Thursday, 31 March 2011

To the sea

Allan Sekula's Fish Story uses photography and text to document the enormous, globalised industry of trade. Divided into chapters, the work examines through photography and text the place of the sea as an in-between space of advanced capitalism, focusing on subjects such shipyard workers, post-industrial port communities and the ubiquitous shipping containers which are at once a sign of globalised trade, vital to its very being and pushed to the margins of visibility by a society, or system, that tends to attempt to make invisible the origins of its commodities.

As Benjamin H. D. Buchloh astutely observes in an essay written for the book form of the project, Sekula's work and wider practice seeks to engage through direct representation the labour which is removed from view, something he argues runs concurrently with modernist prohibition on representation, and specifically representation of labour - he uses here Bernd and Hilla Bechers' Typologies for an example of a labour that is represented conspicuously in its absence. As Buchcloh examines, Sekula's practice works in the discursive space between art photography and that 'lower' form of documentary photography. By engaging directly a photojournalistic means of photography Sekula is questioning the modernist hierarchy imposed on photography, an art form which has always sat uneasily at the art world table. Through his direct representation and use of photo-narrative he is consciously working in opposition to the modernist 'new objectivity' of the Bechers and of the de-skilled snapshot readymades of Ed Ruscha, as well as questioning the role of photojournalism, which has always been found in the world of high art only though appropriation and fragmentation. The body of work, then, can be seen as at once a critique of the role of photography as institutionalised by Western modernism, as well as, on a more simple level, a critique of the mechanisms of advanced capitalism, the lives of the people who are at once a part of its inner workings and who rely on it for survival, and perhaps more than anything a homage to the immensity of the sea.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

There is an alternative

As many will be aware today hundred of thousands of people took to the streets of London for the TUC organised 'March for the Alternative' anti cuts demonstration. In stark contrast to the student protests of last year this was a good natured march, in no large part thanks to the fact that those gathered were granted their right to march peacefully without being hindered by swathes of riot police, an act of political policing that the students were subjected to that clearly would not be considered appropriate here, given the cross section of society that was represented. Union members from all professions, both private and public sector, from the elderly to the young, students to teachers, all were out to voice their anger at the savage cuts being implemented by the government. As of this evening it seems that once again it seems the media is intent on highlighting an extremely small minority of violent protestors completely separate from the march, but then you would expect no less.

On the subject, these articles are definitely worth a read...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Modern life

Today Dulcie and I visited the Midcentury.Modern Fair at Dulwich College and proceeded to spend most of our morning lusting after amazing furniture with price tags that were ever slightly out of our reach...

There was so much to take in, not least the setting itself, the aptly chosen midcentury modernist building one of the most beautiful examples of British Brutalism I've seen.

With so many amazing things to look at it was hard to walk away empty handed, and tempted as we were to splash we were content in the knowledge that our thrifty ways will see us seek out some equally exquisite pieces but for a tenth of the price...

Monday, 14 March 2011

On the road

I came across this book the other day by Pablo Leon de la Barra, who writes this really good blog. It's a photographic travel diary of a trip to his native South America, an exploration of the cities he visited and a reflection of place and community. The book's title, 'Useless Landscape', perhaps gives us a clue as to the juxtapositions he is making, focusing often on empty places that have fallen into disrepair or in-between peripheral parts of the cities that have been inhabited by people. There is something quite melancholic but also optimistic about this collection of photographs, one that looks affectionately at an area of the world where extremes of lifestyles sit side by side, a place where the peeling paint of abandoned buildings is shadowed by the presence of towering concrete skyscrapers, where the locals set up their carts for trade along empty highways. More than anything it makes me want to travel...

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Fresh is best

I love a good coffee, so I was pretty happy when I came across Climpson & Sons' stall on Broadway Market yesterday (despite living in London for nearly three years now it was my first visit to the market, and now I'm desperate to make up for lost time!). Their coffee is roasted by hand 'a stone's throw away' as the guy on the stall dutifully informed me, and is then served and sold on their stall and also at their cafe on Broadway Market. I was recommended their Guatemala blend (best for 'plunger' cafetieres), which he ground and bagged for me there on the stall. Their website has some great tips for aspiring baristas, and they even offer a coffee subscription, with a different variety delivered to your door each month!

Friday, 11 March 2011


I spent the day wandering around East London today to check out the Sheela Gowda exhibition at Rivington Place and also the John Stezaker show at the Whitechapel. Somewhere inbetween the two (Redchurch Street to be precise) I found this really great home ware shop called Labour and Wait. If you're in the area or are looking for something nice for your home it's definitely worth checking out, they have an array of products for all rooms of your house, and even a few breton shirts too! It's a really nicely laid out store with products that are all about functionality and classic design. I bought these two 'school' glasses for a mere £2.50 each, they're identical to the ones we used to drink milk from in nursery.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Free trade

This is a pirated copy from Peru of Issue 109 of Granta magazine, which itself features an essay about book pirating in Peru. Note the lines of the edges of the pages visible from scanning and reproducing on a low quality laser printer. Book piracy is a major business in Peru, with vendors acting freely and openly and many writers considering being pirated the equivalent of making the bestsellers charts. An interesting thing to consider on the day the UK celebrates World Book Night by handing out hundreds of thousands of books for free...

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The best mind of our generation?

Last week saw the release of Howl, a film about the obscenity trial surrounding the release of Allen Ginsberg's poem of the same name in 1957, and the latest venture by actor and now general all round renaissance man James Franco. Dulcie and I went to see it at the Cornerhouse, and though I was apprehensive at first, we both really enjoyed the eclectic mix of animation and poetry recital recreations. It seems Franco has come a long way since portraying the son of Spiderman's arch nemesis; in the past year alone Franco has been Academy Award nominated for one of his numerous film roles, released a book of short stories, as well as entering the art world with gallery shows in Berlin and Beverly Hills, the latter a collaboration with Gus Vant Sant, who he worked with on the film Milk, at no less than the monolith that is Gagosian Gallery. In fact, his wikipedia entry labels him as 'actor, film director, screenwriter, film producer, author, painter and performance artist', as well as pointing out his current study for a Ph.D at Yale University. It seems there is nothing the man can't do.

In branching out into so many different areas of the creative industries Franco proves an interesting case. Many writers have dabbled in the film industry and actors and musicians are renowned for exchanging roles. The real question is whether they achieve any real success, and whether there acceptance is affected by their fame in a different field. Elvis Presley wasn't taking that seriously as an actor, nor Joaquin Phoenix as rapper. Today the crossover seems to be becoming a more popular phenomenon, with even Lady Gaga being heralded as a performance artist. Is Franco to be taken seriously as an artist, then, or does his rising to fame as a Hollywood actor negate any artistic offering he may wish to make as negligible, a mere vanity project? It is certainly an interesting question to consider in a world which claims to be post-canon, the boundaries of high and low long removed since the emergence of a so called postmodern age.

(James Franco, The Dangerous Book Four Boys, Peres Projects Berlin 2011)

Perhaps Franco is a Warhol for our times, refusing to be held down to one field or another but moving between roles with seemingly unending creative energy. Or perhaps he is simply making the most of a famous name, exhibiting at a gallery that is not shy to representing artists whose reputation often eclipses their art work - the late Dash Snow, Terence Koh, a some time Lady Gaga collaborator. Either way the fact is that he is doing these things, his book has been published, receiving not all that bad press along the way, and he is showing in the world's largest commercial art gallery. There will always be cynics, but who are we to judge? and is it ever possible to analyse art (or literature) objectively, unaffected by our knowledge of its author?