Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Dear Diary...

Dear Diary,

The Thinking Girl is back with a spring in her step and a graceful leap into the arms of choreographer Michael Clark!  Clark has invited 100 members of the public - including the Thinking Girl - to join him at the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, where we'll be on show for six weeks as he whips us untrained dancers into something resembling a dance troupe. 

The Tate describes it as a rare chance for onlookers to witness the artistic process that informs live art, but I think it will be the participants - those who *are* the actual art form - who will be most blown away by the experience.

More thoughts to come after Rehearsal #1 on Friday.

~The Thinking Girl x

Monday, 3 May 2010

One-Week Diary

The Pre-Election Night Special [Frontline Club]
Election Party [The Hub]
Grand Vintage Ball [UMI+Co]  Read my review for the Londonist here

Monday, 12 April 2010

One-Week Diary

The Automated Nation [Future Human at The Book Club]
Mat Collishaw [BFI Gallery]
Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin & Paula Rego [The Foundling Museum]

Monday, 29 March 2010

Political Ethics with Mary Warnock

Morality starts in the home, according to politician and ethicist Mary Warnock, and yet an ideal social system of ethics does not derive from cultural or religious context, but is somehow naturally evident in our common humanity.  Values such as truth, compassion, and trustworthiness need to be instilled when we are young if we are to self-regulate and always seek out the "moral route". 

I'm not sure if it's practical to take Warnock's basic theory of values (existing outside of political, social, and religious structures and being that which is just "the way people want to be treated themselves") and infer that this is a morality which people wish to share. 

A far easier task early on a Monday morning is to take her premise that we wish to live up to the moral standards demonstrated by family when we were young, and consider what has been carried through to adulthood today.  

From my mother: Materialism = Self-Love
Always shop when you are unhappy; it provides a sense of purpose and lifts the spirits.  When seeking the perfect shoe, remember that possessing such an item is secondary to the pursuit of the footwear: the journey rather than the destination gives one greatest satisfaction.

From my father (a man of the cloth no less): Self-sacrifice = Happiness 
You can never be truly happy or free unless you give up all your interests and time for other people.  A sense of self is less important than a sense of what other people want and need: discover this, give it to them, and a blissful existence shall be yours.

Mary Warnock was at the School of Life's Sunday sermon, Conway Hall.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

One-Week Diary

Steve McQueen in Conversation with Adrian Searle [National Portrait Gallery)
Mary Warnock, Political Ethics [School of Life]

Crash: Homage to J.G. Ballard

Ballardian (adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (born 1930), the British novelist, or his works (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments

On Friday night I watched 'Crash' (the naughty Cronenberg film based on Ballard's novel, not the movie with Halle Berry) in preparation for yesterday's excursion to the Gagosian to see 'Crash: Homage to J.G. Ballard'.

There's a scene at the start of the film where a woman opens her blouse, lifts one breast from her bra, and presses her bare flesh against the cold, hard metal of an aircraft.  It's an erotic fusion of human and machine that recurs over and again throughout the film, although in far more painful circumstances.  

I confess to knowing little about Ballard, and after watching Crash, I was more than curious about what I might find.  The closest I came to Crash's erotically maimed characters was an encounter with Cindy Sherman's Untitled #253, 1992.  Also echoing key elements of the story are Douglas Gordon's self-portraits of James Dean and Jayne Mansfield, created from mirrors such that the viewer becomes part of their tragic end. 

My favourite review of the exhibition comes from Oliver Basciano at Art Review, who makes lyrical observations like this one: "...the strong line in American sublime that pervades here is tempered by the inclusion of a few artists who work within the distinct mode of English melancholia".  His words resonate with my experience: I certainly felt as though I carried myself through the exhibition in a dreamlike trance.

All the work can be found on the Gagosian website, but here's a few of my favourites:

Michelle becomes part of James Dean's tragic end, with Douglas Gordon's Self-Portrait of You + Me (James Dean), 2007

Cyprien Gaillard, View of Sighthill Cemetery, 2008

Jane and Louise Wilson, Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard, 2000

Robert Rauschenberg — Jockey Cheer Glut, 1987

Ed Ruscha, Fountain of Crystal 2009

Dan Holdsworth, Untitled (Autopia) 1998

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Deutsche Borse Photography Prize 2010

Sophie Ristelbeuber may have won 2010's Deutsche Borse Photography Prize, but it was finalist Zoe Leonard's snaps of urban decay and destitution that stole my heart.  In 'Analogue', Leonard ventures around and sometimes beyond her native New York to capture small businesses that have faded or are marginalised by the expansion of a global economy. 

She says her central theme "is that I’m trying to make a portrait of us as a society at this moment in time and what our objects and urban landscape say about us. It’s a kind of archaeology – an attempt to understand who we are and what we care about as a society" (The Telegraph, 11 Feb 2010).

There's a sense of loss in her images, yet the vintage Rolleiflex camera and 11inch by 11inch format lends them a kind of romantic, nostalgic air.  There's even a little bit of hope: in a picture of a wheelbarrow and television for example, one reflects on where they might be going next.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

One-Week Diary

A week of chaos, decay and trauma.

Crash: Homage to J. G. Ballard [Gagosian]
Sophie Ristelhueber, Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2010 [The Photographer's Gallery]

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

I been thinking 'bout you ... HOPE

"Cynics object to treating hope as a virtue because it rarely bears fruit.  But that, say hope's defenders, is to see things upside down.  Hope is a virtue independently of its realisations, it is an intrinsic value, an end in itself, allied to courage and imagination, a positive attitude full of possibility and aspiration."
A.C.Grayling The Meaning of Things 2001

I needed a big dose of hope when I had a broken wing recently (as my friend K so charmingly described it).  I sustained myself by imagining all the marvellous things I'd do when the cast came off, and I spoke to friends who rallied my spirits by reminding me it was only six weeks of suffering.  Now that I've been patched up, my world is the right way up again; but I'm filing those hopeful wishes away for the next time I feel vulnerable.  

Here's what my hope is looking like... (hover over photos for sources)

Monday, 8 March 2010

Bibliology, Exhibit at Golden Lane Estates

Raised in a small Australian town with no building over five stories, I'm fascinated by the phenomenon of the British estate, and the way these impossibly tall, imposing buildings loom above the houses next door.  I'm unnaturally drawn to brutal modern architecture - making up for a childhood of waterfalls, rainforests and dusty camping trips perhaps - and whilst I know that life in these tower blocks can be alienating and dangerous, living in such close proximity to others can conversely inspire a sense of camaraderie.

Such is the case in the Golden Lane Estates adjacent to my favourite Brutalist piece of architecture: the Barbican.  Being located in prime part of East London, next door to one of London's most famous arts venues, some of the 557 flats were statistically likely to be occupied by a large number of creative types. 

Two such residents have tapped into the creative and communal spirit of the estate to establish 'Exhibit', a small art and design space that "aims to provoke awareness to design heritage of social housing with special focus on its ageing communities".   It's located at the foot of the estate, next door to a Barber whose furniture seems untouched since the estate was completed in the 1960s.

I ventured there this weekend for a Bookcrossing event at the current 'Bibliography' exhibition.  Photographer Kathryn Faulkner has been welcomed into the homes of the Golden Lane Estate residents to capture them reading in their natural habitat; lying on beds, relaxing in armchairs, sitting at tables. 

I arrived with my own battered copy of David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, had it stamped and recorded online, and was then invited into the estate to set it free.   After indulging in a voyeuristic peek into people's lives through Faulkner's pics, I was emboldened to take a few cheeky peeks of my own as I passed by!  And although I didn't see anyone reading, they may soon find a copy of Black Swan Green on a window ledge, and curl up in bed to lose themselves in someone else's story.

*I'll be tracking the progress of my book here.  Join the bookcrossing movement for free and set your own books loose on the world.

One-Week Diary

99 [Hackney]

Saturday, 6 March 2010

'Promises, Promises', Soho Theatre

Promises Promises left me gasping for breath this week.  In the dark, tiny confines of the Soho Theatre Miss Jean Brodie, recently retired in disgrace from a Scottish school, delivers an intimate monologue from her temporary supply classroom. 

A full cast of characters comes to life during her tale, from a young headteacher jollying his staff along, to a small mute girl newly arrived from Somalia with a team of community workers trailing behind her.  They're determined to exorcise her demons and make her vocal again - in full view of her young classmates - and Miss Brodie appears to be the child's only defender.  It ends in a bloody drama far removed from my own supply teaching experience, where my most uncomfortable moment was being asked by a 16 year old schoolboy to perform an inappropriate act on him in a South London schoolground.

The play could have been titled Snip Snip, so vivid was the cutting imagery threaded throughout.  The threat of something sinister and unnamed is present from the beginning, with a marvellously realistic primary classroom setpiece enveloped in the shadowy darkness of the theatre.   As the play races towards its dramatic climax, figurative cuts both past and present - severed relationships with a sister and a best friend, stolen tailoring scissors to deny a father his fearsome power, alienation from the colleagues around her - become literal gashes.   

As Miss Brodie reflects on the promises broken by others in her life, she tries to keep her promise to her new student that she is safe in her classroom.  Her voice intensifies and sharpens as the young girl's self-imposed silence is revealed to be a reaction to a primitive, dangerous, but all too common slicing inflicted by older womenfolk to preserve the purity of their daughters.  

Miss Brodie has been a broken woman for most of her life, and the most poignant scene for me was not the confession of molestation by her father, the revelation of her alcoholism, or even her discovery of the abuse of the child.  It was instead the utter abandonment she feels when her best friend from her early teaching years runs off with a man. 

This friend's words were "straight out of the dressing up box"; she was a woman who took the words and ideas of others and cut, shaped, and sewed them until they fit her like a glove, much like the home-made outfits she wore.  Miss Brodie longs to be like her, but failing as a seamstress she instead seeks to uphold her friend's mantra that a teacher makes a promise to to keep her students safe and teach them all they need to know.

At the end of the play, the lecherous male community elder finally suffers a similar fate to that of the young girl, at the hands of Miss Brodie and her stolen tailoring scissors.  It is with terrible sadness though that we realise she does not protect the child out of love, but rather in an attempt to avenge older, more personal wounds.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

One-Week Diary

Promises Promises [Soho Theatre]
Bibliology [Golden Lane Estate]

Monday, 22 February 2010

Friday, 19 February 2010

Wellcome Collection: Identity

‘Beneath this mask, another mask. I will never be finished lifting off all these faces'.
~Claude Cahun

I found myself in the Wellcome Collection on my way home from a meeting today.  It's in that cold, miserable area around Euston station, where concrete buildings and relentless traffic reduce people to grey shadows urgently flickering to someplace brighter. 

In the course of my work I spend a lot of time - head down, defenses up - hurrying away from that station.  Today however, in a strangely foggy state, I picked out the one radiant doorway in the block and went inside for the first time. 

Since breaking my wrist rather badly, I've been in physical and mental limbo.  As I lay on the couch, alone and immobile in a city that wasn't mine, gloomy thoughts came unbidden.  What am I doing with my life?  How much of my identity is tied up in my London lifestyle?  Without London, am I anyone at all? 

With the cast due to come off on Monday, I know my life will soon be a blurred carousel of theatre shows, exhibitions, talks and films: it certainly won't slow down long enough for any lagging doubts about who I am to jump aboard.  So stumbling across the Wellcome Collection's Identity: eight rooms, nine lives exhibition today seemed almost fateful. 

I challenged myself to stand in each of the eight little rooms and form a question about my own identity based on the contents within.  For Claude Cohen's masculine, feminine, and "neuter" self-portaits, I wondered how much of my sense of self is tied to my appearance and feminity (answer: too much!).  In the Samuel Pepys room I marvelled at Clive Wearing, the 'man without a memory' who lives in the "perpetual present", and asked myself what it would take for me to let go and live for the moment every now and then (answer: too long and too personal for this post!).

Identity is complex, and I concluded that I am a tangled web of a myriad of things: my memories, my physical appearance, my genetic make-up, my actions, my relationships, my words, and even my masks.  I'm no closer to a coherent answer about who I am, but it's reassuring to be reminded that it's a question we all wrestle with.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

London Urban Dictionary: mi-cro-chic [mahy-kroh-sheek]

- noun

1. digital-powered trend for the hyper-personalisation of style
2. bespoke, couture-quality clothes created on futuristic websites

Less the trend for small flashes of fashion inspiration, and more about bold style statements that make you unique.  Whether one can stand out in a city of 7.5 million is another matter entirely.

Find out more at Bad Idea magazine's Future Human Event series at The Book Club.  March explores ‘Fashion’s Microchic Shake-up’.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The National Theatre: The Power of Yes

Last night, I took male friend M to see David Hare's play The Power of Yes.  The central figure in this 'story' is the playwright David Hare, who rather gratingly tells us that it's not a play and he's not a character.   And he is right in a way: it felt as though a Louis Theroux or Michael Moore documentary was being played out on stage, wherein the subjects are unwittingly exposed as fools and we all laugh at their expense. 

As our bumbling Hare unravels the meaning of 'options' and 'fiscal stimulus' and 'sub-prime', the banking world unravels on the stage behind him.  Halfway through, exhausted by the pace at which the banking system is collapsing, I lean in to M and lament the lack of interval.  It seems our man Hare shares my pain, suddenly collapsing into a chair and confessing he's overwhelmed too.  

The story raises questions but draws only one conclusion...the fall of the banking system and capitalism represents The Death of the Idea.  The Idea, robustly championed by the 'experts'* from Harvard, being that the markets are wise and that risk can be calculated out of them.  The Idea may grandly be declared dead, but outside The National Theatre the market carries on regardless, if the evidence from my two trader acquaintances can be relied upon.   

There were some interesting moments during the evening, the standouts being:
  • An industrialist declaring that a bank goes bust for no other reason than that it runs out of money;
  • A cheap dig at Damian Hirst as a man of luck rather than talent, whose fortunes have declined along with that of our reviled bankers; 
  • The revelation that in Latin, the word 'credit' means 'trust', which sparked a moment of speculation by myself as to where trust lay in the transaction between banks and the people (banks trusting people to take on realistic debt?; people trusting the banks' judgement?) and then a further reflection concerning whether my life would be richer if I had been afforded a classic education and didn't need to check my Latin on google.
Upon the denouement, I personally felt as though I had been played; much like the pre-2008 markets which responded as the traders expected them to. Hare's comic timing was targeted perfectly at a middle-class left leaning liberal such as myself.

It was an enjoyable night, but I wonder if telling your audience what they already (if only vaguely) know and confirming their judgement of the situation is a little lax.  Shouldn't art challenge us to think and feel more rigorously?

* Emphasis I imagine the playwright himself may have included in the script

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Why Brainy is Suddenly Chic

Image: Chris Floyd

Happiness comes from learning, debating and training your brain. There is a new vogue for intellectual writes Giles Hattersley in this article for the Sunday Times Style magazine

Yes, that's the Thinking Girl trying to look preppy.

The Frontline Club: South Africa Twenty Years after Mandela walked to Freedom

I don't remember noticing the news reports of Nelson Mandela's release on this day 20 years ago.  In 1990 I was a 13 year old girl living in a small town in Australia, who was too absorbed in the drama of boys and Point horror plotlines to notice the eminently more dramatic events unfolding outside my bubble.

But four years later, feeling far more worldly as a University* student in the big city (*ahem* Brisbane) I shamefully shed a tear over the front page of The Courier Mail as I walked up Anne Sreet.  Pictured was a line of tired but determined African people, patiently waiting to cast their vote for the ANC and Mandela. 

I now look back on it as a shameful moment, not because I cried openly in public, but because I had made very little effort to actually learn anything about apartheid.  I bought the paper that day solely for the picture; I certainly wasn't a regular newspaper reader. 

My generic sympathy on that day encompassed all those who had experienced struggle, overcome pain and were looking towards more hopeful futures.  And like most of us continue to be today, I was awed by the powerful, almost god-like figure of Nelson Mandela that even a news-virgin such as myself was in thrall to.     

Last night, along with my friend D, I arrived at the Frontline Club's South Africa panel discussion only slightly less ignorant than I was 16 years ago.  Having recently seen the superb film adaptation of J. M Coetzee's 'Disgrace', and hearing varying perspectives on the country from those I know who have lived there, I was keen to become a little more enlightened.

The panel shared their personal recollections of Mandela's release, discussed what had been delivered in South Africa since the ANC was elected, and speculated about the future growth and development of the country.

The speakers found it difficult to commit to whether Mandela was the last of his kind of African leader or the first in a new line, instead positioning him as one of those rare international leaders who transcend their geographic boundaries and national concerns to represent the hope and aspiration of people around the world.  Interestingly, Jacob Zuma (the current South African president who's in a little hot water at present for his virility) is considered to be truly a man of the African people.  This resonates with what I've read in the press about the West's guarded assessment of his government's potential.

John Battersby, co-author of Nelson Mandela: A Life in Photographs, believes South Africa's future can only be understood in the context of its past.  Apartheid deeply affected the psyche of white and black south Africans alike, meaning it could take three generations before reconciliation is achieved and people are lifted out of poverty.

The most touching observation of the evening belonged to the host, BBC news presenter George Alagiah.  A few years ago in South Africa, he asked a group of primary school students if they knew what racism was.  In this predominantly black African school, a young boy pointed to his white classmate and said: "It's when I look at Devon and call him a whitey".  

The full discussion can be heard on The Frontline Club's site.  

*I started University aged 16, not because of any precocious displays of intelligence, but as a consequence  of Queensland's pliable rules on school starting ages and a secondary schooling that only runs to Year 12.