While I was doing my customary pre-breakfast blog-scroll this morning, a column by John Naughton in last week's Observer caught my eye. Naughton takes a recent article by Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic as his starting-point, a piece in which Carr worries out loud about his inability to focus for long on any given text, citing Google and the easy access to information on the Web in general as the root cause of his newfound ADD. I have to wonder if it isn't a matter of discipline, however. I am a bona fide internet junkie, spending several hours each day just surfing around, but I am able to turn off the computer from time to time for the purposes of giving a book or a film my full attention. Naughton also reminds us that when Tim Berners-Lee designed the Web the computer scientist had his own poor memory in mind and wanted to create something that would help. It's exactly the moments when I'm trying to remember an actor's previous work or a particular album title that I'm most grateful for that giant repository of data online. As for concern that the Web breeds poor memories among its users, Naughton looks to history:
But people have worried about this since... well... the Greeks. In the
Phaedrus, Socrates tells how the Egyptian god Theuth tried to sell his
invention - writing - to King Thamus as 'an accomplishment which will
improve both the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians. I have
discovered a sure receipt [recipe] for memory and wisdom.' To which the
shrewd old king replied that 'the discoverer of an art is not the best
judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practise it...
Those who acquire writing will cease to exercise their memory and
become forgetful... What you have discovered is a receipt for
recollection, not for memory.'
It's true that few of us can sing epic poems from memory anymore, but admittedly the pool of people who can appreciate Homer in the original Greek these days is small anyway. As humans we leave certain things behind as our technology changes, and new things take their place. We can remain selective about what works for us personally and what doesn't, and it's even fascinating to watch which new tools take hold while others never quite catch on. As a firm believer in the power of associative thinking I get excited when the Web encourages me to connect seemingly disparate topics, leading me down paths I would not have seen otherwise. And then I share my thoughts with you, and here we are.
I had my doubts about the ability of Scott McGehee and David Siegel's 2001 film The Deep End to hold my attention tonight after a week of not enough sleep (thanks a lot, Fassbinder...no I'm just kidding, I love you, you crazy German), but I needn't have worried. The Deep End could have very easily been just another throw-away thriller, but Tilda Swinton's performance as a woman who goes to extreme measures to protect her son elevates the film to entirely another level. It's a very gripping story besides, with the gorgeous scenery around Lake Tahoe as a deceptively serene backdrop and some crackling sexual tension courtesy of Goran Visnjic. I'm deliberately not giving away anything of the plot, but trust me on this one.
Speaking of kick-ass women: I'm most familiar with Tammy Rae Carland from her association with Bikini Kill and her epic cover for their album Pussy Whipped. Silverman Gallery has a solo show of hers up right now called An Archive of Feelings, and I pushed through the tourists in Union Square to walk up there earlier today only to find the door locked with an apologetic note taped to it. Though Pride wasn't specifically mentioned, I've lived in the Bay Area long enough that I should know to treat this weekend like a government holiday. I peered through the windows for some time, biting my lip in frustration that I couldn't get closer to the collection of mix tapes I could make out on one wall, or to the frame at the back that I know contain items Carland took from her mother's house after her death. Even through the glass I felt a little bit of the emotional whallop. The show doesn't close until the end of July, so at least there's plenty of time to get back. For today though I gave up and wandered back to BART, laughing to myself at the surreptitious and not-so-surreptitious gaping at David Beckham's junk as it currently hangs proudly in that new huge underwear ad in front of Macy's. I mean, it is rather impressive.
Probably no mention of Becks during my DJ shift tomorrow, however: 3 - 6pm PST, Sunday, June 29 KALX Berkeley 90.7fm
Just pointing you to some pretty pictures for your Friday, taken from the Glasgow School of Art's 2008 degree and master of fine art shows. Past graduates of the school have included Douglas Gordon and David Shrigley, so it's fun to get a taste of the current students' work and watch as they hone their artists' statements. The Guardian has a small gallery here to whet your appetite, and then check out the more extensive coverage on the GSA's site linked above. I'm a particular fan of the ceramics department myself.
I never did make it to any of the SFMOMA screenings, but I finished the last episode of Berlin Alexanderplatz a couple days ago and then watched the insanity that is the epilogue tonight. In some ways the epilogue is unnecessary, as the motifs that run throughout the film resolve themselves satisfyingly (though tragically) at the end of Part 13. I was reminded of Kieslowski's Decalogue, watching the pieces fall into place. From Franz's lipstick-smeared face in the opening scene poignantly recalling Ida's bloody mouth, to his unashamedly relieved laughter when he learns that Mieze didn't abandon him after all, not of her own will anyway, I was an utter emotional wreck. And then the epilogue brings back a virtual pantheon of characters, some of whom I hadn't seen since the beginning of the film, as the viewer descends with Franz into utter psychosis. Even the soundtrack kept throwing me for a loop, with its anachronistic mixture of Kraftwerk, Leonard Cohen, Velvet Underground and Donovan. There are several scenes where the camera spins dizzyingly, and I literally had to grip the couch out of a feeling of vertigo. Basically Fassbinder amps the surrealism to 11, making the violent and sexual undercurrents even more decidedly overt, and throws in two sardonic observing angels for good measure. And yet, after everything that had gone before, it made a perfect kind of sense, and I was genuinely grateful for the chance to spend another two hours with Franz (and Mieze, and Eva, and Meck, and Max...). I'm certainly ready to take a wee break from experimental German cinema, but I'm going to miss some of those characters. Also, now that I'm done I think I (as well the whole support group on Open Space) deserve a t-shirt.
In other news, on my lunch break today I took a tip from the SF Bay Guardian and ran up to Marx & Zavattero (formerly Heather Marx Gallery) to see the installation there by local artist Matt Gil: Reel to Real. The centerpiece of the show is an elegant conveyor belt constructed by Gil that stretches from one end of the gallery to the other and back again. The gallery attendant helpfully switched it on for me as soon as he spied me heading in the door, and Gil's colorful ceramic sculptures each presented themselves in turn as the gears ground away. The pieces are highly reminiscent of mid-century modern work with their abstract shapes and glazed surfaces, and I almost fell into a trance not unlike what happens at a boat sushi joint with all the yummy choices in front of me. Equally hypnotizing were the shadows cast on the walls thanks to bright spotlights mounted just below the conveyor belt. The exhibition is completed by two giant floor-standing sculptures by Gil, as well as a number of his watercolors on the walls, that echoed the shapes on the mechanized contraption in the middle of the room. He gets full points from me for creative presentation.
When I was in England two weeks ago there was quite a bit of chatter going on about the newly-launched Folkestone Triennial, an attempt to revitalize the British seaside town with an infusion of top-notch contemporary art. Had I had my wits about me I could have hopped on a train and spent a day wandering about myself, but maybe I'll just have to plan a trip around the next one. This is exactly what the organizers are hoping, that the lure of names of like Tracey Emin, Tacita Dean and Mark Wallinger will attract tourists and new business, but the public art in the triennial is also designed to appeal to the locals and is scattered around town like a treasure hunt. For Emin's piece Baby Things the artist created miniature sculptures of infant accessories painted to look realistic and then left them out in the open. Rachel Cooke describes coming upon a tiny cardigan draped over a railing:
It turns out that, once your eye is in, you can see this piece, bright
against the grime, for miles around. Baby Things is intended as a
commentary on Folkestone's high rates of teenage pregnancy. But there
among the dandelions and the chip wrappers, it calls to you like a tiny
blaze of hope.
A small teddy bear Emin placed at the train station might even be too inconspicuous:
Daphne Hitchcock is sitting on the bench and had not even noticed it.
"I'm afraid it needs to be a bit bigger. If I had seen it I'm afraid I
would have just thought it was a child's toy and left it."
The Guardian has some highlights from the Triennial in a gallery here, though for a picture of Mark Dion's brilliant mobile gull appreciation unit just go here.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - AKA the one in which Cate Blachett plays a badass Russian psychic whose weapon of choice is a rapier. I mean, what else do you really need to know? So the story is pretty silly and some of the trademark one-liners fall a little flat and dude the crystal skull is so just stuffed with wadded-up cellophane. But the energy is great from the entire cast, and there are plenty of nods to hardcore Indy fans. Harrison Ford in no way embarrasses himself, and if Shia LeBeouf is meant to be the heir apparent then I can learn to accept that. Though I don't see myself watching this one over and over again like I do The Last Crusade. I felt like they could have done a little more with the legend of El Dorado, and I kept thinking of the awesome animated series Mysterious Cities of Gold that my brother and I watched when we were kids. Which, I might add, is finally coming to US DVD later this year. Excuse me as I sing: Children of the Sun...
The area where I lived in England back in '95-'96, the West Midlands, is known more for rows of depressing post-war housing than for architectural innovation. Which is why I'm delighted with Will Alsop's project The Public in West Bromwich. It reminds me of the buildings that I loved in Amsterdam's Eastern Docklands last fall, all modern whimsy. The Public is meant to house the community arts organization of the same name, and also includes space for a theater, recording studios and office space. The building has been controversial, going both over budget and over schedule and generating concern about a lack of focus, and I'm not sure it bodes well that I couldn't load its Web page this morning. But here's hoping this is a case of "build it and they will come." The Guardian has some great images here, including one of the groovy bike racks.
I love art and music above all other things, but I am also known to travel to the other end of San Francisco just to watch a footie match with fellow Dutch supporters. Seriously, you should have seen my elation on Saturday at van Nistelrooy's amazing header in the last five minutes of the Netherlands/Russia game turn into slumped-over-the-bar depression when Russia fired two more goals in at the end of extra time. But I digress. My point is that the gap between art and sport appreciation might not actually be that vast, and the Guardian put this theory to the test recently when they sent their arts writers to watch some sport and their sport writers to look at some art. Steve Bierley (above), who normally covers tennis, went to the Pompidou to review an exhibit by Louise Bourgeois and found himself longing for the familiarity of the French Open:
Outside the gallery, on a looped video, Bourgeois speaks about her art as if she were giving a talk to the Llansilin Women's Institute. It should have carried a warning: This woman is deeply dangerous. I go back to the comfort of Roland Garros, though Bourgeois remained a haunting and disturbing presence. I'm still spooked.
I think that's the same reaction I had the first time I confronted Bourgeois's work myself, as much as I love her now. On the flip side of the arts/sport swap rock critic Caroline Sullivan took on that most British of sports, cricket:
If ever there were a sport invented to alienate the casual onlooker,
it's cricket. What is the appeal of a game that grinds on for five
days, has an arcane vocabulary of "wickets" and "overs" and "LBWs" and
forces its fans to sit in sodden stadiums for seven hours at a stretch?
To me, an American, it seems to be one of those "pleasures" that Brits
revel in to reinforce their reputation as connoisseurs of the
inexplicable and the eccentric. As a rock critic, the only parallel I
can think of is a Tindersticks gig I recently saw: it was slow-moving,
went on for about a year and the audience sat in mute absorption all
the way through, like they'd been poleaxed.
I've never attempted either a cricket match or a Tindersticks show myself, and Kennedy's comparison only manages to pique my curiosity. Overall, however, many of the participants found much to appreciate in that which was previously unfamiliar to them, theater critic Michael Billington going so far as to call for more cross-over between genres:
We all know there is plenty of drama in sport. So why isn't there more
sport in drama? It is time to break down the traditional barriers and
recognise the deep affinity between competitive games and the pleasing
patterns of art. The late Johnny Speight once described ballet, with
shocking political incorrectness, as "poof's football". We may deplore
Speight's language, but deep down he had a point.
It helped for the purposes of this experiment that the Guardian employs some of the best writers in the business no matter what their topic, as I've found in the past I'll enjoy even a book about NASCAR as long as the prose is good. Enjoy the many puzzled facial expressions from the sports journalists in a gallery here (including a glimpse of SF's own Davies Symphony Hall), and from the arts critics here. Also don't miss the video of dance critic Judith Mackrell trying to figure out what horse to bet on at the Epsom Derby and ultimately going totally gaga for the gorgeous animals, and of adorable rugby columnist Thomas Castaignède thoroughly reveling in his night out at the opera. I'd be his date for Puccini any day. After all, I used to play rugby too.
Antanas Sutkus, from The Daily Life Archives 1959-1993 (Lithuania). I love the sense of action implied in this photo: the street tilting at a crazy angle, the people all heading in the same direction toward some event, the woman leaning out to get a better view or perhaps to call out to someone below. I want to warn her not to fall. A photographer with his roots in photojournalism, Sutkus has been
dedicated throughout his career to capturing the people of his native
Lithuania as the country around them changes. The V&A has a small selection of other excellent photographs by him here.