ARTYFACTS: September 2006

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Black Dahlia

Brian DePalma (Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Blowout and The Untouchables) gives us a faux 40s film noir movie of indescribable boredom. The mood and tone isn't low and dangerous, it's art direction makes it look set-like. One can create the 1940s without paying hommage (I hate that word) to the ham acting, crude scripts and moody set-ups.

The acting is over directed with Scarlet 'whatever her name' trying desperately to simulate those 40s movie star looks and pouts. You feel nothing for any of the characters, and some, like the mad Scotsman and his family, are Adams Family caricatures. Although I did rather like the lines and performance of the mad mother.

As for the script, it's appalling. The plot meanders without any real build and release of tension. In the last 20 minutes you just want it to be over - it's way too long and convoluted. I'm getting fed up just recalling the experience.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Leonardo - big mind, small room

What are the V&A playing at? The V&A is a HUGE building yet they charge £10 for 60 small drawings in a tiny room that clearly can't cope with the traffic - and I was there on a mid-week afternoon at 3.30 pm! Even within this room there could have been central pillars for display giving more lines of sight to all of the drawings. The curators need some basic lessons in geometry.

Unquestionably a genius?
Leonardo is unquestionably a genius - but that's the problem, we've stopped being critical. I watched a newsnight review of this exhibition that was pure hagiography. He's become an untouchable. But it wasn't always like this. He has been criticised for lacking perseverance and depth and this selection of drawings reflect this tension between art and science.

Art V science
The drawings show a constant tension between art and science. His drawings are seen as a form of inquiry, yet he is so absorbed in the detail of his drawing that deep thinking is often cut short and abandoned. What we get is faithful appearance, not deep thought.

For example, his anatomical drawings of the eye are meticulous and beautiful (2) but he failed to see that the inverted image hit the retina. His cross sections of the skull are wonderful (5) but he saw the ventricles as the seats of perception, memory etc and not the brain itself. In other words he was stuck in the ancient paradigms of Galen and others, unable to use reason to move his observations on to new conclusions. The anatomical heart drawings 21/27/28/29 are stunning, yet he didn't really understand much about the circulatory system or the way the heart operated. It was Vesalius (1514-1564), a lesser artist but better scientist than Leonardo, who was to move medicine and anatomy away from Galen. Vesalius truly understood the nature of the four (not two-chambered) heart unlike Leonardo who saw the heart as sucking the blood using votices (the accepted view of the day). It was William Harvey in 1616 who really laid out the principles of the circulatory system. Leonardo's drawings are fabulous but in terms of medical sciene they were ineffective. Aethetics shines a bright light on these anatomical drawings, yet Leonardo made not one lasting contribution to mainstream medicine.

Obsessed with light many of the drawings show light reflected in hemisperical mirrors, yet no real deep theory of light emerges. It took the greater intellect of Isaac Newton (1643-1727) to do this through solid experiementation, deep inquiry and mathematics. Leonardo lacked all three. He drew innumerable drawings of waterflow (45/46), yet made no real contributions to the science of hydraulics. It was Benedetto Castelli (1678-1743) who was to lay the foundations of fluid mechanics and lift hydraulics above the level of novel devices. Leonardo made not one lasting contribution to mainstream physics or hydraulics.

His famed mechanics remained in the realm of novelty, distracted by making toys, stage designs and other novelties and fanciful (usually impractical) war machines (40). His chariots with scythes and flails are beautifully drawn, but laughably impractical.

Can you name one famous building by Leonardo? His architectural designs are lame (51,52), a slave to symmetry and carbuncled with simplistic, platonic, geometrical forms. they are repetitive and ill-proportioned. The one excetion is the lovely spiral tsaircase design, where the rails are built into the central column and grooved for right and left handed ascents and descents. he had nowhere near the talent of his adversary Michelangelo on this front.

Art triumphs
Ultimately his reputation must rest on two things - the few drawings that speculated on flight, anticipating the parachute, helicopter and glider. Even here his adherence to copying the birds wing meant he would never give the true principles needed to understand fixed wing flight. It is his art that triumphs, not his science. It is the artistry of the drawings not their scientific revelations that count.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Edinburgh Festival

What a frantic two weeks - and so it should be in Edinburgh. I know and love this city to its bones but am still amazed at how such an old Calvanist, establishment, dour-faced Scottish city could have produced something as light, non-establishment and bright as the Festival and Fringe. How did this happen? It denies all artistic laws of gravity.

Edinburgh's strange fruit
Curiously, I supsect that all of those old, and now unused, Calvanist churches helped boost the Fringe by providing a surplus of mid-size venues. The Festival Hub itself is house in just such a building. Had a lovely tour of the building this year - strangely colourful and if you look carefully at the commissioned statues on the stairs you'll see my friend Nick Dodds and his family. Nick was responsible for the Hub and is now the CEO of the Brighton Festival. Another perverse reason is the fact that the council and church ranted and raved for years against the blasphemy on the stage - every promoter's dream as it used to produce sell-outs.

A stunning seafood lunch at the Pantelope, an excellent restaurant in the unlikely setting of Gorgie, with lobsters and Ken's Seafood feast ( a kitchen sink that must have emptied the North Sea). The wine (Scicilian)was perfect. This was the Boy's Festival day - Ken. Ronnie, Walter and I headed off to the Assembly rooms for our firsat performance of the day....Leveland, written and starring Rich.

Not an entirely successful talk show play but enough to wet our whistle.

Talk Radio
Much better take on talk. The Talk host was a tour de force as the show descended into its own abyss.

Black Watch - achingly good
Whata a show from the National Theatre of Scotland. This is what a Festival needs (although it's a Fringe event), a play that's relevant on a number of levels, doesn't turn into liberal or conservative propoganda, and reaches into the hearts of its audience. This is a world with which I'm sort of familiar. My nephew is one of these guys, joined the army on leaving school and everyone from a working class school in Scotland knew of the one or two from every class that went to join up. How often is an audience totally stunned into silence unable to speak until their emotions calm down in the cold night Edinburgh air. It was chillingly good.

Troillus and Cressida
This is one strange play. No-one has any redeeming features. It is a display of extreme human vanity. Unfortunately the Direction was not inciteful. There were occassional signs of an interteresting, modern reading of the play with the heroes as vain, idiotic playboys, Helen a slutty celeb, the women as schemers, the Kings as a clapped out roadshow, but it bounced between this and some other serious intent. Starting well with the parading Trojans it descended into often boring scenes, a playing out of the play.

I had a strange experience afterwards. Wandering round of the back of the Kings Theatre to an old pub 'The International', which used to be famous as a late night drinking haunt, I looked in and saw only two people, one a drunk at the bar with his head down on the bar and another old man in a seat. Even the bar staff were absent. Turning the corner, as the pub is on a corner, I came across a mob in the street. These were the pub's drinkers having a smoke (now illegal indoors). Everyone, two excepted, were outside, including the bar staff.

Dire. Festvals run by the beaux-arts brigade tend to kill off culture that comes from the streets and this was a perfect example of tha kind of murder. It was excrutiatingly dull. Hip-hop, as dance, emerged from the music and is a hollow thing without that driving sound. Much of the show is performed mute and is an emotioneless mess. I saw many youngsters simply leave the theatre - that's a shame as the last thing the arts need is a contempt for its fragile audience. One US kid, hip-hop's the country of origin stopped as he left and shouted 'this is bullshit man'. He was right - they have a damn cheek appropriating his culture and getting it so badly wrong. I was due to have a meal with my Brighton Festival buddies but was so angry that I sloped off for a pint or two.

La Clique and other cliques
Met up later with the Brighton group and intomthe wonderful place and atmosphere that is the Spiegeltent. I was right to have gone for a drink as a 11.30 show like this needs a fuelled-up audience. Had a ball. teh Incredible Rubber Man, Berlin dresser, Music Hall Hip Hop, Radioheads Creep sung operatically with harp, roller skaters, Russian gymnast, Caesar Twins gave us all a night to remember.

The late night bus was a laugh, one bus two cliques - Festival foreigners downstairs and Scottish revellers/drunks upstairs. At one point, in Portobello, the driver stopped the bus and warned that "if youse upstairs (singing and running about) dinny stop, ye'll a' be walkin". This sentence was a complete mystery to the foreigners on the botton deck and, in any case, the upstairs erupted with a much merry footstamping and cheering. The driver drove on, a man beaten by a different sort of festive phenomenon.

Long Life
Strange and eerie performance from Riga Theatre group - in teh Hub's main hall, which I had visited earlier in the week. You walk through the corridor of an old Soviet style appartment block to get to your seat. It doesn't stink but smells - bad. The wall is removed and we see five bedrooms with sleeping figures. We hear dream talk, farts, coughing, groaning, and they start to emerge into consciousness and breakfast - it's still dark. As the day progresses their hobbies proccupy them, rituals are performed and social interactions and encounters mark time until the party in the evening. There they briefly revert into their youthful, flirtatious and mischevious selves, then struggle back to bed. It's beautiful, ugly, sweet, smelly, happy and sad - it's a long life.

Ron Merque
Glad I took the boys to this see this sculpture, although sculpture in the snese of being sculpted it is not. there's ten peices, some make you think, some make you worry, some make you smile. The quality and artistry is extraordinary. He worked in film special effects and has applied these skills in his art. This has led some to criticise his lack of artistic pedigree - more than a touch of craft dear!

Simaon Fanshawe said he found it rather spiritual, and I know what he means. Unlike the big, classical Elesheimer show next door, it is strangley uplifting. It was rather spoilt, I think, by an over-emphasis on the production of mthe works, with marques, bits of moulds and a long film. Art should be seen in its full glory, not in the workshop.

Korean Marshal Arts extraveganza. As my kids are seriously into Tae Kwon Do, this was a great family show. Essentially a farce, a genre I don't really like, but goes at a million miles an hour with the fighting and acrobatics. Fun and funny.

Micky Mouse is Dead
Walt's anti-semitic leanings exposed in this well-acted play. Well he won in the end.

Maxwell - DOA -Dead Old Arsehole
Superb take on the old scoundrel - one man performance that avoids polemic but still exposes the old fraud as a man of no principle. Nothing seems to have changed after Maxwell - the pension funds were still raided, Enron and so on. I can still remember him bouncing about on TV desperate to become one of the establishment, playing the English gentleman in those pinstripe suits. Then his drowning. Never has a death been received with such a mixture of surprise and relief. Was he pushed or did he jump - we'll never know.

Spaggetti Western Orchestra
This is one of those ghastly Australian ideas. Take classic Spaggetti Western tunes and do it live with lots of percussion while pullinmh strange faces. It didn't work. Not worth any more comment.

Delightful children;s theatre from war torn Sri Lanka. Lovely kids from both sides gave us a promenade through one of Edinburgh's best kept sectrets, the Botanical Gardens. Dazzling colours and a truly frightening middle act where houses really burned in the background and child soldiers started to fight. All was well in the end and the final scene was against the backdrop of Edinburgh castle and the fireworks of the Tattoo.

Jerry Sadowitz - Equal Opportunities Offender
In top form this year - bigger, better and makes you wince while laughing. I'm a big fan and see him almost every year. There are NO moral boundaries to this show. No group of human beings escapes his tongue lashing - gays, women, men, the disabled, Americans, English, Scottish, racists, but it is the people from Dundee that really get it in the neck. there's always a couple of people in the audience who bought tickets without realising what was in store. They sit open mouthed, in a state of shock. Gain, he got his cock out for the last ten minutes of the show! I've seen it so often now I can remember its shape!

Ann Redpath
Went with Ken and Moira to this exhibition in Market Street. No great innovator and everything is derivative, but these are paintings one would still love on one's wall. She lived in a small village outside Edinburgh and didn't have electricity until the 50s - this suprised me.

Albert Watson
Phtoography, mix of commercial and art. Loved the huge, (are they lifesize) B&W images of Orney standing stones as one enters. The Nevada landscapes are great but the show could have done with some pruning.

Comedy showcases
Saw two of these - I like these taster shows. they're at 1 pm so early and quite fresh. three comediand and a compere relentlessly attcked small boy in audience, who gave as good as he got.

Bill Hicks - the return
You may not believe this but I went along to the Bill Hicks show not nkowing he was dead, thinking it was the real Bill Hicks. This mistake was explained to me by the 'Boys' and boy will they never let it lie! In any case, he, whover he was, was excellent. Rants against boy bands, ban on smoking, and dangerous on 9/11.