Arts Crush


I took myself to the Double Magazine launch party at Islington Mill on Saturday and hate to say but it didn’t live up to the hype – there weren’t many people there and it lacked atmosphere and energy, which is in stark contrast to many amazing nights I have spent there. I love Islington Mill and the space is often occupied with talented artists and musicians and unusual events, and although Ten Bears played an enjoyable electro set – reminiscent of The Rapture; the subsequent band – The Coolness – were a bit of a car crash. If you were their friend you might tell them to have a word with themselves, their name isn’t really doing them any favours. But, although I don’t think they are the most talented band out there, they may be to someone else’s taste.  And in spite of the music, I actually couldn’t stop watching them; especially the front man – a vision of tight leopard leggings, wiry hair and gurning jaw, as he jumped into the crowd, nearly knocking a girl to the floor. He was resplendent and really irritating in equal measures. And he was pretty entertaining. Unfortunately, much more entertaining than the music.

It came to the end of January and I was quite pleased I had managed to get through a financially tough month and only marginally slip into my overdraft. Then I decided to start a career-enhancing but money-sucking course.  I am still somewhat trying to stick to new year resolutions – less on frivolous, more on life-enhancing pursuits. And so far, so skint. Money landed in my account on January 28, rested a couple of days and by Feb 1 we were separated. Gone – just.like.that.

Not letting a lack of funds stop me, I decided to check out the best Manchester has to offer on a budget.  And well, you don’t ask you don’t get. Unsurprisingly, the city has a lot going on and many of the most exciting events taking place are free, or very cheap.

Every Monday, The Royal Exchange theatre offers people aged 26 and under the best available seats for £4;  and while I can still avail of this offer for one more month I managed to catch Blythe Spirit in its final week for a bargain price.  Having already head rave reviews since the show opened in December I was really looking forward to it.

Initially I just could not warm to the characters. Perhaps it is the adopted northerner in me, but the twee introduction of a upper-class 1920’s couple – writer husband and actress wife recount a heady period when they invite a psychic to their home for an evening as part of the husband’s research for his next book. None of the characters assume a very sympathetic role in the beginning and the couple along with their two friends appear to have joined in for the free food and non-stop martini chasing and chain-smoking, which left me wondering if the upper-class elite in the 1920’s were all bored alcoholics. And of course, in all the hilarity, the husband doesn’t bargain on his dead wife being resurrected in the process. The display of formal communication between the characters results in the audience being aware that such a stiff dialogue died a long time ago, and it’s resurrection here did feel a little staid and self-aware in the opening scene.

So Blythe Spirit doesn’t get off to the most auspicious start, but it is the dramatic introduction of hilarious psychic Mrs Arcati, played by Annette Badland, that really lifts the play from passable to surpassable in expectation. Badland’s presence enhances the emotion and the laughs;  and brought out the talents and comic timing of the other characters. Suranne Jones, of Coronation Street fame, once all manc-lite dialect and gold hoop earrings is incredibly deft and captivating as the hard-done-by wife . With a little patience on the viewer’s part, once the production hit its stride the production shines and is a real winner. If the cheap seats are not available or the theatre isn’t your thing then the eponymous film is excellent, shot like an Alice in Wonderland for adults – gothic, dark-humoured and captivating from first cocktail sip until the eventual demise of all concerned.

Alan Fletcher’s exhibition – 50 Years of Graphic Work and Play – previewed last Thursday at Cube gallery (free entry on preview night, £4 after).

Peter Saville opened the show with a heartfelt introduction to the work of Alan Fletcher the artist and an insight into the creatives’ relationship as friends. The show maps out Fletcher’s life in images, taking us from his early post- Royal College of Art posters, to the arresting work that grew out of his co-founded design agency Pentagram and on to later life as he produced work as Creative Consultant for Phaidon from his home studio.  Fletcher-poineering British graphic designer, originating a visual identity for brands as far-reaching as V&A identity maker,  indie band visualiser and Phaidon book cover artist, this show was a great triumph for Cube Gallery, as well as the North West.

Being perennially skint these days means my socialising/culture fix is confined to the North West, so it is a great coincidence that there are so many quality events to take advantage, and get more holla’ for the dolla’.  A new show at the Whitworth GalleryWalls are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture (free entry) aims to challenge our sedentary view of wallpaper as the radio of the art world; a polite, non-demanding aesthetic but one that is often understated.  The show is divided in to four sections – subversion, commodification, imprisonment and sexuality.

Each room acts as a visual debate on whether wallpaper should be seen as design first, a game played with the senses of the viewer second. The artists exhibiting here, including Sarah Lucas, Damian Hirst and David Shirgley; seem to be more concerned with the latter.  Wallpaper is a strange, unpredictable art-form; it serves to cover and conceal people’s most private places such as their homes but paradoxically it can reveal so much about the person who possesses it. These artists have taken this idea and used the space to allow their realities to emerge from a fixed pattern and the exhibition demonstrates brilliantly when that freedom from a frame or plinth is used to its fullest extent we can appreciate wallpaper as a medium from a very different perspective.

Christmas came and went in a slow-burning, all-consuming pursuit of turkey, chocolate, red wine and mince pies. I emerged on the other side depressed, half a stone heavier, no holidays left and nothing to look forward to. Then, and only then, does the annual appeal in making resolutions appear, like it has been waiting, silent, for me all year. Something to fill time, fill the mind and fill paper. Some resolutions to definitely break and some to carry forward next year, the year after, on and on…one routine I am expert at. Every year I tell myself I need to refine my ‘skills’, find my niche. But while I have a job I never feel I have a ‘niche’ and I encounter the same stagnant feeling year after year, no closer to knowing what my ‘niche’ is.  So, time to make plans and resolutions – hardest ones first.

Resolution 1 – read more (less Grazia, more Great Gatsby)

With January resolutions inevitably comes the obligatory New Year self-help book. While time-wasting in Waterstones I couldn’t fail to notice to number of self-help books. One book that really stood out was You Need this Book to Get What You Want I have never been into sort-your-life-out-by-following-these-simple-steps-books. One the one hand it seems artificial to try to memorise social techniques to supposedly enable a person to better fit in with their surroundings, to become popular, successful, happy. A book cannot teach someone to have a winning personality and the self-help genre can come across as a patronising slap in the face – to some, self help=social loser/hypochondriac/low self-esteem. On the other hand, having an easy accessible reference can offer helpful tips- an education or form of social and commercial grooming but I remain sceptical as how these tips are executed  from the page to the street.

So I undersand it may come across as hypocritical to follow my last statement by sharing what I did end up reading: The Optimum Nutrition Bible by Patrick Holford. It is an interesting read for those with health interests contextualised by science. The book is more of a reference tool that characterises the effects of diet on the body and details how we can all create our own diet based on our current health, personality, blood group and so on. No fads, no sensationalism, just factual information which lends the book a more credible air. A book I would not be so ashamed to be caught reading, a form of self-help from the inside out. A secret. But this does not fall into my ‘quality read’ so I will be opting for one of these to start and will return to update on my progress in the coming months.

Voices from S21 by David Chantler/Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin/Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh/The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler/The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir/Howards End by EM Forster/The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (and a little Grazia to stop myself becoming too high-brow).

Resolution 2: Broaden my musical interests

I listened to Jarvis Cocker’s new BBC6 radio show last Sunday and it is brilliant. Cocker implements echo machine, dulcet voice, and incorporates his varied and interesting musical influences- a mega-mix of Stephen Fry, distraught tales of dumped Christmas trees and Elvis Presley celebrations. His voice is perfect for Sunday afternoon- smooth and melancholy, funny and interesting. Although he does sound like he wears dentures, there is a semi-constant clicking of his jaw, but it just adds to the sound effects.

Whenever I listen to the radio- normally BBC4 weekdays as I’m getting ready for work, Jonathon Ross on Saturday morning; to a large extent it serves as background noise. I can never quite remember the jokes, the guests or the songs. Cocker is the sort of person you want to listen to, and the show does demand attention, but it’s worth it.

Currently listening to: Charlotte Gainsbourg/ Wild Beasts/ Ra Ra Riot.

Resolution 3:  Attend more exhibitions

I hate to miss interesting exhibitions and as they generally show in London I don’t always hear about one until it’s too late. A perfect example is the Seizure is Rhapsodyexhibition at Elephant and Castle (until 2nd January). Created within an old council estate, there is a real sense that something transcendental is happening. 90,000 litres of copper sulphate infused the flat with blue crystals from the outside in; as if the flat itself was shedding its rough exterior, revealing a sparkling beauty underneath. The artist, Hiorns, really gives a new lease of life to something old and forgotten in that abandoned council estate. The piece-commissioned by Artangel- specialise in transforming disused urban housing into pieces of art.

Something a little closer to home-Alan Fletcher – 50 Years of Graphic Work and Play is previewing tonight (Thurs 21st Jan) at CUBE Gallery, Manchester.  The Observer has described Fletcher as ‘Britain’s best ever graphic designer’ and I am congratulating myself in advance for one at least one resolution I am not going to break.

Series:

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You Need This Book to Get What You Want by Mark Palmer and Scott Solder

Turner Prize winner Richard Wright was sitting on a gold mine with his untitled, ornate gold fresco. Wright’s work  is actually one of the first winners whose work I really enjoyed, both in aesthetics and idea. The winning piece, which was transferred onto the gallery wall from paper, is intended to last only until the Turner artists’ exhibition ends on 3 Jan.  Wright is an interesting artist,  his art fleeting, which is in stark contrast to the business-approach of his many of his contemporaries such as Damien Hirst, who made £111m at the height of the recession. Hirst’s art is writ large by the success of popular works replicated from a handful of original ideas. Wright’s art is unusual in that it is removed from the art market, his site-specific work cannot be transferred, moved or bought. Seen from a distance, Wright’s work looks like an abstract image, but move closer and the gold radiates out from the canvas like fragments of sunlight, illuminating the gallery in a reassuring glow.  I always enjoy a happy ending and so, another reason to like this year’s winner is because it was Wright’s last year to be eligible for the prize, at 49 he will be too old for nominations in 2010.

People generally enjoy art that is accessible, I for one love the excitable feeling I get when I first stumbled across a Banksy in East London, with the knowledge that it is there for everyone, no-one is exempt, everyone can afford to enjoy it. That is one of the main reasons I enjoyed this work so much, the artist created something that exists for a short time, is not immortalised within the white, refined space of a gallery. It will disappear and fade like everything else, living on only in the minds of the people who stood in front of it.

My all-time favourite Turner prize winner is Anish Kapoor, who happens to be one of my favourite artists. I mentioned a few weeks ago that his latest exhibition at the Royal Academy of the Arts was well-worth a visit. It was also the Academy’s most successful exhibition of a living artist. There is so much to consider, reminders of other artists are apparent, such as Richard Serra’s own lead-slinging works,  and perhaps a nod to Ruskin’s famous expression that bad art throws paint in the face of the public. It is rare to witness such a mess within a gleaming white space and it makes a fun change in place of quiet appreciation. Kapoor takes you through his own art history, as you enter the exhibition you encounter his pigment mounds from the 80’s,  turn the corner and you are confronted with the force of Svayambh: a work that is as spectacular as it is gigantic. The huge petrolium-like block suspended on a slow-moving structure that cascades through five of the gallery rooms, edging ever closer but you can’t quite see it moving, the process develops so slowly. It is an incredible, not just as a vision but as a structural piece – this huge force pushing through each room like a big ship sailing through a little canal, leaving debris at each arch, all over the floor, the walls, people touching it and staining their hands and clothes; everywhere covered in the remnants.

In what can be (but probably doesn’t want to be) described as the art world’s alternative to The Apprentice, The School of Saatchi is another reality show, this time churning young artists hoping to get their big break with Charles Saatchi.  On the one hand, I do like that reality shows have branched out from the Big Brothers and The Apprentices to document more substance than the brushing of teeth or the obligatory knife in the back for that coveted sales job. But on the other hand, regardless of whether the show is based on art, family life or securing a job, they all promote and evoke much the same inherent feeling of pedalling shit.

Producing a contemporary art programme in the same vein as other reality shows does raise the question of how we view art. Initially, the judges ( including Tracy Emin, Kate Bush-curator, not singer. Now, if it was the latter that would be a show worth tuning in for) seemed to be genuinely searching for something new and modern within the work of the six shortlisted artists; questioning the ideas and morals of the art as well as the artists themselves. Some of the artists explanations of arranged chairs and printed out emails were pretty weak, so it was reassuring that they were dismissed.

In last weeks episode, Saad, one of the six hopefuls, created a piece made from 2000 chapatis arranged on an antique rug. The artist’s work reminded me of Kapoor’s early sculptures, not because of a similar cultural origin but because of the feeling evoked when I saw it was reminiscent of the first time I saw Kapoor’s work. The positivity that radiated from it, the idea that these works were a gift- to the viewer and to the space. I was also reminded of the Mighty Boosh crimp  ‘chapatis, chapatis, chapatis, basmatti’. It was a fun, thoughtful and a visually striking piece of work. You can appreciate time, care and attention had gone into the whole process, made stronger by the artist’s entire family’s involvement. The stacks of chapatis’ looked strangely unified, connected and together, which had a powerful impact on me.  Each one different, tactile and beautiful- I really never thought I would look at a chapatis in that way.  Saad was not the most artistically accomplished of the group but I liked him. I hoped this guy would win the show.

But he didn’t. I was taken aback by the choice of winner-Eugenie Scrase – not least because her work, including a structure of a conveyor belt gone wrong, which she then dismantled to give the viewer to imagine the possibility of movement, was in my view, pretty rubbish. But then that is the issue I have with some contemporary artists – the skill is often contained within the idea conveyed by the artist rather than in the work itself. When Kate Bush remarked ‘I could do better than that’ in response to the winner’s earlier work, I would have to agree my 11-year-old sister probably could as well.

Party Time

This time last year I was lying on a beach in Mozambique, bathed in lightness and friendly faces. I am getting itchy feet to travel again and I suppose seeking out interesting nights and events is an interim step to alleviate the itch. Even though that brightness isn’t exactly apparent right now in the grey and muted Manchester weather,  I am eagerly anticipating the month ahead. A few good outings, so there are excuses to crank out the oldies, a month of festivities to endure and surrealist experiences to consume (at the Manchester Art Gallery), culminating in a big family get together for Christmas and an even bigger get together with friends to see in the New Year in Berlin.

Initially I wasn’t sure I would get into Twitter but it has been useful for keeping up to date with forthcoming events, websites and news sources I normally read, such as AnOther Magazine, who launched AnOther Loves online shop recently. Some of the items they are promoting are incredible, both in design and in price. For example, the Leica M7 Hermes camera below featured on their site (for a jaw dropping, eye watering, headache inducing £8,500!).

On the other end of the visual scale, the view from the Christmas window display for Stella McCartney’s store in Mayfair looked really fun (and free!) as Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt were kitted out nose to tail in female attire  from McCartney’s current collection to turn on the Christmas lights earlier this week.

Party Crack

There is something really strange about private members clubs. Their exclusivity is aimed to make them appear more attractive, admired, wanted. But then you go somewhere like Shoreditch House and admittedly, it is a beautiful if slightly naff place, but you find you’re surrounded largely by people you would avoid at all costs in daily life, and music so rubbish it could make your ears bleed.  Even though people know this, there is a powerful attraction to members clubs that draw people in like a horrible crack habit, you know its bad, you know you shouldn’t bother, but you can’t help yourself.  My friend calls it party crack.

Yesterday I read about Jo Wood‘s ( jilted ex-wife of aging Rolling Stone Ronnie, organic supremo and resurgent party girl ) recent pop up restaurant- Mrs. Paisley’s Lashings- in her Regent’s Park home, where up to 40 guests can dine in Wood’s living room for a series of evenings over two weeks. According to her chef, keeping it within the Stone extended family, Mick Jagger’s nephew, Arthur Potts Dawson- half the fun for people is not getting in to the best restaurant in London. How did he work that one out? I certainly wouldn’t be thinking how amazing it is that I can’t have dinner with lots of randoms in Jo Wood’s sitting room. I quite like the idea of secret restaurants, spontaneous encounters with a mix of friends and complete strangers;  but half the fun is not paying through the nose, not knowing what to expect, and chatting to other people who are there for the same reason. I can’t imagine the atmosphere would be quite so informal at round at Jo’s place, and I’m not so sure I would be willing to spend £150-200 to find out.

I am however, very happy to immerse myself in other  good, sweaty and shocking events, starting with:

Liberty’s Luella Christmas Event

Until Thurs 3 Dec

Speaking of festive window displays, the Christmas window display at Liberty is very impressive and the 15% discount available next Thursday is a more inviting reason than usual to visit the store.  There is also something nice about window shopping in the evening with a drink to hand! A special Luella grotto features prominently,  (although many items are up to 50% off on the Luella website) so possibly the last Christmas to purchase gifts from the now defunct label.

Homoelectric

Fri 4 Dec, Manchester

I don’t often go clubbing but Homoelectric is fun for a really good blowout, for ‘Homos, Lesbo’s, Don’t know’s and Experimentos’. Expecting to dance all night, bump into random friends, talking rubbish until my voice is completely hoarse and wander around the dark, cavernous space; perfect for sweaty posturing to electro-pop treats.

Manchester Art Gallery-Angels of Anarchy

Until 10 January

This might not be the easiest of viewing with a hangover, but I plan to visit this exhibition on Saturday, which explores feminist purpose and experiences of Surrealism through several generations of female artists, including Dora Marr and Freida Khalo. It is a rare opportunity to view surrealism through the female collective laid bare at this exhibition and I’m particularly happy this is showing in Manchester.

Islington Mill, Lightning Bolt

Wed 9 Dec, Manchester

There is always something interesting and unusual happening at Islington Mill ( I like this place even more due to the convenient proximity to my home, no waiting for a cab, free to leave at any time, my favourite kind of arrangement), from yoga in the basement boudoir to launch parties and live acts, Wednesday’s event showcases Lightning Bolt’s first UK appearance, promising to be a loud, brash, riot of a night.

Underground Live, Mutineers Xmas Party

Fri 11 Dec, Aston

These guys are supremely talented- the lead singer is quite a poptart-  full of dulcet tones and relentlessly catchy melodies, which will happily continue long into the night. I’m hoping they are going to break out into some cheesy Christmas tunes  at the end of the night, which will amuse me even if it doesn’t appeal to the largely scenester crowd who normally populate their gigs.

Stags Head, Weknowwhatyoudidlastxmas party

Sat 12 Dec, London

Nightlife photographer Christopher James’ s party should be as eclectic as his imagery, which ranges from London scenester snaps to magazine photography. Broken Heart Dj’s will be there too, a personal favourite so very excited.

Pam Ann’s Sunday FLight at the Palladium

Sun 13 Dec, London

I’m planning to end a hectic weekend with a good friend and camp/bitchy air hostess-comedienne Pam Ann. I’ve heard she is filthy (in manner rather than appearance) so I’m particularly intrigued to see if I will leave shocked and awed.

Party attire

Christmas is a-coming and since I’m of the one for you-one for me mentality when it comes to shopping I’m loving some of these beauties:

Lanvin loop pearl ring

Way out of my Babycham earning capacity but again I’m blaming AnOther Loves. It goes back to that exclusivity idea, The items torment me and I shouldn’t bother reading it but I just keep going back for more.  Why can’t they include something under £500 once in a while?

Mulberry 'alexa' bag

Sophie Calle Book

Calle’s book ‘Double Game’ has been around since 1999, published at the height of her notoriety, a sell out that was re-printed to coincide with the 2007 Venice Biennale.  The contents present the reader with Sophie’s ‘game’ with the writer Paul Auster, who created a character based on Calle in his novel ‘Leviathan’. The book is beautifully designed and a work of art in itself, elegant and well conceived, wrapped in a ribbon. I want it.

Miu Miu Bag

Pret-a-Portebello vintage ostrich feather cape

This is another example that I can, and will, consider spending money on practically anything.  At £100 it’s not much more expensive than a similar faux-fur cape at Topshop but as with many things before this cape; I’ve been there, bought it, realised the ridiculousness of it, only to sell it on ebay for half what I paid for it. But I never learn. It’s an irrational attraction I have with textural, tactile items like this, maybe its the costume element to it but it just looks really fun. It’s more fancy dress than night out in Bricklane but to be covered in a huge cape of big, black ostrich feathers just seems brilliant.