Monday, 31 December 2012

Barnett Newman





Barnett Newman painted what I would call his first proper stripes around 1948/9. Just think he was painting these while the rest of the world was playing tiddlywinks or running about as below.
This one's called Onement II. Many questions arise when one begins to consider Barnett's stripes (not least the titles) and if you consider them enough and finally lie down to have a rest on the day bed, all you can see is stripes when you shut your eyes. Imagine what they were doing to him.
Meanwhile if you leave a book of Newman's open on your table, why you are possessed of an irresistable urge to to tidy up? And he didn't use a ruler but he did use sellotape. And that is not even beginning to wonder what these paintings do to you when you see them in the flesh (the best collection I've seen is at the Menil in Houston) where they tend to make you all weak at the
knees.
I don't buy all the transcendental stuff about these paintings very easily, I like them as investigations of paint and colour and balance that would appropriately sit next to Mies's first MOMA show in 1947,  but I do love 'em, and I'm lucky enough to have been given all of them in one book, the Catalogue Raisonne, just about the heaviest book I've ever owned, I have the whole set, every stripe he ever did, and that of course (ignoring the early work where he was just finding his way not doing stripes) was all he did, all of his life, every day. That, for post modern generations, is worthy of great respect. It is a truly wonderful book.
But as I lay on the day bed today, with it being January 1st and it being exquisite with nothing happening- I even resorted to 'sorting LPs' (loud ones on the top shelf, quieter ones on the bottom shelf, those in between at the ends-if you're interested) I realized it all went tits up for Barnett in 1968/9, when he suffered a momentary lapse of reason and inexplicably started painting the stripes in triangles. It just goes to show you should quit while you're ahead, at cards or in art. He was wobbling. He died of a heart attack in 1970.


Saturday, 29 December 2012

Restless, William Boyd on TV


The problem with Restless, the pseudo spy story flung out fairly glamorously last night and the night before, was that the story is just stupid. Far be it for me to come the storming modernist, but it would seem extremely unlikely for even the most hardline of Soviets not to want American intervention in WW2 in the depths of 1942. They were baying for a second front way after that according to every history book I have come across. Secondly, it is most peculiar to assume that a map is authentically British because it features a spelling mistake, since as far as I know Britain has always been historically considered rather good with maps, especially since the OS. These two issues, plus dramatic implementation of the most ghastly stereotypes and Downtown Abbey characterization, make you wonder where history has gone.
Sure, the fun of history is that you can twist it about, you can stress, for instance, that architect Walter Gropius, known for functionalism, was good in bed until dawn, that is simply an unusual emphasis, but this particular dramatization gave me the creeps, not because the subject was satisfactorily rendered complex, but because it was rendered stupid (see post below).

Friday, 28 December 2012

The Big Screen


The TV blew up just before we left for the holiday. Everything went in to sepia- it had to go- it was second hand when we acquired it ten years ago. Of course this made an ample talking point with family, between ourselves on walks, when stuck in strange bars, and gliding through Tescos. Techy stuff seems to interest everybody.
I remember in particular The Angel in Bourne, which drags customers in on the premise of it being 'More than a Hotel...' and where if you venture so boldly, you find yourselves sat in a purple blancmange. Julie and I stared at each other in disbelief. The next place we tried even the dog was dying.
But one thing Bourne is blessed with is BIG FLAT SCREEN TV's, through every window you see them, beaming Viva Forever! (or suchlike). It is tempting to see a reciprocal correlation between size of TV and decline in content, that HD might inversely relate to interest, that LCD stands for lowest common denominator, and this particularly nasty piece was just about the worst thing we had to sit through this year, a documentary that proved the Spice Girls were just about the most self serving creatures of all time, and had unfortunately remained so. However they were big. It proved the monumentalisation of twelve year old egos is just fine with everyone.
But these big screens!? What to do? Certainly without a room filling flat screen you might feel a little unambitious. In Bourne you'd be letting down the street.  A cursory glance at the paper gave little information, only glittering 40" prizes in the SALES. I couldn't work out any of them actually did, apart from take over your sitting room with every celebrities pimple.
But as soon as we got home sanity came too. It was clearly a case of return, while you still can, to CRT, then pick the finest manufacturer (little debate there...surely Bang and Olufsen) and go on E-bay. Within seconds we knew, we might get one of the 'prettiest TV's ever made' (see above) for £100, OK a bit more in the end, then it was just a schlep down to South Kensington where it had apparently sat in a spare bedroom, to retrieve it. Now here it is, quite a sparkling thing, a design classic, and we're watching Zulu just like everybody else. Of course the screen being what it is, we'll miss half of Auction Hunters, literally, but that's a small price to pay.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Welcome to the Modern World

Photo by Julie Cook

Last night was the first time I've seen somebody check their mobile phone between shots while playing ping pong. She was admittedly playing doubles. You know my feelings on ping pong. This event happened in Shoreditch, in the newly cool London Apprentice, at around 7.30pm, and I'm claiming it as art.
It was also the night somebody on Newsnight admitted, well nearly, and after a lengthy pause, and almost choking on the fact, in fact being unable to speak (thereby guilty by association) that everything was now about advertising, that there was no other kind of artistic production, and then a guy in dreadlocks from Paolo Aalto said that couldn't, just couldn't, be so, that advertising was all there is. He looked upset dreadlocks or no dreadlocks, and I thought, well thank god somebody's twigged the awful truth.
And then we looked at some pictures of last weekend's Christmas party in happy valley. The two under tens above are on their Ipads, and the sister (out of shot) was on her mobile phone. Welcome to the modern world.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Christmas 24

Julie's well into Christmas 24, a new TV channel as far as I can see, It relays really depressing US Christmas movies and she loves it, it's like total distraction. They always involve a home town Christmas and blatant challenges surrounding horrible ambition. They are horribly Faustian. I keep reminding her my parcels are stuck in Bow depot and I'm sure I'll have to end up with specials from Boots again. And of course she's ill, I'm ill, everybody's ill for Christmas, it's a tradition.
You have to go to parties, that's where the adult males stand around and talk about their default WiFi settings and the kids fool around on the sofa with multiple ipads under suddenly blue flashing Christmas lights. It's very problematic. One of the kids said to me yesterday rather cuttingly 'I mean what are we doing?' I have no idea what we are doing. He was twelve.
I know that if I have to do this stuff it means missing half of every film I might nearly like. Over the weekend we were just halfway through Back to the Future 2 and we had to go and do something else, I mean that's almost research for me- I have a student writing a dissertation on flying fucking cars - then on Sunday I was just getting happy with Carry On Don't Lose Your Head (one of their best I think)  and the same thing happens. The only films we get to complete are those on bloody Christmas 24.
I really do worry, but I got a new kitchen tap, and kitchen taps are important, it's a Franke Eiger, and some pictures framed, one in walnut, that will do nicely, and then I shall attempt to recline.
Watch out for my Playboy review in January's AR, and today I've nearly licked Brunelleschi for February, it's a relief I tell you.
Meanwhile Happy Holidays (as they say, ad nausea, on Christmas 24)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

WORK


Woke up dreaming I was working for Alison and Peter Smithson. It was not a good dream. No doubt my subconscious was reminding me fairly vividly that I might be viewing modernism through rose tinted spectacles (see below post). True, my experience of working in the serious modern architectural office was awful. First I was stuck in an attic and asked to draw the plan of a church for weeks, then I was stuck in a basement and asked to draw a design for a bathroom, including chrome traps, for what seemed like months. I was, I think, judged pretty poor at both, so I was quickly dispatched to colouring in, where I excelled.
It was only when I went to work for a small practise where the partner did just about everything with a Monte Blanc fountain pen and admitted his desire to come to work in doublet and hoes did working life become bearable, and later when I worked with Tim Pyne at the righteously named (and Shoreditch based) WORK we just did it all in the pub. That was quite excellent.
I don't want to give the impression we just went out and got pissed, not at all, the pub is quite a jesuitical learning environment. Whilst any plonker can talk shit in a bar, the cultivation of more learned dissidents in say, the Coach and Horses in Soho took about ten years, it was the Oxbridge of informal education. You started low in the cheap seats with your notebook thinking about your novel, and ended up by osmosis taking your place rightfully in your particular spot, with the novel safely unpublished and certainly no notebook, tossing wisdom like hand grenades at others who mooched in with exactly the same purpose in mind. It was a terrific way to spend the day, and now I think about it, getting up in the morning with the express intention of doing little else but go to the pub was terrific (if a little short sighted). Similarly the Great Eastern Dining Rooms in the nineties.
So as you can see, the idea of FLW's fellowship (like going to church) or having Mies peer over your shoulder for ages in total silence (like working in a factory) or, as in my dream, not being able to either work out Alison's porch detail or her paperback book cover design or the priority I should give to either under threat, is impossible.
I can only conclude that if I were asked entry level advice to the world of work (not WORK) I would have to say perhaps certain characters can only be happy working for somebody they think they are much better than even if they are not, it rather puts the oweness back on employer, leaving you to relax and get on with the task at hand until hopefully, at five pm or thereabouts, out comes the fizzy wine.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Pop Ups

I was on the bus home and I saw the sign 'Pop Up Art' just past the Pop Up Mall which sits at the bottom of Bethnal Green Rd. There are actually two pop up art shops down there, changing their contents with remarkable swiftness just as they might their location. I suppose and I wonder has it all become too easy? Of course I was wondering this further just as I put my own finishing touches (and touches I promise of the lightest consideration) to my latest art piece; a model of a Honda Gold Wing next to an 8oz brass weight sat on a hand painted picture of a girls face peering through a door which I bought off E-Bay, once I got home.
It's clear that the younger generation's idea of creativity rests largely on the ability to play ping pong at all times- as evidenced all the way up Redchurch St and no doubt across all other contemporary metropolitan artistic milieu- rather than wrestle with the traditional demons that dog the territory of artistic production. I say this just as it appears the bar staff of The Star at Bethnal Green are almost universally and happily interested in puppetry, mime, masks and other crap they download continuously on their phones, rather than being cantankerous bastards. These new artistic folk smile to a disconcerting degree, and I blame it all on their connectivity. This connectivity, their very sociality, where ping pong is more a metaphor than a contest, means any ghastly feeling from the depths of the artistic abyss is just put down to 'Sophie having a bad day', not the fact that she's struggling with colossus, or trying to paint a knee.
Since time in memorial artists have been portrayed as the difficult and unkempt who hate the world. Vasari's Lives of Artists is full of misery. Modern artists were so clearly in penury so often as to hardly afford the next round, as most wonderfully exemplified in the character of Gulley Jimson in the terrific Horses Mouth (Joyce Cary) a book recommended to me so much in my youth that I was fundamentally embarrassed when I found it's brilliance only at age forty eight, far too late.
My friend Scott is of course the last aficionado, trampish, furious, and giggled at by Bonnie the barmaid.
He draws, he paints, he finds it agony, he finds even walking to his studio a dread, and then occasionally, manically, grabs the ecstasy and celebrates and then he's barred again.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Great Christmas Gift


Our quite lovely Reno book seems to be getting a new lease of life. All sorts are referring to it, and it bares credence to self publishing as a decent way to do things. We have a few copies left at £20, signed and editioned. It's not a big book size wise, but it packs a decent punch as the story of us two muppets spending Christmas in Reno in 2004. To buy use the link below.


Reno ‘The biggest little city’ did not disappoint.
Refugee hippies from San Francisco; marvellous
bar tenders (the book is dedicated to one of them, a
certain Doug Twist) taxi drivers playing BTO
steering with their knees; goats in Santa costumes
riding in cars; big trucks; fantasy girls; fights; dope;
antique markets and seductive, beautiful,
dangerous, surviving ‘Americana’ where you
nervously watch your back.


http://www.juliecookphotography.com/index.php?/bookshop/

It's also nice it's part of Paula's  exhibition at the excellent Stockwell Studios.






Arranging a Library

For us, any new bit of shelving is like a safety valve on a reactor that's about to blow. Now Scott has finally finished his work, the last last bits of shelving slipped, thumped and downright bashed in to place yesterday after far too long, I stand delighted, but of course now I have to shuffle around the books.
You might not think people contrive their bookshelves but I think they do. There are questions of size, questions of theme, those of location and those of value. It can get mighty ponderous if you let it. Not surprisingly, in the midst of the architectural fit called deconstruction, an old student of mine arranged all his kitchen shelving according to the dates of the Napoleonic wars (stupid).
So I find myself moving books up and down and around. For instance, if I put Chuck Palahniuk and Michael Houellebecq (as sets, not complete but at least of the same size) next to each other on the new shelf above the front door, will we look like a couple of sex obsessed nihilistic psychopaths to any casual visitor? Just putting those two next to each other, while they fit perfectly, is bad enough. However, since they are both classed, in my terms, as not quite good enough for the real indoors, that's really where they belong.
The real indoors is the stuff people will stare at if they are sat on the sofa, and that seems to be art books and, more lamely, rock books. The fact that Davis's Hammer of the Gods and Motley Crue's (hardback! slipbound!) copy of The Dirt sit right at elbow is disturbing, but I do refer to them more than to most books, so that's where the rock books will stay. Meanwhile accommodating the art book collection has been one of Scott's preoccupations for what seems like years.
Upstairs, I couldn't fling all the Ian Fleming sixties Pan's, presently next to our bedroom, or the John Le Carre's in to the front lobby even though it was especially designed for them. This was a dismal moment for the architect, having to think better of himself, but I'll happily ship all the Ed McBain down there, even though in many ways he's a better writer. And meanwhile, how come all the black spined serious books, the Homers and the Hazlit's find themselves in the bedroom? That is definitely an error, as probably is worrying about all this in the first place- except that I did once live in the house of a Cambridge academic where books were everywhere and there was no order at all, and it was hell, and I slept in the library.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Andrew Holmes 2



Andrew Holmes pictures are really quite extraordinary. You stand there and feel your head moving towards the surface of the paper. They are quite big, and you are sort of sucked in, and your eyes go all screwy losing and regaining focus, until your nose is about to bash in to them, then you recoil in horror that you might actually touch one, and then you are drawn in once again, unbelieving. For those interested in mark making, his pictures are the equivalent of CSI Las Vegas. They are hypnotic.
There are thirteen of them on show in the gallery (see below) in Chelsea, and a snip at £16,000 each, you've have thought the best thing that Ashley Cole could possibly do would be to buy the lot with his pocket money and dig out his basement garage in to some contemporary version of the Pazzi chapel - a long thin white space I am imagining, quite unashamedly Grand Designs, and show them off as one. They would certainly show up his car.
I'm not joking about a chapel, Andrew calls his latest work the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. They are pictures of the end of autopia, and the last (he said to me) he will do in colour. That's Andrew for you to a tee. The last he will do in colour.
There is something demonic, something eminence gris, about him, and there was a very nervous looking photographer there who looked as if he was suddenly placed in the presence of the antichrist, muttering things like 'I really must understand more...' to himself over and over again as he fiddled with his suddenly insignificant digital camera. Andrew is after all the kind of artist, like Gericault, who once in his studio, famously doesn't say a word to anybody, doesn't notice anything else at all, once for three weeks solid.
The congregation, clergy, gathered last night were indeed no doubt top rank of a certain architectural scene, a scene that would probably have employed Andrew back in the day for all their dirty work- the renderings that he was famous for, and the kind of scene that might still use the word scene. The man who's name I can never remember who always wears red from Richard Rogers was there, wearing red. Why he always wears red somebody, probably Andrew, will eventually tell me. It was all most peculiar, they looked, well, sort of 'beaky' as a collection.....alert, entitled, vaguely unpleasant, those elders of the High Tech and the AA, the men behind things, all finely tuned to their position in life, a secret society somehow before you, stroking the palm. It made me quite queasy, a generation below, a generation comparatively in rags and accomplishing rather little, but then I don't get out to West London much and, lets face it, it's a different world, and it always appalls me.
Go see, absorb it all, before we all die!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Andrew Holmes at Plus One Gallery


I filed my copy on Playboy. Filing is good. However there is nothing better than the response the writer is hanging on the end of his or her seat for from his or her editor for the next twenty four hours - in this case terms such as 'very funny' and 'the first time camel toe has been used as a verb' mean I dine on filet, I sip good rustic Cotes du Rhone, and I watch 'Inside West Coast Customs' with great satisfaction.
My students are also cueing up for gratification, I've got a pile of potential dissertations hanging on my desktop (hence lack of posts) all waiting for the fateful final submission and a bit of last minute advice. Last minute advice with something like a dissertation of course is a bit daft, but when it's all done, THEN it's amazing what you can suddenly say about it. Well done to those who have completed the canvas.
Talking about a dissertation for life, Andrew Holmes has a no doubt fabulous exhibition (above pic) at Plus One Gallery (SW1). Andrew has been making these amazing drawings of US autopia for years and years, I mean he hasn't stopped, this guy just selected his topic and did it obsessively from year dot. His work sends a message to all artists who prefer instant gratification, basically, don't bother. Not that he would care. Andrews work is drawn real slow, and he just keeps going like the cats at Jack Daniels, it's just I suspect he's more genuine. He has a very big country and western record collection. It's all done in pencil.
If you want to see some real art, check this stuff out.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

I Get Weak 1988


Since it's my birthday and nomatter how old, I am ill disposed to work, I loll about wondering exactly how long it will take me to get down and write that thing on Beatriz Colomina's Playboy exhibition in Maarstrict. I wonder whether whether she is ferocious (as I imagine) or playful (as spotted on Google), I wonder what I think or rather thought about Playboy magazine, which for the most part would be: disappointed. And why on earth it might suddenly be 'chic' or even critically 'chic' now.
In the mean time thank god the postman delivers a true eighties classic, a piece of power pop so daft it could have been produced by Don Simpson and would now fair very well on the playlist in my local hairdressers, Rocket on Hackney Rd- who last time I was there seemed very manic for Top Gun and Young Guns soundtracks. Being such barometers hairdressers are, this means for better or worse the eighties ARE BACK.
This 12" of I Get Weak is terrific, it tells you just about everything you need to know (if you try hard enough) in one little package, just as Ms Carlisle could, possibly (now 54) who is probably just as embarrassed (if she could see me) at the thought of me bobbing around the living room and doing the hand actions as she was blasted out of her mind while singing it. Mind you she has faired pretty well, she even posed for the blessed Playboy in 2001 (I do my research) before turning buddhist.
I put it on again, make another cup of tea and sniff a miniature celebratory coissant. The advantage of cultural theory based on 12" singles is that on the longer versions the producers can 'really be themselves'. They embellish the songs with many dodads that give the essence of the period away. You can just imagine them; 'Lets just have another line and DO THIS TO IT!!' (extend the intro - add on twinkly synth bits - roll out a bit of chug-a-lug - solo Belinda! Solo with kettledrums!!- put that piano on the top and hold on to glorious fadeout!) And they would spend ages in the sanctum of the studio doing just that, just for a few glorious extra seconds! I feel I'm in there with them! What days, if only architecture could be so much fun.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxOq8QBP6UQ

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Fountainhead


I have to watch the Fountainhead (1948) each year with my post grad students and each year I moan and groan along with them all the way through, but each time somehow at different bits. This year it was particularly the startled bunny in the headlights expression of Domenique Francon (Patricia Neal- above) every time it is demanded she make any emotional response to almost anything. This undoubted paralysis of fear no doubt speaks volumes for the concept of objectivism in the first place, and offers an excellent opportunity for that excellent joke; 'How many objectivists does it take to change a light bulb...........(pause).....ONE!'
However this year I was struck equally by the question of why the hell Gail Wynand shoots himself. Having just lost the girl BUT made a pile of money by selling The Banner the second of the prime beings (but of course the more flawed) should by rights, in anything other than the most crass avowal of the survival of the fittest, slink off in to the long grass to lick his wounds, even stags in the highlands do that. Instead he GIVES EVERYTHING TO ROARK! Life, even an objectivists life, should surely not be mistaken for an all or nothing poker game.
The next and last scene of course makes it clear there can be only one king of the castle, as Roark stands atop to receive the finally supplicant Dominique as she shoots up his mighty construction. If you don't laugh at this scene there is something wrong with you, but when you've stopped laughing, what on earth can we make of such blatant totalitarianism which, speaking mathematically, confirms that in such regimes, there is only need for ONE. When we remember that we must surely recall and recoil at that haunting scream of Rudolf Hess in 1934 'Adolf Hitler is Germany and Germany is Adolf Hitler'.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Why I don't like Louis Kahn's Salk Institute


One of the things I like about Gropius's Bauhaus building is that it is entirely synthetic, entirely of man. At least it is entirely of man in concept, whilst of course we can debate the nature of it's materials. It also looks cheap (economical).
One of the things I don't like about the Salk Institute by Louis I Kahn, a building that just about every American architect (at least) raves about, is that it seems entirely organic in concept, and it looks very expensive indeed (built without consideration of means to end- a sort of architecture for architecture's sake). I don't like it that Kahn goes on about light and space just about all the time, and talks in poetry; elements which are largely inadmissible to theory. That is not to say light and space and poetry aren't important, but all these things go together to make Kahn an architect in the great American tradition of the organic, a position so flawed it encourages many native architects in their desire to paint Las Vegas brown.
Sullivan, Wright, Kahn, all of them swept away in the rather despairing quest for organic unity, whilst those of the Hellenic disposition realise that this is all nonsense, and that man is basically almost interminably unhappy and alone.
Weirdly, the first opinion appears to make you more depressed than the second.
And of course, it's not quite fair to make criticism in such blatant, stereotypical terms, nobody wants to be thought of as this one dimensional. Neither are they so one dimensional.  However, since mostly the business of architectural criticism seems to be embroiled with the crushingly boorish attitude that everything is everything, one finds blogging refreshing, because when you blog, you can't do that, you can't go one about how satisfactory everything is, how wonderful everything is, you have to be categorical. Now there is a sentiment I suppose Kahn would of shared.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Doom and Gloom

After dancing around the kitchen to the Stones latest, and finding Grr to be a favourite on at least one of my students facebook pages, that on the back of Planet Rock playing the original seventies Heavy Load of Free (A song even I have on heavy rotation, but don't get me started on the lyrics) just before Doom and Gloom and I'm thinking that, at least without the sex abuse, the (early) seventies are back, and the second part of the excellent Crossfire Hurricane isn't till saturday night... can't wait.
Doom and Gloom is actually more an eighties outing- shades of Undercover of the Night shades of Keith's ZZTop moments off Main Offender too (hardly bad timing given the ZZTop resurgence) but those matters are technical.
Lets get to shoes. I had a big thing for the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn, negative heels, as a young man. I was MERCILESSLY teased for them when I first arrived in London, they called them cornish pasties; they said they were duckbill platypuses, they laughed out loud and in public. But you get to re-live shit courtesy of E-bay and middle age, and you get to take revenge, and so low and behold a fresh pair arrived today, some dead stock in Dakota stashed in many bins no doubt by some desperate buyer of job lots.

I looked at them and thought- these really do look like hospital shoes, and they are a little, well, yellow, perhaps clownish, but they felt good as long as you didn't walk in them. As soon as I tried them on and did walk in them I felt a little tipsy. Go ahead, laugh.

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Bauhaus Chess Set


Fine Art is undoubtedly the worst of subject areas. Nobody even teaching it seems to know what it is. I've never heard a single decent definition, all I hear is dire tales of students stuffing models of whales with sponges or making earrings of the Royal (sic) family. HOWEVER, the chaos of idiocy that the practise of so called fine art demands does appear in a historical context to reap many dialectically rational rewards. Amidst the undoubted madhouse of the Bauhaus, where transcendental pseuds ran the show, even the canteen, even demanding prayer and robes and the eating of garlic mush (Alma Mahler, married briefly to Gropius, most beautiful etc, said the only distinctive thing about the Bauhaus was the smell of garlic) we get quite excellent things like the Bauhaus Chess Set, a thing of clear beauty.
I showed it to my students today as just about the best thing that could have come out of my imaginary construction of what the Bauhaus must have been. I explained the rationalism of each piece representing how each piece moved as a thankful pinnacle of achievement. I even enjoyed the certain ambiguity between king and queen pieces, thinking perhaps the Bauhaus couldn't do kings or queens, but when I shovelled forward this discussion in to post-grad students in the afternoon, they resoundedly said it was right that the queen was spherical, as in moving everywhere, and when I think about it, they were quite right, the king is definitely more stilted in metaphorical movement (but only just- it's still an argument waiting to be had..... maybe exposing the difficulties of form following function.....and so on ......oh dear)
Please buy me one for Christmas.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Tragic in Architecture

Even if you make nothing but good decisions in your life, you will die. Even worse, it is likely you will have regrets when you die (unlike, say, cats or horses). In the meantime sometimes you do things without self interest- assassinate Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich (The Butcher of Prague) for instance, when a) you've no idea who might win the war and b) you are almost certain to get caught and die a very nasty death as a result. Such events we put down to selfless virtue, and we owe that to our relationship with the immortal gods, in that as humans and occasionally heroes, in ancient Greek cosmology you had at least a chance of transcending your mortality, and this has nothing to do with nature.
Le Corbusier is the ultimate tragic hero for architecture, he showed us the way, he made rational decisions, he flayed his fists at the gods, and he ended up 'tragically' building La Tourette, a building fabulously set against nature and drowning himself when he'd had enough.
The Americans, being all the more practical, and somewhat less logical, built a future on human happiness. The ancient gods were not for them. Instead, they sought an organic relation with nature, almost Darwinian, perhaps because they were surrounded by a hell of a lot of it, and that the early settlers were farmers, and perhaps because they were by enlarge severely god fearing protestants. Ancient Greece was lost on the new world, but adopting organic unity proved equally problematic, as exemplified by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Sullivan got drunk (not that he was the only one) and FLW became a guru (not to say the early C20th was not awash with gurus). American nature worship would take us through to the hippies and beyond, almost to Steve Jobs, but it would also feed famously self interested ideologies such as that espoused by the ridiculous Ayn Rand. The european tradition lived on to wheel in Aldo Rossi, Siza, Ungers and anybody else who wasn't interested in fun-pack modernism. Thats it.
For more read Vincent Scully's monograph on FLW, and of course, read (if you can bare it) and certainly watch 'The Fountainhead'.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Venetian vs Venice

Photo Julie Cook

Our flat is full of ephemera, lots of it carefully mounted and framed, I mean we have cocktail napkins and swizzle sticks framed up, which I suppose is unusual. Up on the landing there's what we euphemistically call the gallery, a collection of 10x8's of porn stars improbably named 'Butter' 'Trinity' and so on which form a kind of heretical altarpiece. Of course all the photographs are lovingly signed with stuff like - 'To Paul - So deep in to me!XXX' and they derive, with augmentations, from Las Vegas - that most genuine of ephemeral places. I'm just pleased we grabbed these momentos when we did, for they are the equivalent of historical relics. Who knows what 'Butter' is doing now? I even wonder whether Jackson (above) still runs the Oculus bar in the centre of the Venetian's huge casino floor. Bartenders in the States can have lengthy and illustrious careers, but Jackson seemed all out for everything; fast cars he wrecked, planes he flew, whatever he could get his hands on, he even ran a boxing ring.
During the AVN porn show the stars would flock to the Oculus bar like the exotic birds they were, equal in every way to any strange wonders that make you yelp with surprise at the zoo; tottering on skyscrapers, poured into scraps of designer material, painted in the most florid of markings, making strange calls and slewed to the gills (and supported by highly suspicious looking gentlemen) they appeared the most miraculous of humankind.  Me, with my feet hurting after days following them around the circus of the porn convention, convincing myself, ever more improbably, that I really was going to file a story for the Independent on Sunday, I was ground down by the spectacle and carrier bags full of porn crap that filled our room at the Vagabond Inn (now long gone) from which some tiny precious relic would later be salvaged for of all things, our landing.
The Venetian cannot be inauthentic, it is no less real than Venice, it just responds to a different, more accelerated program. Perhaps that program is absolutely rammed with false consciousness but then...sometimes...you just have to get a life.

Photo Julie Cook

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Goethe's Faust


Talking about 'the tragedy of development' in Goethe's Faust brings some big, oft related questions that developers and architects might well ask themselves more often, such as a) 'Once I start, how come I can't stop?' and b) 'How come when/if the project is eventually complete, I feel so empty inside?' Meanwhile the story essentially reminds us you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs, and you might not feel like eating it if you've made too much of a hassle of cooking it, and also that and the country village of Midsomer really is full of homicidal maniacs. It is so full of them that we should be pleased to shout 'Tits! Arse!!' everytime we arrive back in the metropolis in thanks for being relieved of the duty to know everybody else's small world tribulations since thank god we have left the medieval world behind, and we are not due to go back until we're close on senile.
Do we need more Fausts? With our heads firmly stuck in the consumerist trough we don't need little Hitlers or Le Corbusiers  running about organizing us any more. But what happens when the trough empties? We can noodle around Marshall Berman's excellent interpretation of Faust for ever, pondering this and that, but when I got a bit tired of it, it was actually quite excellent to turn to the original.
For instance, when Faust and Mephisto finally get to enjoy Walpurgis night, the subtlety of interplay reminds you of any night in your local lap dancing club. There is always the guy who falls in love with the girl, there is always the guy who gets drunk, there is always the guy who can't really believe he's there in the first place, and there is always the girl who's after the money, the girl who just loves what she's doing, and the more cynical old hand who knows exactly what the game is. The fact that Goethe understood this back in the late C18th, and that he writes it so beautifully, and that we still behave in exactly the way today just makes you LOL.
Amazing.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Celebration Day


So I was sitting waiting on toad in the hole in the kitchen, my back to the radio. Now this radio is a very cool radio, it has a bass amp and all that, you don't get to fifty without a cool radio, and I play Planet Rock while I'm cooking and moan at Magnum.
I sat there and heard Kashmir like I've never heard it before. It wasn't even introduced, probably because there is an embargo of some kind, but I knew this was my cue, it meant I had to pre order that Celebration Zep, and I could get it on vinyl too. I was there for that gig at the O2, I was there by accident because my old coke friends had other coke friends who were very well connected indeed. I was never really part of the coke friends, and they were never really in to Zeppelin, I just got lucky on the day like you do sometimes. Of course I remember the coke friends hardly managing the gig at all, that is the nature of coke friends, they always miss the central event.
Anyway, thank you coke friends, I loved you then and I will love you again on delivery in December.

Louis Sullivan

Louis Sullivan fans, in my experience, tend to be quirky fuss pots. I'm not surprised, so was he, and whilst I've been browsing a fantastic book, 'The Idea of Louis Sullivan', a very precious series of loving photographic B&W plates by John Szarkowski published in 1956, I'm not getting much closer to reconciling Sullivan at all. Perhaps it's the appalling language, that blend of court, pulpit and criminal dock with unbearable titles like 'Kindergarten Chats' and 'Autobiography of an Idea' that distances him so effectively, perhaps it's his formulation of the organic itself?
If Henri Lefebvre hadn't deemed it convenient to debate Venice as a combination of 'work' and 'product' in 'The Production of Space'- a text I also find more irritating by the year- he would surely have been on steadier ground if he'd come across Sullivan. These are definately 'works' in a time of 'products' utilizing products (lifts, steel frames, whatever), and if you like, dressing them as works (frills). Sullivan would not have liked this analogy, because he saw the organic whole everywhere, in everything, as seed to the flower to the seed, and he lost a good deal of money doing it.
The Guaranty Building 1894, Buffalo NY is an amazing thing, no doubt. However it sits there solid as a geometrical rock but seems to be wearing lace. I can't get away from this transgender interpretation, this one thing and another. Is the decoration intrinsic or applied? No matter how intrinsic Sullivan meant it to be, you can't help but see it as applied, as rather over the top gratuitous, can you?
The Szarkowski book is fabulous because it includes quotes from clients, from Torsten Veblen, from Rudyard Kipling, from Whitman, from all sorts representative of the tumult of the times (including the big swinging dicks who only cared for money). Of course, there is a melancholy side which feeds the heroism. Sullivan was to fail, get plastered, and die in poverty. In America there are few second acts. However the image that comes to mind when I think of Sullivan is a contemporary painting of another highly agitated man, Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, painted by John Singer Sargent in the 1880's. Here also, I see male and female, but totally insecure in the picture frame, uneasy in their bodies. To me, the composition is as peculiar (and lovable) as a picture as the Guaranty or Wainwright building are as architecture. I guess there was no Grayson Perry just when you needed him most.




Sunday, 4 November 2012

Cheers


I'm not always miserable about everything. For instance I am delighted that Cheers is back on ITV4 at 7pm weekdays and that fills a whole hour. Of course, you couldn't make a program like Cheers these days because.....bla bla bla bla.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Beavers!

 I can't help it, 'Wet Dreams' gets hits, 'Beavers!' will get hits, 'Big Kiss' gets huge hits. Everybody needs hits these days, that's why the girl presenting Autumnwatch says: 'Ummmm....polecats!!..EEE...EEE....eeee!!! (paws like motion with hands, then flirty flick of hair). Not rips of flesh then. GAWD HELP US!  The whole of evening television reduced to the level of Blue Peter. The animal kingdom, at least POLECATS reduced to EE..EE...eeee!!! -super cute furry things! Polecats are nasty shits. They're fucking animals. 'You polecat!' is not a nice thing to say.
Infantilism, that's the trajectory.
Then (what if?) so everything has to be better and everything has to last less time before it is replaced. That's how technology is moving right? Bloody 4G, bloody 5G, bloody 87G. Where do you end up? A beautiful product which lasts a second. Sounds like crack huh. Actually the only product that can reasonably fulfill such criteria is brainwash.
And, no more albums any more..no bands anymore...(just godawful Muse)....just tracks baby...the triumph of product over work, the triumph of the instant, but it's not your instant anymore, it seems somebody elses. Mercury awards, bit mediocre says the lady from NME, not enough of the 'grime' scene. Give me a break. Nobody will ever make a rock album as good as 'Back in Black', nobody will ever make anything as sublime as 'Physical Graffiti'. This is macarbre. Nothing left, no soul at all. The radio was on, the most awful shit, some twats from Shoreditch. No fun.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Subconscious

So just as I'd assured myself of my sure fired rationalism (see below) what happens? I'm crocked by my subconscious that's what happens, and crocked badly, I suffer 'an attack'. I try to blame it on the stress of that bad art evening (but if bad art was bad for you we'd all be dead) I blamed it on the exertions of The Renaissance (Friday's nine o'clock) or Henri Lefebvre (Friday's three o'clock), and an up and coming dental extraction, I even try and blame Herman Hertzberger- since I was mildly annoyed that the peddler of the the largest expanse of fair-faced blockwork in the northern hemisphere only seemed interested in showing me children happily playing chess with their shoes off on nice steps, which is a bit like turning up for a lecture by Rocco Stifredi and hearing him chime on about his love of cats.
No as I began to move again, move very gently too, I realised my subconscious was celebrating a birthday, and simply sending me back a year to total misery, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.
When this happens this household resembles that film Misery. Julie is a good dominatrix and really excels herself nosing in books for every conceivable and miraculously inconceivable cure. This brings it's own pain, whilst endearing at the same time. I, when conscious, realising perhaps the worst is over (for this bastard can really bite you in the ass) read firstly Fuzz by Ed McBain, and secondly, and this can only be done at the stage when I can just about pull up my trousers but certainly not socks, A Small Town in Germany by John Le Carre.
When you see no way forward, Fuzz is a very good book indeed, but not for the general reasons you'll find from just about any nerd who reads crime fiction and LOVES TO REVIEW IT ON THE INTERNET. No Fuzz is a book for people who love to write. The reason? Fuzz, especially if you are nearly dead, will take you maybe a day to read, and read it you will, nobody will be able to stop you. You will also have the delicious impression while you are reading it, that it is so effortless and so canny and so funny and so ordinary and so brilliant and just so there in your arms, that it probably took just about a day to write as well.


Sunday, 28 October 2012

What is Perspective?

Filippo Brunelleschi invented perspective as we know it, the measuring of space, it may not be an accident that he had a dark sense of humour, once sending an enemy mad by contriving to have him drunk, while he slipped in to the victims house where on the sots return, he pretended to be him. The victim could not work out the deception, and Brunelleschi was a cool rationalist. In his 'discovery' of perspective, the old conception of seeing, that what you saw was integral to your imagination was overturned by the notion that the eyes simply receive information in the form of light, and that light moves according to scientific rules, hence, even if you were thinking of goblins, you were not actually seeing them, they were to be subjugated to what we now term the subconscious. With that, we usher in humanism and it's out with goblins for a while.
Henri Lefebrve states that it was a socially progressive form of Tuscan farming that, in it's arrangement of  cypress trees along tracks, opens the door for the enlightening discovery of perspective. This seems hopeful, until I refer back to one of my favourite writers, Dave Hickey, who says that Las Vegas also provides such a beneficial flat line social hierarchy. When I think of that fabulous thing, the Las Vegas casino floor, I think floor and ceiling. They always said all you had to get right was the floor and the ceiling, the rest is just burbling machines and that majestic sight of so much humanity simultaneously shaking it's fist at the gods. So with such a view I find both absolutely vast flat line perspective as well as flat line social hierarchy!
Of course Hickey's flat line rests on two preconditions, post the odds and treat everybody the same. On top of that you can riff what you like, be it the pleasure of moving up from food to cocktail, or even up to magician, you can happily believe in aliens from outer space, but underneath it all, there is the humanism of both literal and political perspective.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Wet Dreams

Grand Designs reached new depths last night as millions were shovelled into a hole in the ground. Soon the banker and his wife will notice a certain taint to the air (not shown on TV) and an irritating little puddle or two. Amazingly the laws of physics apply to the rich as much as the poor, and it is most unwise to turn your palatial basement in to a boat, for if you do, it will want to float, or sink.
I fear that Kevin McCloud may be becoming some doyen of the rich, since last week we had castles in the air with a property magnet. Grand Designs is perhaps suddenly de rigueur in certain circles for the most vulgar display of wealth. It does it of course without talking about the specifics of earning it, just the tease of spending it- our class found itself debating whether the water tower guys as opposed to the basement puddle people were spending £35,000 a week or a day, we weren't sure, does it matter?
The window these programs provided offered a vista of hubris of such gargantuan proportions you can only yearn for nemesis to strike back. Building Nero's palace in a bunker in Holland Park alongside the banker and his wife was one Sally Storey, lighting designer to the rich and famous, who used to sit alongside me in first year architecture at Bristol University. It's amazing what time does, and money too. I have to say she looked surprisingly fresh out of the box for somebody of fifty or so.
It's all part of the same thing, the rich are in the business, like Midas, of stemming tides, of stopping time, like Narcissus, of making and keeping everything perfect, and that is not possible. It would be better of some of these clients spent their money on some education- starting with their own.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Why I love Mies van de Rohe

'Why Mies van de Rohe?' chirped up a student at the end of the research seminar where I had paraded my now infernal paper last week, the paper which has me morose, the paper which has me lying in bed wondering whether phrases like 'Mies would have considered Mondrian's transcendentalism nuts' are, whilst tritely amusing (given Mondrian's diet of carrots, and the Bauhaus's garlic mush) academically correct, and generally biting me on the ass.
It was a good question and I muttered an unfortunately post modern answer along the lines of you love it and hate it at the same time, which is the sort of answer, as is the point often with post modernism, that gets you nowhere. The real answer should have been something like this.
In times of appalling tawdriness a bit of taciturn straight thinking is a very welcome thing. Last night I heard a selection of artists talk on the subject of a fairly lame sixties pop artist and the even lamer work they had made in response. It was clear that these artists would have learnt far more if they'd made tributes to Piero della Franscesca for all the good it did them, for the work simply compounded some notion of lameness, no idea at all, and it wasn't even fun anymore. It made you wonder what on earth their motivation could be for doing it, or even for their getting up in the morning. This, I would posit, this is now the general condition for the western world.
What makes your hair stand on end in relation to Mies is that he stood in the middle of the most riotous politics our world has ever seen, a maelstrom, a hurricane, and made a point. He said architecture had nothing to do with it at all, and what's more it didn't have much to do your personal comfort either, even though it looked great. That not only takes balls, but in a series of negations, was conceivably the only correct response. The mind, my mind, is positively blown away by such a thought.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Dino's Las Vegas


On my stag night I ran across six lanes of traffic to get to this bar, Dino's Las Vegas, at about four in the morning, fresh out of the Olympic Garden (find out for yourself). I stumbled on this picture today, and my god it brings back every down and dirty memory. The door was rarely open.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Jane's Addiction

The last time I was in the ICA, the last memorable time, was for  Jane's Addiction and it didn't happen. There was a hell of a lot of noise and then everything went dead because they blew the power supply or something. Well that was the tour for Ritual delo Habitual in 1999. However I still remember the event fondly. Everybody enjoyed hanging out in the ICA bar in those days, it was where you wrote in your notebooks and savoured your revolution, and the ICA was perfect, it had good bookshop attached.
Today I was back there, it hasn't changed a great deal, it still, in fabric, represents 70's modernism rather like the toilets at the AA, and you recognize those toilets. But I was suddenly cloaked in memories, and I'd been marching of course, Julie and I out to get the Tories out bla bla, but we don't want to march that far, and peeled off when things got uncomfortable on Whitehall and like old people, ate our sandwiches in a very sodden looking Green Park. I really didn't want to hear Ed Milliband spoil it so entirely. He should have better advisers for sure, you don't fuck off your support that easily.
All of this was very melancholy indeed, the marching banners firstly, those from Doncaster and Gimsby, those refurbished banners from the land of past proud industry, and those championing William Morris even (!) When we sat in the ICA bar I realized my Jane's Addiction was three technologies away. I'd enjoyed a cassette tape with that album on it, that's long gone, also so  much else.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

After Theory


I came across this quote the other day:

'My main work has been the planning of buildings. I have never written or spoken much'.

Well fuck me. Of course that's Mies van de Rohe. It's opportune I found it because I was due to give a research seminar on Mies and since the subject was Mies van de Rohe as found in Architecture and Other Habits, this post is a sort of triple reflexive triple cross of postmodern superstructure that makes you just long for the absolute straightforwardness of the man's original sentiment, which incidentally and of course attracts us acadacademics like moths to a flame; like when you ask 'what's wrong' to your girlfriend, and she says 'nothing'. By just saying that, Mies infuriates us.
So I shove on some Free, I'm getting so fond of those four albums (see earlier posts). They haunt me, even the worst bits, in the shower. It's a good way to get out of poststructuralist dilemmas to consider Paul Rogers appalling lyrics and those sensuous Kossof licks. I wish Terry Eagleton would turn his attention to such things, because this morning After Theory gave me a headache.
Roger's repertoire pretty much revolves around roads and sunshine, or variations on those two themes. Umberto Eco said there were seven themes to 007, I'm glad I've got Rogers down to two. They are not essentially bad themes, but when he talks about 'northern heat' you can't help but think he must think he's in the southern hemisphere. However, with such quirks, and there are many of them, he does keep me interested.
One of the few critics to understand such musings would of course be Dave Hickey, whose conception of criticism is close to that of playing air guitar. I agree with him. You cannot dissect a red painting by writing a thesis on the word red. It's missing the point entirely. You have to sort of play along, you have to feel it.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Take Me Out


Despite its quality as the Nuremberg trials of saturday night television (and the fact I thought it was awful when it first aired) like so many others (proper TV critics I mean- Guardian and Telegraph)  I now have to see Take Me Out as the jewel in the crown. Perhaps my moral sensibilities have collapsed, or perhaps everything else has got worse. At least, with Take me Out, we have genuine muppets in pursuit of carnal integration on the sunny isle of Fanandos, a simple enough aspiration. I don't have to watch washed up soap stars support their incomes (Strictly) I don't have to suffer the weirdness of android Davina or the strangeness of her celebrity guests (Million Pound Drop) I don't have to sit staggered under the flashback inducing hyperbole and noise of X Factor (surely one of the most twisted of cultural encounters for us to decode). I don't have to hate hate hate the sheer awfullness of Ant and Dec, the new Brucies. No, Take Me Out  represents realism for our Fourth Reich, officiated by a charming monkey. I find it quite relaxing.
Of course in the meantime I'm forced to view any number of dramas on the subject of servility; servility to the country house (Downturn) servility to the department store (Paradise!) to the point I wish somebody might just say at some fucking point in the hallowed halls of the BBC, 'How about we make a show about bosses?- Lets show what shits they are!'
Even the USA managed that with Dallas, now respectfully re-made and remodelled with fresh livers.  

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Wonga United


That Wonga will sponsor Newcastle United brings to mind an easy cartoon; the impoverished mums feeding pennies into the side of St James Park, menaced by the dark figure of Wonga, while on the other side money cascades in millions down the terraces into the pockets of eleven players on the pitch who sport his name on their chests and smile brightly, pony tails to the wind. It is a vile image yet it has become absolutely true, in the poorest most bankrupt part of Britain, the name of the legal loan shark will grace the sacred football shirt.
However, the good thing, if there is such a thing, about this is it illustrates a neoclassical phenomenon vividly employed in Poussin's C17th painting above; Landscape with a Man Attacked by a Snake. The theme is the decline of horror with distance. At St James park we will see the event face to face in all it's horror, while I can't pretend at Chelsea Roman Abramovich doesn't squeeze his kopeks from the Russian poor, for that is the nature of oligarchy (and since capital follows capital, you eventually get oligarchy) it's just that since that's happening a long way away, we can't help not minding as much. That of course is tragic in itself, but none the less true.
This tragic picture is the result of a very peculiar British faith in the freemarket, where David Cameron can still have the nerve to suggest the rich work harder than the poor, that wealth is a virtue in itself and that it doesn't in itself accumulate. In Germany you can still go and see a top Bundesliga game as a fan for under £20, because they protected in law the idea of the club community just when we flogged it away to parent companies. They didn't quite share the faith in the free market when it came to such cherished institutions as football clubs.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

My Architectural Autobiography (Work in Progress)


When I started there were just the houseboats
WW2 gun emplacements, miles of shoreline
comfortable drizzle
mud.
Later there was a duffle coat, my friends old Morris Minor
places to hide dirty magazines.

At university, architecture felt like class.
Once I learnt it was a concrete houseboat, moored like the ships of Achilles on the side of a steep hill. We got on designing fire stations and schools and housing to ferocious criticism.
Other times it was bungalows in Newmarket, and a map of Europe, a Moto Guzzi and filthy jeans.
In summer it was a farm
sleeping in barns when it rained.

Then I nearly had it, worked at it, didn't yet know it.
Architecture was a mirage.
Technology would get smaller
Power would get bigger
Less of it the better.
Thats what we said
(but there was no money in that)
The wall came down.

When architecture had done with cardboard it would be on with the images.
Even the lingering perfume of lap dancers.
I was a young man intoxicated with many things
Las Vegas seemed a level playing field
(If there ever was one)
Architecture might be a martini
in the correct circumstances.
The twin towers came down.

Now the architecture was the thing that made the architecture and made it fall too.
It would decide who had a house and whether they lived on Iceland's fishfingers.
But it was also our home
It was suddenly a kitchen that worked well
A bathroom that worked well
a staircase
a boiler, doorhandles, floors......grandma's armchair (reupholstered)
The impossibility of a local council that worked.
It was words, shoutings, books, any construction to explain them all away.
But it was not peanut butter.


Monday, 8 October 2012

Sick Again

With almost the exact anniversary of my last hiatus to hospital I get sick again. This time however I don't think it was thirty years of Famous Grouse and (more importantly actually) the diclofenac sodium  that did it, just my niece's eighteenth birthday party. You wonder what the ancients must have thought of the fever and the dread, sleep being already that most curious of instruction manuals, full of omens. What is especially disconcerting when the body appears to come to some kind of full stop, with all the dashboard gauges of physical life on empty, is the sparking of interminable life in the head. You may sleep all day, but you somehow don't. In my case, since I had unfortunately tackled Yessongs last week, I heard nothing but the splatterings of it all, mixed up of course in my delirium, and since Yes had the misfortune of putting too much music into every song already and in the first place, the mental pain was excruciating.
Luckily, whatever it was lasted a mere twenty four hours, and there are few better things than feeling better.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Music and Architecture Vol 1: Dirge

I think I took a little too seriously Zizek's opinion that pop music only really existed between 1965 and 1975, and also the advice of E-bay as it presented me with recommendations 'just for me'. I know you should not buy clothes on E-bay, but now I may have to include records, since my postman delivered two extravagant packages this morning, the live triple album Yessongs and the four significant Free albums 'Fire and Water', 'Highway', 'Free Live' and 'Heartbreaker' the second set provided by such a music lover as to promise 'they'd only ever been played on a Linn Sondek'.
Well I must like sets, and my brother, now sixty, assures me that Yessongs is really good. I certainly didn't buy it for the awful Roger Dean dreamscapes that occupied my attention as an adolescent, and I shan't put on a golden cape to play it. So, rather dreading Yessongs, I return to Free, and the anchor of a unique rock dirge (more of a downer for sure than grunge) since I'm trying to write a reputations piece on Albert Speer for the AR, and figure eight sides of Free might get me in the mood. We all need a little help sometimes.
Free aren't as bad as Speer, but they both are essentially ponderous and suffer from bad narratives and limited repertoire. Now there is a sound connection between music and architecture, much better than architecture as frozen music or buildings making you want to dance. Meanwhile Paul Rogers is sensitive, especially when I reach the first side of Highway, in a way good rock vocalists have to be behind the bluster, and Speer was just a calculating Nazi technocrat.  Also Free were undoubtedly melodic in sparsness in a way the classical canon might demand, and Speer was beastly clunky. Meanwhile Albert Speer looked like a calculating Nazi technocrat, and Free (by Free Live) looked like the muppets.
The live album, by side two, is sounding pretty good, and I'm certainly appreciating the archival qualities begotten by a Linn Sondek, and Speer could do spectacle too, horrible spectacle, but there's no archive of course, just some premature ruins in Nuremberg, some lampposts on Tiergarten gleefully pointed out by proto nazi taxi drivers, and the interiors, perversely, of The Royal Society here in London (which was the old German Embassy).
Yep, I'm ready, time to get to work.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Bad Metaphors

Kevin McCloud is back, twice a week! So the air is once more awash, the hills alive (whatever) with bad metaphor. There are some good metaphors in architecture, when Le Corbusier uses a giant ear for listening to god, or kidney shapes for dividing the sacred and the profane, or even when he decides the roof is going to be a cloister, he does so with care and attention, it may sound flippant but it never is. Meanwhile Zaha has been described most eloquently by Jonathan Meades as 'oragami in a hurry', so this shows metaphor and simile can be useful.
But in McCloud's case, it sounds flippant and is desperate. Why would, for instance, you wish to describe your house as an ice cube? OK, there was a certain frigidity in the interiors last night, and these days it has become the norm for architects to a) hide all worldly goods and b) evacuate all air and c) lie on a sun lounger on the roof while their photovoltaics make them some money while partners slave away at selling Weetos, but describing your house as an ice cube only works on TV, where given the very medium, it's difficult to say anything sensible at all. It sure is not a bona fide metaphor for a house unless you are an Eskimo.
But I've heard worse. Peter Cook has a housing scheme going up somewhere proudly described as a 'beach'. I don't know why you would want to describe your housing complex as a beach, presumably it's too hot, boring and you've always got sand in your underpants. However this one is a beach because it 'has layers' and 'round edges' and 'pebbles' on it. It is also lime green in parts, so perhaps it's a cocktail on the beach; sex on the beach. Meanwhile, as king of the awful architectural raison d'etre, he has a ninety story skyscraper (or thereabouts) which he describes as 'like hanging old socks'. Presumably this means it will grow holes, and be darned, and so on, perhaps even become symbolically comfortable. If I was working on such a thing I'd quickly lose the will to live. Unfortunately because everybody seems to have given up having good reason for doing buildings, this crap is everywhere.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Hysteria

A fifteen year old girl hops it or elopes (for want of a better word) with her thirty year old teacher and hysteria grips the nation. Either it's naughty girl or naughty teacher, the media can milk the national horror, it's phobias, it's delusion it's crass stupidity either way, send reporters chasing all over Europe, a blanket coverage of rumpled blankets.
I've had two girlfriends whose stories include running off at fifteen, so at least in terms of my history it seems hardly unusual, perhaps almost mandatory if you attended Camden School for Girls. My wife's sister ran off with the ice cream man while the family holidayed at Butlins, and I'm sure Thomas Hardy is full of it. The difference is, we are not in the days when you just went around and had a quiet chat to sort it out, it has become a media circus, a rather sick circus, and exemplary of the media escalating something for it's own benefit.
Seeing her story on television in a French motel room, what is that fifteen year old going to think? Is she going to think better of her parents or not? Isn't she likely to be texting 'OMG!!!!' to anybody who will listen? Isn't it going to drive a deeper rift than ever? Is she less, or more, likely to contact her parents? After all she believes she is an adult, and this story is mercilessly telling her she's a child.
I am not condoning fifteen year olds running off with anybody, nor teachers falling in love with them, congress is after all illegal. However it happens, and this proves the media is the worst of blunt instruments to deal with it.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Border Agency University

It is worth remembering that the appropriate paradigm for a university has not always been detention centre. In 1989 I remember walking right in to a class on 'Twelve Angry Men and anti McCarthyite Film' at New York University. Nobody stopped me, there were no barriers, in fact academics of the period often staunchly defended their right to keep their classes open to anyone, especially the Marxists of course. Back here barriers were only really introduced when computers arrived and there was something to nick, even the library just had a security barrier on a one way swing. We grumbled when identification tags came along. Now everybody seems to wear them.
It is worth remembering this because now the universities have become the dominion of the vastly expanded Border Agency for Fortress Britain, and that Fortress Britain is itself the consequence of two calamitous geopolitical events; the collapse of the Berlin Wall that made people think free market economics could rule the world, and 9/11/ which proved that wasn't quite the case. The consequence of this will be a generation of students (born post 1989, so vastly innocent of such cause and effect, but bilingual in twitter) who are going to be running around madly trying to check in to every class they are supposed to do in scenes reminiscent of the great loyalty crusade in Catch 22. Unfortunately this is because universities are never going to be prepared for such a tight fit no tolerance approach where everything is mapped out just so, because they are not houses of detention and in fact can hardly, by nature, organise a piss up in a brewery. That is the nature of the beast.
What of course will happen, and you don't have to be Nostradamus to see it, is that by week whatever thousands and thousands of bemused students will receive nasty letters from the Border Agency telling them to leave the country because they couldn't check in to classes that weren't happening in rooms that weren't appropriate with staff who didn't know where they were, or who they are. I worry that the only people who will enjoy this situation are latent bullies, and history provides very succinct lessons for us there, and that eventually no education will happen at all, which is probably what they want.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Plebs

One of the curious things about a cabinet minster scooting around on his bike shouting at policemen that they are plebs and will always be plebs (and there are many) is that he was shouting at his own side, those who are there to protect him. I am hardly against shouting insults at policemen when you are on the other side, that seems a constitutional issue, but shouting at them when they are on yours seems rather desperate.
With this in mind, Mitchell's behaviour begins to look all the more 'Last Days of the Reich'. The bunker is an easy metaphor when you have an Eton soaked, arbitrarily privileged bunch of clearly very ordinary people in cabinet. It seems they are posh and that is all, that they are clearly not clever and posh, that the myth of the playing fields of Eton might finally be laid to rest, and that the man named discipline might simply be a silly bully. It should be their downfall as they so perfectly illustrate the chronic consequences of the Public School system which has unfortunately ruled Britain by default for hundreds of years and should have been done away with years ago, that institutionalized correction in the name of the already rich. Mitchell's acutely embarrassing antics have given us a little prize, I could hardly imagine a governing body suddenly look so shamelessly self interested, and so intent on doing over the poor for it's own gain.

Performance Art

There's a good joke about performance art 'How many performance artists does it take to change a lightbulb?- I don't know I left after the first three hours'. That's how bad performance art can be and it seems to be everywhere, I've just seen what seemed quite reasonable adults decide to a) sit on a stepladder and read HG Well's The Time Machine while a video replays over and over and over something I couldn't give a fuck about and b) Tear up a book they have made and stuff the remains in to a milk bottle then c) cut up a book with a scalpel and staple the pages to a wall panel. This was clearly an utter waste of time and energy for all three artists and anybody unfortunate enough to watch, but it was instead consumed with a sense of  wonder by an assortment of hamsters three floors up in the higher sanctums at the London Book Fair.
The only positive I could take away was that I could never every do anything as bad.
We live in a world of madness. Capitol One have been chasing me for £17.50 for a week, they must have phoned from everypart of the globe. It is clearly their policy, for the sake of £17.50 to make your life so miserable that you BUY them off (see post below). The story is worse since I
agreed to pay the money on a certain date with the first man from Capitol One I called when I received the initial text message. I even said to the charming Scotsman; 'You are not going to set the dogs on me are you!' So he proceeded, obviously, to do precisely that. In that context of extreme consumption, and general despair, with the whole edifice of consumerism creaking under the weight of oversupply, that these stupid twits reduce themselves to doing performance art.
Tate Modern has such a program running presently in the turbine hall,  I suggest that when approached by the actors/artists recruited for this particular scam, you tell them sharply to FUCK OFF, and if we all did it at the same time, that would be an art event for sure.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

La Tourette


The TGV doesn't half shift, the electricity pylons look weird and in next to no warp speed you're staring at the most peculiar of television movies in the disabled suite of your Lyon Part Dieu (disastrous new business district) hotel room. When you sit on the toilet your feet don't touch the rubber, and on a TV screen the size of the Rokeby Venus there's a man fucking his sister - but no! He's a surgeon who's created her from a him in revenge! It's porn meets Dr Who -the next night will have Sean Penn playing a character disturbingly reminiscent of Robert Smith of the Cure- equally peculiar. They didn't tell us this on Wikitravel, but you can rely on CANAL + for appropriate contemporary post human programming before you make the suburban, once every two hour, trip to L'Arbresle, and then climb (for there won't be any taxi's for sure) the pilgrim's way to the most venerable of ancient modern architectures, Le Corbusier's monestary Couvent de La Tourette for some peace and quiet.
Julie wanted to leave within the hour. I heard her sobs from my adjoining cell. Indeed, those used to post human entertainments get a shock. While your mobile phone will function, La Tourette is both fridge, ship, echo chamber, and the set of the Flintstones. It is architecture unplugged, stripped, raw and unpleasant, but after a day or two you do wake up feeling like Achilles (read The Iliad).
Partly this is because you sleep sunset to sunrise, especially when the lights in your cell don't work (as they didn't for us) and there is nothing to look at, apart from trees. When you sleep you are dreaming of everything you ever did that was somehow catastrophically more active. It gives you a new perspective on your waking hours, where you embrace each flower as a new friend. Since you can 'make your room' in about ten seconds, and aren't supposed to talk, eat or drink in it either, that's what happens.
I dreamt, very aptly, that the university had turned in to a shopping mall.
I love La Tourette but I can't stand La Tourette bores, those architects who say you have to stay there a week to appreciate the rhythm, those who say the food is all local, those who go on about the amazing space. Bollocks. La Tourette is a very efficient machine and the cornflakes are from Carrefour, but it is an aesthetic masterpiece on a par, maybe better, than Physical Graffiti, the album you have to have but can hardly listen to. It is the piece de resistance, it is upside down, it is poised on a ridiculous slope, it has a church which downright admits that religion is all smoke and mirrors, it features large amounts of totally unfeasibly thin concrete window mullions and sticks the glass straight into them, it has never heard of insulation of any kind, it is a health and safety disaster, it says fuck you, it says THIS IS IT!
It says stuff Elle Decoration up your arse.
Unfortunately silence is nowadays as addictive as anything else. Today monks struggle with the conscience of having Mac computers and making layered moving image multi disciplinary artworks. I wonder things aren't quite the same as they used to be. Julie and I are, for instance, now consuming this silence. Soon they'll be hosting yoga classes and wellbeing symposia if they are not careful (see picture above for appropriate sunset).
You should take a guide book, but nothing not written by Le Corbusier himself. He published the Poem de l'Angle Doit in 1955. I sat at my desk and read it and read it again and again. I even tried to understand the pictures (not much else to do before wondering what it would be like to fuck the American girl on the last tour in the short shorts with the frizzy hair - a thought I tried to banish but that seemed highly resilient).
La Tourette is, at it's core, something we are all busy ironing out. Le Corbusier would probably have approved of my thoughts with regard to the American. The poem is raunchy as all hell (this concrete shelter is real) and talks in the most elemental terms about what we should do, at least what we should respect and how difficult it is, and how you have to stand on the shore in the morning and stare at the horizon braced for the day, bristling against attack on our rationality, otherwise you're dead (horizontal). That is the poem of the right angle, and that is why those right angles are juxtaposed with that ridiculous slope, and that's why some of those supports lean in a cute way, like the struts supporting Achilles' sleek black ships, dragged up on the shore before battle.




Wednesday, 12 September 2012

What I Did On My Holidays


Sometimes images are made for each other! I consider LV escort cards a contemporary American folk art. I put them together with other stuff. They are arranged for effect against the stalwart architecture of the engineers grid, one might be called Six Fifty Special or another The Last Straw, each some kind of conjugation making more than the sum of it’s parts, and feeding off stereotypes, cliché’s and nebulous associations. Here's Sizzlin' Stacey. Over the holidays I've made twenty five of them, so a show with Julie will come up soon. 

Size is 8"x10" Prices on request. 




Monday, 10 September 2012

Why I sometimes pull posts..

I had to pull yesterdays 'Why is Seb Coe so Unlikeable' post on the grounds I was clearly suffering from Olympic exhaustion and had started harbouring obscure Ballardian sexual fantasies for Clare Balding. I also realized (in the dead of night) that writing about the reason I dislike Seb Coe so much demands far more effort beyond being purely punch drunk. I certainly think I have to write a piece of fury against the Christian right, and I've no idea if he's even one of those, but he looks like one, and he's a peer, so research is necessary. The Christian right have a remarkable gift for believing in God, the apocalypse, and themselves.
I also have to write a second piece (as it says here on a scrap of 4am cardboard scrap, seized in the dark) which is entirely linked, against the media employed by the machine which is busy destroying our lives. I mean here The Machine as Burroughs presented it, which is determined to render every individual with the attention span of a hamster by 2020, unable to consider anything beyond which toothpaste to buy and the softness of their shiny coats.
You could put it another way, there used to be the grid, symbolised by marvellous 1000 tonne architecture like Mies' National Gallery Berlin, and now there is the Matrix, symbolised by what exactly? Warm fuzz in the head??

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Writing The Perfect Essay



Now that term is inching towards us, you may want to know what a good essay reads like; a mixture of enthusiasm, observation, melancholy, terrible self doubt, obsession, genuine unease and love of words, so read this. The author committed suicide.
Of course, as term come inching towards us, I feel like that lobster as he flails, scrabbling, to get out of the pot. I've put on that old Maine (Boston) track 'More than a Feeling' and poured myself a large one.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Someone Saved My Life Tonight (1975)

Strictly post midnight miserabilism, this is the best miserabalist record until you turn Goth, or subscribe to Joni Mitchell. This is one of only two really good Elton John records (the other is Tiny Dancer) and both lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin. Captain Fantastic was a terrible LP I took back the day after I bought it and even then it was second hand. I probably swapped it for something by Joe Walsh. However, this song is terrific but only when you are pissed and miserable and something in the arts. It is a good song for architects...'at least my music's still alive' jots Taupin, as the story of loss to total mediocrity is played out like a Patrick Hamilton novel before our ears- DON'T MARRY HER, DON"T DO IT! it is supposed to scream, but I also like it as a metaphorically gay record- proved right of course, and the plea is reasonably generalist; please don't let me end up in Maidenhead...you almost had your hooks in me... cookie cutter housing!! (substitute your own discipline). It's like a sort of homely Ayn Rand to the massed ranks of young strivers for their art, but it screams sensitivity (unlike Rand) and even though you should be careful with your schmaltz, I love it.

FM (No Static At All) 1978


There is nothing remarkable about this record, but it is the epitome of the soft, seductive Steely Dan that hurts with cool over the period Aja/Gaucho. This reminds me of Sinatra in the fifties and Fly Me to the Moon, it says kinda nothing and is hopelessly formulaic, but it's also perfect, especially, in this case, as the theme track for a film everybody has long forgotten. But Becker and Fagan, being beyond canny, seem to understand that the film will be forgotten and build that in. You can imagine the coke and the wry smiles. So we have trademark 'funked up muzak', and I could listen all day, but the phases are remarkable. The introduction is a sublime keyboard slow shimmy, totally cinematographic, into pristine guitar. It's the sort of thing that makes you want to buy this record in the first place- 'how does it go....?' I was dreaming in the shower, so I got my dressing gown on and made it on to E-bay. I hate records that make you buy them for sixteen seconds but this is one of them (and I'd never buy a Steely Dan Greatest Hits, that's almost sacrilege). However, I think because it's self consciously a film soundtrack, you get your monies worth with both fade in.....and fade out, as the bass gathers to thump you out with total Dan, the total Dan, high renaissance Dan, that then fades exquisite to nothing.