ARTYFACTS: January 2009

Saturday, January 31, 2009

TH: 2058 - Dominique Gonzalez Foerster - Tate Modern

A jumble of ugliness that simply fills the space. This is a ponderous, pointless exercise, masquerading as art, made worse by her film on the 4th floor where she spouts absolute drivel about her supposedly profound rationale for the work. Thankfully you can play the 'spot the movie' game to distract you from the sheer banality of the work's intent.  

Rothko - Tate Modern

Difficult to describe the Rothko experience in works, as it's so quiet and contemplative. They're windows on consciousness. Unfortunately, it was a tad too busy for me, making it difficult to get that Rothko thing going and, on reflection, I prefer his work in smaller doses.

Great to see so many people in the Tate late on a Friday, as it's open until 10 pm.

Nebamun's Tomb - British Museum

Arguably the most beautiful Egyptian paintings, these scenes of everyday life show a world of abundance. Fishing, hunting, singing, dancing - it's ancient Egypt at play. Unlike the more formal and sombre Royal Tombs, the tombs of lesser officials are often more relaxed allowing more freedom of expression. 

The birds, fish, cows, geese, deer and hares are so good that the species are easily identifiable but it's the way their movement and behaviour are captured that lifts many of the scenes. The gaggle of geese peck the ground, flap their wings and waddle. The duck is caught in a perfect duck-walk pose and the cat twists in the air as it catches its prey.

The social scenes are full of chat and life as guests are offered drinks and the dancers and musicians entertain. The full face poses of the musicians are very unusual in Egyptian art, which are almost always in profile. It's not often that you can feel what it was like to be there, as Royal and religious art is so templated, but here it's intimate.

Then there's the background exposition and objects, showing actual tools from Thebes such as paint brushes, plaster smoother, paint palette etc. Furniture is also shown, and I'm still puzzled by the headrests upon which sleeping Egyptians slept -they look so damn uncomfortable.

It's free, beautifully designed and lit, which is more than you can say for many expensive London art exhibitions.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Anthony Riello – Baltic Centre

At last, something in the Baltic that’s arresting, clever and surprising. Riello has created a tartan using the colours of the European flag (red/blue/yellow/white) then woven deliberate flaws into the fabric. The entire museum staff then wear his tartan clothes as walking exhibits. It’s all about identity. 

Tartan is a Scottish fabrication, as the clans had no specified tartan and the whole thing was invented by an English Quaker factory owner Rawlinson in 1740, then Sir Walter Scott in the 19th century. Like many Scottish traditions, it’s really a Victorian fabrication. On the way out you can buy his tartan tee-shirts in the Baltic shop – a nice touch.

Fluxus – George Macianus

You may never of heard of George, but neither have many of us and, given the stuff on show here,  that’s not entirely surprising. Macianus was one of those people who were desperate to form an art movement, no matter how poor the art. He seemed to hell bent on getting his little club publicised that he seemed to reduce his, and his fellow fluxians, work to poorly produced Warhol-like possessions.

Yoko Ono – Baltic Centre

Unedited outpourings from the Ono one.Would this show exist without her knowing John Lennon? I doubt it. The drawings are second rate, and there’s dozens of the damn things but it’s the banality of the umbrellas, stepladders and three piles of earth that make you suspicious. First pile is labelled ‘women subjected to domestic violence’, the next ‘women forced into mad houses’ and the third ‘women subjected to elder abuse’. They should have had a fourth ‘women subjected to crass art’.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Shine A Light

Beatles or Rolling Stones - I'm RS every time, so this was a joy. Scorcese just focuses on the performance - the band and the music does the rest. This is the the best two hours I've had for ages. Liked the songs from Exile on Main Street - my second favourite album (Ziggy Stardust No 1). Although would have liked to have heard Gimme Shelter.
The greatest rock and roll band in the world - still.

Slumdog Millionaire - beggars belief

Assault on probability
I don't often cut out of watching a movie, but I was glad to abandon this one. It's an assault on probability, with a plot that repeatedly asks the audience to believe a long series of totally unlikely events. Latika mysteriously pops up far too frequently. How many boy beggars get $100 dollar notes from tourists? Many movies have at least one coincidence but few take coincidences as the basis of the entire plot. Once they had agreed to the convention of linking the answers to real-life events through flashbacks, the die was cast. What is odd is that the coincidences were truly unbelieveable. They are an artifice to keep the plot moving.

Even worse is the HUGE coincidence that the 'answer incidents' were in exactly the same chronological order as the questions. I found this ridiculous and something that was clearly impossible to 'write out' once they had embarked on the parallel worlds story arc. 

There's also one point where it's worse than coincidence, that's the appearance of the small child dressed as the blue Hindu God. Did Hindu iorters really send their young children into the slums dressed like this when they were mudering, raping and burning its inhabitants? That was trite.

Magic realism?
I'm not saying that movies can't show improbable events, it's just that these are normally framed as magic realism, fantasy, sci-fi etc. If it was made as a form of magic realism, I'd go with it, but it wasn't. Here we have a hugely unrealistic film that's lauded for its realism.

There's no evidence that Bombay bandits blind beggars. 

Danny Boy's Trainispotting was a drug-fuelled, dreamscape, full of starenge episodes and tall tales. It was a trip of sorts. SM seems to follow in its footsteps but where's the rationale for the tall tales in this one? Is it meant to be a ridiculous Mamma Mia feelgood experience where we're expected to abandon all sense of reality? I wasn't sure. 

Bollywood fairytale?
Does it follow some sort of Bollywood conventions? It certainly has the cadence of a musical, as it is regularly interrupted by the music and pzazz of Who wants to be a millionaire?, like musical interludes.Can you really sue the 'this is India, and don't use your western logic' argument. The chances of a slum boy winning a million on Who wants to be a Millionaire? is as likely as India winning the European Song Contest. I don't buy it. If this is a hoage to  overly romanticised, rags to riches, Bollywood Cinderella stories, then you can keep them. It's precisly that tale that allows people with money to maintain their position of superiority. If it's a fairy tale, then let's not pretend it has much to say about the real India or real slums.

I just couldn't stick with it as it repeatedly threw me out of the narrative with stupid links between the questions and his supposed experiences as a beggar. I'm not convinced that this was deliberate. Would this story have been better if the writer had come up with more plausible reasons for his knowledge? I think so.

There's another catchall argument that could be used to rescue this script. It's his destiny. You can't argue with this, as it allows anything to happen to anyone, no matter how unlikely, bacause of his...well destiny. This is supernatural tosh. Boys don't escape the slums by appearing on TV and answering questions they are unlikely to know. They stay in the slums. In fact our destiny as viewers was set at the start as the finale was given away at the beginning of the film. To use 'karma' as a plot device is lazy. Now if he had taken the karma concept and used it to explain the none too attractive side of the caste system and Indian inequalities, that would have been interesting. I'd again say that this would have been a better script if this had been avoided (I'm not sure it was really intended). It is written - badly.

Slum chic
The vast majority of people who watch this will never go to India, and of those that do, few will venture into the slums. It's easy to assimilate poverty through a western quiz programme and the lush, warm technicolour. Boyle has ramped up the colour balance and shot this as though the slums were some sort of paradise. This doesn't deal with any of the issues. It simply Bollywood's up poverty for a western audience. There's no real look at the causes of the banditry, police corruption, begging, caste discrimination, religious conflict, dalits..... 

Perhaps the most cringe inducing moment of the film is when Jamal says 'Ypu wanted to see the real India' and the US woman, who had just been the subject of a mass theft, hands him a $100 note saying  'Now we'll show you the real America'. Nowe this could ahve been an interesting scene, full of first/third world weirdness, but it was just bad writing and crass.

What's the real message here? With a little (no a whole truckful) of luck, you to can be a Millionaire. That rings hollow, especially in these troubled times. It's ultimately an empty vessel as it poses no problems, solutions, issues, only fantasy over-scripted coincidences.

A 'feelgood' movie on issues that should make us feel bad, even outraged.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Taking Liberties - British Library

Supebut text-heavy exhibition on civil liberties. From the Magna Carta onwards it traces the documents and issues as liberty developed in the UK. You couldn't have asked for more and the tensions between, for example, freedom of speech and religious belief, were dealt with in a sophisticated manner.

The problems created by having England, Scxotland, Ireland and Wales were also dealt with head-on.


Saatchi - The Revolution Continues

First time to the Sloane Square Saatchi gallery to see The Revolution Continues: New Art from China. The sun was out the building was luminescent and the art did what it was meant to do -amaze, amuse and lift your spirit.

Highlights were:

Bburnt incense ash sculpture and paintings of Ahang Huan. These were wistful and Whistler-like nocturnes. 

Zhan Wang's steel moulded rock sculpture (there's a huge one in the Brritsh Museum) lools good and provides a thousand different images as you move round. It's like Mercury in zero-gravity.

Fang Lijun's cross-cultural church dome image of chinese angels acsending to heaven punches you out of the Western tradition in art.

Zheng Guogu's Wax sculpture is a familiar Chinese sculptural form made into a fragile object - you wanted to snap them off like a child.

Li Siongsong's deep panleled paintings are all fingermarks and colour, fractured and textured - killing the propoganda that they represent with paint.

Finally bnthere was the funny and scary guys on robotic wheelchairs whirring across the room, bumping into eachg other. great fun. There was a gallery girl whose job it was to separate them when they got stuck. She had all the grace of  someone working in an old folks home who hates pensioners. All gruff movements and an unsmiling face. Art meets real life - priceless.