious mistakes. For example, that famous photograph of I K Brunel, exhausted and close to death, in front of the launching chains of his last great steamship, with a Banksy-added sign for “rail replacement bus services”. For one thing, if you want to make a comment about the railways, why not alter a more railway-related picture? For another, Brunel’s own railway locomotives were notoriously weak and unreliable, so much so that they were unable to maintain any sort of train service. I’m sure Banksy didn’t actually know that when making his picture.

***** I found it hard to decide how much of that painting’s shallowness was accidental. Was it deliberate that both the politicians and the journalists were turned into chimps, or was that just a piece of lazy and unresearched painting?

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Projects Update

In which nothing happens, once more


Currently, I’m trying to hunt down some second-hand picture frames. Good-looking, ideally quite cheap, second-hand picture frames. I’ve trawled through the local charity shops and the local junk shops, but good-quality picture frames seem to be in rather short supply.

This is not because we want to turn the front room into our own version of Francis Alÿs’s Fabiola, although it is a tempting idea. It’s just because I want to frame some photos and see what they look like. See if they deserve to be framed, and see what effect it has.

Apart from that, though, my creative projects have foundered somewhat at the moment. It’s the summer tiredness; or, at least, I’m blaming it on the summer tiredness. I can barely drag myself to do the washing up of an evening, never mind do anything creative. Suggestions for getting around it would be greatly appreciated.

I’ve managed not to catch swine flu, at least. Both me and K have known people who have come down with it, so far, but we’ve avoided falling ill. Maybe we’re not susceptible. Clearly a good thing, because I hate to think how we’d cope if we both came down with it at once.

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And more on art

In which we look at some non-inflatables


Something else that got done in London the other weekend: we popped along to the Serpentine Gallery, to see the Jeff Koons show that’s on there at the moment. His first major show in Britain, apparently; his first major show in a 20-odd year career.

The Serpentine can seem quite a small gallery, at time, and we both soon realised that it wasn’t going to take us very long to get around the Koons exhibition. Before long, it felt like we’d seen all he had to say; before long, we were back at the front door.* The sculptures in the exhibition consisted of pristine replicas of inflatable toys, balanced precariously, or suspended from chains. According to the captions, all were made from cast aluminium, carefully finished to look exactly like the real thing. We had a hard time, in many cases, believing that they weren’t the real thing. Some were strangely interlaced with garden chairs or decorative ironwork; in those cases it was obvious it would be very hard to get real inflatables to behave like that. It was hard to think, though, that the other, uncorrupted inflatables shouldn’t be gently swaying in the breeze. We wanted to do some forbidden poking and prodding, to see if the sculptures genuinely were made of heavy aluminium.

I thought little again about it until the other day, when, in a quiet moment, I read Waldemar Januszczak‘s Sunday Times review of the show. In which he said:

Poking one of the show’s infla­table lobsters with my finger — which you, of course, are not allowed to do, and I was not supposed to, either — I found it solid, weighty and metallic, its convincing sense of weightlessness achieved with obsessive trompe l’oeil paintwork.

Hurrah! It wasn’t just us who wanted to prod the things: a respectable art critic wanted to do the same! Moreover, being a famous and well-respected art critic, he got away with it without being chucked out. I suspect that we wouldn’t quite have got away with it.

Januszczak, incidentally, found that the show put dark S&M thoughts in his head. It wasn’t something that immediately came to mind when we were there; but, the more I look back, the creepier the show felt. The juxtaposition of plastic, heavy chains, images of cartoons and trains spliced behind and in front of chopped-up pictures of bare skin, all has a disturbing weight behind it. The Koons show we saw was superficial on the surface, but there is always a risk of it coming back to haunt.

* after which we went on to spend rather longer in the gallery bookshop.

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