those who are dead and those who are yet to be bored

August 28, 2014 § Leave a comment


Tonight, BBC Four will televise one of the best-loved events of the BBC Proms season, the National Youth Orchestra’s Prom, which was performed on 10 August 2014 to a packed and joyful audience at the Royal Albert Hall. One work from the concert programme will be omitted from tonight’s broadcast, however: Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s three-minute piece Sonance Severance 2000.

The BBC have been quick to confirm that it will be televised, as part of a special BBC Four programme on Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Birtwistle scheduled for 11 September, and that it is also available on the iPlayer. So that’s ok then. No, hang on, it’s not.  read more

KATAKANA: via Feitclub

wch Restraynt is by the meanes of playinge the Jeylle of dooges

February 13, 2014 § Leave a comment


The three finest works of British brutalism were designed by Rodney Gordon of the Owen Luder Partnership. They were: Eros House in Catford, London; the Tricorn in Portsmouth; and the Trinity in Gateshead. The first, a block of flats, is disfigured; the other two shopping centre and car park complexes have been destroyed in acts of petty-minded provincial vandalism. One can have nothing but contempt for the scum-of-the-earth councillors, blind planners and toady local journalists who conspired to effect the demolition of such masterpieces. One can only despair at the pusillanimous lack of support from wretched English Heritage.

The dependably crass Prince of Wales, the man who sullied Dorset with Poundbury, described the Tricorn as “a mildewed lump of elephant droppings”, a simile as vulgar as it is visually inept. No doubt his heritage industry toadies removed their tongues in order to chortle a moment’s laughter. The critic Ian Nairn was on the money: “This great belly laugh of forms … the only thing that has been squandered is imagination.”

Gordon’s imagination was indeed fecund, rich, untrammelled. It was haunted by Russian constructivism, crusader castles, Levantine skylines. But the paramount desire was to make an architecture that had not previously existed. There are as many ideas in a single Gordon building as there are in the entire careers of most architects. The seldom-photographed street level stuff at the Trinity left the observer with the sensation of being in the presence of genius. One thinks of the burning of books.

It took more than three-quarters of a century before high Victorian architecture began to be rehabilitated through the efforts of John Betjeman, Evelyn Waugh, etc. Their pleas went unheeded. They were reckoned to be perverse and mischievous. Thousands of “monstrosities” were destroyed. The survivors are now widely valued, and lost ones are mourned. We have learned nothing. Half a century after brutalism’s heyday, the term “concrete monstrosity” trips readily off the tongues of the unseeing, the torpid, the incurious. Britain is once again being architecturally cleansed in favour of timidity and insipidity.

Newness and change were bound to be for the better. When Harold Macmillan announced in 1957 that “most of our people have never had it so good”, some of our people were still living in caves (in the Severn valley), and many of our people had no bathrooms and shared outdoor toilets. Built along brutalist lines, new flats had all those amenities, plus central heating, and were welcomed by their occupants. Social-housing projects were not yet bins for sociopaths. But they would soon become so: if blocks are unguarded, if there are no janitors, if they are not maintained … You don’t buy a car and never get it serviced.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Franck Bohbot

Why do you need to identify with it? Can there be nothing out there but you?

February 3, 2014 § Leave a comment


The main aim of the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project is to provide the best possible images of every page of the manuscripts relating to theatrical affairs in the Henslowe-Alleyn Papers at Dulwich College.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Michaela Meadow

There are two types of people in this world: those who divide us all in half

December 2, 2013 § Leave a comment


On April 5, 1772, the author of The Wisdom of Angels Concerning Divine Love and Divine Wisdom and Heaven and its Wonders, and Hell: From Things Heard and Seen was buried in three coffins, the innermost of soldered lead, in the vault of St George’s in the East, Princes Square, London – “an obscure little Swedish church in an East London slum”. When Blake and his wife Catherine attended the conference of the Swedenborgian New Jerusalem Church in 1789, the Swede was still at rest in his crypt. As J. V. Hultkrantz’s polemical study of Swedenborg’s bones (1910) emphasizes, it was in 1790 that the rot set in. In the early 1790s, as the Revolution Controversy gathered momentum, Swedenborgian ideas circulated as part of wider speculative discourses. Swedenborg’s emphasis on divine humanity, on the ossified dogmas and hypocrisies of established religion, and on an “internal millennium” that guaranteed access in the here and now to visions of Eternity, clearly boosted the intensity of radical debate.

Hultkrantz quotes two versions of the bizarre sepulchral events of 1790. According to Gustav Broling (who was there), Swedenborg’s coffin was opened “merely to satisfy the curiosity” of an “American physician” who had “hit upon the idea that a man so much associated with the spirit world . . . must have been removed thence in some extraordinary manner, and not have died and been buried like other human beings”. With the help of a prominent Swedenborgian, “a kind of burglary was made into the dwellings of the dead”, and the three coffins were opened. A grave game of Russian dolls disabused the American of his esoteric faith. When the lead coffin was broken into, “there issued forth such effluvia . . . that the candles went out, and all the observers were obliged to rush head over heels out of the burial vault”. As Broling wryly remarks, “What kind of philosophical considerations as to the materialism and correspondence of Swedenborgian spirits were now awakened in the American no one knows”. The church having been “fumigated with vinegar”, the harrowers of Heaven and Hell returned to gaze on the perfectly preserved body of Swedenborg.

Another version of the story tells how a Rosicrucian claimed that Swedenborg had discovered “an expensive elixir” of youth, and had “withdrawn to some other part of the world, causing a sham funeral to be performed to avoid discovery”. As with the physician, so with the Rosicrucian: mortal remains proved the vanity of arcane belief. Poor Swedenborg suffered the further indignity, it seems, of being exposed to prying eyes a few days later; this time, when the investigating officer, Robert Hindmarsh (publisher of the Swede’s writings) touched the dead man’s forehead, the flesh crumbled into dust, leaving the bones that would now begin their cultural journey. It can be suggested that Blake’s decision to make Swedenborg an angel at the tomb of Christ in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–3), and his writings the (discarded) wrappings of the risen spiritual body, was motivated in part by his knowledge of the recent raids on Swedenborg’s tomb and of the materialist debate surrounding its contents. Moreover, the event gives contemporary edge to the design that accompanies Blake’s concerted assault, later in the same work, on Swedenborg as an unoriginal recycler of “all the old falsehoods”: a naked figure whose knee rests on “a skull of dead thought”, in David Erdman’s phrase.

The violations continued.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Kristie Muller

like the ruins of those ruins

November 7, 2013 § Leave a comment


On March 7 1939, a few months before the beginning of the Second World War, and just nine days before Germany invaded Czechoslavakia, a German woman called Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, described by Hitler as ‘the perfect Nazi Woman’, arrived at Croydon Airport and was met by the wife of the German Ambassador Frau von Dirksen. A few hours later Scholtz-Klink was introduced to Lady Douglas-Hamilton, formerly Prunella Stack, coincidentally known as ‘Britain’s Perfect Girl’.

They were both at a dinner at Claridges organised by the Anglo-German Fellowship who had invited Scoltz-Klink over to London, ostensibly, “to study the work done by and for English women” but were very keen to publicise the connections and similarities between the two nations despite an almost certain war quickly approaching…

Prunella Stack, despite her young age, was the leader of the two hundred thousand strong Women’s League of Health and Beauty and she was one of the most famous women in the country at the time – the Daily Mail had recently described her as ‘the most physically perfect girl in the world’.

Nine months before Gertrud Schlotz-Klink’s visit to London, during the summer of 1938, five thousand enthusiastic members of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty had performed in front of a huge crowd on the bright green grass of the fifteen year old Empire Stadium in Wembley. The finale of the ‘Empire Pageant’ featured an impressive Greek-influenced athletic dance with women in white tunics carrying swords, shields and javelins.

Suddenly some grecian-style chariots emerged from the tunnel drawn by horses that were meant to gallop around the cinder athletic track that surrounded the famous turf. Instead they charged across the pitch scattering performers in every direction; totally upsetting the careful choreography of the event. At one point, realising that flaming torches were involved, Mr Herbert, Wembley’s overweight manager, stood with arms outstretched shouting “For God’s sake, Ladies! For God sake, take care!”…

On the 15th October 1938 Prunella married a Scottish Laird, Lord David Douglas-Hamilton the youngest son of the 13th Duke of Hamilton. At their first meeting, at the opening of a swimming pool, he impressed her that he was keen to start a fitness summer school in the Highlands. As he said goodbye, he took her hand and examined her fingernails. “I’m glad you don’t paint them,” he said, “I hate artificiality.”

Douglas Hamilton had German and Austrian friends (his best man was Prince Ernst August of Hanover) and before their wedding they went on  holiday just days after the 8th Army of the German Wehmacht had marched into Austria to be greeted by cheering Austrians with cheers, Nazi flags and salutes. Prunella, in her auto-biography, described Bands of Hitler Youth marching through the streets shouting ‘Jeder Deutsche stimmt mit ‘ja’. Nur ein Schwein stimmt mit ‘Nein’. (Every German votes with ‘yes’. Only a swine votes with ‘no’.)

Prunella also visited Germany in the summer of 1938 after the League had been invited to participate that summer in a Physical Education Congress sponsored by Kraft durch Freude. Prunella and the rest of the League women stayed on the luxurious cruise-ship Wilhelm Gustloff from which they watched mass demonstrations of German physical culture and folk-dancing.

The British Women’s League of Health and Beauty performed twice – “their neat black and white uniforms and slim figures contrasted with the generous build of the blonde German girls,” Prunella later wrote. On the ship she was introduced to the Reichsportsfuhrer, Herr von Tschammer und Osten, Dr Ley, the leader of Kraft durch Freude and even Himmler.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Becker & Maaß

Embarrassing? He’s on his knees, begging God. What’s he supposed to be? Cool?

November 4, 2013 § Leave a comment


Early 21st century: from “SELF” + “IE,” says the Oxford Dictionary Online, and since my generation still remembers Internet Explorer (I.E., see), I want to smile. Then I want to paint, whiten, and Willow-filter my smile on Instagram, except I can’t without making a statement: The selfie is self-exploration. It’s self-ex_ploit_ation. It is harmless, fun. It’s narcissism gone wild. No, it’s female narcissism, which didn’t you know is redundant, unless it’s “feminist narcissism” by which we mean self-love so please go fuck yourself. Or it is neither feminist nor female but rather the male gaze internalized and viral, in which case it is nothing but harm, and also is making us stupid. But what if it’s self-portraiture? Then who’s stupid? You, who cannot draw a simple line from the nose of Picasso to Miley’s tongue.

My problem with this last, ultimate defense of the selfie is the assumption it needs defending at all. We have been depicting cool animals since the #LOLMAMMOTHS of the Chauvet Caves, yet pseudo-historians are not lining up around Greenpoint to place the cats of Instagram in a lustrous tradition of art. Likewise, I have not read twenty-eight minor essays defending Thanksgiving dinner pics as new Dutch-masterly still lifes. The face alone has launched a thousand think pieces. So now the question is not one of basic selfie-justification, but rather, why must a photo of my face be justified when a photo of my bookshelf is not?  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Elizabeth Moran

The changes that have taken place in the surrounding neighbourhood are vastly significant of the progress of a beef-eating people

September 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

If there is a particular practice that epitomises the sanctuaries, it is the rescue. This was the forcible release of a prisoner from the custody of an authority, be it the law, the military or bailiffs. Whilst it was common enough during the eighteenth century – especially when the press gang was on the prowl – the sanctuaries provided two enhancements: a ready crew for mounting them and a place of safety from recapture.

The following document from 1697 shows a rescue more or less carried out ‘to order.’ Two men were being taken under habeas corpus from Somerset to the London courts; a letter requesting their rescue was sent to one Thomas Gurney in Whitefriars, who raised a troop and intercepted them.  read more


there are some authors who employ their talent in the delicate description of varying states of the soul, character traits etc. I shall not be counted among these. All that accumulation of realistic detail, with clearly differentiated characters hogging the limelight, has always seemed pure bullshit to me

August 1, 2013 § Leave a comment


In The London Spy (1703), Ned Ward described coffee as a ‘Mahometan gruel’, whilst in 1665 an anonymous description of The Character of a Coffee-House insisted on its title-page that ‘When Coffee once was vended here, / The Alc’ron shortly did appear’. Another anonymous writer launched A Broadside against Coffee: or, The Marriage of the Turk in 1672.

Recognising the foreign roots of this increasingly popular drink, English writers worried that the potency of the fashionable beverage might cause imbibers to ‘turn Turk’, or become muslims. This was a surprisingly common fear in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as Matar has shown, fuelled by stories of Englishmen prospering as muslims. Stories of conversion and compulsion persisted, despite the fact that Islam was much more tolerant of other religions than were the Christian churches and that the Qur’an accords a special place to the two other religions of the book: Christianity and Judaism.

Coffee might affect body and soul together: changing the complexion to a swarthier hue and, as ‘an ugly Turkish enchantress’, putting the drinker under the ‘spell’ of another religion (The city-wifes petition against coffee (1700)). In 1663, the writer of a broadsheet description of A Cup of Coffee: or Coffee in its Colours complained:

For Men and Christians to turn Turks, and think
T’excuse the Crime because ’tis in their drink,
Is more then Magick, and does plainly tell
Coffee’s extraction has its heats from hell.

The complaint at coffee and its apostasizing effects seems to have had numerous causes: a patriotic attempt to keep native industries alive by persuading Englishmen to keep drinking the more traditional ale and beer; a fear of the very real military might of the Ottoman Empire; and a way to explain the physical effects of coffee (argued by some to be an aphrodisiac, whilst others complained it turned English husbands into ‘Eunuchs’).  read more

STILL: Christian Roger

He spoke of latent causes, sterile gauzes and the bedside morale

July 31, 2013 § Leave a comment


Stoker opened by telling Whitman that he could burn the letter, but hoped that he would resist. “I don’t think there is a man living, even you who are above the prejudices of the class of small-minded men, who wouldn’t like to get a letter from a younger man, a stranger, across the world—a man living in an atmosphere prejudiced to the truths you sing and your manner of singing them.”  He greatly valued Whitman’s candor, regarding him as different from other men, and hoped that they could be friends. “If I were before your face I would like to shake hands with you, for I feel that I would like you. I would like to call you Comrade and to talk to you as men who are not poets do not often talk.” Stoker then declared Whitman to be a “true man,” confessing that he yearned to be one himself, “and so I would be towards you as a brother and as a pupil to his master.”

Having made his admiration known, Stoker described his life: He was twenty-four years old, named after his father; his friends called him Bram, and he earned a small salary working as a clerk for the government. Next came his person and demeanor:

I am six feet two inches high and twelve stone weight naked and used to be forty-one or forty-two inches round the chest. I am ugly but strong and determined and have a large bump over my eyebrows. I have a heavy jaw and a big mouth and thick lips—sensitive nostrils—a snubnose and straight hair. I am equal in temper and cool in disposition and have a large amount of self control and am naturally secretive to the world. I take a delight in letting people I don’t like— people of mean or cruel or sneaking or cowardly disposition—see the worst side of me.

Stoker included his physical description, because he surmised from Whitman’s works and his photograph that he would be interested to know the “personal appearance of your correspondents.” Wrote Stoker: “You are I know a keen physiognomist.”

Stoker attempted to convey what Whitman’s poetry meant to him. “I have to thank you for many happy hours, for I have read your poems with my door locked late at night, and I have read them on the seashore where I could look all round me and see no more sign of human life than the ships out at sea: and here I often found myself waking up from a reverie with the book lying open before me.” Whitman’s verse had been life-changing for a self- confessed conservative from a conservative country. “But be assured of this, Walt Whitman—that a man . . . who has always heard your name cried down by the great mass of people who mention it, here felt his heart leap towards you across the Atlantic and his soul swelling at the words or rather the thoughts.”

Stoker closed by acknowledging his frankness. “I have been more candid with you—have said more about myself to you than I have ever said to any one before. You will not be angry with me if you have read so far. You will not laugh at me for writing this to you. It was with no small effort that I began to write and I feel reluctant to stop, but I must not tire you any more.”  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: [unattributed]

What Hook means when he says that those wretched streets ‘covered the site of Regent Street’ is that Regent Street was really there first; it was just necessary to get rid of the rubbish on top of it

July 22, 2013 § Leave a comment


You photographed the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968. What effect did the invasion have on you personally?
My photographs of the Soviet invasion in 1968 are a very personal testimony, an expression of bewilderment, despair and unspeakable sadness. When I decided to go live in the West, I left my best negatives with a friend in Prague, because if the negatives were to be found in my luggage at the airport, I would not have been able to leave the country. I also left with this friend my negatives of the Soviet invasion. Unfortunately, his home was raided by the secret police, who were looking for anti-government documents. They did not find my negatives. However, after the police left, my friend, out of fear that they might return, burned my best negatives of the invasion.

Have you ever shown those pictures?
For years I searched in vain, trying to find at least some prints. Only recently did I find some photographs from the 1968 invasion in a box of my letters to my father, which his second wife gave to me after he died. He lived in the country, and I had sent him some photographs so that he could see how it looked in Prague in those days. I had totally forgotten that I sent them. About 20 of them were exhibited for the first time in the spring of 2009 at Michigan State University. Four photographs were exhibited and published in a catalog of a large show mounted to mark the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion in Prague.

Czech photography has a rich history of innovation. Do you feel kinship with other documentary photographers like Josef Koudelka or Milon Novotný? And did you associate with any Czech photographers?
I used to visit an old and famous Czech photographer named Josef Sudek. He described my questions about his photographs as “picking his cherries.” Josef Koudelka is an old friend. We became friends in 1963, when he was working in a Prague airport designing aircraft. Milon Novotný was a friend of my husband, and once a week we would go to the pub together.

Is there such a thing as a “Czech” photographic aesthetic?
I don’t think so. But Czechs and Slovaks take photography very seriously. The Czech avant-garde art groups in the early 20th century included writers, painters, photographers and sculptors. And even during communism the official state body “The Artists Union” had departments of painting, sculpture, printmaking and photography. I became a member of The Artists Union in 1969, and in my identity card, in the column “profession,” was written: “visual artists—photographer.”…

I’m struck by the graphic power of your work, especially the strong contrast and pronounced grain. How did you arrive at this visual aesthetic?
In Czechoslovakia in the 1960s high-speed 35mm photographic film was not available. We used high-speed cinematographic film, which we bought on the black market from film cameramen. When pushed, the film was quite grainy, and I liked it very much. The style was born out of necessity, but I like the grain, I like the texture, even the faults in the emulsion. I don’t mind them; I consider them part of the image.  read more

ART: Pieter Brueghel

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