Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Schinkel Pavillion

K F Schinkel's cute little pavilion at the Charlottenburg Palace is finally open after what feels like about thirty years of renovation. I've never managed to get inside before (and I've tried every single time I've been to Berlin) and certainly the three rooms (yep, just three) that are  authentically re-created are ambrosia for the architectural soul. This private retreat for the king, right next door to the enormous, but primarily one room wide, cowshed of a palace, would not be out of place in the grounds of Caesars Palace golf course. It is Pompeii (interior) via Naples (exterior) and thoroughly un-German representing the kings sophistication in it's modesty. Of course that was the point, it was a good tactic in those times to be less ostentatious in your kingly ways. It is, I suppose, just a house.
It's funny how such theming can be considered brash in Las Vegas but the opposite here, amply demonstrating the ebb and flow of popular taste with regard to essentially the same operation, and certainly that we need a heavy dose of 'cultural context' to appreciate of the object in front of us. Well actually no you don't, because this thing is particularly gorgeous in anybody's language, you would have to be very far out there not to appreciate the delicacy of the interior and the restraint in concept. You would have to be as insensitive as a brick.
The building was very heavily damaged in WW2, being slap bang next to an important bridge over the Spee, and the renovation has taken so long presumably because that sort of godlike delicacy takes so much time. As Dolly Parton said 'you wouldn't believe how much money it takes to look this cheap' but of course it doesn't look cheap, it looks exquisite, but unfortunately, at least yesterday, it felt BLOODY HOT too. That is, it felt bloody hot despite those coolest of Schinkel interiors.
The curators were doing their best; busy inspecting those little machines in each room that measure humidity and all. There was no doubt consternation, and with the place full of Casper David Friedrich and Schinkel paintings they couldn't exactly just open the windows. So the technology doesn't work, a bit of a blow after all this wait.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Queen Louise's Tomb

This is Queen Louise's tomb. I took Julie to see it today because it is the sexiest tomb in Christendom. That might make me a freak, but this is the sexiest tomb in Christendom as far as I can see. She died in 1819 at only thirty four years of age, having had nine children. As you can see she is/was truly revered.

The Trouble with Ethnography

Solid air turned to solid rain last night. It seems the weather here may be as unequivocal as the habits of the people, or the even the delights of it's philosophy (which I have always just considered 'hard' and left it at that). Certainly your experience of a new city, even one you know relatively well, is most vivid in the first few days. Julie's first observation, admittedly from the viewpoint of the agreeably smooth and low slung 'Airport Express' was as to the relatively high proportion of 'giants'.
This must be a terribly disturbing thing for ethnographers. I wish I knew what ethnography really was, but I know it is about rendering observation. Knowing that observations are crucially skewed from the word go, that your impression of a place might come down to the funny look somebody gave you as whatever it was you were trying to achieve went terribly wrong, might be disheartening to science. Going terribly wrong (baring pleasant human nature) is exactly what it will do, since 'do you have a loyalty card?' is hardly in the lexicon of English/German phrase book even in it's incarnation as an app. If that phrase is the first thing you hear, and lets face it it could easily be the first you hear, it both says a lot and means nothing at the same time. You are simply unprepared for it. Hence, using your (very very) basic German here will simply have you marked as a pathetic Englishman or possibly sexy Englishwoman. That's the way the cookie crumbles in both English and German. The idea of observation beyond your personal feelings is therefore barmy.
Above the view from our kitchen window. The tiny dot in the distance is Alexanderplatz tower, the rest; low slung, watery, solid, hot, empty, Berlin.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Back in Berlin

The temperature is in the nineties, set to rise, and the air is solid, but here in Berlin it is also silent. The shock of so little happening makes you feel like you're on one permanent afternoon nap, which is just as well.
On Saturday morning, we are still obliged to do the shopping for the weekend. The shops will shut and lunchtime and everybody will take to their recliners. In our case, with ice cold Bitburger. Beer never tasted so good, you just can't get it cold quick enough; it's like Ice Cold in Alex. Perhaps we will hardly move for the next thirty six hours. Even reading looks a little strenuous; we'll just feel the weight of this heat and remain as still as we can.
People say it's only and hour and a half's flying time, but actually I work it out at about two weeks. The Art of Travel? I don't know how anybody over forty manages it. Our ease of travel is one of those modern myths. All that anxiety beforehand takes up a lot of time, and then you've got the day itself, lost to Easyjet and the protocols of international transit, to searching and shepherding, to cojoin with the rest of our humanity on it's stag and hen do. You might as well be on an Odyssey. Once you've bothered to go through all this, and if you can, you should hand over a fat bundle of euros for the month's rent, slow recovery and the wait for snow to fall in your head. Personally I hope this happens soon, but as it is, I would like to report that the only sound I can presently hear, even with all the giant windows splayed open, is the tapping on this keyboard, and so that makes it worth it, that and the sound of that Bitburger cooling in the fridge.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Porn and the British Government

I'm not sure that the British government's plan to put a  revolving flashing light above everybody's house to tell when they are watching porn is a good idea. It might be a good idea (since most people won't give a damn) to avoid embarrassment, but not much else. But it is not intended as being such a helpful tool, it is a log of who watches porn, but also who 'watches violence', 'simulated rape' and so on. God help you if you are a single mum with an interest in global politics and a curious little rape fantasy then, because you are suddenly marked. You cannot enjoy your fantasy (and it is a fantasy) with the help of entertainers, anymore. You will have to move to somewhere else in the world, anywhere other than Singapore or Saudi Arabia (but there must be others) but certainly outside the EU   where, if I'm not mistaken, porn is not considered a problem at all, indeed it is nearly sacrosanct. So this proposed legislation ONLY works for a small minority of Daily Mail reading little Englanders, safe in their petty mores, and ready to harangue almost anybody for not sharing their opinions. Goebbels would have been proud of it, for it is seemingly innocuous (jolly good for the imaginary 'volk') but actually pernicious, and cloaked in a horrible self righteousness, and, worse, ignorant.
Unfortunately you will not find the opinions above in the British press, the Guardian, worst of all, just complains Little Lord Fauntleroy isn't going to ban Page Three (because it encourages the commodification of women).
Julie's going off to see Annie Sprinkle tomorrow, personally I'm not sure her brand of eco-porn is quite for me, but she has every right to perform it, and she must be nearly sixty five. I suspect, if Annie's got wind of this crap, it will be a good night, and perhaps David Cameron should buy himself a ticket, and register himself as 'normal'.
And in case your thinking, it's about kids, he's missing the point: it isn't and I'm not. The filters already exist, if you can't be bothered to turn them on, it's not for nanny to do it for you.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Kindly Ones

Anybody looking for that elusive 'summer read', a book to capture your attention while you are ostensibly doing nothing, would do well to read 'The Kindly Ones'. An author who has the balls to write a grand narrative (think Gone with the Wind, War and Peace, The Iliad, etc) about the situation of the German Einsatzgruppen in WW2 took on the most demanding of tasks, and this book is compelling, just what you need on the lounger or brooding as you stare at the sunset. It is compelling because it confronts you with the thoughts of evil as we generally perceive them, and stunningly converts them in to a morality tale to make every reader question their own motives in their everyday. At the beginning Littell makes the cunning observation that war removes you of the option not to kill. As you read on petty moralists (working with hindsight) will squirm, or find themselves simply mown down by the sheer massiveness of the bureaucracy, the clamour of interpretation and misinterpretation, that swamps the everyday advance of an army on the scale of Barbarossa. The book is brilliant at highlighting Nazi ideology as felt within a stifling, shifting day to day reality. Just the right fuel for a cocktail hour or ten.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Black Sabbath

Was I ready for the princes of darkness? Probably not, my headphones nearly blew off. Their reincarnation under Rick Rubin, clear master of the universe, for '13', is remarkable and certainly feels like the idea of Black Sabbath I have in my head, which is a sort of giant sized stupefactionsomething that is pleasantly set to annihilate pretty much everything, perhaps the rock and roll equivalent of slow cooking. It must be great fun (if a bit tedious) writing the lyrics; 'the gloom I rise up from my tomb into impending doom' (and go to my room?- how could Ozzy resist that?) etc etc but, Sabbath are mercilessly consistent, dogs don't get to smell the bodies; that would be far too energetic. The Prince of Darkness evidently doesn't do much, but he ponders a lot; mopes about the universe. On the inner sleeve I was delighted to find a hand written construction of one of the tracks, it is pretty much the only information offered other than the thoughtful lyrics and the band members copious thanks to others for their own survival. It goes like this:

Intro Riff
Main Riff
Main Riff
Intro Riff
Metal Riff
Main Riff
Main Riff
Fast Shuffle
?Main Riff?

and well, that's all you need to know, that's poetry that is.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Drone Wars

The effects of the drone war as illustrated by neoclassical painting? I'm not sure you'd expect that, but the ramping up of drone killing by the USA which is a consequence of two imperatives; the need to cut costs and the difficulty of handling prisoners legally, has an alarming neoclassical side effect. Apparently the main problem with this insidious development is that people at home no longer care about it, therefore they won't demonstrate about it, therefore they won't vote against the president in the polls. People only care, it seems, when the body bags of their own land back on their doorstep. This is a shocking demonstration of our need to confront the real, and Claude understood it well enough back in the C17 with this Landscape with Man Killed by a Snake (detail above) where we see the effects of death cool off as the news floats in to the distance. A precursory phenomenon to our own future trauma is the disbelief that descended on the German people at large at the close of WW2, when they were confronted with the existence of the extermination camps, since beforehand, it was possible to not believe in mass extermination when it was hidden away in the forests.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Richard Rogers: The Significance of Team

No sooner had I submitted to my innermost metal head and bought Black Sabbath 13 on vinyl on-line, but Richard Rogers pops up on the TV stopping me from going to bed.
High-Tech architecture has never been much of a style du jour in architectural school. There never seemed to be enough to it to satisfy salivating crit panels. Meanwhile I suspect the effort to do it well is too much for any individual in the first place, since the style is both formally bombastic and nuts and bolts at the same time, and you need a team to do that. Team is the word ringing around my head now that Rogers is all over the media, and without that word team I wouldn't know what to say about him. This is also why high-tech architecture has never faired well in the dissertation writing stakes either,  because not a great deal of people seem to be able to find much to write about it which isn't advertorial- that or nobody else has yet stumbled on the significance of the word team.
One golden nugget was Rogers saying 'I don't know how to be alone' in the Telegraph. You feel you want to put an exclamation mark on the end of that. The greats can be loners, rock bands can be collections of lonely individuals always on the verge of breaking up, but, in essence, teams do not like loners, just like in football, and what is becoming clear is Rogers as the epitome of a team player.
Rogers is famous for failing academically due to chronic dyslexia, but was picked up by Peter Smithson  (Team X) at the AA. Rogers went on to form Team 4. The break up of Team 4 seemed to come down the the irascibility of love. Love doesn't work in teams either, teams are essentially practical, they are neither political nor emotional states, but they do have to be fed, and Rogers could be considered an excellent feeder of his team, since he gave them the River Cafe to eat in, at least for a while until it became crowded out with the New Labour team.
Rogers brilliance, a strange kind of brilliance good dukes and monarchs have to have to stop us revolting, is a kind of bumbling diffidence that is as inexorably pleasant as it is uniquely contrived. Luckily I happened to meet the Duke of Devonshire last week. He has this quality in spades. Meanwhile I read yesterday in the LRB of a French (had to be French) lady commenting to Neal Ascherson in Marseilles  'You still have a queen, so why don't you cut her throat?' to which one should reply 'Because she's a nice old lady!' The Queen has learnt to say nice things. That's how the English system works (since Oliver Cromwell at least) and that's one of the reasons Rogers has been so successful, that and the fact that he managed to explain his piles of nuts and bolts away as Italian hill towns. This has been no mean feat, people buy it somehow, even to the point where his living room is a piazza.
And now he gets to wear lots of funny coloured jackets being totally cool with it all, simple.
Meanwhile this also explains why most malcontent politico artist loners are so unreliable, suspicious of lime green attire, and spend so much time sulking in the long grass (and further, why any mention of team building makes me cringe).

Monday, 15 July 2013

A Map

A map (detail) of the Chesterfield Premier Inn experience (see post below)


Been away for what seems like a lifetime. Here are some notes: 
I'm in the Premier Inn in Chesterfield, in the middle, or just outside (it makes no difference) a huge roundabout, opposite Tescos Extra (large): Tescos Excess, and outside an orange painted cottage, the 'Flamin Grill', next to a drive-in KFC, and a Costa.  The underpasses are both leafy and scary and unused unless you've got nerve. My impression stuck outside said 'Flamin Grill' and 'listening' is that Chesterfield is a) one giant child support agency and b) a place where Chicken Tonight is still a funny joke. I notice guys flap their arms and stroke their companion's arses at the very thought.
The bar at the Premier Inn seems like the place to be, it is an honest transit camp in the float to fuck all. If you get up early enough the car park is full, by 10am it's empty. Reyner Banham was right, we now live in our cars. You certainly can't quite live in the Premier Inn (but you can make the best of it). 
I am not moaning. But weirdly (listening again) they've all driven from Vegas to the Grand Canyon, they've all seen the world, I hear it all around me, it's just that this is what they come back to, like those pigeons, for these guys travel never broadens the mind: as far as they are concerned the point seems to remain EXACTLY the same.
Ian Nairn, a writer whose appeal I still don't quite understand, but who was most vigorous on the notion of decent towns, would have been appalled at our situation. I fear I have a more apocalyptic vision than even he would provide. He would especially have raged, after attempting to eat the worst curry he'd ever tasted on Curry Night- you know it's bad if you just taste the curry powder coupled with a distinct lack of ingredients -to be asked to fill out a questionnaire on his dining experience. It would have been obvious to him that if they spent more resources on teaching people to cook and more resources on decent produce, they would make such exercises redundant. However, tragically the reverse has happened and everybody now runs around evaluating everybody else's experience of total crap.
Thinking about it all I'm driven to draw a map of WW3 as it begins to happen (on the iPad of course, and shown above). We have little idea who we are fighting, but we know its there. We also know that more soldiers now commit suicide than actually die on the front line (whatever that is). To feel the need to draw such a thing shows just how bad such places can make you feel (until you get back in your car). And that is no comment on the lovely staff at Premier Inn, because it's is hardly their fault.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Come Dine With Me

One of the many interesting things about Come Dine With Me is that it is not about the food. It can't be about the food because we can't taste it. You might say that about other food programs too, but they might not be about food either, they tend to be about chasing food.
Come Dine With Me seems to be the kind of televisual equivalent of internet dating, or perhaps Facebook; a microcosm of the protocols of the social network, and a fascinating representation of both the freedoms and despair of neoliberalism. It is a window on our world with almost a hundred episodes a month; a world where the hallways are always too small, where everybody has a (flimsily disguised) sexy secret, and there are an unreasonable proportion of psychics; a world where everything is OK (but with disgusting taste in furniture) where you have to be entertaining and be entertained, and where anything remotely serious is peculiar and one feels predictably shocked that meat was once a cow. It also appears to be randomly selected, it represents what everybody is like out there. It is captivating TV that must be astonishingly cheap to make, and it's more subtle than the Truman Show.
If, for instance, I ask Julie what she thinks I might score on CDWM and she says '15' I am mortified. I mean I pride myself on being a good cook, not all the time maybe, but pretty good. When, mortified, I ask her why she would predict such a low score, what with our lovely furnishings and pictures and all, she says 'well you hate entertaining' which is true, because I see that as rather exhausting performance, something I do for a living, not something you take lightly, not something, weirdly, I would do for pleasure, since it brings with it huge anxiety.
Last night the posh girl with the boob job (she called them, rather brilliantly, bangers) burst in to tears as they reached the final night of their five night stint of round robin dinner parties (another reason Julie says I would score so low is that I would retire hurt after evening one- but so far I've only seen one contestant reduced to running off in to the long grass and getting pissed). She was moved because the exertion was too much, to be that relaxed was not relaxing at all. Unwittingly she did it, she had stumbled on some truth.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Drawing on an iPad 2

Before I show you the porno drawings I find inevitable on the iPad, I've really tried to draw other stuff. It's not working for me so far unless I buy a more sophisticated stylus and so on (£30). It's interesting how the costs of this technology mount almost hour by hour. I'm obviously being lured in.
This was the best I could do today, our Mies chair. Since it sits in front of the television and therefore the soporific TV goes off when I plonk myself in it, that's why it's called the party chair. Julie has just reminded me it is also the party chair because it rocks. I'm not sure Mies had that in mind, but it just shows you the enduring quality of modern design, so pick one up if you can and improve your home life.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Drawing on an iPad

I tried drawing on my new mini iPad. I've tried doing many things on it, but there are no instructions (the bastards) so I just perspire. However it was interesting to try it, because I am used to sketching the traditional way, and now sketching the traditional way suddenly felt like ice skating and all I could draw were very rude things and it was all over very quickly. As above, I suspect the sketching functions on these apparatus, or applications, turn what used to be 'lightning sketches' in to something approximating carving granite, and all you can do is slip and slide like Scooby Doo! McLuhan was right, the medium is the message, or massage, and in my case, clearly a zipless fuck.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Attack of the Fifty Storey Refugee Camp

Above is a charming project by some Newham primary school kids, but I'm not sure they should encounter Archigram so young; the impression of architecture is too jolly. I'd wait until they were fifty or so but I didn't take that advice myself. 
Architectural projects are now unrecognisable from those you might have seen as I began teaching, let alone from those I drew myself as a student thirty years ago. And if you get the privilege to get to review the stuff, you'll soon realise that as a teacher, you'd be better off as WILL.I.AM. You need showbiz judgement, you need a touch of the impresario to cut the crap.
Irony for one thing used to be a dirty word, now it is the saviour of many a project; irony and humour have become an essential sanity saver. It has taken a while, but architecture has embraced, out of necessity, THE SARDONIC, after all, the economy has taken away it's more socially minded components. How can students design decent public spaces when there are no public spaces without looking stupid?
Instead all and sundry will soon be doing a projects related to bikinis or something. That's not a bad thing, I've been a part of this revolution after all, but we are definitely in the zone of some chronic narratives. However, since my model for a good education is probably St Trinians I at least deserve it. I put my hands up.
However, a second observation must be that NOBODY DRAWS PLANS as a matter of urgency anymore. The conjugation of computer visualisation, neoliberal politics, and post-structuralist thinking (which you may regard, if they are not exactly the same thing, as at least congruent) have in practical terms created an inability to make plans. Or if you like, have cultivated an overwhelming spirit of both narcissism and nihilism. The result may be interesting, but it is also rather vulgar. Since we started questioning taste, it's obvious we no longer have any. My Oh My! Quell surprise! Of course I would still like Gene Simmons definition to hold true; that 'it's not about taste, it's about what taste's good' if I didn't wonder we are actually in need of some bad medicine.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013


'Behind the Candelabra' is a very good follow up/companion piece to 'Rhinestone as Big as the Ritz' not withstanding that one is a movie staring Michael Douglas and the other an essay by Dave Hickey. They illustrate perfectly that it is possible to have two definitively alternative takes on the same person, and therefore illustrate the inherent problems of biography, and indeed the fact that the medium may well be the message. The movie, which is sumptuous and brilliantly shot and acted, reflects an interior dialogue; it chews over narcissism at it's core, a vampirism, and of course the sadness at the heart of our relationships. The essay chirps away on the subject of Liberace's cultural significance, of his lasting legacy and the facts of what he did, all of which are almost invisible (paradoxically) in the movie. The movie cannot for instance, point out that covering a Rolls Royce in mirror and conceptually making it disappear is an art trick as fundamental as cubism, or that we wouldn't have Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Elton John or for that matter Steven Tyler or  Motley Crue without him. You might think this second set of stuff is somehow less important than the emotional heartland, but it is central to the act of looking at things and interpreting them without necessaily knowing what the artist in question had for breakfast, and that is quite a handy skill, because we don't always know that. Unfortunately in movies you have to (sort of) show what your characters ate for breakfast, which allows us to breathe a hefty sigh of relief when we consider writing, which is far lower in definition, and within which, acres of empty space therefore hang fraught with possibility.