Tuesday, 16 December 2014

sage moment

Sage afternoon
Back in the North East today, after an early start and a late breakfast in Leeds.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Enjoying the Late Turner Show at Tate Britain

I somehow missed that movie about JMW Turner, where Timothy Spall played the painter in his later life. I'd heard mixed views about it ranging from 'great' to 'lacking', and my moment of hesitation means I'll now have to wait for the DVD.

I'd anyway thought it would be good to see the Late Turner show at the Tate Britain. To be honest, I wasn't that sure of the chronology of some that I really liked, and was relieved to see that they had been included in the show.

The Londoner joke about the show is that you get a free painting set at the end of the exhibition (you don't) - and that's because of the tag-line used on the posters and advertising - "Painting set free"...
The area of the gallery showing the Turners was bustling with people, including quite a few using those mini chairs so that they could longer at some of the pictures. I was on a schedule and had to graze my way around, so my impressions might be different from those taking longer to consider every brush-stroke. My big gallery strategy is anyway to be drawn to things I like rather than necessarily look at everything.

Some peoples' agenda for this show is to look for the point where Turner's style lapsed as his eye-sight and alcohol self-medication interfered with his painting.

Let me say that I thought that some of his later pictures including a whole series of watercolour samplers were terrific. They would have been among his last paintings, but there was a colour palette that looked wonderful. The samplers were A4-sized pictures used as a way to attract attention towards the commissioning of a new large scale works. Apparently, there was some kind of new paint system from Switzerland(?) that he used for these later pictures and I enjoyed walking around them as much as looking at some of the bigger and more well known works.

Earlier in the show were some of his blockbuster pictures. This is where I'm more divided in my view.

I think Turner's seascapes and pictures which incorporate something mechanical can be spectacular, with light, water, skies, haze and clever impressions of the central items. A favourite of mine is the Sol di Venezia going to sea, with the picturesque bragozzo against the backdrop of an initially almost indiscernible Venice, which appears more as you stare at the picture. There's a premonition of doom accompanying the picture too, with a warning about the dangers at sea.
Turner Sol del Veneza going to sea
Likewise seeing another favourite of mine - Rain, Steam and Speed showing Brunel's Great Western Railway with a Gooch Firefly class broad gauge locomotive crossing the Maidenhead Viaduct outbound from Paddington.
Rain, Steam, Speed
So I should probably remain quieter about some of the ones I'm less keen on. Vast canvases depicting mythical scenes, with shafts of light and billowing clouds.

Although some of these were still show-stoppers, I found less for me in this category, perhaps because there's such a number of paintings to view and undoubtedly a matter of personal taste.

Another thing that struck me was the way the lighting of the gallery and the frequent golden frames lifted the perception of the larger pieces. I've a couple of illustrative pictures in this post where I've boosted the perceptual colour. The train picture always has a yellow glow in my memory and the ship has some reds which somehow don't come through in a flat photo rendition.

Turner's pictures also had some humour, with little two or three brush stroke animals and other focal points added sometimes, to me at least, almost whimsically. I'd like to think it was Turner's little aside to the viewer of the work, alongside the majesty of the main pieces.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Hope at the Royal Court

We were at the Royal Court to see Jack Thorne's newly penned "Hope".

It's a kind of agitprop story about the state we're in. Big cuts now and then relentlessly on into an oh-so-mortgaged future.

Before the main play, we watched another small workshop style production: the New Order - three newly scripted party political statements - entertaining and thought provoking. The Inner Child Party. The 'Career Politician' Party and the I.G.N.O.R.E Party. It illustrated part of the agenda for what was to follow in the main show.

For Hope we had a northern local authority faced with £66m of cuts to be spread over 3 years. The recovering alcoholic deputy leader had to decide whether to make a stand and we saw the consequences of his actions play out after the intervention of Whitehall spread-sheeters "Sorry I'm late, I had no idea it was so far".

Like the earlier workshop playlets, there was a "can't win" aspect to the way immediate events played out. No-one actually said 'squeeze them in the wallet', but they could have. Whatever gets saved just moves the problem to another equally needy place.

Much later, a counterpoint of 'hope' when the prior-council leader tooted a spliff, whilst the schoolboy son of the current deputy council leader articulated dreams of a better tomorrow.

Well-acted with a strong point of view, I still felt the production needed some improved directing.

In places the script could have been tidied. A few over-signposted moments slowed the dialogue. The staging in mostly a municipal hall worked, but stage direction created a laminar look, reminding me of one of those toy children's theatres with cardboard sliders for the actors to enter stage left and right.

So alongside the action, I found myself thinking this was a slightly under-worked production, which included strange but under-committed surreal moments. Stage calisthenics, random ukulele playing and an incomprehensible piano interlude. It wasn't clear (to me) what this added, because it didn't really magnify the messaging or our sympathies for the characters.

I understand the idea to make serious points without going into a 'Thick of It'/'2012' peep inside the machine. There's the topicality of half of the UK councils not positioned to meet objectives and the inevitable cuts to services.

The elder ex-council leader made good points about the demise of protest since the banking recession. Not quite 'where have all the riots gone?' but along those lines. We need more challenges than televised Russell Brand vs a heavily expensed beer drinker, but somehow the establishment manages the agenda.

Still worth seeing and providing a welcome voice of challenge, it came across to me as something of a work in progress.

A bit like trying to sort out the state we're in.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

rounded up the tree - its in the garage

Tree stashed in garage
Yes, I'm just slightly ahead of the weekend rush for trees, so there was still a good choice. The picture only shows the top part. I particularly wanted one with those surrounding mini branches at the top.

The people in front of me were buying two, and taking a long time to choose. My ex-greengrocer tree spotting skills came in handy, whilst they were fiddle-faddling around.

Our one has a serial number 00017 this year. I'll find out where it's from when I eventually unwrap it. At the moment it's in the garage, sitting in a big bucket of water.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

time for a glitchy anti-selfie #slmmsk

Time for a few experiments as I start to think about an end of year photo video.

The last few years I've taken a few snaps from throughout the year and dropped them onto a music track.

I used to use pummelvision, which did it automatically, but that app sank without trace, so for the last couple of years it has become a manual task.

I need to export about 1,000 photos to make a 3m30 music track. In film-edit speak most individual snaps get about 6 frames (or 3 to make it move really fast).

I'll just drop them into iMovie or Final Cut when I'm ready. One year I did the whole thing with Ken Burns effect transitions, but I'm thinking it'll be straight cuts this time. It will be a good test of Lightroom 5.7, which I've now been using as my main picture store for about three months.

Before I start, I'll need to add a couple of new selfies to the mix. This time I'll probably use anti-selfies and I'm swayed to use that SLMMSK App.
Testing anti selfie
It's a slightly scary App to download, stylised to look like something from a part of the internet not recommended for normal folk.

anti-selfie app from RunetThe link to the App store is via a site with a rather ominous countdown (currently at 61 days).

The app starts up in Russian, with an occasional drift into Arabic. All part of the Glitché artwork of the originator Vladimir Shreyder who also describes SLMMSK as a cypher.

I think it as a part of Runet, the name given to the Russian-language internet, which is made of rabbits taking showers instead of the traditional internet which we all know is made of cats.

There's about 10 different effects, but I can't help thinking that the broken video tape effect I've used above can be re-assembled into the original picture with a bit of pixel sliding.

But back to the plot.

Last year I used a pop-tart selfie. I guess it will still be useful this year, although I really need to stand further back from the pop tart.
pop tart selfie 2014
And I'll dig out the old 2013 video as a reminder of just how much gets jammed into a year.

And, okay, here's a really deep dive right back to the ancient history of 2011.

And, as always, there is fun going forward.

Monday, 8 December 2014

home along the lanes of the skyline*

Battersea Power Station
Well, I just flipped over the 4,000 miles of cycling this year. Usually I'd do an extra few miles to be sure, but when I checked, the Garmin Calendar showed exactly 4,000.

And, if I'm honest, my legs were a bit creaky afterwards. I'll blame it on the colder weather rather than the surfeit of mince pies.

I'm switching from outdoor to an increase of indoor cycling on a turbo at this time of the year too. Sometimes the roads can be particularly yucky, and I'm not too keen when there's little puddles of ice around.

I have a few standard routes and some of them change continuously with the seasons too, even in an urban landscape, where there's both natural and man-made changes to the view.

Battersea Power Station is a case in point.
The whole area is due for a make-over that has been discussed for about 30 years. Margaret Thatcher was the first politician to dig a shovel into the ground. More recently it's been Boris, who flew to Malaysia to launch the latest phase, which will include the new Malaysia Square as a centrepiece.
My picture leaning across the window of a BA flight shows the area of ground being dug up and there will soon be a series of new developments all along this part of London, from the new Embassy Square for the replacement American Embassy all the way west to Chelsea Bridge. Even the chimneys on the power station are getting a makeover.
* I know my title isn't quite the line from the Elton John/Bernie Taupin skyline pigeon song but it's the best I could do.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

tomorrows modern boxes arrives with suitable analogue delay

I skittered around the radio channels this morning to avoid certain programmes that I don't like, but even BBC 6 Music was playing something so dire that I had to switch it off.

An opportune time to play the recently arrived Tom Yorke LP instead.

Nowadays I'm mainly a digital listener, viewer and reader, but I make exceptions for things I'd buy that come with some sort of artistic attempt. So for music it has to offer something more than a PS'd packshot of the band/singer and a top thirds titling stripe.

Tomorrow's modern boxes is such an artefact. I ordered it so long ago that I'd actually forgotten what it was that I was expecting. I think the download was announced and appeared in about ten seconds back in September, so there's a kind of humorous aspect to the analogue delay in getting the physical product into one's hands.

The Radioheads have long been good at referencing Target Markets and Waste, even away from their proper pop records, and this seems to fall into that category too.

White vinyl, a label without descriptions, a card inner jacket printed with the useful non-revolving information. An outer sleeve and even a dust bag. The kind of ziplock dust bag that an be used to preserve a specimen of something. I expect that is the point. I wonder how many copies get physically played rather than purely downloaded? My copy has already had a stylus through its grooves. I know there's a separate download code, which ensures there's also an easy way to get it into my digital library.

The very act of putting a stylus onto it has no doubt destroyed its resale potential as a modern collectable. I see they are already one of the most expensive vinyl albums on eBay.

But what of the content?

Squelchy and glitchy cushions for intense Thom Yorke vocals. It was somehow on the right frequency for my solitary early morning listening.

At one level it flibbles around with sequencer autopilot settings, but I think that is it's deception. If I run a sequencer and synth I can make some passable sounds, but Thom Yorke clearly trips into an altogether higher level of refinement.

Brian Eno came up with the ambient techno app that could play Eno-esque music for ever. The first one was Bloom and then Air lived on my iPhone taking a Music for Airports vibe and making it infinite. Add in Scape and Oblique Strategies and there's Eno's set of 'music like structures for modern boxes'.

I'm guessing Thom Yorke is playing around with some similar ideas between Radiohead projects. After all, it's over 20 years since Radiohead said that anyone can play guitar.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

sun in eyes, waiting for the carpenter to arrive

I haven't completed my bike riding annual target, although Sunday is looking good. Another 30 miles to go.

Today, instead and probably unwisely, I'll be shopping whilst we have a carpenter around doing things to the stairs.

We removed the old hand rail a few years ago, and finally decided it's time to get a replacement. Kind of safety and all that. The replacement will be a mop rail.

There's a proper carpenter's joke in here. He won't make a pig's ear of it.

Someone actually said that. No, really. You had to be there.

Friday, 5 December 2014

I've finished the #ArtOfAsking and gifted it to a living statue

Today I've got a version of Kurt Weill/Bertold Brecht's Pirate Jenny running as a background soundtrack.

I've recently finished Amanda Palmer's book called 'The Art of Asking' and it has reminded me of the need for an occasional Dresden Dolls binge.

I've followed Amanda Palmer (even in a pre-twitter sense) for long enough to recognise quite a few of the stories that she uses in her recent book. It is sometimes described as self-help, but is more a sort of abbreviated and quite heartfelt autobiography, with advice and tips as well as examples of what can go wrong.

Amanda can be a bit full on (in a good way), so there's some great and inspirational sections but occasionally I'd go 'Oww, not sure about that!' And I'm sure she knows that in the way she's written it.

More than about 'the art of asking', it seems to me it's about the power of networks and connecting with people, and I think that is where it really shines.

There's sections describing her adventures as a living statue mainly around Boston Square, before she started to gig with Brian Viglione in what became the Dresden Dolls. Then the various stories of people in her life, around her home town and much further afield.

The Dresden Dolls and her later guises have travelled the world on tour, involving their fans and friends in just about every aspect of the gigs, from where to sleep, what to eat, how to get around and where to play additional ninja gigs.

There's the story of a bad record contract (actually I liked the Leeds United video just the way it was), the eventual split allowing her to become indie and her later Kickstarter project. Along the way she has relied upon the fans, building the base almost one person/connection at a time. For me it'd include seeing impromptu gigs around Camden, or seeing Amanda personally selling the CDs at the end of shows. I was there for the one-off post-Icelandic volcano dust Evelyn-(Evelyn) show too, where she linked to the other half of Evelyn-Evelyn for a duet by video link.

It's that giving/gifting as much as any asking that the book is really about. Amanda gifted flowers to passers by when being 'The Bride' in the square. One can see how she learnt and nowadays passes on how the connection made and the impressions created have persisted.

Amanda's viewpoint presents an opposite to some of today's corporations who inertia sell bad deal renewals (loyal customer? sting them when they renew). She references her old record company who didn't appear to care about the loyal 'followers' and saw everything as purely transactional. Today's UK story illustrates how far this can go, with regular suppliers to big organisations like supermarkets and food providers being expected to 'buy' their continued place on the procurement list. They call it 'Investment' although bribery and extortion spring to my mind when I see this.

Amanda's married now, to Neil Gaiman, the author. He's someone else I've sort of tracked across the years. The first book I bought of his was American Gods, which I picked up when it was new from a small cafe and bookstore in Stone Mountain, Georgia, whilst I was on some kind of road trip. It seemed to fit perfectly with my travels at the time.

I gifted my finished copy of Amanda's book to a living statue in London. He looked surprised, but it somehow seemed like the right thing to do.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

just enough sprocket time remaining to hit my annual target

It looks as if I'll make it to my personal 'Gold' target for cycling this year, after all.

I'm at 3,939 miles at the moment, so I have another 61 miles to do, to get to my self-defined target of 4,000 miles.

Back in January, I set Bronze, Silver and Gold at 2000, 3000 and 4000 miles respectively.

Last year was higher mileage, but I was working away from home for several months this year, which severely limited my practical biking time. A few years ago, when I first set a target, it was 1,600 miles for the year, (based on 10 months at 160 miles) so I reckon I've moved along somewhat.

I seem to remember that the DfT calculate average UK cycle miles PER YEAR is 53 miles, presumably based upon some huge number of theoretical cyclists. There's bound to be a big split between casual and 3 times or more per week cyclists, which would skew this number dramatically.

As an example, according to my Garmin, this week I've clicked up 65.87 miles so far. Today is a non-bike day because of my other questionable activities, although I still might hit my target by the end of the week, before the slide into mince pies and other festive distractions.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

more from that time that is no longer called 'winter sales'

Peter Jones at Sloane Square
A few comedy moments when I was travelling from the seasonal tractor-beam pull of Fopp, back towards Sloane Square.

The nearest tube was Piccadilly Circus.

Neep. Brrpp. Bad decision. The tube was so full of people that no-one could get onto the platforms. Shopper overload from the 'Black Friday and extended Black Long Weekend' (previously known as 'Winter Sales Week').

I was about to retrace my steps towards the exit when I noticed a lone deserted escalator. I'd use a zig-zag route instead, which got me effortlessly to Sloane Square.
Sloane Square
But, yikes, here was another collection of shoppers this time intent on reaching Peter Jones, the penguins and the Kings Road.

At least the refuelling reindeer seem to take it all in their stride.
Fuelling up

Monday, 1 December 2014

Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy

Along to the Royal Academy for the vast Anselm Kiefer exhibition. This has been on my list for a while and even before entering the main exhibition, there's a couple of Kiefer pieces in the courtyard.

The first, a glass tank, containing large U-Boot submarines, suspended at different heights. Then a second tank, with smaller similar vessels, this time laying on their sides at the bottom. Along the side of the second vitrine is a list, with dates of major sea-based conflicts through history.
Kiefer was born in Germany at the very end of the Second World War. His huge catalogue of work has the history of Germany as a repeating theme, varied from smaller pictures to huge canvases and installations that fill a whole room. The Morgenthau Plan is one of his well-known works, based upon the stifled U.S. Treasury plan after WW II to make Germany into a garden nation, much like the salad bowl area of California. History shows the subsequent Marshall Plan prevailed.

The Royal Academy somehow manages to contain Kiefer's exhibits, but only because the Academy rooms become like the individual picture frames of his work. It's obvious from some that they belong in a wilder context, such that this walk through Kiefer's landscape is a carefully curated version of an altogether larger vision.

Recurrent themes include the context of Germany, a rural woodland heritage, three chairs of a religion, and a fourth upside down chair of its antithesis. Look closely and there's serpents slithering through exhibits, another metaphor.

Some parts of the show are quite chilling, and there's a great power to the way that Kiefer's work paints at a sculptural level. Sure, there's some delicate watercolours amongst the collection, but many large canvases are thick with paint, clay, ash and corn from the fields.
Anselm Kiefer 09
Kiefer knows he is playing with time too, and a single new exhibit for this show is of a tectonic layering of canvases, interspersed with dried flowers and more ash. A representation of time, and the layers of the history of the planet.

And that's the difficult truth of the work too. That Kiefer has brought a harsh and cruel past into so much of his work.