Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Sarah Sze - Tilting Planet

This is a sort of art review piece. Feel free to ignore it, and I'll not hold it against you. You won't make 'the list,' I promise. Probably. Hey, it's your choice.

If you're already familiar with Sarah Sze and her work, congratulations. If not, then you're like me before yesterday afternoon, when I stumbled on her Tilting Planet installation at BALTIC.*

I'd dropped in on my way home, as I'd been meaning to see A Duck for Mr Darwin for a while - an exhibition themed loosely around ideas of nature and evolution to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin . I wasn't terribly impressed by most of it though**, but then I stumbled on (in the sense of went upstairs to) Tilting Planet.***

How best to describe it? It's difficult. It's a huge, intricately constructed sculpture, or possibly interconnected set of sculptures/constructions built from everyday and 'found' objects. Dowelling, leaves, twine, matchboxes, drawing pins, Evian bottles, desk lamps and oddly large number of miniature water features amongst much else. Photography is verboten, natch, so I couldn't take this to help illustrate the description. You'll just have to rely on my magnificent prose.
As you can't see, it's a sprawling piece, and as you probably really can't see, it's demarcated by wool and trails of carefully placed small white boxes and blue pushpins. You wander around very much inside it, because the whole space effectively is the sculpture and there is no simple line between artwork and audience.

Frankly, it's far too intricate and large for any one photo to convey properly. So I've decided to comment on it by juxtaposing some of Robert Blackson's commentary in the complementary guide-type thing with my own reactions to it.

Blackson says

our path becomes integral to our experience. Initially, one might feel adrift in her doodles with consumables, however we are soon guided by Sze's spatial compositions that appear like the scaffolding of air currents

What is interesting is that my experience differed in several respects. Certainly when I entered the space I was a little disoriented, but I did not feel guided at all - rather I was acutely aware of being in an environment that possessed a kind of passive hostility.

Perhaps what I mean by this can be best illustrated by looking at another of Blackson's descriptions:

Sze is, in essence, cobbling a fragile ecosystem that is dependent on a balance between the ephemeral and relational.

One thing that this installation categorically is not, is an ecosystem. It is absolutely without dynamism, there are no actors in it. Everything is interconnected and finely balanced, but that results in an intensely complex yet fragile work: it has none of the dynamism and adaptability of an ecosystem. Ducking under lines of wool and stepping over bottles you are aware of just how easy it would be to destroy the entire work. And with any upset to the layout or position of components, the whole would be disturbed. You could argue that rearranging the elements produces a new work, but for me the experience of the artwork was defined by the complexity created by an intelligent designer, and disturbing that sense of order would destroy its value. This is unlike the biological world in every important respect.

There is an undeniable artfulness in the way everything is put together. Bigger pieces and smaller pieces alike turn out to have been constructed carefully, from the arrangement of the upturned pushpins that at first look almost casually spilt along the floor; to the upended desk fan whose rotation affects a miniature water feature in half an Evian bottle. It's why I disagree with Blackson again when he says

The kinship we share with these everyday objects dissolves the public experience into a series of private associations

- because I don't think there is a sense of kinship to these objects: they are clearly part of some other, greater whole and I didn't look at the pushpins and see notice boards, or the matchboxes and think of smoky pubs. It was the patterns they made in the space of the installation that struck me.

It may sound, to any cynical sods out there, like the most pretentious aspects of modern art, but I think it is saved by not having any pretentions. I don't think the work is supposed to be speaking to us, but rather simply to be marvellous.

And I do mean marvellous. Whilst I went in out of mild curiosity I soon found myself fascinated by the delicacy and complexity of construction. I also found myself gingerly negotiating it as I moved from piece to piece within the room. This is where the sense of passive hostility comes in: I was acutely aware of how easy it would be for me to - quite accidentally - destroy the work. A trip or simply not noticing some piece of dowelling amongst the jungle could irrevocably alter the setup and cascade disorder amongst the intricate structures.

It was hostile simply by being there and being what it was, and I found myself again and again marvelling at strange little expressions of this, such as the water feature hidden under a pile of blank lined paper, or the dozens of small rolled pieces of paper defying gravity under a dowelling construction. Delicate, fragile, so easily destroyed and yet somehow because of this, defiant.

I left with a huge grin on my face. Go see it, it's ... well ... marvellous.

*They insist on spelling it that way, for reasons best known for themselves. To me it just feels as though the whole gallery's a child in a huff SHOUTING to get ATTENTION, but it's their call I suppose.

**Actually it's a bit more complicated than that, as Dr Ben likes to say, but I'll get to that at another time.

***This entry is likely to be worryingly full of italics. Also blockquotes. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Updated for clarity and diction. Also to expand on some stuff a bit.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Trivial Aside on the PCC

Anton Vowl's got a very good post on the PCC. There's been a fair bit on the ol' blogosphere recently about the PCC, as a whole new generation has discovered how bloody useless it is.

I just thought it was worth noting that Anton's suspicions that

You have to wonder, if someone makes the same kind of mistake again and again, whether it's down to sheer incompetence or not giving a flying one about the consequences. Consequences which in the case of the Pathetically Craven Commission mean a very nasty finger-wagging if you do something like ruining someone's life or completely misrepresenting them; or even a much sterner tut-tutting if you drive someone to suicide or destroy a dead person's memory.

are more than justified. The organisation is, as you would suspect from a body whose members are senior figures in the very industry they are supposed to be regulating, designed to be as ineffective an instrument of restraint as possible.

As any regular readers may know, my current quotable text of choice is the 1997 blockbuster Power Without Responsibility: The Press and Broadcasting in Britain*, and having ploughed through nearly all of it now, I thought I would once again share Seaton and Curran's words of wisdom with you.

[The PCC was] established in 1989. It was investigated four years later and found wanting by Sir David Calcutt who concluded:

The Press Complaints Commission is not, in my view, an effective regulator of the press. It has not been set up in a way, and is not operating a code of conduct, which enables it to command not only press but also public confidence ... It is not the truly independent body that it should be.

Following this report, the [PCC] duly appointed a new chairman and promised significant improvements. Once again, the cycle of public scrutiny and condemnation, followed by contrition and the promise of reform, was resumed. However, nothing much changed.
So, this was a problem known about over 15 years ago, long before Anton rightly fingered it as a 'cargo cult construction.'**

It's enough to make you tut really, isn't it?

*'A riproaring, adrenaline fuelled ride' - Maxim
'A comedy of errors as sublime as it is fuelled with white-knuckle suspense and ultra violence' - Christian Science Monitor
'I loved the bit where they discussed the abolition on taxes on the press, before his mother turned out to be one of the aliens.' - Chris Moyles
'Quite long.' - Christie Malry

**A case of Paul Dacre, he come, if you will. You won't? Please yourself then.

Geekiest In-Joke Ever

I've been introducing my new flatmate to the delights of Galactica recently. We were watching an episode where President Roslyn is about to succumb to her terminal cancer, and Adama is with her.

I just couldn't resist a quick "It's too bad she won't live. But then again, who does?"

I'll get me coat.



Update: Vulgar Marxism says he doesn't get this gag. Here's the punchline, since I'm such a nice guy (and since my enigmatic picture link has stopped working)...

To switch universes a moment and quote Trillian, 'anything you still can't deal with is therefore your own problem'.

My Awesome Life, Vol 2

Rather than update properly, with actual writing and that, here's some recent-ish pics of My Awesome Life TM.
Mmm, Saltwell Park in Gateshead. It's won awards you know. For extreme parkiness. I likes it.

Did the walk from Whitley Bay to Tynemouth a little while back. It's ver' nice.
Actually saw the Millennium Bridge open! It's always nice to have the theory tested in practice, I suppose.

The Gay Pride march from last weekend.

The Ouseburn music festival. The band were called Beaks. You don't see enough cornet players in bird masks playing rock these days do you?
Just disturbing. I mean, I'm not religious myself, but this seems like convenience culture taken a step too far. Not to labour the obvious, but isn't praying something you do in your head? Who can't think up words in their head, but still feels the need to ask a deity for some form of assistance via the miracle of SMS? Is God like the Orange Wednesday 2-for-1 cinema ticket service? Text 'pray' and receive a plenary indulgence to go with your salvation?

Friday, 17 July 2009


Yes, I know, you've missed me.

It has been about a week, crikey me. I've been moving house, since you asked. I am now in the terror incognita north of the river, a first for me (at least in dwelling terms. I have actually been to Newcastle before. More than once, as it happens).

The week finds me unemployed, signing on, and being rained on, copiously. But it's not all bad news. I'm doing a Party meeting on Marxism and religion in a few weeks, so that should be fun. I'll post the substance of it post hoc, as a juicy morsel for you and to make myself feel vaguely like I've achieved something.

In the meantime, I'm watching Trainspotting on VHS (a film I've never managed to see all the way through and yet one I'm willing to take a format hit for) and luxuriating in the new pad. Yay, me.

Anyways, I'll try and blog on something more substantial shortly. Enough gushing about my personal life. I'm doing some paper sale at the gay pride march tha morra, so maybe I'll have something worthwhile to say about that. First time for everything etc etc...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Viz News

Ah, you've got to love Viz...

This is from this month's Top Tips:

Monday, 6 July 2009

Torchwood Liveblogging #1

Fuck you, it's my damn blog.

Right so:
9:00 - ooh, sly ref to Greatest Show in the Galaxy there.

9:01 - damn, it's Pob.

9:02 - Yay it's Peter Capaldi!
- hmm, downloading something? Cyber Village of the Damned?

9:04 - sod Village of the Dmaned, all the doctors are Kaiser Chiefs clones...

9:08 - what's Friar Tuck doing in that uniform? Damn, that's not him is it? But it's his voice... Ohh, it's him from Jonathan Creek!

9:12 - no Martha? But I WANT Martha!

9:17 - OK, still kids, shrieking. Nicely creepy, if incredibly annoying.

9:19 - Could Pob be any more gormless?

9:28 - Reds under the bed? Grew up in America did he?

9:30 - Ooh, he's saying "yes, sir" but he's thinking "I'm going to take that iPod away from you and shove it up your cock"

9:42 - it's defo a bit x-files this, in't it?

9:54 - dammit, it's good this.

In case you were wondering what happened to parts 2-5, I got so involved in it that I just couldn't bring myself to take the piss. So there.

Saturday, 4 July 2009


From this week's Mitchell and Webb look.

Yes, yes, ducks in a duck-shaped barrel, but still...

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Oliver Letwin's Spent 8 Hours Down t'Rothschild, Graftin'

I was reminded of Letwin's defence of his second job the other day whilst tucking into some more Power Without Responsibility this morning. In a chapter on the introduction of ITV, it is mentioned that commercial broadcasting was

not brought about by public pressure, but by a small group within the ruling Conservative Party. It was opposed by bishops, vice-chancellors, peers, trade unions, the Labour Party, and most national newspapers. Reith compared the introduction ... with that of dog racing, smallpox, and bubonic plague.
(Curran and Seaton 1997:161)

But who were this group?

they were supported by the immense power of the great entertainment industries ... although a member of the group declared in the House of Commons that 'Any suggestion that the Bill was fostered by commercial interests is a complete figment of the imagination of the Party opposite', the speaker at the time was a director of varioius electronics firms who expected to profit out of an increase in the market for televisions. 'At what point', H.H. Wilson asked, 'were the members speaking as MPs representing their constituencies, and when were they speaking as directors, managers or employees of advertising agencies, market research organizations or radio and television manufacturers?'
(ibid.: 162)

As succinct an argument against MPs having second jobs since Mark Thomas' wheelie bin protest, there. But of course for Letwin this misses the point.

“Yes, I work eight hours a week, at £145 an hour, and if you multiply that out it comes to about £60,000.

“This eight hours a week I work with Rothschild compares to about 70 hours I work a week for my Parliamentary constituency. I think that spending 10 per cent of my time outside of politics, in a real job, is something that is useful as a Parliamentarian.”

Now, part of me would love to live in a world where £145 an hour is a 'real job' and of course so, I suspect, would a lot of other people.

I suppose it's fascinating because it's a reminder that for Tories there probably isn't a conflict of interest between directorships of companies and their role as MPs Their interests, after all, align perfectly.

Which isn't to say that watching their contortions over second jobs isn't grimly amusing. Letwin used to be a director for Rothschild, you see, but was forced at political gunpoint into 'quitting' because some people thought it might not look very good. Although not Letwin, whose words on the matter were:

"I have been shadow chancellor for three weeks. During that time it has become clear to me that I cannot continue with my work in the City.

"My commitment to the Conservative Party will always come first. I have therefore decided to relinquish my links with the City and to concentrate on winning the next election."

You see? He does get it really. He's obviously trying to just make it sound as though he doesn't have a clue.

Just what do they teach them at Eton, I wonder? Presumably not the definition of the word 'relinquish'. So in the spirit of public service journalism that in my wildest fantasies I pursue, here's something for you, Oliver.

re⋅lin⋅quish [ri-ling-kwish]
–verb (used with object)
1. to renounce or surrender (a possession, right, etc.): to relinquish the throne.
2. to give up; put aside or desist from: to relinquish a plan.
3. to let go; release: to relinquish one's hold.