Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Intelligent Life

Last night I was musing on smugness. I pulled it because it was crap. Then out of the blue, a student sent me this link, and THIS, now THIS is funny. I don't care how dark his hotel rooms are, this, I think, is inspirational."
Philippe Starck: Design and destiny | Video on
Designer Philippe Starck -- with no pretty slides to show -- spends 18 minutes reaching for the very roots of the question "Why design?" Listen carefully for one perfect mantra for all of us, genius or not.

Sunday, 26 May 2013


Its all high fives and tears, the coaching lark. I am struck by The Voice in particular. Jesse J is clearly very irritating and slightly insecure, Will i am is the opposite, Danny's a prat and Sir Tom Jones is just Tom Jones, he elegantly cries when he has to make the awkward decisions he has to because that is the format of the show. He doesn't want to make those decisions, he knows they are stupid. What's really stupid and eloquent about the Voice is it shows us eloquently just how stupid our system has become, a world where winning and losing, even if you are really good in the first place, is everything. It is a bit unfortunate to make people who are really good at what they do compete unless their gift is athletics, I guess that is the essence of professionalism, to avoid such a thing. I don't want my doctor or my artist or my architect to be in competition to be the best, I want them to quietly get on with it. This is especially upsetting when there seem to be so many people around who are cast outs, many of whom seem to populate Bethnal Green Road.
Even when we were watching the Eurovision Song Contest last week, I noted my extended family members from St Albans saw the whole thing as a competition. I don't see the Eurovision Song contest as a competition, I don't care who wins, nobody with an ounce of intelligence cares who wins, but these guys with their lives full of swimming galas and kids football, saw everything as the Champions League. It was depressing.
I was thinking that judging Eurovision was just like criticising contemporary architecture, so here's those Eurovision marks in full:
Bore 2; Shoes 3; Rising Skirt 5; Ding Dong 8; Long Arms 4; Eyes like a Seal 7; Begins in Black and White 8;  Beautiful People 7; Sweet 9; Pretentious Crap 0; The World is Ours 9! Black Sabbath (Not) 4; Birds 12; Tranny 3; Forgettable 4; Suspicious Trousers 3; Amelia as a Boy 10; Barefoot 2; Rick Wakeman 6; Circus Circus 1; Novelty 0; Exploiting Giants 5; ? 3: Techno Gothic 11; - ?

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

What is Organic Architecture?

What is organic architecture? Is this it? Actually this is a rather quirky period photograph of John Lautner's Elrod House. It is so period that one of those tiresome words that is usually applied to the organic cannot be used: timeless. It's got time all right, and it's got gardening, and interior design too, neither of which are organic, but deeply synthetic. The only organic bit about it might be the rock sitting in the middle of the living room.
Perhaps if we defined the organic as synthetic, as a cultural product, that might help, a sort of all embracing term that can be helpful at a distance, like a mirage- something we need over there in the distance, something that can sustain us in our desperate need but turns out with great disappointment not to be there at all. We can all identify an organic building at a distance by the look of it, but it disappears when we get close up. Close up, even the Seagram Building might be considered organic to the post war culture of the United States (indeed I think Mies felt it was and felt it deeply) but it doesn't look it at all, and I sense that if I got close up to a Lautner building, I'm going to be thinking how expensive it all is, how rich the clients were and so on, and not so much about it as a great manifestation of the human spirit. I might just go so far as to enjoy the view, but living in Europe, I'm not used to them, so that's a bloody cultural construct too.
Anyway, I'm not sure what the human spirit is, or where to find it, as far as I'm concerned Donald Duck exemplifies it in spades, so I may well be a lost cause.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Sometimes they do Jump

I've been trying to block it out, but I have to say it. This morning a young guy jumped from the seventh floor, round 10am. He left his crutches in the hallway. People are leaving flowers, even here, they are leaving flowers for some soul they didn't even know. Brings tears to your eyes. He was probably just out of hospital poor bastard.

Jockeys on Coke

I've lived in Newmarket. I have built work there; bungalows for one Matt Sharkey. It is the only place I've lived where the reputation of it's working class (jockeys, stable lads etc) and upper class (owners of horses) can't get worse. They fuck on pub staircases!! That's what they used to say to me. I never saw it, but I can believe it. It must be something to do with grooming the horses. They fuck like rabbits, horse people are famous for fucking like rabbits, and surely it is no surprise they do the hokey cokey. Newmarket was a very curious place to live, it seemed to represent the best and worst of Britain at the same time; once I had to show my architectural drawings to a man who wouldn't get off his horse.

Faith in Fakes

Umberto Eco first used the phrase when nudging himself towards the discussion of a) simulation and b) the hyperreal, one, as far as I can see it, the consequence of the other. This was back in 1986. Today simulation is an everyday affair, and any immediate problem is largely a question of degree, of proximity, of exchange value. It's a big problem alright, but not when you sit in it, which is kind of the point. Take this green chair, a very very nice chair, it is incredibly well made and practically indistinguishable from any other EA217, but it is crucially 'in the style of' and made in China; so it is and it isn't, it's a headfuck. It's also a no brainer, since this incredibly lovely brand new item comes with a price tag of £345, which is a fraction of the price of one made by Vitra in Switzerland. Rather than being problematic, the escalating pace of replication simply proves Karl Marx right, that there is something called use value and something called exchange value for the same object and that the second of these varies more than the first. The hyper inflated value of the 'original' comes not just from specification, but from intangibles such as image and advertising. Even in pointing this out, I am helping Vitra sell it's incredibly expensive chairs, while all the time I'm recommending this one available from the excellent Iconic Interiors fresh off a container in Hull. Meanwhile this chair is sold to me definitively as unoriginal and I like it, just as I like the unoriginal day-bed next to it, and even the unoriginal Le Corbusier drawing that hangs above it. I have faith in fakes. Told you, a headfuck. I'll have to talk to Scott about it.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Groucho Club

Of course the Groucho has been the haunt of many a Soho celebrity; Burchill, Bernard, Blur (well Alex James) Not me of course, I go there as a lookiloo, to soak up the heritage. It has that sort of plush but rancid quality. The cool people may have moved on, but it still makes me feel decently out of place. Last night, far from bohemia, it was largely populated of middle aged men (who admittedly try to look a bit bohemian) who take their laptops with them to the toilet; men and women in media who when seated, tend to tilt their heads gently to one side feigning interest, and look a bit like Michael Palin. Also periodically stumbling across the veldt you are sure to spot a residue of YBA, squeezed in to skinny jackets looking as if they might never leave, or have never left. But thankfully there's always a sexy Bohemian to deliver decent drinks at at the Groucho, that's one good reason to go there, that and to pretend you are actually someone who does something in media, or did.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Inside Out

I don't think I've blogged on the subject of John Martyn, which is curious. I'd love to write a 'reputations' piece on him; since he was notoriously nasty, yet sang the sweetest of songs. Meanwhile Martyn occupies a good deal of that late night listening time that cleans out our booze and fucks off the neighbours, and I regularly consider Inside Out at least, funeral record material. 
Since I was kid in a duffel coat one night at UMIST trying to look older than I was, sitting there cross legged and all that, I have been transfixed by Martyn's echoplex material. U2 made stacks of cash out of it, but Martyn was there first, and I was there when it kinda broke down every now and again and the gig was better for it. It was a gig where a friendly student said- 'Hey- your hero's in the bar playing pool!- Why don't you go and join him?' I get immensely sentimental about such memories. The SOUND when he played 'One World' was incredible, just incredible, that late powerchord knocked me sideways. This would be '77, and that tour can be recaptured on both the One World deluxe edition and on a BBC Radio 1 Live in concert CD- but there are plenty more options for the John Martyn fan to enjoy now, and for a long time I only had a cassette of that Radio 1 show. I wish I still had it. We get sentimental.
But it was the duffel coat and the trying to look older and the fact we got in and that it was all so very real that makes me worry so much when these days I can't even make a photocopy at the university without swiping in a card and entering a password. 

Friday, 10 May 2013

Girls and Cars

For those who might not be sure about what I was talking about below with regard to LC's contribution to the Weissenhof, here's his choice of imagery.


Seeing as we live in a world governed by desire, advertising, even the re-branding of the real, it is useful to look back at the great propagandists of the past for lessons. We may, after all, be being horribly duped. 
This embarrassing collage is a piece of Nazi propaganda, or Nazi seaside humour.  
This is the Weissenhof Seidlung (1927) collaged (long before photoshop) as an Arab village for Nazi laughs. Given the tradition of anti-Nazi collage (John Heartfield) to our eyes the superimposition seems witless, even crass. You imagine the creep doing it, cutting out all those figures, painstakingly pasting, and worse you imagine the person who told him or her to do it, grinning at his own joke, in fact you imagine the whole hierarchy in all their so called, self styled, smug, pathetic, supremacy. Thank goodness this image survives, it tells us a great deal about how nasty things really were.
Let's consider just Le Corbusier, a man of the Mediterranean (all shores) he made his little version of a domestic acropolis at one end of that site, a cute couple of buildings that one can't quite see working except as delightful evocations of the acropolian spirit for the machine age. He'd had Pessac labelled as an Arab village years earlier, maybe he wasn't surprised. His interpretation of Ancient Greece in the background just puts in to perspective that histrionic, hysterical version the Nazi's preferred; monumental doom laden classicism as circus, for show, while they built their own colossal machines for dying in hidden in the clearings of the forest. 

Monday, 6 May 2013

Jane Hilton - Precious

Photographer Jane Hilton's latest book moves from cowboys to girls with portraits from Nevada's desert 
brothels. They are very striking indeed, but not just as pictures, they might represent an entire turnaround in our attitude to prostitution and ask some big questions of our culture in general. 
It's the texts from the women at the back of the book which give this impression (along with Hilton's homage to Manet's 'Olympia' in the photos themselves) because it becomes very quickly clear that for the vast majority of these workers the ranch is the best thing that's ever happened to them; that the world outside is pretty definitively awful, and the world inside the brothel isn't. They almost sound like activists; they are good at sex, they like it, it's not particularly hard, the environment is fun, once inside the blokes tend to be kind (only 30% even engage in sex- they seem to prefer a nice bubble bath, a massage and so on) it's safe, you can earn good money, or even as Sunset Thomas says 'I'm sorry I just love it, it's in my blood!' I'm lucky enough to have met Sunset Thomas, she's not mad or anything, just perfectly lovely. 
So as to 'falling' in to prostitution is concerned, the world we associate with nineteenth century European classics as well as conventional twentieth century prejudice, this is actually more of a 'rise'. All conventional wisdom might be upended! The petty morals of the french bourgeoisie are supplanted by the very real pressures and dangers of raging late capitalism. It's not peoples opinion that matters as much as survival itself. Personally I'm not sure about a definition of freedom, less of happiness, but the American constitution has at least practically benefited these women, for if there is one concept actually useful to them to hold on to it is their personal freedom. The rest they can dismiss as largely garbage.
So whilst the term 'politics of the brothel' is widely used to condemn contemporary western society, it turns out that the actual politics of the brothel are a haven from it's harshest realities!
Precious by Jane Hilton is published by Schilt Publishing. Above 'Ruby'. '.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Bye Bye Old George

Finally the Old George is finished, the old 'Trench of Despair' done in. Well it's a sad moment for some of us, although we were already tempted away. The Old George was one of the last Big Boozers of the East End, although latterly it seemed empty most of the time. When 'Kempy' retired to Spain it was always a big ask; punters are sensitive (as very well illustrated when Norman Balon left the Coach and Horses in Soho and a whole culture dissolved overnight). I guess while I personally didn't mind barmaids in overcoats and that terrible sound system that ground you out of the pub even on the gentlest of afternoons; I liked the whole ludicrous nature of it even as it died, a kind of inverted Las Vegas, it hung on, with the lovely Danni standing behind the bar if you were lucky. Danni was excellent at offering advice for my lectures. When I said I was doing the Renaissance that week she said:
'That's the geezer with the ceilings!'
And on the Industrial Revolution, she smartly chimed:
She was very reliable at cutting the wheat from the chaff. And I loved the cat (Patch) who came to put up with me in time, whilst I sneezed for whole afternoons after enjoying her cold stare.
I believe the Old George is to be resuscitated, I hope with elan, but I'm not sure how. It is a huge property, unwieldy, with a massive footprint, which for some recent pleasurable hours, featured just me, Patch and Danni.
Above a Christmas Day in the last century.

Friday, 3 May 2013


I was watching Die Hard 4 and the internet crashed. Life stops mores the pity. The media really is the message. No media: no message. I also had to hand Batman: Death by Design. I cannot pretend to have a good time with graphic novels. My mother banned my first and only copy of The Incredible Hulk when I was ten. I guess from then on I've preferred words to make images, a craft at best way more sublime. That or painting and drawing to outline something more precise. Pictures and words are just a head fuck; two separate mathematical sets.
But Death by Design is something I falter my way through. It is a Fountainhead like jumble but with the contemporary celebrity architect as a bad guy (named after Koolhaas, looking like Libeskind) plotting mini-maximalism or maxi-minimalism or whatever it is I can't give a damn about with nightclubs called The Glass Ceiling and general armadillos; it has it's laughs and it makes you wince.
Almost everybody else is bad too, it's a world of despair, Gotham always is. It's pretty good. It's pretty good because the idea is so accurate, just like Die Hard 4, which is of course ridiculous in all detail and effects but in it's central premise, that the computers will inevitably fuck us, completely reasonable. This may sound like waiting for the H Bomb to drop, but that was also necessarily inevitable. Such stuff keeps us in line. Meanwhile of course we should all realize that Batman and John McClane are simple variants on the same eternal theme. There is always doom to deal with.