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04

Apr

The White Review No.7 launch party 28-03-13

John Stezaker speaking at The White Review No.7 launch party 28-03-13

 

Dream grandpa to many, John Stezaker is admirably game when it comes to giving intimate, reflective talks to rooms full of young ‘uns. Last time I heard him, it was at the Afterall Film Club at St. Martin’s. This time round, the room in question is the gallery at Claire de Rouen Books, and the occasion is the launch of The White Review, an extremely well groomed literary and art quarterly.  Drinks are abundant and the gallery is undulating with end-of-week congeniality.

Owing to past experience, I had the foresight to bagsy a front row listening spot for hearing the oh-so-softly spoken Stezaker deliver his words of artistic wisdom.

Stezaker’s practice deals with recycling and replacement. He is most commonly known for the collages that feature film stills from the 40s and 50s in which many of the actors’ faces are obscured and spliced, often with a landscape picture postcard. Stezaker is interested in the film still as a dying art form in itself. The conversation turns to the obsolete and he talks about the artifice of the film still. Of course, stills are not a snatched frame from the film reel but a series of posed shots taken by a hired photographer who generally preferred the cloak of anonymity.

This conjures memories from my childhood in which I would sit clutching the VHS box throughout a film, watching out intently for the exact moment when the scene aligns with the photographs on the back of the box. Alignment is an interesting idea. When it comes to aligning and re-representing, Stezaker is an absolute master. Cliffs become faces, waterfalls become mouths and bridge arches become eyes. The effect is jarring and immediate 

So Stezaker turns artificially manipulated images of a staged reality one manipulation further by presenting us with a fresh concept, that in many way returns us to our direct reality; one of reactions. The rural scenes contrast incongruously with the film stills, evoking wonder and amusement.

Stezaker is adamant about the necessity for the image to have been discarded. Only after it has lost its purpose does he feel able to take it and sacrifice it with his scissors. I recall him talking on the same subject at the Whitechapel Gallery when he owned that he could never mutilate a photograph of a family member because that would be a destructive act and presumably, the image would carry too much significance to become an equal part of a new image.

Despite having paid vast sums for large film still archives and rare posters, by his own admission, he is less inclined to work with images that carry a significant value.

Recently, Stezaker has turned his hand to film making, his latest moving image work titled ‘Blind’. This features countless discarded film stills appearing fleetingly on the screen, rather like a flicker book. Stezaker is jovial, anecdotally telling the eager crowd about how some people commented on the amount of nudity and others on the number of swastikas that appeared. However, the thinking behind the idea is serious. In a world where we are constantly being inundated by digital images, the idea that we have forgotten how to see is a thought that seems uncomfortably close to home for many of us.

We must never forget that the digital image is not the same as a paper one. The light comes from behind the image as opposed to reflecting off it, and of course, the digital image can disappear within the blink of an eye. Stezaker is insistent that he will only ever work with paper and scissors. The concept of the rapidly blinking eye is interesting. Stezaker references after-image, the picture that appears in our retinas after an image has disappeared, similarly to the smoke left in the sky following a firework.

To me it seems that Stezaker’s practice encourages us to commune with the physical world, to appreciate its incongruities and nuances. 

26

Mar

Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos

Rosemarie Trockel: A Cosmos. A Gallery Assistant’s review. 26-03-13

What you experience when you visit an art exhibition for an hour or two is exceptionally different from what you would experience if you had spent many hours for days on end at that same exhibition. This is something I’d never been able to do before I began invigilating at the Serpentine Gallery for Rosemarie Trockel’s ‘A Cosmos’.

On People 

My first introduction to the exhibition comprised of a whole day spent in two out of a possible six galleries. Despite the fact that I supposedly had so much time to look at and assess the art, I swear I barely saw anything besides the heart shaking greasy grasps of toddlers with worryingly absent creators and spatially unaware rucksack swingers.

 The number of people who take offence when politely requested to remove their rucksacks and hold them in their hands is astounding. Not only do they silently glare and sniff but they mutter ‘for god’s sake’ and ‘for fuck’s sake’, begrudgingly lowering their bags, contrarily lifting them back onto their shoulders seconds later. One woman seemed to have decided that we were attempting to breach her human rights and in the end I had no choice but to ask her to leave if she wouldn’t adhere to gallery rules.

 I tend to think that it’s the people who refuse to understand why we might want them to remove their bags who will fail to have a positive experience with contemporary conceptual art. They carry round with them a great sense of entitlement as though it’s their right to see the art and treat it with as little respect as they have understanding, as though they’ve just paid an astronomical entrance fee. I’m glad it’s free. It renders you impartial. A high entrance fee can bring about an unbalanced estimation of a show’s value when battling against the British need to get one’s money’s worth.

 This may all seem dull but my main purpose for bringing it up is to say that it’s a shame, because I don’t like telling people off and I don’t like putting up negative barriers between myself and others; because I want people to ask me questions and I want people to go away from the show feeling as though they engaged and thought hard and came away feeling full rather than furious.

 That is one of the main things I’ve learnt since working at this exhibition: people need to start asking Gallery Attendants more questions if they want to get more enjoyment out of conceptual art. I can see people wandering about with incomprehension floating about on their faces but without any plea for help I won’t patronise them by volunteering information unless it’s appropriate. However, it’s the conversations I’ve had with members of the public about the art that have been the most enriching thing for me and I hope, for them. With over 200 exhibits in the show, it has been great when people have asked me to find meaning in specific artworks and I’ve had seconds to contemplate and analyse and come out with something possible. GAs are not just grumpy furniture.

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 On the show

 The first thing to think about when looking around the exhibition is the idea of a Cosmos. I love chaos, clutter and association making. Once you accept that you can’t understand every work as it was perhaps intended, you can start to relax and enjoy your personal experience and understanding of it.

 As you move through the exhibition, be aware of the different art spaces you’re walking into, from open and light to cluttered, dark and Museumesque. Rosemarie worked closely with curators to create a unique encounter where new meanings can be drawn from the works based on their groupings. One room is white-tiled from floor to ceiling, creating a laboratory-type setting, a place for experiment and the darkly humorous. In Replace Me (2011) we are presented with a grey-scaled version of The Origin of the World in which Trockel has confronted her fear of spiders by transplanting the pubic hair with a hand drawn tarantula. It’s an excruciating image that plays with ideas about birth, death, the primitive, the unnatural, the complexity of artistic processes, but it evokes a direct response, as do many of the works on show.

 Situated right next to this is a large plastic tree turned and hung upside down. Why? Who knows? But isn’t the concept of a plastic replica of a tree being manufactured quite funny in itself? Trockel is concerned with the natural and the manmade and the tensions between them. Ladislaw Scarewitcz’ stop-motion film about the domestic troubles between two beetles is amusing and awe-inspiringly intricate with most people finding it both impressive and charming.

 However, one visitor’s face seemed to melt in disgust the more she watched, and she eventually turned to me and uttered ‘obscene’. She explained that she thought it was vile to ascribe human behaviour to defenseless insects. Trockel is certainly interested in the concept of manipulation and control. In Starewicz’ film, he created his puppets from dead insects, and it’s this idea of giving inanimate objects human qualities that crops up repeatedly in the exhibition, from as simple an example as a cut flower next to an amputated hand.

 The eeriest display of control is presented in the form of Morton Bartlett’s Ballerina. Tellingly shown amongst other items in one of three vitrines, her limbs are that little bit too long to be those of a child and her smile terrifyingly false. She is one of eighteen of Bartlett’s homemade doll family, a troupe of young girls (and three boys) who he dressed and arranged into poses which he then captured in photographs. I remember seeing them all exhibited at the Hamburger Bahnhoff in Berlin in 2012 and feeling thoroughly disturbed.  A current display of his photographs at the Horse Hospital near Russell Square also provides a further insight into the mind of the reclusive man. In A Cosmos the effect is subtler but behind the hanging photographic print of the ballerina, Trockel has placed a small black curtain and a butterly.

 Collectors in both history and literature are often portrayed as sexually repressed and potentially dangerous individuals, most obviously in John Fowle’s The Collector, less obviously when remembering details such as that Nabokov’s parents were ornithologists. Interestingly, it’s those who find it hard to engage with the rest of the exhibition who like this work. It is what it looks like at least.

 Other works by outsider artists include the obsessive and wonderous drawings of manuel Montalvo, that conjure gasps of wonder, the bird sculptures of James Caste, and Judith Scott’s woolen sculptures. Each showcase a necessity to create and express, revealing languages that we are able to visually translate. Scott’s works are extremely pregnant and expressive, with layer upon layer of colour and texture binding the original starting object beyond recognition, obscuring it’s original purpose in the same way that the wool is no longer being used for a practical domestic purpose but as an artwork. There’s an emotive sense of something struggling to escape and bearing Scott’s Downs Syndrome and deaf/mute disabilities in mind, it’s not hard to see it.

 The room that people seem to have the most trouble with is the ceramics. They are neither traditionally beautiful nor unattractive. One woman walked in before loudly muttering ‘Call this art? I like art but this isn’t art’. I decided to challenge her views and she continued ‘I could do this. She’s just gone and covered a sofa with a crummy old blanket’. Rather than scornfully telling the woman that I sincerely doubted her ability to produce such incredibly glazed ceramic sculptures, I started by telling her that what she had assumed was a sofa was actually a ceramic replica that looks almost identical to a sofa. She expressed surprise, then sheepishness, before admitting ‘well, I suppose that’s quite clever’.

 Grasping this foothold of positivity, I went on to talk about how part of the exhibition was about taking a closer look and asking yourself what the artist was trying to achieve. For me, that room is about the process of making, being able to see what the direct human interaction was with visible fingerprints and what is produced at the end; works that are beautiful yet grotesque. The Less Sauvage than Others pieces resemble mirrors but which fail to reflect any clear image. Having talked at length about how the ceramic pieces tied into the exhibition as a whole, the woman, although not entirely convinced, seemed ready to re-evaluate her opinions. For me, this is why it’s such a fantastic and challenging show.

 Tellingly, that same lady asked me whether she (Rosemary Trockel) was ‘a very young lady’. I believe you stay young and in tune with the world by refreshing your views and ideas regularly.

 The work which I’ve come to love most is one which I might have perhaps dismissed and moved on from on a first view. Ruth Francken’s Four and Seven is a red sculpture which looks to be part of an airplane but which equally resembles part of a rocket or a missile. However, it looks to be cut off and with the phallic shape in mind, it seems to connote castration. The flat end is covered in wires that look to control the sculpture. The shining red finish bears a communist symbol on one side and the cushion that it rests on, with red and white stripes, resembles the American flag.

 I read the work as a product of the Cold War struggles but also as a feminist work reflecting the struggle between masculine and feminine. Visitors ask ‘what does it do?’ to which I’ve started to respond ‘what do you think it does?’ and ‘what does it remind you of?’ I feel that there’s more to draw from it. It’s a very loaded work and even the hard surface reflects the light from the ceiling, looking like a spacey solar system or cosmos.

 Speaking of which, reflections play an interesting part in the exhibition. In the North Gallery the three vitrines sometimes reflect and often ignore, making what you see through them the work of chance. No one will see exactly the same thing. Trockel’s use of casing and framing is particularly interesting. Her wool canvases appear both open and within Perspex casing as do the paintings by an orangutan from the Cologne zoo. These paintings challenge the conception of who is an artist, what makes it art, captivity and freedom. One out of the three them appears in a case. The brushstrokes are abstract and primitive, encouraging an instantaneous response.

 Trockel celebrates the child-like appeal of visual art and indeed, the exhibition has evoked fascinated fixation from numerous young eyes. Even adults have struggled with their instincts when it comes to NO TOUCHING. Trockel wants us to think and engage with the world and her micro-universe is almost like a concentrated exercise in doing so.

 My appreciation of the Cosmos has been an organic process of unfurling associations and recognitions, during which I’ve become acutely aware of a lucidity of thought that I didn’t suppose I possessed before but which Trockel has helped to unlock.

06

Mar

To the wondering why I watched as much as I did. 06-03-12

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I had never walked out of a film in the cinema before. Not when I’d paid for the pleasure of it. In this case, it transpired that I’d paid for pain. From the cliché laden script writing of the opening French over voice, I could tell that I already wasn’t into this film.  ‘Me in him, him in me’: It was too dreadful, like a parody of whimsical European cinema. Perhaps it was a parody; perhaps within the next half an hour I’d be sliding off my red seat with hysteria. I doubted it.

Never have I felt such distaste for a character than she played by Olga Kurylenko, whose excessive twirling, sexy snarling and pouncing conjured a prickling, previously unbeknown to me, feminist fury. Her careless treatment of her (clearly frustrated) daughter, her submissive idiocy, and her unattractive habit of acting like a precocious child, despite clearly being over thirty, set my blood boiling.

Ben Affleck’s performance is not much better.  Throughout the film he speaks little, most practically, due to the unlikelihood that he can deliver lines in French credibly. However, I imagine that the intention was to build up a sense of mystery and to build on his emotional detachment from, well, anything. Forget aloof, Affleck loafs around with a blank expression on his face doing god knows what most of the time, although he appears to spend some hours on a building site, or is it some kind of oilrig?

 The camera is constantly in motion, panning in and out and all around dizzyingly, lending a sense of whimsy to the infinite scenes in which the characters tread through wind-strewn fields, obscuring anything that might be too interesting to include in the film. The effect is dissatisfying; I wanted to see something solid as opposed to something alluded to.

I hung on in the hope that Xavier Bardem and Rachel McAdams would bring some relief. They didn’t. McAdams as the second girlfriend follows in the footsteps of the first. Quite literally, and through all the same fields too, making it excruciating to watch. By this point, I was getting more and more tense with the pressure of having to make the decision to leave.

Bardem’s role as the priest seemed incongruous with the rest of the film other than as a means of drawing attention to the modern morality of the other characters. Were I to hyper-analyse Malick’s intentions I might surmise that by portraying a world lacking in simple and true interactions, such as straightforward conversations and sex, one in which the camera flirts with the viewer, he is depicting a clear lack of fulfillment and consummation in life. The action that takes place off screen, as in Greek Tragedy, is suggested but it is this turning world of suggestion with no clear path that is confusing. It is intimated that McAdams and Affleck’s characters are fundamentally unsuited because of the disparity between their religious beliefs. Thus, the ideas concealed within the banality of the film are more interesting when viewed in relation to religion.

However, ultimately, Malick gives us unlikable characters about whom I didn’t care to find out what happened, and what did happen was essentially boring. By the time the original girlfriend re-appeared I had begun to feel like I was being carried along on a carousel constructed of concrete and I made the decision to get off. What I’ve come to describe as Malick’s cinematic monstrosity has proved to me that a quick look on Rotton Tomatoes before I part with my quids won’t do me any harm.

 

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A few days later, still traumatized by my experience, I confided in a friend who convinced me to give Badlands a watch. It was easy to understand how Malick had become such a lauded name in cinema in light of this previous work.

The cinematography was rich, the themes were challenging and the denouement somehow defied expectation.

I particularly loved that, despite living in tree houses and cars, playing witness to multiple murders and travelling for days on end, Holly keeps up with her beauty regime. She keeps her hair in curlers at night, applies lipstick in the morning and is always perfectly turned out. I saw her pristine appearance as a metaphor for the moral and emotional detachment she exercises in the face of murder and crime.

It was like an American dream from hell, in a good way. More like this please.

 

Efterklang live @The Barbican 30-10-12

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Efterklang are playing for a sold out Barbican concert hall tonight and their excitement at being back after a three-year interlude is evident. I first encountered these charming experimental pop Danes on the first day of Bestival 2009 and was struck when vocalist Casper Clausen aimed a point-and-shoot camera at the crowd, the sheer presence of the audience fuelling his enthusiasm to perform.

Indeed, the band’s desire to collaborate and engage is remarkable. For starters, it’s only a small point but there is even a ‘hello from Efterklang’ message on the evening’s programme, offering a friendly explanation of their latest album, Piramida, the majority of which will make up tonight’s show. On a more obvious and major note, the band are joined tonight by the Northern Sinfonia conducted by Andre de Ridder with whom they’ve been playing and touring the UK for the last week and a half.

Piramida was inspired by the experiences that the band took away with them from the abandoned ghost town of Spitsbergen, a former Russian mining settlement North of Norway, where they spent eleven days gathering over one thousand recordings. Taking their noise treasure home they enlisted the help of classical arrangers including members of Oh Land and Sigur Ros to aid them in creating music that would work with an orchestra.

Opening the show with ‘Hollow Mountain’, a sense of discovery and suspense is built wonderfully with fluttering glockenspiels joined by quavering strings and hauntingly beautiful vocals from a trio of Enya-esque ladies before the drums kick in and the song descends into the realms of the epic. Clausen arrives on stage to contribute his vocals amidst the drama of the song’s crescendo, a little too loudly at first, thereby dwarfing the sound of the orchestra; but knobs are twiddled accordingly until musical equilibrium is reached and the effect is magnificent, the chiming torrent of sound painting the barren landscape into the mind wonderfully.

From there on in, Efterklang take us on a musical journey that reads like the score to a fantastical and melancholic film with Clausen’s falsetto notes lending a drama to the orchestral crescendos that blends more fluidly with the music than in anything else they’ve made. ‘Told To Be Fine’ starts with tribal snare drumming overlaid by melancholic vocals that bring to mind those of Jens Lekman and latterly, in ‘The Living Layer’, the musical arrangements resemble those of Patrick Wolf and the Arcade Fire.

During instrumental number ‘Vaelv’ the band back in amongst the classical musicians soaking up the wonderful experience and listening with evident pleasure, Clausen ambling about smilingly as though hew were in his own home-yes, Efterklang are certainly in their element and it’s a joy to see such a display of passion. The song crescendos and fades into silence, the audience rapt and quiet…until a mobile phone bleeps comically, breaking the spell.

The racket Efterklang conjure tonight is testament to the idea that every voice and sound is vital in the creation of something as wonderful as this. Stripped back, the aim is very primal: to join together and communicate something fantastic; and what would all this be for if not to be performed in front of packed out music halls? The troupe exit the stage beaming and waving before returning for an encore that elicits whoops of joy and a standing ovation from the spectators. At this point, Clausen takes audience engagement one step further, quite literally striding from the stage to the seats, balancing and singing in amongst some pleased audience members (-latterly the recipients of a bear hug from the star of the show). ‘You guys are lovely’ he says.

Efterklang are lovely. They really couldn’t be lovelier. The lovely crowd leaves the lovely Barbican with an after clang in their ears and a smile in their eyes. They are a shining example of a group who have developed something raw and tonight they succeeded in bringing the unconventional to the masses.

Micachu and the Shapes @ XOYO 11-10-12

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Support comes in the form of Lime Headed Dog, an experimental music six-piece based in London. They’re pretty fun, although, it’s kind of as though they’re only just hitting musical puberty and it’s not quite clear how their broken voice sounds yet, lurching from Future Heads-ish garage pop with a cameo appearance from what sounds like the Daleks and then swiftly falling into a charming male choir with Jonquil-comparable harmonies. A good description is difficult but imagine you just got overexcited by the novelty of party rings, cola, sausage roles and vodka in one place and ended up with a slight tummy ache that doesn’t quite prevent you from dancing, and that’s the best I can do.

Bullion provided the unrecognisable but enjoyable soundtrack to the in-between period, which led up to me needing a wee just as Michachu and the Shapes graced the stage at an excusably late time. Their entrance is characteristically casual. The crowd take it in their stride…to the extent that Mica Levi comments cheerfully ‘you’re very quiet’. It’s out of respect Mica. Don’t knock it.

 Clad in her signature clobber, Micachu’s performance is as understated as ever, a sort of sneery scowl playing across her lips as she sings. She and the Shapes play a much cooler, slowed down version of ‘OK’ with a somehow rather touching dialogue going on between her and her fellow female shape; at which point I might add that the trio are all wearing matching screen-printed shirts like they’re in some cool geek club that you can only get into if you’re cool and a geek, which everyone in this crowd desperately wishes they were.

 The set is predictably (and paradoxically) varied, sometimes sounding like a gaggle of electronic kitchen utensils having a disco in the sink and managing to clatter around melodically. Much to the spectator’s delight, Mica strides into Ballard land minus Wesley Gonzales for a beautiful and highly swayable rendition of ‘Nothing’, a real pearl of a song pulled from amongst the rubble of Micachu’s skip of good noises.

 A notable moment arises when a crazed woman crying ‘ROCK AND ROLL ISN’T IT?’ clambers up on stage before, hesitantly, as if in slow motion, and much to the band’s alarm, dives into a rapidly disintegrating crowd. A shell-shocked girl catches her in a hug and the somewhat mild and Bambi-legged audience breathe a sigh of relief.

 Finishing the mains with the danceable and memorable ‘Lips’, things just seem to be getting going. That is, until the encore comes and suddenly we’re almost fooled into thinking that XOYO is about to take off for the moon. Too dark? Micachu seems to think so and ends the number with a laugh before launching into the hip-hoppy anthem we’ve all been waiting for, ‘Low Dogg’, a track that makes you think of gangs of teenagers in the seventies wearing ripped denim and hanging out on pavements chewing chewing gum.

 Yes, Micachu and Shapes are great at making and playing music; the sort you want to crash around to in your living room. That’s not to say that it’s not great in a big venue-just that it’s relatable and familial and moreover, it’s fun!

Iamamiwhoami at the Southbank Centre 10-10-12

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There must be something about iamamiwhoami that makes her remarkably appealing to the gay man because tonight, the Southbank Hall is full and I haven’t spotted a single heterosexual man all evening. As one of my male-inclined male companions remarks ‘it’s like pre-Joiners!’ Whether it is Jonna Lee’s clean cut Nordic beauty that beckons or the other-worldly tone to her impressive vocals that echo and chime or even because, taking her project’s title as a starting point, she questions identity, her demographic is gay-heavy. Well, in London at least.

We’re treated to a complete screening of the videos for every one of the songs in the album projected in the foyer prior to the start of the show. It’s an elegant visual narrative to accompany the record that shifts from phase-to-phase with the song changes, Lee as the protagonist in her own fairytale. We see her trapped in an urban building, frolicking ethereally on snowy mountains, pounding the sand in the dessert and swimming in a dark ocean usually clad in just her underwear and often accompanied by a posse of cuddly sand hued creatures.

 You may think that playing what you’re about to be playing to your audience just before you play it is a bad idea but in actual fact, it seems to hype people up more; like giving someone a cherry followed by a trifle.

 Performance-wise, everything is great. The lighting is designed splendidly, starting out tantalizingly low with the band silhouetted against orange. Aside from Lee, the band wear white with baseball caps which paradoxically fits in with the wider concept of incongruity and the unexpected in relation to identity.

 Lee is a true show woman, giving the audience exactly what they want and swooshing her white blonde curls expertly to catch the light. Starting in a skin-tight, white onesie, her dancing is jaunty, angular and relentless, sometimes resembling Britney in Oops I did it Again and at other times she’s like a robot creature that looks as though she was born of milk. Much to the delight of the spectators, the creature enters the realms of the real, circuiting the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s aisles and touching the hands of several adoring fans before, nymph-like, returning to her domain.

 About mid-way through the set, Lee dons her monster guise and resonant of Kate Bush if she was blonde and one of the Muppets, she prances and frenzies around the stage, whirling and shaking her costume about, puppet-like. Seizing the opportunity, press photographers flock to the front like seals at feeding time. Again, she goes wandering off amongst the audience (probably trying to escape the camera brigade) much to the audience’s pleasure.  The lighting moves through the a spectrum of disco colours and moods until all that’s left is a strobe light and the sound of clapping which builds until the inevitable encore at which point many people or on their feet, clearly frustrated by the constrains of a seated venue.

 Despite the sound quality being somewhat inconsistent and therefore, disappointing, the overall spectacle and experience of Iamamiwhoami is not something that can be judged by sound alone. The overall experience is splendid, not utterly transporting, but well on its way to being. 

JOHN MAUS LIVE @ THE SCALA 14-08-12

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The first time I witnessed John Maus was in the upstairs of a crumbling pub in Sheffield in 2007. I’d happened upon the flyer and gone along not knowing what to expect. I was pleasantly alarmed, especially when halfway through the set, the ceiling collapsed and chalky slabs of plaster crashed down around him. Undeterred, he played on and the phrase HARDCORE seemed to flash on and off like a neon light in my head.

    He re-entered my consciousness just last year when, one full-mooned night, a friend linked me to Maus’ rendition of ‘Hey Moon’ by Molly Nilsson. It was to my eardrums what the most thirst quenching drink is to the throat. I can listen to it tirelessly and it seems to align itself with my mood like a magical chameleon song, and by now I’ve realised just how excellent all of his musical creations are.

    Last night’s Upset the Rhythm show was something I’d been looking forward to for at least five weeks so we arrived there early, too early in fact; the Scala’s doors hadn’t even opened, but at least we got to stake out a brilliant viewing spot on a beer-damp step and experience some excellent bonus material from synth laden support acts Peepholes and The Pheromoans.

    Of course, once John Maus was onstage, you could understand why they were the support acts. Personifying the word ‘primitive’ over any musician I’ve ever seen live, Maus was like the leader of a wolf pack, howling wildly, the Pied Piper of the wonder struck spectators whose response included crowd surfing, stage crashing and sheer cries of ‘arrrrgggh’.

    The set was a whirlwind of back-to-back hits from Maus’ backlog featuring ‘Quantum Leap’, ‘Castles in the Grave’ and the dreamy reverb world of ‘Do Your Best’, all whilst Maus feverishly hurled from one end of the stage to the other thrashing his head back and forth, his sweat-soaked hair precipitating over the front row fortunates (‘…And The Rain Came Down’). At times, Maus just stood there with an agonised look of despair on his face and at other times he just pointed at people in the crowd from one to another whilst singing.

    Pounding his forehead and air punching like a bewildered, extraverted genius child frustrated with the constraints of regular communication, it was like a maniacal communion, the throbbing crowd fighting to reach out and hear the voice of their leader. ‘Believer’ brought the show to a euphoric denouement; the brilliance stopping dully without an encore and a shell-shocked audience left processing what they had just beheld. It was John Maus, a magnificent maniac.

Sebastien Tellier @Traction Festival 14-07-12

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Terrible photo-sorry. That’s Blackberries for you.


I expressed extreme delight in the style of a die-hard fan when my friend announced that her mum had bought her birthday tickets for us to see Sebastien Tellier at Traction Festival. However, if I’m excruciatingly truthful, even though I’d heard my friends talk about him a lot and I’m sure I’d Youtubed him before, I couldn’t have hummed the tune to a single one of his songs. I got all over-excited about his imminent arrival in my consciousness regardless.

    It was a blue sky when I arrived at King’s Cross at 8 o’clock. An affable policeman pointed me in the right direction and then I took a seat on a bench next to where he was stationed, my friend being predictably late.

    It was rather bizarre being at such a civilized festival with no mud, no aggressive get-closer-to-the-fronters and miraculously, no queues for the loos. There were, however, infinite queues for the booze, so we purchased some cokes from a raunchy meatball stall and topped them up with some smuggled vodka, which led me to feel very juvenile amongst the thirty-something arty guardian-reading types that made up most of the crowd.

    No sooner had Giles Peterson congratulated the weather for being all blue than it seemed to throw a tantrum for contrary’s sake and it began to bucket it down; bucket it down. Anyway, white poncho clad kkk-esque people popped up and I spied a person with a likely-looking box of spherical objects. I grabbed us two only to turn back to see my friend demanding ‘give me one, I want one. What are they?’ idiotically at the weather-beaten steward.

    We stood at the front barrier, umbrella in one hand, cigarette in the other. We got drenched. The hood from my poncho flew back, filled up with rain and then poured down my back refreshingly. Press photographers kept on taking our picture…so I sincerely hope those don’t resurface.

    It was worth the wait for Tellier’s biblical arrival onstage. The lighting was superb and with excellent sound and lighter rain, I don’t think the atmosphere could’ve been more euphoric. ‘zees ees about leetle pig and naked sheep’ he announced solemnly at one point, sunglasses on, in between songs. ‘You want to see my ass? Eet will cost you a lot. Four Euro’…followed by the ridiculous hit, Kilometer. Musical highlights had to be La Ritournelle and Divine. However, my personal highlight was when, ‘just by chance’, my friend found a spare pair of knickers in her handbag. After much deliberation she threw them at Tellier and missed by inches. They fell next to the stage and the security bloke refused to give them back for a second attempt before talking about us with his friend in the leeriest manner possible. We, of course, were on the floor laughing alongside our fellow front-rowers.

    Afterwards, as we walked past platform nine and three quarters, I spotted Tellier’s beautiful synth player, who waved at me, and I wondered with all my heart why I didn’t just sexually assault him there and then.

Ballgowns @ the V&A 12-06-12

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My long-time-no-see friend texted me yesterday morning to ask me along to this. I said yes choking back my nervousness over the ten squid entrance in the context of my current financial situation. Very luckily indeed, I happened to know the girl on the exhibition door so we hopped and skipped in for free.

 

One thing I felt about the show was that dresses look so much better on a woman/drag queen than they do on almost formless mannequins. The dress is designed to cater for all forms and tastes and is worn by the wearer. The dress should not wear the model. To this end, it was brought home that dresses are not designed to sit in museums and I was reminded that I have never much enjoyed seeing clothes in cabinets. The museum of costume in Bath is another example.

 

Of course, it’s very interesting to see how, over time, the idea of what a beautiful couture dress is has changed, Gareth Pugh and Alexander McQueen being pioneers of the particularly fantastical and strange in dressmaking. In the too-dim lighting, some of these dresses take on a nightmarish quality and I imagine a woman trapped in a dress, unable to escape and breathe freely again.

 

Many of the dresses donated by contemporary designers seemed to be poor ambassadors for their brand. For example, the Erdem dress on show, although lovely, was bold in colour and traditional in design, not what I’d expect to see representing a designer famed for the romance, subtlety and innovation in his designs. This inevitably led my friend and I to a discussion revolving around how her friend’s wedding dress was designed by Erdem which led us to sigh repeatedly with envy and after that, I couldn’t stop thinking about this one Erdem dress that I saw on Net-A-Porter a while back and spent about half an hour zooming in and out on for love of it. This thought proved more interesting than the exhibition so we left soon after that.

 

To conclude, it was good but I’m glad I was saved the entry fee.

Moonrise Kingdom 31-05-12

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I can never ever understand why children apparently don’t count when it comes to film credits. It riles me to see that a relatively inconsequential character such as Tilda Swinton appears in the opening titles whilst the two young stars of the film go unmentioned. That said, I suppose they are a bit of a surprise treat as a result. Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman star as Suzy and Sam, two world-weary children who, following an extensive pen-pal correspondence, plan an elopement. The attempt is an escape from the social tyranny they experience on a daily basis, be it at the hands of a parent or a khaki scout bully. They are a wildly (if a little awkwardly) romantic pair who are not afraid to express themselves and stand up for one another. It is when the star-crossed kids realise they’re being pursued that the shit really hits the fan. Amongst violent stabbings, getting to second base and the hero of the tale being hit by lightning, Wes Anderson takes us along on a turbulent jaunt down the path towards meaning.

 

The ensemble cast makes for nutritious viewing with as many colourful characters with tribulations and revelations as there are scout badges. Bruce Willis cuts an unusually sympathetic figure as the humble, dejected police officer whilst Anderson veteran Bill Murray adds some balancing bitterness to the overall flavour as the slob father. Meanwhile, Edward Norton occupies our compassion as his unwavering good nature brings a comforting positivity and linearity to the unfolding plot. Of course, it is the two young’uns who make the biggest impression, managing to deliver enchantingly realised and mature performances in heightened and sometimes downright ridiculous character-driven circumstances.

 

With comically timed cinematography, a melodramatic score and witty script writing, Moonrise Kingdom is a highly embellished but simple story that reminds me of a spilt box of treasure-something for everyone. The best advice I could give to a would-be viewer is not to expect too much.

 

Two things I learnt from this film:

Blue eye shadow can look great.

Wes Anderson clearly has some sort of pet-hate for dogs.