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


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


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 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.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Modernism 5

OK, so you thought Las Vegas was the epitome of the Post Modern, but what's happens if you say it is actually the rational end of the Modern? I'm not talking about what the buildings look like. That feels better to me.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Some Drawings

I'm very fond of these drawings, which accompany Julie's latest series Olympia Moments Ltd, which we'll have out as a photo book very soon. There's an essay to go with them too.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Modernism 4

Given my evident distain for Red or Black (see below) why the hell did I love Las Vegas for so long, surely that's the same? No it isn't. The answer comes in three parts.
The first answer is that Las Vegas appeared so preposterously honest. It is clear to anybody that the Excalibur appears ridiculous, but it appears so ridiculous as to be deeply serious at the same time. Vegas meant you didn't need onyx to be onyx, you could use Drivit. The purpose of Drivit was to look like anything else. You'd be somehow betraying Drivit if you didn't create the Excalibur. This is the triumph of cardboard. They just got there first. As you can see, it is a profoundly rational building.
Second, in Vegas they kept god in the banking system, not the social system (as opposed to us, who've done the opposite) and they did it literally, with Morman bankers. Their motto went something like 'You have every right to do that but you shouldn't and we can't stop you but we'll lend you the money' by doing this, they flatlined any social hierarchy to just having, or not having, money. This was better than being discriminated against on other grounds. Therefore, if you were stupid in Vegas, you were just stupid.
Thirdly Vegas perfected the art of the service economy. This makes, or at least made, buying a drink a very pleasant experience, along with most other things. Even if you were standing in a cardboard box, be sure you were not sitting on cardboard, or drinking something that tasted of cardboard. What you were looking at is another matter.
In this sense Las Vegas was the triumph of an egalitarian and technological project. We unfortunately have to put this in the past tense for the present time.
Photo Julie Cook

Modernism 3

There is a danger in the last two posts. In both I imply that the rages of youth might turn inevitably to the accommodations of middle age and that this transition applies to culture at large. Extend that backwards and forwards and we are no better than trees. In the worst case scenario I could view these steps as inevitable and I would turn miraculously in to a conservative peer, an archbishop, or Kingsley Amis in a couple of years time. However at any real moment I could of course hemorrhage a whole evenings contrived spectacle organised by Simon Cowell and fronted by Ant and Dec to make me believe such nonsense, laced with motifs of horrific conformity, soporific idiocy, and where any idea of personal happiness comes down to a fifty fifty chance of red or black - the throw of the dice so why should I bother - or a million pound drop, both employing the subliminal 'fall'.
I could, at any moment, turn off the TV and shove on all four sides of Physical Graffiti one by one at great volume and dance naked around the living room and face the consequences tomorrow with grim determination. There is also probably a rapper somewhere knocking out a perfectly resonant 'Poem de l'Angle Doit' right now. He's not on X Factor, but you have to believe only the powers that be are stopping him.
Oswald Spengler spent a whole lot of effort with The Decline of the West miserably anthropomorphising culture to make all civilisations look the same. If you take him seriously you might as well worship Ra. If Spengler was right, and of course he may be technically, he is also at least totally depressing and deeply unhelpful, because if you think Ra is OK, then Teutonic Knights might not be so bad either, and we know where that gets you. Teutonic Nights should remain an as yet unrecorded track by Iron Maiden.