One day in June 2012, Georg Baselitz took a pad of A4 paper bearing the letterhead of a German estate agency and sketched on the back, in a mauvish black felt-pen, two figures seated together. Or, if not quite two distinct figures, then one shadowed and entwined with some sort of ectoplasmic double or ethereal shade. He repeatedly drew this image up to a total of 18 times (Untitled (1–18), 2012) and with each iteration these one or two figures became more or less distinct from each other, more or less distorted, until finally they were reduced to a rough-hewn oblong with an expressionless head, three rings binding one limb. This last was chopped, hacked and sawed out of an unyielding hunk of wood before being cast, earlier this year, in bronze. As such it stands, mute, coarse and slightly terrifying, some eight-foot high on its plinth in Thaddaeus Ropac’s Pantin gallery in the Paris suburbs. Its title Marokkaner (2013) is mysterious, coming from an artist who around the time of those felt-tip sketches expressed his contempt for multiculturalism in an interview with the German magazine, Art.
At the far end of the gallery, we find four more of these rings, now slumped around the midriff of an even more forbidding figure in a clumsily balletic pose. Combined with the slick black of the patination (common to all the sculptures in this exhibition), they could be the cuffs and restraints of bondage wear; binding these ball-gagged leather gimp suits for fairytale trolls. Towering fully three-and-a-half metres up and scarred with the same violent hacks that punctuated its twin, this second blackened behemoth is named after the American dancer Loie Fuller (albeit using her given, rather than stage name – Louise Fuller, 2013) whose serpentine dance at the Folies-Bergère in 1892 enchanted the Belle Époque. Filmed by the Lumières, painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, Fuller encapsulated, in the poet Mallarmé’s description, something at once ‘elementary’ and ‘industrial’. Spiritualists saw in her swirling veils a reflection of the astral bodies produced at séances. But if Baselitz’s rings are to suggest Fuller’s veils, a glimpse of some mediumistic emanation, then we are being offered a spirit world that is harsh and brutish.
Read the rest of my review of Georg Baselitz’s recent show at Thaddaeus Ropac’s Pantin gallery for Art Review.Tweet
Homer Dudley’s Voder, demoed in 1939.
‘If Freud had been asked to name his secret(ive) book,’ wrote Hélène Cixous, ‘he would not have hesitated: it would have beenThe Jungle Book.’ These words are re-written, crowded by many others from Cixous’s 2009 essay ‘Philippines’, on a tree made from papier-mâché in the exhibition space of a former sports centre in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Ouen. There are nine such trees in the room, made of diverse materials, the work of diverse hands, making the space itself into a kind of jungle.
Amongst essays by Thomas Babington Macauley and the Austrian classicist Theodor Gomperz, Freud selected Rudyard Kipling’s book of stories, The Jungle Book (1894), in a list of ten recommended books upon the request of the publisher Hugo Heller in 1906. It was a book he described as ‘a good friend’. Its theme of the feral child is clearly very close to Freud’s concerns in those texts exploring the cases of the ‘Rat Man’ and the ‘Wolf Man’, which have become so central, particularly to recent (post-Deleuzian) Freud reception.
According to Cixous, we all have such treasured books, which need not be great works of literature but remain very personal to us throughout our lives. They form the kernel of all our subsequent reading. For Cixous herself, that book is George du Maurier’sPeter Ibbetson (1891). But Cixous’s own ‘Philippines’ is the kernel from which Alexandra Grant’s present exhibition, called ‘Forêt Inérieure / Interior Forest’, has sprouted. Having grown from a text concerned deeply with dreams, memories and the unconscious, it is perhaps appropriate that all the trees in Grant’s ‘forest’ seem to have developed not from the ground up, but from the ceiling.
Read more of my review of Alexandra Grant’s Forêt Interieure at Frieze.Tweet
“We met at a party in South London,” he said. “I thought she was a total babe so I told her I could record music and that if she had some tracks I would help produce them for her.”
“Christian told me had a recording studio,” she said. “So I was eager to record my songs. When I turned up to his student flat, his studio was actually a laptop. Sweet little lies.”
“I basically had to teach myself Logic in a few days,” he confessed. “Amelia turned up with some £10 Casio she bought from a charity shop in France and the whole demo EP was made on that. It was five years ago now. And my memory of those days is pretty hazy anyway…”
They would work through the night, “locked up in our room on a shitload of drugs,” he said, “writing a bunch of tracks in a night and then listening back as the sun was coming up and we were coming down.” At the end of one of those long nights they decided to call themselves Elephant for reasons that seem obscure now. “It must have been nine in the morning and we were pretty out of it,” he explained. Within a few hours they had sent their tape to Memphis Industries. Fingers crossed.
That was in 2010. They met in the spring. By autumn they had sent off their demo tape. The first record was out by the end of the year. There is something of the fairground about ‘Ants’, this first 7” single, or of Herk Harvey’s strange early ’60s horror film Carnival of Souls. Oom-pah keyboard rhythms contend with a carillon-like tremolo guitar. A tambourine sits on the kick drum, as in a one-man-band. “I just can’t remember before,” she sings in an oneiric haze, “Take me away to the shore / Show me how it was before.”
Read the rest of my interview with Elephant at FACT.Tweet
This is a little jingle I made for Dandelion Radio I can’t even remember how many years ago. I think they had put out some sort of open call on Myspace or whatever and I sent them three or four of which this is the only one that I can still find on my hard drive. Made using a dictaphone and a Casio keyboard by the sound of it. I have no idea if they ever used it.
In 1969, at the height of American involvement in the Vietnam War, composer Philip Corner wrote a piece entitled ‘An anti-personnel CBU-type cluster bomb unit will be thrown into the audience’. ‘Everybody was concerned at the time with how to make a political statement,’ he explains to me in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris, on the occasion of a concert in celebration of his 80th birthday at a club called Instants Chavirés. ‘I just got very dissatisfied with it, especially when it became a cliché of pop music. Everybody was doing a protest song. I realized, it’s just aesthetics. This isn’t stopping the war. It’s not doing anything politically. So I got very disgusted with it. And this was the only thing I could think of to do that would have any kind of a socially relevant charge at all.’
The idea of the piece was that, having announced the title in the concert programme, the performance would consist of its sudden cancellation. Except it didn’t work out that way. Another composer involved in the show threatened to withdraw from the event unless Corner’s piece was removed from the programme beforehand. Corner says he asked the composer, ‘What’s your objection to it?’. ‘I would believe that you would do it,’ the other composer replied. ‘I wouldn’t sit in the audience if somebody said that with all these cockamamie people and craziness going on. Who could not think that somebody might actually do that? I’d get out of the place.’ So Corner withdrew the piece. He won’t tell me who the other composer was. But with a wry smile he does promise that a ‘new version’ of the piece will be performed tonight.
Corner was born in the Bronx, in New York, and started playing piano at age 13, for reasons he describes now as ‘a mystery’. Shortly thereafter he ‘somehow got the idea that I wanted to be a composer.’ He attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, and recalls his teachers there as ‘a bunch of narrow-minded, ignorant fuddy-duddies.’ In particular, he mentions one occasion when he was asked to write a rondo for piano and trombone. Halfway through playing the piece to class, the teacher stopped him, insisting, ‘That’s not a rondo!’ Before Corner got a chance to explain how the themes were being developed, the teacher got ‘really hostile. And the other students, they couldn’t care less.’ But as he walked out of class, feeling dejected, one girl stopped him in the corridor to say she thought the piece was wonderful. ‘My whole life’, he tells me, ‘I’ve been playing for that one girl.’
Read the rest of “Western Music is So Impatient”, my interview with Philip Corner, at Frieze.Tweet
Not long ago, I grabbed a coffee with a film-maker of my acquaintance. His latest picture – his fourth or fifth – is of a budget that would be considered enormous in any other venture short of warfare but for a feature made in America was fairly modest. I asked what kind of distribution it was getting, and he told me it was due to open in just a few screens in key cities, largely in order to attract the attention of critics. The distributers were in no doubt that their money would be made via online channels. This, they assured him, was increasingly the norm for pictures of this sort, and, doubtless, itself a transitional stage before the whole theatrical bit is bypassed altogether.
My thoughts turned repeatedly to this conversation as the credits rolled on the screening of Gravity I attended last week at a multiplex in central Paris. From its jaw-dropping thirteen-minute opening shot, everything about Alfonso Cuarón’s latest work demands the full resources of such a venue. It exploits every inch of the vast screen, every degree and decibel of its surround sound, and all the illusory depth of its up-to-date 3D technology more fully and more confidently than – perhaps – any other film I have seen. As a spectacular experience, the picture is practically faultless. Had I, however, first watched this film on DVD on my (quite large) home TV or (somewhat smaller) laptop, or even at one of the many fine independent cinemas that my adoptive home city is so fortunate to possess, I fear I may have struggled to find anything of merit whatsoever.
Read the rest of my thoughts on Gravity and the end of cinema in the latest issue of Verité Magazine.Tweet
Freedom Ship - Freedom Ship International, 1990s
Seasteading - The Seasteading Institute, 2008
Cities in The Sea - Venus Project, 2002
Operation Atlantis - Werner Stiefel,1971 (no image)
Blueseed - Blueseed 2011
New Utopia - Lazarus Long, 1990s
Eugene Tsui - Nexus, 1986
Floating cities are dreamed of because how cool is that?–an entirely legitimate, admirable reason. The archives of seasteading are irresistible reading, the best of the utopias are awesome, and floating-city imaginings are in themselves a delightful mental game. The problem is the crippling of this tradition by free-market vulgarians.
The uncompromising monoliths of fascist and Stalinist architecture expressed their paymasters’ monstrous ambitions. The wildest of the libertarian seasteaders, New Utopia, manages to crossfertilize its drab Miami-ism with enough candy floss Las Vegaries to keep a crippled baroque distantly in sight. Freedom Ship, however, is a floating shopping mall, a buoyant block of midrange Mediterranean hotels. This failure of utopian imagination is nowhere clearer than in the floating city of the long defunct but still influential Atlantis Project.
It is a libertarian dream. Hexagonal neighborhoods of square apartments bob sedately by tiny coiffed parks and tastefully featureless marinas, an Orange County of the soul. It is the ultimate gated community, designed not by the very rich and certainly not by the very powerful, but by the middlingly so. As a utopia, the Atlantis Project is pitiful. Beyond the single one-trick fact of its watery location, it is tragically non-ambitious, crippled with class anxiety, nostalgic not for mythic glory but for the anonymous sanctimony of an invented 1950s. This is no ruling class vision: it is the plaintive daydream of a petty bourgeoisie, whose sulky solution to perceived social problems is to run away–set sail into a tax-free sunset.
Read the rest of my blogpost about Jeff Lieberman’s wild and strange Blue Sunshine at The Bomb Party.Tweet