Saturday, 25 October 2014

representation's swoon

Perhaps something of Palermo’s psychic ambiguity is suggested in the relational axis between two remarkable paintings held in the Museo Abatellis, a few steps from Lo Spasimo down Via Alloro. Firstly, an anonymous 15th century Gothic fresco, Il Trionfo della Morte ('The Triumph of Death') startling in its scale (6 square metres) and grim impact. An enormous skeleton archer, riding a flayed, bare-ribbed horse that seems to prefigure Picasso’s suffering beast in Guernica, gallops through a lush hedged garden dispatching volleys of arrows at popes, cardinals, nobility, and courtiers; they twist and clutch at their wounds as they fall. To one side, a gaggle of the poor seems to call out for an end to their misery, but they are ignored, or favoured. In their midst, an expressionless figure looks directly out at the viewer, a brush in his hand – the artist. Elsewhere a group of elegantly attired aristocrats hunt with dogs and a falcon, chat and listen to music by a fountain: revelers unaware of or indifferent to the proximity of Death’s ‘triumphant’ quiver. As a result of war damage to the palazzo that originally housed the fresco, this didactic allegory had been cut into four sections and reassembled in the Abatellis. The ensuing scar remains unrepaired, and rips a peeling X through the very centre of the image, like the overlay of blurred crosshairs in the eyepiece of a rifle, its target the gaunt flank of the horse.

Secondly, Antonello da Messina’s L’Annunziata ('The Announced', 1476), an exquisitely composed, icon-sized representation of the Biblical annunciation, Mary’s encounter with the Archangel Gabriel and her reception of his message. This restrained humanist image is the very antithesis of the fresco’s graphic apocalypse, for it distills a narrative sequence into an enigmatic moment, like a single frame of film in which everything is discreet, suggested, withheld, mysterious. A solitary woman, her luminous face framed by a blue headscarf and a black background, is interrupted while reading. Her left hand holds the scarf lightly over her chest, while her right hand is raised slightly towards the viewer in an ambiguous gesture - of surprise, perhaps, or instinctive defence, self-steadying, or even, in its intimation of the viewer’s presence, a blessing. Her quiet angled gaze focuses on a point just to the lower left of the viewer, as if reflecting internally. The angel remains invisible, unrepresentable. The surface of Mary’s body, like a minutely sensitized seismograph, registers the fleeting presence of something radically other and incarnates its passage - and we are cast as witnesses to the barely manifest signs, both intensive and extensive, of this passage: the dynamic stillness of her suspended hand, the gravity of her contemplative expression, the raised page of her open book as if lifted momentarily by a tiny current of air.

In the space between the narratives and representational economies of these two images – enfolding mortality and becoming, unrelenting threat and fragile possibility, explicit excess and ineffable secret - representation itself seems to spasm and swoon.  This (overtly Catholic) axis between panic and grace informs the uncertain ground on which Palermo’s dreams and nightmares are played out. 

Extract from an essay, 'Performing Palermo: protests against forgetting', originally published in Nicolas Whybrow (ed.), Performing Cities, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014


Ryoji Ikeda's Spectra, Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Palace of Westminster, night of 10 August. A 20 metre grid comprising 49 searchlights, visible for 7 nights in the summer of 2014. For further details, see the Artangel website here

Thursday, 10 July 2014

life forces

Over the past decade or so, in her solo and collaborative work in live performance and film, Jane Mason has explored ways in which the movements of bodies and objects can create ‘image worlds’ of great affective resonance and tenderness. These dynamic architectures of memory, loss, and longing combine dance, text, song and music in patterns of images that slowly align and unfold to suggest passage ways through felt times and spaces of a rhythmed intimacy and intensity. Usually triggered by some aspect of her own lived experience, these ‘worlds’ invite a quiet attention to detail, and an active slowing down into present process. Over the years, many of Jane’s images have lingered with me and etched themselves into my imagination – for in their exquisite precision and mystery, paradoxically they seem to invite and activate something of the life forces within our own memories and associational fields.

With its initial trigger in some boxes of photographic slides taken by her father some years ago, Life Forces develops this work of mining, uncovering, transposing and inviting, and opens up new landscapes of be/longing. Developed in close collaboration with a film maker, a writer-performer, a visual artist and a dramaturg, Life Forces offers a meditation on memory’s place in the face of uncertain futures, on place and home and their resilient fragilities, on the utopian impulse to ‘build’ together and to let (it) go, on the arcing electricity of connection and the drift of dispersal, and on transformation and change as the core ground of being, the ‘life force’ that links everything and everyone.

Short text written in the wake of various collaborations in recent years with the wonderful Jane Mason, and in response to her new performance piece Life Forces, prior to a showing of work-in-progress at Siobhan Davies Studios, London, in early July. With Jane Mason (choreographer/performer/writer), Phil Smith (performer/writer), Magali Charrier (film maker/animator), Sophia Clist (sculptor/designer), and David Williams (dramaturg). For touring from autumn 2014

Thursday, 3 July 2014

mother ship

Just three from Glastonbury Festival 2014: Courtney Barnett on the Park Stage, the arrival of the mother ship, flying shoe

Thursday, 5 June 2014

life in the day

'When I was a child I always felt as if I was on the verge of discovering something. I thought that if I was patient things would show more of themselves than other people could see. Looking at the colours in an ice cream I caught my breath just as if I had jumped into cold water up to the waist: they had somehow been made fluorescent by the sky at Skegness: it had entered them. After that, appearances had for me a kind of perilous promise, an allure, an immanence. Most children feel like that, I suppose'.

'So we went, as he put it, arseholing down the M6 with the radio turned up full: AC/DC, Kate Bush, Bowie's 'Station to Station' already a nostalgia number. 

How many times, coming back after a hard day like that, has there seemed to be something utterly significant in the curve of a cooling tower, or the way a field, between two factories, reddened in the evening light, rises to meet the locks on a disused canal? Motorway bridges, smoke, spires, glow in the sun: it is a kind of psychic illumination. The music is immanent in the light, the day immanent in the music: life in the day. It is to do with being alive, but I am never sure how. 

Ever since Gaz had fallen off into the sea I had felt an overpowering, almost hallucinogenic sense of happiness, which this time lasted as far as Bolton'.

Extracts from M. John Harrison's novel, Climbers (Gollancz, 1989). 
For a fine article about Mike Harrison's work, see Richard Lea, 'M John Harrison: a life in writing', The Guardian, 20 July 2012, here. "A good ground rule for writing in any genre is: start with a form, then undermine its confidence in itself. Ask what it's afraid of, what it's trying to hide – then write that."

Photo by muskrat

Saturday, 29 March 2014

perpetuum mobile

Three animated maps:

Firstly, an exquisitely layered visualisation of global weather conditions, forecast by supercomputers, and updated every 3 hours (Cameron Beccario). See here for link to the animation ...

Secondly, Perpetual Ocean (NASA/Greg Shirah & Horace Mitchell), which used ocean flow data to map the surface currents of the earth's seas over a two-and-a-half-year period from June 2005 to December 2007. (For further details on the NASA site, and a 20-minute version at 30 frames per second, see here):

Thirdly, 1945-1998, by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto, an animated time-lapse mapping of the 2,053 nuclear explosions since Alamogordo, averaging one nuclear detonation every 9.6 days over this 54-year period. See here for link to the animation ...

Saturday, 25 January 2014

becoming dovecote

'I've spent my whole life walking around these places ... I feel like I'm looking for somebody ...' 
(Nick Papadimitriou, The London Perambulator)

'Breakspear is being broken into separate living spaces, all way beyond my pocket. A riding instructor jiggles her jodhpured buttocks down by the composting shed, but it is the Tudor dovecote that draws me and as I recover from the rigours of my climb out of the valley I feel myself passing into its brick walls and upwards through the timbered cupola to its ornate and timeless clock face. Circling, minute by minute, I am dialled through on-off heat, cold, light, dark, rain and sleet, watching a movement from pantaloons and merkins through to these luxury flats and slug-like cars.

Slip, Motorway, round my ankles if you must; drag me into your petroleum future. You will pass too, ending crotcheted by red leaves of herb Robert, stars of cow thistle. I see your car crashes. I see economies collapse. I sense the unspoken family secrets; I see the white cow-gate lit by sunshine. I am the centre. I am buttressed stone walls. I am oak rafters and the soft flap of doves' wings in cool corners. 

See the de Haviland Mosquito, Hatfield bound. See sweet Brian Connolly sitting and playing guitar in the meadow. He's out of his rocket on mushrooms, his hair as fair as hay. Now his face grows furrowed and worn as he ages into knock-knees and long-johns. Now his corpse is laid out and still I stand. 

See my thrust through time, my doves flown high in circles over tall oaks I knew as saplings. I am the pivot around which it swings, the spigot through which it all flows. I push down to worm-holes and into the moist darkness beneath your bullied present day. Now there are Kindles, now you are wired to Androids. Now there is a white flash and everything is swept away'.

From Nick Papadimitriou's exquisite book Scarp (London: Sceptre, 2012, 48-9), a 'deep topography' mapping-through-walking of the North Middlesex/South Hertfordshire escarpment, 'edgelands' and 'interzones' largely overlooked by the nearby northern suburbs of London. (He conceives of the suburbs themselves as 'the momentary dream of a mushroom god', a place of eerie beauty, sadness and loss - depending on one's temporal perspective, either 'a huge storage vat of regional memory' or 'just a momentary film, a suggestion of a possibility that will be replaced by other possibilities in due course'. Whichever, they offer 'rich pickings for the deep topographer'). 

Brian Connolly, lead singer of the Sweet, who died aged 51, went to school in Harefield close to the Breakspear dovecote.

For Nick Papadimitriou's 'Middlesex County Council' website, see here

For a full-length version of The London Perambulator, John Rogers' fine documentary film about Nick Papadimitriou, see here

'I'd like my work to be found in a skip - in Southgate or somewhere - in 40 years time' (Nick Papadimitriou). All quotes in these end notes are from The London Perambulator