I made this video for Eat Your Heart Out, concerning the upcoming UK election. The Tory lead over Labour fell from 6 points to 2 this week - coincidence?
Saturday, February 20, 2010
If anything were to make me feel patriotic (or even vaguely interested in the United Kingdom) which for the record I am not, it would be this gorgeous lady sliding down a hill on a tray at the Winter Games and winning a gold medal for it. To quote Max Steele quoting the Spice Girls, "The future is female".
Monday, February 15, 2010
Thought I should catalogue these divine designs by Renaissance person Jordan Hunt. In addition to composing, teaching, playing, performing, choreographing and curating, he also dresses the stars.
We started making ensembles together about four years ago, initially for The Irrepressibles (basically consisting of a lot of old shirts) and have since worked together on a number of sartorial projects. Sometimes he has a quite spontaneous idea to turn a soprano's size 20 ballgown upside down and make of it a cocktail dress, sometimes he hangs a design on a narrative concept and beavers away on it for a week, other times thinks purely in terms of shape and color.
His unique combination of Catholic guilt/masochism, improvised techniques, abstract approach to a constrained budget, and genuine love of clothes always make for a very interesting end product. Often terribly bad for the environment and usually impossible to get off, his wearable artworks are nonetheless striking and always exciting to perform in. And of course we often perform together in these get-ups - he was actually the person concealed in my skirts at the Opera House. That makes him the person under the dress as well as behind it. There's nothing in The Fashion System about that is there Monsieur Barthes?
Gold ruff for Fantasia by Ulli Richter.
Midnight Blue cocktail dress to emcee Voluptuous Panic.
Paper ball gown for our Vissi d'Arte performance at the Royal Opera House
Circus dress for Paloma Faith's ICA gig
My we're cute!
Saturday, February 13, 2010
And I'm just stunned. She married an aristocrat and bakes her own bread, and furthermore she refuses to have her picture taken. How was I to know she had a sideline in postmodern post-pop lo-fi collage deconstructionalist trash art? Trecartin watch out.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The Third Generation
Thinking about what Roland Barthes writes about film stills, how they are not just samples, but rather quotations. How movie stills differ from any other kind of imitative stills (e.g. paintings or photographs) because they are always underwritten by a second text (i.e. the movie they're drawn from).
Imagine trying to describe the stills below. How much historical and cultural contextual knowledge would you have to supply to do so accurately? And how much would your own standpoint obfuscate the original significations? How could you possibly express the simple, stark beauty of the still from Through A Glass Darkly, or the horror on the boy's face screaming out from the Salo still? Bogart in bondage as Bacall looks away in trepidation, the architecture of Hepburn's face, Fassbinder's black humoured pastiche work, Cameltoe's utterly disdainful inhalation from amongst the distressingly by-numbers art house art direction of Skin Flick, and blood trickling from the eyes of a pre-teen girl.
All of these attempts to communicate the qualities of the image fail, because words can't describe filmic images. They merely reduce them to a series of well-worn paraphrases and then re-encode them as sentences, never getting near their essence or meaning, never breaking the code. The filmic, says Barthes, is that point where "articulated language is no more than approximative and where another language begins," (or several languages perhaps). The stills below, each one is so composed as to tell its own story (narratively, aesthetically, historically) but also invites you to enter the larger work. So dive in.
The Philadelphia Story
Through A Glass Darkly
Let The Right One In
The Big Sleep
Monday, February 8, 2010
Lord I love this film. Regular readers will remember a post from 2008 on the many roles of Ruth Gordon, it's probably time to review that isn't it?
Friday, February 5, 2010
My brother turned sixteen this week, when his bestfriend texts him too often, he gets irked, understandably. Today the impassioned friend texted my brother several questions and then, receiving no reply, sent him a series of question marks. My brother’s response was to say, rather aggressively to his phone, “What? Faggot.” and then freeze, on the realization that he was in the presence of (in his framework at least) a bona fide faggot.
It was obvious he wasn’t intending to offend me, and yet, I was honestly more mortified by this off-the cuff, tip of the tongue nastiness, than I would have been were it pre-meditated and directed specifically at myself. (That I can deal with, that I am used to.) I was given a privileged look through that momentary crack, into my brother’s true vocabulary, the language he uses, the way he communicates, when he is not under supervision (or rather not under pseudo-parental supervision – obviously he is always under supervision; social, legal, cultural). I saw a casualness in the slur, it was the obvious choice, and he did not search for it.
The inappropriate leanings of his friend into his personal space, particularly in this teen drama cliché of technologically aided bombardments of affection, (which marvelously allows the offending party to be both here and there, in the space necessary to motivate the dramatic development, and far enough away to not muddy the directness of the scene unnecessarily) are just too close to the nerve, and in fact imply a reciprocal set of feelings in him, and so have to be rebutted. I was, for once in my verbose life, speechless.I could see on his face that he was sad to have said what he said, not because he thought it an offensive turn of phrase, but rather he was sad to see me sad.
As the only two of eight siblings biologically sexed as male, our relationship is different to any of the other relationships I have with my siblings sexed as female. (Of course, each relationship is different, depending on age, personality and mood but the identification process I think differentiates this relationship more so). He has been in many ways an ersatz-son to me, and the vessel for a lot of my projections, my hopes for his future and in fact my own, intimately connected as they obviously are. He is almost twelve years my junior and not long after his birth I effectively took over parenting him for close to a year, as my Mother underwent a very deep period of depression. The bond you form with a child who wakes you up in the middle of the night, every night, to be fed and who later wakes you at dawn to be fed and changed and loved, is a very distinct one. I still to this day feel towards him something akin to how I feel towards my nieces, a love unsullied by the irritating effects siblings naturally provoke in each other.
In my teens I dreamed of going to college, reading law and returning home the all-conquering hero to elevate him and the rest of my family out of underprivilege and into higher education. As silly, petty and bourgeois as this Promethian myth seems in retrospect, it did however provide me with a lot of solace, justification even, for long nights of catch-up study to compensate for so many days of missed school. Whilst I did go on to study at esteemed establishments, I didn’t quite meet these lofty, noble goals. In fact I departed from that path as soon as understood it for what it was; a tedious betterment fable, based on the exact exploitation of everyone it proposed to help.
So, when I hear my brother use that word, I hear a reprimand at once for leaving him still with so little, and simultaneously for inflicting all of my second-hand glamour into that life, for infringing on the persona he’s developed for himself in order to move in that world. In short without aiming it at me that “faggot” is aimed at me. The gap widens, it reveals to me the nonchalance with which he turns to such resentful language, and how entirely unproblematic it is for him to do so. He is (or is becoming) the universal, the centre from which all criticisms, judgments and insults are issued, the arena from which expulsion and exile is always a threat. When I myself use the same word, it is as part of a very complex, semi-ironic, knowing investigation of the power structures around me. If I say it, it’s as a product of exploration, as a delving into the implications of the word, the much discussed reappropriation, I use it from the bottom of the trash heap, he from significantly closer to the top.
That one word spins out and I can read within it what has previously only been implied in jokes made in bad taste, an equally casual and blunt racism. In a word, that one word represents a whole system of values, and judgements that posits my brother the heir to all that straight, white, male inherited power he imagines to be waiting for him through the threshold of manhood. (He is as yet naive enough to not see his economic background as the disadvantage it truly is.) I don’t fault him for wallowing in this glory, surely we’re all prone to enjoying the fabulousness of our own situations whether real, imaginary, projected, fantasised, drug induced or aimed for. What pained me so was the direct comparison of myself at his age and my brother at his, how I was already militantly anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic and actively trying to grapple with the injustices I made myself aware of through whatever puny channels I had at my disposal (letter writing campaigns, visible insistence on a political identity). He is, in direct opposition, uninterested in standing up for anything but his own right to a good time (again no bad thing as an element of one’s personality, it is only when it becomes the personality that the problem arises). He has nothing to fight for (or so he thinks) and rather than acting from this position of privilege to ease the burden on anybody else, he selfishly celebrates and doesn’t share that (relative) freedom. I feel I’ve failed him.
I suppose in my own vain manner, in my self-construction of myself as wise but exciting older sibling, I expected that all the social histories and Marxist critiques I’d assimilated over time would somehow seep into his consciousness, through an overwhelming osmosis perhaps driven by nothing more than the sheer power of my charisma. That somehow I would exist as a flaming beacon for knowledge, for intellectualism, for adventure and empowerment. But rather, I find that this interest is itself, just another thing that separates us, to him it’s a burden, not a freedom, and he still in denial over the fact that options for escape from his bleak situation are severely limited (to be frank to the army or into education). I suddenly understand The Lion in Winter, I (as the eldest child with no extended family) suddenly understand the tyranny of lineage, and what it means to be told in school – “You’re going to be trouble, just like your brother.”
And this is what Jonny Woo has to say on the subject:
Monday, February 1, 2010
"From the start it has been the theatre's business to entertain people ; it needs no other passport than fun." - Brecht
Most definitely remarkable for the dominance of women across all categries and in virtually all the peroformances, the 2010 grammys were however most notable for two things; collaborations and theatrical quotations.
Apparently live art has taken over pop music, so we get Gaga (surely the movement's figurehead) in her own version of a Robert Lepage production, Beyonce surrounded by clone soldiers, and Pink suspended on silks. Spectacle and a focuse on stagecraft has become of central importance to a star's identity now, since it is one of the few modes of expression that cannot be digitized, compressed and circulated (legally or illegally). The "show" of showbusiness is back in a big way, as a direct response to the so called digital crisis (really more of a digital missed opportunity on behalf of greedy and terrified stone-age corporations) and it is warmly welcomed from my view point, as relief from all the horrible "authenticity" that has been washing around for the past decade, conjured up by stripped down, boysy rock'n'roll and equally by identikit rap. Spectacle is liberating, keeping it real is not, nor are the Kings of Leon.
The numbers were from the start more performance art, than rock show and there were mercifully few (yet still too many) of those classic, aesthetically murderous performances the Grammys are so famous for. Several of the performances at the ceremony took place away from, or moved away from the area demarcated "stage". The most popular breaking of the fourth wall was to have the performer walk down the aisles, in amongst the audience, a device that comes straight out of Brecht and has been used constantly ever since, to say "This is not what you think". (The strange thing about seeing this breaking of boundaries is of course that the vast majority of the audience saw the performances on television or online, ie, from behind a different wall). Then we had another classic of experimental theatre, the mimicking, mockery, celebration and reworking of endless theatrical formats; Opera and Classical music (from Jamie Foxx and T-Pain who burst forth from guises as operatic hero and conductor respectively to perform, Blame it on the Alcohol), Circus (from Pink who sang Glitter in the Air suspended from the ceiling), and Broadway revue (from Lady Gaga with her chorus line of dancers and undeniably cheesy faux Fritz Lang set) to name a few.
This reappropriation, loving and otherwise, of other genres is a well established trademark of contemporary theatre. We're familiar with Pina Bausch's characters dancing jives in the audience and Holly Hughes' ludicrous reworkings of melodramas, but who expected such riotous postmodern uproar to form the centrepiece of the Grammys? The Grammys for goodness sake - an event which usually reaches fever pitch upon the unveiling of Sheryl Crow's new hairdo. You can blame it on Gaga with her "I love art" soundbites if you like, but it's a trend that has been bubbling under for a while, since the non-event that was electroclash's crossover into the mainstream. (You can take it back of course to Prince, Bowie and Madonna, even Betty Davis, all of whom made highly theatrical stage shows, but let's be honest that particular mode of musical expresssion had to a large extent died out over the past 10-15 years).
The recent surge of popularity enjoyed by burlesque and cabaret most definitely influenced this new interest in the theatrical as a source of quotations for pop music, and both trends point to an eagerness felt by both performers and audiences alike to see/present work on a more immediate, interacitve way. The desire is to break away from a corporate, manufactured pop system, away from air brushed, vocal perfection, to connect with and to create something more real.
The real is of course staged, it HAS to be. Nobody is seriously interested in a Britney Spears video in which she cleans her teeth, takes a nap an worries about if she looks too fat (or whatever else approximates a typical day for her). No, the "real" has to be staged as something old fashioned, some pre-commercial dream, before MTV corrupted us all. The return of the performer, and the death of the spoilt diva. We want to feel that Mariah Carey is slogging her guts out in these difficult economic times, having to hustle harder than ever to get her record into the charts, we want to go right back to the start of the whole silly fantasy again, in the hope that we'll be washed clean by it, that it'll have a better ending this time around.
Hence the success of so many pop stars mining the blues tradition right now, specifically white soul/blues singers, girls who mimick Billie Holiday, Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald. This is not just the expected theft of black culture (not just) but a marvelous way for us to collectively indulge in a hallucination of the good old days that never were when everyone sang and acted as they really were (and please do ignore the irony of that sentence). And moreover let's not forget the inspiring success of Rage Against The Machine over the X-Factor winners in this year's Christmas chart. Wasn't that a true victory for real music? Actually no, it was a total double bluff, a herd of unthoughtful right-ons! steaming headlong into support for the alternative over the commercial, and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no difference. The authentic is always far phonier than the artificial.
This replication, the phoney clones, (brought to our attention at the top of the show with Gaga's army of automatons) was best expressed in Beyonce's army of soldiers, the SWAT team who accompanied her onstage. A nod to the video for the song she was performing (If I were a Boy),the performance managed to be both self-referential and also an acknowledgment of source material (Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation for one). The countless replication of a single loaded image or object (in this case police) is of course a live art trope, but furthermore it acts here as an interesting restaging of Beyonce's own life, onstage. If you've ever been in the presence of someone as famous as Beyonce you'll know that the amount of bodyguards, and handlers surrounding her is not terribly overexaggerated in the number of soldiers escorting her at the Grammys.
(I'd like to go further and propose that Beyonce's show was a political one, a call for attention to the US' military ambitions in light of the new political system in Haiti, a call for action on Blackwater and an ironic image expressing her distaste for cultural imperialism - but maybe I'd be going too far). The oscilation between, the real and the fake, the authentic and the artificial, the staged and the natural is another well loved device of live art which has been borrowed (but not acknowledged) by pop.
Lady Gaga and Elton John
There was also an almost constant use of that other postmodern favourite, the smashing together of apparently incongrous texts. Again, Opera and hip hop, rock and rap, and Beyonce's hugely unnecessary (and very much cleaned up) rendition of You Oughtta Know. I'm all about intergenerational artworks, and I love collaborations, but was Stevie Nicks' appearance onstage with Taylor Swift at all necessary? (As far as I'm aware all it did was underscore the deep lack of character in Swift's songwriting and expose her frankly dire voice). Of course Ms Nicks was not the only grandmother to be pulled out of the pop music deep freeze, she was not the only lunatic to be dusted off and brought down from the attic. Slash made a pointless appearance with Drake, Eminem and Lil Wayne, a performance really only noteable for being the one part of the song not entirely blanked out by the silence of censorship. Likewise, Gaga had Elton John, who only a few years ago was tinkling the ivories for Eminem at the same ceremony. The two of them covered in ash, inside the pop culture incinerator was almost witty, though the deeply uninspired rendition of Your Song was as pointless as can be imagined.
Thrilling and spectacular as they were, off-the wall and at times unexpected, to be frank most of the performances (in their keeness to focus on star as performer) came off as contrived, overworked and yet fantastically empty. About nothing, purely stylistics (ironically, probably the hallmark criticism of the post modern theatre so many of the performances were mining) and lacking beauty, which is really what performance tries to achieve. The exceptions I suppose, are Drake/Eminem/Lil Wayne who really gave it something, and Pink, who's performance was so simple but breathtaking. In her nude Bob Mackie bodysuit, she was the essence of the whole body in performance, and she used that body to sprinkle the audience with a fine mist of water as she span above their heads. She presented something literally none of the other performers were capable of and she did it with a beautiful, trained poise, at once investigative and expressive. Hers was the perfect marriage of pop and theatre.