Thursday, November 26, 2009

26.11.09 :: miroslaw balka's 'how it is' :: unnerving

I've just spent a few minutes inside the void of Miroslaw Balka's How It Is at Tate Modern. Physically massive and obviously a feat of engineering, the concept is deceptively simple - a big, black lined tank that you walk into. It's amazing how effectively the structure cuts out the light and even the few people ignoring the signs whose faces were illuminated by their mobile phone screens just proved how the void seems to eat light.

Once the curator had kindly asked people to turn off their phones, the primal nature of the darkness became obvious. We are so used to partial darkness and our eyes adjusting to be able to see something it is truly unnerving to face genuine pitch black and literally not be able to see one's hand in front of one's face. With visual stimuli removed, you listen for every sound and imagination starts to take control - are there steps? Doors? Is that a wall or another visitor? What could happen in a space like this? What has happened in the darkest parts of our collective imagination or history?

Turning back toward the entrance reveals much and re-entering has far less impact than your first tentative steps into the unknown. Take the time to explore the space physically and mentally to fully experience this work.

You can get a taste online but if you are in London I'd really recommend a visit to the real thing.

one word review :: unnerving

Sunday, November 22, 2009

22.11.09 :: berlin :: stunning

I've just watched the second episode of Matt Frei's fantastic BBC documentary series Berlin on iPlayer. Focusing on the City's architecture, it's a wonderful piece of television about a fascinating city.

Frei's visit to the awe-inpsiring and recently closed Templehof airport brought back memories of my only visit to the city in 2002. I remember asking myself the same question he poses - "Am I allowed (or will I allow my self) to like this building knowing who built it and why?"

It's definitely inspired me to visit Berlin again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

14.11.09 :: peace house benefit :: eclectic

Peace House, home of Housmans Bookshop and Peace News, celebrated 50 years at 5 Caledonian Road with an eclectic mix of music politics and comedy at the Cross Kings last night.

We arrived in time to catch most of Leon Rosselson’s set upstairs, which was followed by a slightly stumbling presentation from Dave Morris and Helen Steel of London Greenpeace (a former Peace House tenant organisation and the only one of the original greenpeace groups not to take part in the 1977 merger which created the environmental behemoth that is “imperial greenpeace”).

London Greenpeace produced the original “what’s wrong with McDonalds?” leaflet which led to Dave and Helen becoming defendants in the McLibel case (the longest trial in British legal history – which was the subject of a film by Franny Armstrong back in the days before her making The Age of Stupid and being rescued by Boris).

My partner has an almost physical aversion to Seize the Day (and I’ve seen them enough times not to mind missing them) so we headed downstairs where the wonderful Robin Ince was hosting the comedy. I can’t remember all the acts, but two bits stuck in the memory.

First was the revelation that following complaints about an article by Melanie Phillips the PCC made the Orwellian ruling that when Ms Phillips uses the phrase “the fact is”, her readers would know that what followed was “comment rather than unarguable fact”.

And second was Andrew O’Neill’s attempts to reclaim the phrase, “I’m not being racist, but…” from those who use it to preface a racist remark by using it and then not being racist. As in “I’m not being racist, but is that the train to Reading.” (I’m not sure that re-telling jokes on a blog the morning after conveys the humour – but Andrew is definitely worth catching.)

When the comedy wound up we caught the end of the Freylekh Klezmer Dance Band (with my old CND colleague Ilana Cravitz on fiddle), before a bus home to catch The Thick of It via the magic of iPlayer.

onewordreview :: eclectic

Sunday, November 01, 2009

31.10.09 :: an education :: engaging

This is one of those films where I wished I hadn't seen/read/heard so many trailers, interviews and reviews. While the buzz around this film is one of the main reasons I went to see it, there was a sense of waiting for the bits you knew were coming which slightly spoiled my enjoyment of Nick Hornby's excellent adaptation of Lynn Barber's memoir.

Definitely a case of truth being stranger than fiction, the happy ending and glamourous styling of Jenny's story often hides the much darker tale of David, her older lover. At the few points where the undercurrent rises to the top I was reminded of Paul Andrew Williams's London To Brighton which would make an excellent double bill with An Education.

Some clever camera work (particlularly in Paris) and excellent performances (especially from Carey Mulligan - who I now realise I recognised from 2006 political fantasy The Amazing Mrs Pritchard) give a real sense of an idealised 60's London. The grim undercurrents of sexism, racism and exploitation prevent this from becoming the feel-good movie one fears it would have been had it been pure fiction rather than a dramatisation.

onewordreview :: engaging

Friday, October 30, 2009

26.10.09 :: beer quarry caves :: cool

I’m down in Devon visiting my parents for half-term and we always try to fit in one of the many local tourist attractions that we never went to while I was a child growing up through the annual invasions of ‘grockles’. (I remember 70s summer Saturdays as days where you didn’t go anywhere, because the constant stream of ‘changeover day’ traffic to and from the holiday camp at the end of the road made it almost impossible to get the car out of the drive.)

Today’s attraction was Beer Quarry Caves – unusually for an underground tourist attraction, entirely man-made. Beer stone was quarried here from the arrival of the Romans up until the Victorian era when the quarrying moved to a new site. Almost 2000 years of hand excavation have left a 700 acre underground complex for our laconic guide to lead us through.

The ticket booth is little more than a garden shed and the ‘museum’ in the cave opening consists of four or five large boards covered by a few laminated pictures alongside a few rusty tools. But this inauspicious start conceals an intriguing and entertaining attraction that is well worth an hour’s damp, cool walk.

The year-round constant temperature would make the caves even more attractive on a hot summer’s day, but even on a damp October afternoon there was a noticeable drop in temperature upon entering. I imagine it wasn’t something you worried about if you were spending your working day in a team of five hewing a four-ton block of stone by candlelight using just a pick axe, iron wedges and a hammer. It really is incredible that this entire complex was excavated by hand (and horse). Even the introduction of gunpowder only made the first stage of the process easier – once a space had been blown to get at the top of the seam, the removal of the blocks still had to be done by hand to avoid damage to the stone.
One aspect that I hadn’t realised is that the stone is much softer and easier to carve while fresh out of the ground – it hardens once exposed to the air – and so much of the carving of ornate window pieces for local churches (one of which has been returned to the quarry after 400 years) was done underground by candlelight before being packed and shipped all along the south coast (and some even as far as St Louis in the US) for assembly.

I’ll definitely look differently at Exeter Cathedral next time I visit, having started to gain some understanding of the work that went into quarrying the stone, before the masons and builders could even begin their work.

And, by visiting at the end of the season, we were lucky enough to see the first of the hundreds of bats who hibernate in the caves annually.

onewordreview :: cool

24.10.09 :: fantastic mr fox :: diverting

Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox was one of my favourite books as a child - probably the first book I read independently and certainly one that I read many times from cover to cover by torchlight before going to sleep - so I was genuinely excited by the prospect of a stop-motion animated version. The book itself is not substantial enough to fill 90 minutes, so it was obvious that the screenplay would have to expand on the original story and Wes Anderson’s transatlantic location enables him to retain the core Englishness of the book while adding enough US cultural/film references (high-school, heist-movie, westerns) to make it attractive to adults raised on Dahl’s original and their offspring raised on a diet of US tv shows and cinema.

Fast-paced and with amazing attention to detail, this is definitely inspired by the book rather wedded to it – and none the worse for that. Eminently enjoyable while on the screen, this is not a film that lingers in the memory.

onewordreview :: diverting