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
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.