ARTYFACTS: August 2009

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Based on a preetty clever sci-fi short story, this clever little plot turns this into a beautifully formed little movie. The exteriors, the vastness of space and the lonely greyness of the lunar landscape, contrast with the claustrophobia of the interiors, station and vehicles. But it's the unfolding of this tale of future identity that makes it special. A film that makes you think for days afterwards. Thank god someone's decided that British films can avoid phony gangsters and costume dramas.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edinburgh Festival: Restaurants

Mother India - tapas style Indian food - tasty and cheap - great service - Infirmary Street.

Tony's Table - Desperate Dan Cow Pie (complete with pastry horns) and chocolate soup - good value and good service.

Edinburgh Festival: Marcus Brigstocke

Forget art, I’m off for some laughs. Brigstocke had a good set on the theme of God and religion, injecting some serious commentary between the jokes, but doesn’t deserve the 5 star reviews. It’s smart, attacks Islam head-on but falls short on real belly laughs. He did, however, ahve one superb techie joke 'To the people who've got iPhones: you just bought one, you didn't invent it!

Edinburgh Festival: Tao

Japanese Drummers bang their way through an hour of almost non-stop drumming. Our son's a driummer, so loved it all, but they got a deserved standing ovation as it literally blows you away - the sheer noise and variety fo the show. Sure it's mostly drums, but as they bounce notes across seven drummers from drum to drum and bash the hell out of the big boys at the back, it's impossible to lose attention.

Edinburgh Festival: How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

Fun theatre event, where the audience are put htrough a training exercise on surviving an Apocalypse. It was learner-centric, so we had to come up with questions. I like these.....

Can Zombies swim?
If you're bitten by a Zombie with false teeth, are you infected?
If you have sex with a Zombie, are you infected?
If a mosquito bites a zombie and then bites you, are you infected?
If Zombies go to the movies, what genre do they prefer?
Do Zombies go to the toilet?

Edinburgh Festival: Ian Jack and identity

Strange Book Festival event looking at national identity. Ian Jack, for a long time, my favourite journalist, started by saying that Great Britain had lost its 'Greatness' leading to a rather weak, nebulous idea of Britishness. He preferred concrete instances of Britishness, rather than general, abstract rules, but then went on to give us a series of abstract principles - 'an intimacy averse people' and so on. Five minutes into this debate I felt that the whole identity thing was bogged down in an old-fashioned nationalist frame.

His US partner in crime was Sarah Lyall, who has published A Field Guide to the English. She was more anecdotal with stories of British men who had picked up what little they knew about sex from awful videos at school, for example two horses copulating (he did it from behind for ages). The double Nobel Prize winner who described himself as ' really just pottering about in a lab'. The fact that people would easily talk to you only if you had a dog. The ludicrous snobbery of the Royals and their friends, as they derided Harry's girlfriend because her mother had been an air hostess and used the word 'toilet'. I had no idea that the word 'toilet' was a class marker. She said that her editor at The Sunday Times could only use the word 'toilet' in print when it was frenchified 'toilette' (remind me never to read that rag again). Apparently, Harry's friends would shout 'Doors to manual' whenever this poor girl walked into the room. I know that the British are famously non-revolutionary, but personally, I'd be happy to see that whole crop of aristocratic shitheads shot through the back of the head.

In one odd interlude, Jack was strangely reactionary, describing youth culture as 'debased'. He just sounded like a sad old man mouthing off about the next generation. In truth, this whole nationalism issue is a bit of an 'old folks' obsession, especially older politicians who have to cope with devolutionary politics. Young people don't really care much for all of this soul searching around identity. The internet has opened up far richer forms of identity than mere nationality.

Place identity

In terms of identity and place I'm a Scottish, British, European, Brightonian. There is a sense of me feeling primarily Scottish, as I have a strong accent I have a sort of sports identity that I don whenever Scotland or Andy Murray plays, which makes the experience much more intense and interesting, but I despise the whole tartan, Braveheart, SNP movement. My two 15 year old sons strangely see themselves as being Scottish, English and British, but don't really care that much about this side of their identity.

Political identity

My political identity is shaped by heavy doses of Calvinism (I'm no materialist), libertarianism (I hate moral prescriptions) and socialism ( I vote for egalitarian policies).

Online identity

Online, I have no accent, so being Scottish, doesn't show, or matter. In fact, it does show, as my online identity is quite reflective, but oft contrarian and combative. I do think online debate should not shy away from contention and find 'English' society, on the whole, 'contention-averse'. Being online allows me to escape from the rules of the English 'dinner-party' or 'conference chat'. This online identity exists in three blogs (learning technology, travel, art), Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, podcasts, videocasts and email. In the real world, strangely, I have never joined anything, even the Scouts. I simply don't like clubs, and have always enjoyed a more personal sense of independence. But joining Facebook or Twitter is not like being in a club, it's much more nebulous, open and continuous.

I'm pretty sure that being online expands, deepens and enriches your sense of identity, mainly because writing so much exposes and develops your identity, along with the feedback from people who come from all sorts of countries and cultures. I've really enjoyed reading comments from Rina in India, Howard, Jay and others in the US and innumerable English posters. It's widened my perspective on the world and ideas. It's weird to see almost the entire globe coloured green in Google Analytics and seeing yourself in a much wider, global community.

Inner v outer circle media

Younger people don't generally use Twitter or Blackberries because their online world is shaped by their immediate peer group, not by work. Texting, MSN and Facebook are inner circle media, Twitter, blogging and email are outer circle media.

In terms of identity, younger people are establishing and consolidating their social circle, not using media in an instrumental way. Older people have established their social groups and social identity, and want to widen their sphere of influence. This is why young people don't want their social peer groups polluted by 'dull' adult twittering. They don't want seriousness - that's a serious point. As Cindy Lauper says, Girls (and boys) just want to have fun.

Inner circle media are used to explore social boundaries. Older commentators obsess about cyber-bullying and what they see as the trivial nature of the communication. This is to ignore its true value at that age - discovering how to communicate. That means making mistakes, going over the top and sometimes nastiness. That's life folks. Most settle into a normalised, sensible, practical and fun online life that enriches their social skills and friendships.

Older curmudgeons stereotype young people as being stuck inside some sort of online bubble, increasingly separating themselves from the real world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most inner circle online communication is about offline, real world events. Where are you? When shall we meet? Where shall we meet? Fancy doing something? It's adults who tend to get trapped into limited bubbles of work, staying at home and fixed circles of friends.


Journalists get infantile and paranoid when discussing social media. They don’t get it because they clearly haven’t even tried it. So much for the journalistic virtue of research. They condemn the behaviour of tens, even hundreds of millions of people in terms of their own, narrow, print-based biases. In truth, they’re worried and this exhibits itself in frustration, not objective reporting. They’ve lost their high and mighty status as top-down commentators and had to swim in the much larger ocean, where everyone’s can be a journalist, as fewer and fewer read newspapers.


At an another Edinburgh festival event I heard an MP stand up and decry Facebook. “Why can’y my constituents just use email – it’s easier for me.” He missed the point twice. First, it’s not about him, it’s about us, the people, the voters – that’s what democracy is about – him representing US. Second, he didn’t understand that different social media have different purposes. Email’s fine for direct, purposeful communication between him and a constituent, but it’s hopeless for larger groups or taking the temperature of people’s views. Twitter could really re-establish trust if politicians would just take a few minutes a day to simply tell us what they’re up to and thinking. I’d certainly follow my MP if he/she opened up a little.f


But it’s not just journalists. Most older people will come out with banalities about the media they haven’t tried. ‘Why would I want to say ‘I had a cup of tea’ today’. Yes, why would you? That’s not what people on Twitter, Blogs and Facebook say. It’s full of rich exposition, links and useful information. Sure there’s trivial, social stuff, but if one person finds another’s life interesting, why not? It’s up to you.

Edinburgh Festival: Cable, Fry and Hattersly

Book Festival event on Rebuilding Trust after the recession. Cable was OK, Fry was a large waste of space but Hattersly was absorbing. Cable gave his account of the causes, personal debt became aceptable, property obsession then poor banking. Fry, in an odd and irrlevant five minutes, had a go at the EU and the Human Rights Act. It was Hattersly whp traced the causes of the breakdown in trust much further back to 1) a more cynical and less deferential attitude towards authority and public officials 2) politicians have lost a lot of their power (public ownership not now possible) 3) end of idealogical or 'ideas' based politics. This was smart and addresses the issue directly.

When it came to the future, Cable suggested 1) schemes for youth unemployment 2) public sector cuts 3) scrap Trident. Fry waffled on saying a lot but suggested nothing. Hattersly wanted 1) single European Currency 2) campaign on a more equal society 3) retrun top the radical alliance 4) PR. However, Hattersly admitted he was gloomy, as it was likely that the Tories would get in on a low turnout with a slim majority leading tp polarisation and strife.

Hattersly was fascinating on Blair, who worked for him for four years, claiming that he was likeable but never really believed in Labour values, never really being a social democrat. He also thought that oliticians had become more professional, but in both a good and bad sense. All agreed that public sector pension problem had to be solved, while protecting the low paid.

Edinburgh Festival: Living Stones

Chance to see sculptors chizel, grind, sand and polish rock in this open exhibition at the Edinburgh Collge of Art.I loved seeing them using their callipers, lists of numbers and templates. It's a rough old game stone sculpting - lots of hard work interspersed with moments of calm measurement and reflection. Some of the work was stunning and would make a fine sculpture park. From the limestone and sandstone there was a purely geometric right-angled boxy shape, a rectangular chasm in the side of a large glacial boulder, nodules left standing on the surface of a round, chizelled rock, rock tubes sprouting from one side of a boulder, the other left untouched, a sheep and slabs of pink sandstone. Great idea and free!

Edinburgh Festival: Camille O'Sullivan

What a night! We sat in the front row (me, Gillian and the twins). Gillian got her head thurst into Camille's breasts,and my sons cowered as she prowled, eyeing them up. But what a performance.Much more than just the beautiful songs she sung - Nick Cave's Ship Song, Water Song and God is in the House, Bowie's Rock n Roll suicide and Five Years. Cash's Hurt and Brel. It was a beautiful blend of tear-jerking tragedy and burlesque laughter. Check her out on YouTube. Better still go see her as soon as you can.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Edinburgh Festival: Paul Zerdin

Zerdin's a ventriloquist with a twist, several twists. He starts with a rude puppet, Sam but quickly moves on to voices in his head to a doctor, to his wife from the Sat Nav, From a foetus to its mother, from a lift to others in hte lift and finally to an audience member with a mask on. It's smart, convincing and fun. He's so ggod he can quip with the audience about how stupid they are in falling for his talents.

Edinburgh festival: Festival of Politics - Facebook

Very strange event. Old guy in a suit and tie flanked by a young guy in a suit and identical tie and a young girl from peebles. The young man read a writted page or two, clearly shwoing no real talent for courtroom interrogation and the young girl, to her credit, warned against seeing this stuff in too rosy a light.

Kicked off with a weird question:
Do you believe new media tools, such as social networking, are passing trends or here to stay?

This is a logical mess and had to be untangled by our chair, who is the head of the Scottish Law Society, and a shaker and mover in legislative matters in the Scottish parliament. How can these people shape legislation in Scotland if they can't shape a sentence? he kept referring to the 'intranet' (sic) then quoted an Archbishop as an expert on new media.

We then had two MPs (MSPs) to comment, a blatant act of undemocratic favouritism, which new media, hopefully is meant to eradicate. One complained that it was all too much and he wished people would just use email, as he was a very busy man. The other rambled.

It was the young people in the audience who added the sophistication, pointing out that online stuff was just an enlargement of real world activity and notheing to be worried about - move on was her prescription. Another pointed out that Twitter was a more appropriate medium than facebook for polling opinion and political effort - agreed. Yet another thought that any potential MP who was not online, would be seen as unworthy of election by young people.

Edinburgh Festival: Politics of Festivals

The Festival of Politics held a panel session on 'The Politics of Festivals'. The panel was a group of Edinburgh worthies and teh questions centred around:

Why Festivals?
They need organisation.

Are small Festivals better?
Yes and no - we can have festivals of many sizes.

Has politics been sidelined in this year's Fringe and Fetival?
Yes. Not sure if this is the apathy of writers, organuisers, or a sign of the times.

Is the 'homecoming' theme too cheesy for a major international festival?
Yes, it is cheesy, but there's something to be said for it. There seemed to be a lot of discussion about Robert Burns, who is even more cheesy.

Is the Fringe being swamped by comedy?
Ruth Wishart felt that this was true, as did Tommy Shepherd, from The Stand. The cartel of comedy promnoters from four major veneues has, in a sense hijacked the fringe, and turned it into a comedy-fest, with formulaic comedy acts, squeezing out theatre.

Edinburgh Festival: Gagarin Way

Four figures in one room, lots of violence, Scottish vernacular (read swearing) and an excellent script by Gregory Burke, written a few years ago, but I never got round to seeing the damn thing.

It draws on Fife's radical past to pit three political types against each other and a captive, who turns out also to be 'fae Fife'. Many political works have their day and date quickly, but recent events in international politics have made the theme even more relevant today. It's a powerful invective against global forces treating locals with disdain. Even more relevant as Fife is fighting desperately for jobs, while no more than a short drive away, the same company is closing a facility in Kilmarnock.

The venue is tiny and as there's a coshing, a fight and two brutal murders, this works well. The acting, however, was a little uneven, and I struggeled with the unexpected cleverness of the dialogue, which seemed a little too polished and smart-arsed for three guys in a factory. This is quite common in Scottish writing, where the natural quips come too thick and fast to be realistic.

The captive, Frank, is also a curious character, almost willing his death. He attacks their utopianism but to what end? I was lost here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Edinburgh Festival: Ritter, dene, Voss

Tried this after a guy thrust a leaflet into my hand with a picture of Wittgenstein. Turns out to be one of those happy accidents, as the three actors were superb. Way beyond the usual standard in the Fringe. It's a Thomas Bernhard comedy, but Austrian, so don't expect belly laughs.

Ludwig (Wittgenstein) is played as an intense young man, full of eccentricities and mad outbursts. the 'cream puff' scene does the 'language game' theme justice! The two sisters battled it out (both fine actresses) and despite the small audience, they gave it their all. The whole reflective theme of actors, playing a role is not overcooked.

Edinburgh Festival: Circa

Acobatic dance group who fall, lift, push, tease and throw each other about, but it's the guy on the ropes who falls from the roof that draws the gasps along with the woman trampling all over hos torso, legs and arms in her blood red stilletos - you could see the heel marks.

Antonio Forcione

Antonio is a guitarist with a strong following at the Fringe. He did some astonishing arrangements of Motown songs including Superstition, I Wish, Heard It Through the Grapevine, Come Together, and a few of his own compositions. Simply wonderful.

Then off to Tony's Table in Castle Street for a filling Desperate Dan Cow Pie (with pastry horns) and Chocolate Soup for dessert.

Edinburgh Festival: A Peculiar History of Scotland

A Peculiar History of Scotland at the Book Festival. Full house and a brilliant session with a planted actor in the audience, who played an American tourist. It's published by a frind of mine, who owns the best children's publishing house in the UK. The kids in the audience were full of answers, some full of themselves. The great things about young children is that they’re willing to give it a go. Who cares if Robert Burns wasn’t a ‘painter, and his paintings became famous only after he had died’.

Edinburgh Festival: homecoming nonsense

International Festival has a hokey ‘homecoming’ theme, merely a politically charged, tourist initiative. This has led to works such as ‘Diaspora’ or worse, oblique links to works such as ‘The Return of Ulysses’. Enlightenment is the other theme, but the Scottish Enlightenment was a cerebral, literay movement and had little or no artistic correlate. The links between the contemporary art and the enlightenment are simplistic. I’ve searched in vain for any mention of Hume, Scotland’s greatest Enlightenment figure. It's all so trivial and parochial.

Edinburgh Festival:Drams, Jams and Trams

Festival Monsoon has arrived and bus journeys take twice the time due to the new tram roadworks. The project, like the Scottish Parliament, is over-budget, late and get and mention the word ‘tram’ to any two people in Edinburgh and just wait for the expletives. It won’t be finished until 2012 (they think). There's even a Fringe show called The Silence of the Trams. The Daily Record reported that work had been briefly halted when they foundsome 400 year old skeletons. Turns out they were workers from when the project started.