Beautiful creatures in their underwear mingled with an inanely grinning and waving podgy bloke (“I only got this part because I’m fat! I’m worried that if I lose any weight, I’ll be out of work!”) and a powerfully built, startlingly athletic dancer with no legs, in a series of wonderfully inventive and superbly executed vignettes which nevertheless failed to form a suitably cohesive thematic whole. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t love it whole-heartedly – particularly the ludicrously gimpy dancing to Cher’s Believe. Nice to see my own chosen idiom of dance (perfected after many years of practice) represented so accurately on the stage. The show plays in Madrid from November 20-22, and in Leeds from November 27th 29th, and comes highly recommended.
The permanent collection didn’t float my boat one little bit – too dry, rarified, up its own arse – but the building itself turned out to be the real stunner, the breathtaking drama of its cavernous stark white spaces easily outstripping its contents. I didn’t like the Piper exhibition one little bit – by turns wilfully obscure and annoyingly preachy – except for one two-part installation piece, which left me reeling.
A plain white cubic structure stood in the middle of the floor, with an open doorway leading to a darkened interior within. On the right hand wall as I entered, a quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power — he’s free again.” Turning left, I found a darkened booth, with a single chair facing a smallish screen on the wall opposite. On one side of the chair, a box of tissues; on the other side, a waste paper basket. On the wall above the back of the chair: an image of a smiling George Bush senior, shaking hands with three or four police officers. As I sat down, feeling like I was entering a pr0n booth (what else could the tissues be for?), I turned my gaze towards the film which was silently playing on the screen in front of me; it was the famous video footage of Rodney King’s beating by members of the Los Angeles Police Department in the early 1990s. The video was looped, giving the impression that the beating never stopped. I had never watched this footage in full before, and sat there open-mouthed, mesmerised by the brutality. Perhaps the tissues were there to dry my bleeding heart liberal tears; or maybe their presence suggested that on some level, I was secretly getting off on my self-righteous outrage. Three or four loop repetitions in, I got up and left King to his fate.
Further down the same gallery, an identically proportioned cube, this time in plain black. In the entrance, the same Solzhenitsyn quote, this time in white lettering on a black background. Round the corner to the left, the same little booth, chair, tissues and waste paper bin, its black walls leaving the area in almost total darkness. No film was playing this time, although I thought I could vaguely make out the image of a black face on the wall in front of me. I sat down; immediately I had done so, a bright light flashed on in front of me, illuminating the booth and revealing the screen opposite to be…a mirror. Rooted to the spot in shock, I found myself staring into my own eyes, my expression frozen. Behind me, and also visible in the mirror: the same image of Bush congratulating the cops. I had joined the group. A few seconds later, the light flicked off and the screen lit up, replacing my reflection with an illuminated monochrome photo of a badly beaten black man. Maybe it was Rodney King himself; I didn’t know. A voiceover started up, relaying a message of mournful defiance – I have completely forgotten what it said. As the tape finished, the light flicked back on again, leaving me staring at my own reflection once more, my fixed expression registering even more stunned shock than before. The message seemed to be: you are complicit in this, whether you like it or not. Take a good look at your reaction.
As I stumbled out of the black cube, feeling like I had been hit over the head with a sledgehammer, I caught sight of one of Piper’s large photo-montages on the wall opposite. A photograph of the hanging victim of a lynch mob was (as far as I recall) juxtaposed with a photograph of Martin Luther King speaking at a rally. Superimposed on these images was some text, which said something like: This may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.
A pity, then, that the power of these pieces was so badly undercut by the knee-jerk, white-liberal-baiting, self-righteous, one-dimensional, overly literal preachiness of much of the rest of the exhibition.
Poncey furniture ahoy! K and I took the day off work to surround ourselves with three floors of Ligne Roset sofas, Seventies retro bedroom storage solutions, innovative glassware, simply sumptuous sideboards, and various sundry gorgeous little bits and pieces for the home, spread out over maybe a couple of hundred exhibition stands. In an adjacent lecture theatre, Kevin McCloud from Channel 4’s “Grand Designs” programme, accompanied by the show’s executive producer, talked for nearly an hour about the making of the show. By the end of the talk, we wanted to be his friend even more badly than before (as, I think, did the majority of the largely thirty- and forty-something female audience around us). With his relaxed, smiling, twinkly-eyed charm, off-the-cuff wit (he had us rolling in the aisles), razor-sharp mental agility (the entire talk was improvised on the spot) and his infectiously self-evident enthusiasm and passion for the subjects of his programme (both the building projects themselves, and the people behind them), we were completely won over by the man, and left the lecture wanting to be his friend even more badly than before.
Incidentally: if you remember the recent programme featuring the increasingly red-faced and hopelessly accident-prone guy with the house that stubbornly refused to be built (the one with the huge butterfly-wing roof that got ruined in the rain), then you’ll be pleased to know that a sequel programme will be airing next year. All that Kevin McCloud would reveal is that in the second programme, the building graduates from stubborn refusal to an active aggression against being built. We can’t wait.
We’ve been visiting the Turner prize show almost every year for the past decade, and left in no doubt that, after an extended ropey patch, this is the strongest collection of finalists for years. While Willie Doherty’s video installation (“Re-Run”) admittedly felt a little bit under par, we would be perfectly happy for any of the other three finalists to win the prize next month. If we’re considering the cumulative impact of all their work to date, then in many ways the prize should rightfully go to Jake & Dinos Chapman – particularly on the strength of last year’s “Chapman Family Collection” White Cube show. However, purely based on the work on display, our favourite (and, judging by the hundreds of pieces of paper stuck to the walls of the concluding “comments room”, the clear favourite of a good 75% of the viewing public) had to be Grayson Perry, the transvestite potter from Essex. What particularly came across this year was the high level of skilled craftsmanship involved in most of the exhibits; definitely one in the eye for the “my five year old could have done that” brigade.
Positioning yourself as an Internet writer and artist, and going on to build a successful academic career from it, is all very well – but, as my similarly underwhelmed friend pointed out at the end of this interminably tedious lecture, it does generally help if you have at least some vague semblance of a literary background. In its absence, all we were left with was a clunking, shallow pseudo-profundity (“nomadic gurus of the electrosphere”, indeed!) wrapped up in layers of supposedly “innovative” and “experimental” technique, which wouldn’t even have made the grade on a late night Channel 4 show from ten years ago (back in those happy far-off days when Channel 4 still showed experimental artsy-fartsy videos instead of feral tit-and-bum-fests). This supposedly cutting-edge wow-iness was also badly undercut by the way that Mark Amerika displayed his various websites to us, opening each one in a titchy little window and then having to scroll left/right/up/down to show us all the content. (It was all I could do not to stand up and shout “Maximise! And press F11! For all our sakes!”)
Nevertheless, Mark Amerika’s talk did inspire me on one level: if he can get away with calling himself an “online writer”, then I most certainly can too. “Oh yes, I’m an online writer. Working with words and images, I deploy a variety of multi-disciplinary techniques to distribute my work in a broadly reverse-chronological format, in a medium which seeks to build overlapping networks of disparate yet interlinked online quasi-communities, whilst simultaneously encouraging active participation from community members in which the boundaries of “provider” and “consumer” are gradually broken down by means of an iterative process of… Well, you get the picture.
With most of Nottingham’s indie-gig-going demographic packing out Rock City for the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, this poorly publicised gig (i.e. I only found about it two days earlier) attracted barely seventy punters (I counted). Undaunted, the Chicks ploughed gamely on, but the gig steadfastly failed to ignite, either for them or for us. Disappointing? Oh, you don’t know the half of it.
Back in late 1999/early 2000, Chicks On Speed were my Official Favourite Band, and I became quite the completist: import vinyl singles, limited edition mail-order releases, the lot. For the past four years, I had therefore been longing to see them live, convinced that any Chicks gig would be an Event to remember – on a par with Le Tigre at The Social last year, or The Scissor Sisters at The Cock Live this year. Almost jumping for joy when I spotted them in the gig listings, I was even prepared to give up my first free night in Nottingham for a week – and my last free night in Nottingham for another week – to make the pilgrimage, despite not having anyone to go with, and despite feeling considerably less than 100% health-wise. Still, the packing for Paris could wait till morning, where there’s a will there’s a way, etc etc.
I did my best, I really did. I drank (alone), I danced (alone), I whooped and cheered (alone), and I almost succeeded in having a good time – but not quite. Still, it was nice to hear Eurotrash Girl, Mind Your Own Business, Kaltes Klares Wasser and We Don’t Play Guitars performed live (even if we didn’t get Glamour Girl, or any of their fantastic B-52s/Tom Tom Club covers), and the home-made frocks looked good (lots of netting), and the make-up was cool (lots of day-glo), and Alex, Kiki & Melissa are still Fabulousness Incarnate In Every Way, despite everything, even the empty room and the atrocious sound mix (way too much echo, vocals sounding like they were coming from backstage somewhere) and the fact that I shelled out 10 quid on a “limited edition” CD that turned out to be a radio interview from 2000 which lasted less than five minutes. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.
By the way: a big Troubled Diva Hello to Dave with the red hair (he said I had to mention the red hair), a previously unknown reader who came up and introduced himself after the gig. (“Excuse me, are you Troubled Diva? I read your blog regularly!”) The brief feeling of mild celebrity that this conferred upon me almost made up for the entire evening. Hello Dave – and Haaaaaa-ppy Reading!
Derby Playhouse does it again, with a sprightly, irreverent production (by Cal McCrystal) which had us bellowing hysterically on the back row, particularly in the liberty-taking second half. (Top tip: the middle of the back row at Derby Playhouse gives an excellent view, plus you get to be first to the bar in the interval, and you get to beat the car park queues at the end of the night). As with Dracula before it, there’s some great staging and cute little coups de theatre along the way, and the acting couldn’t be faulted. Wonderful to realise that there’s still plenty of creative life and fresh thinking in regional theatre – even ones that have been hidden away in shopping centres.