Sunday, July 29, 2012

This Britain

Minor members of the Royal Family – including the Earl of Catford and the Hon Humphrey ffoulkes-Thynne, Thegn of Thanet – join the popular music combo One Direction for a spirited rendition of Spem in Alium.  As they sing, five hundred female students of Eng Lit commingle with an equivalent number of City types, forming into pairs for a spirited display of synchronised spanking that both pays tribute to Britain’s latest literary sensation and symbolises Britain’s dire financial straits. Members of the Bullingdon Club look on and snort. As an old London Pea Souper fog rolls across the stadium, the reddened buttocks of the students glower with such instensity that the form of a Remembrance Day poppy appears, one that can be seen from the Shard.

The fog clears, to reveal a desolate civic centre in the Festival style, where the pound shops have been undercut by the 99p shops, where the only food is fried and on a stick and where the At-risk Youth Secure Accommodation Facility is now called an academy. Suddenly, the eery silence is broken: a vast rubber johnny billows up, from within which can be heard a cacophany of young voices, all of them complaining about something.  Dramatically, the condom (designed by Zaha Hadid) splits and out of it tumbles a host of chavs and chavettes. Dressed by Adidas and Burberry, they slouch towards the Social Security office.

For today is Giro Day. And this is Britain, sea-girt and rather desperate.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Englishman in New York

Many of you may have worried that literary Brooklyn wasn’t macho enough, what with all the female authors, and the important female editors, and all the attention paid to ladyissues, and all those memoirs you heard about from those women who read comic books when they were kids in Brooklyn and then something something. Let me tell you: Martin Amis just pulled your fat out of the fire, who doggie! He’s mannin’ up the borough right and left! He gestures out the window of his brownstone “Out there, it’s Arcadian,” he said. “It’s prelapsarian. It’s like living in the ’50s.” 
You know what I love about the ‘50s? The rigid racial apartheid. That’s the best part, seriously. Oh, shit, no—I messed up—the crippling sexism and hatred of homosexuality. No, no—goddamnit! I’m going back to the rigid racial apartheid thing I said just now. That’s the best. It’s like having 3 favorite flavors of evil! That’s why the ‘50s are so tempting and delicious: just far enough away to see recognizable humans betraying their dearest in the service of ideology, just close enough that you know they knew better.
Oh my. Look at that leap. With one mighty bound the author (Belle Waring,  the sort of name that an Amis character might bear) takes leave of her usually finely-honed senses and lands in a student newspaper editorial about the unfairness of it all. All it took was for her subject to mention the 50s and Ms Waring is in the Twilight Zone, playing that old family favourite, Guilt By Word Association.

I suppose she must have seen a lot of those movies where the villain is always handsome, cultivated and English. Perhaps it is Marty's use of words like Arcadian and  prelapsarian that frighten Belle so.  Perhaps it is that she finds herself agreeing with him. Perhaps she fears a terrible beauty being being born in Brooklyn, that Marty will take them all back to the '50s and she will have to wear a girdle and cook with spam.

But then, this always happens. Marty has a new novel out and folk get frit. Hordes of scribblers denounce him for his many transgressions, sins that began back in the '80s with having his teeth done and which have multiplied since. The scribblers go to the cuttings, to find records of what he said during previous launch periods, sayings with which he can be condemned. They point fingers, they accuse. His book sells.

This time it is worse. Marty and his wife, Isabella Fonseca, a native New Yorker, have moved to Brooklyn. For his British critics, this is betrayal; for the Americans, it is colonization. No wonder Belle is so unnerved. He is now amongst them, in New York. He has bought a castle in Brooklyn. He gestures out the window of his brownstone.
Look, Fenton; see how innocent it all is. These little people, going about their little lives. They only want what is due to them: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They know noting of our ways, of we literary people. They know nothing of Oxford or the New Statesman. The know still less of the fate that shall befall them soon, of what we shall do in   this little town.
Do you feel something in the air, Fenton? It's fizzing, isn't it?
Or something like that. What is it about Marty that moves the scribblers so?  Why are they so frightened of him? Few of his critics, I hasten to add, are bookish types. It is not the quality of the latest novel nor its content that troubles them. Few appear to have any knowledge of his writing or indeed of literary fiction in general; I learned of this particular diatribe from a local bore who reads nothing more demanding than the novelisations of science-fiction TV series. Yet all of them have opinions about Amis fils. No other living writer causes so much fuss, just for the fact of his existence.

What can it be? Is it that he is clever and funny? Do the authoritarian left dislike him because he might make fun of them? Or is it that he is a better writer than his critics? Nobody likes a smart alec. Or perhaps the cause lies in that second paragraph Belle quotes from the NYT:
At a certain point Mr. Amis unwedged himself and slipped out to smoke a cigarette on the sidewalk, looking vaguely menacing under a street lamp. “I’ve sort of hung out with a few thugs all my life,” he said later. “I love thugs. I’m keen on them.”

No, not the thugs; the cigarette: Martin Amis is the only living smoker in New York. That is the problem. Everybody else gave up years ago but still yearns for a cigarette. And there he is, on the streets of New York, smoking. Oh, the temerity.

Stereolab, again:

Monday, July 16, 2012

whipping up spanakopita

Facebook fans beware - the days when you could snoop through your friends, former partners' and work colleagues' pages anonymously are due to end 
The social networking site has announced that it will soon let users see who has been snooping through their pages. The move is expected to dramatically cut the browsing habits of hundreds of millions of users. 
The change to the website - which has more than 900 million members - applies to group pages; meaning users can see who has visited any group which they are a member of. 
But already there are suggestions that Facebook may unfurl the technology across the site, meaning the naughty-naughty-stalky-stalky generation may soon see their fingerprint-free snooping habits curtailed, or face the embarrassment of their ex's new boyfriend/girlfriend realising they were too curious to resist an online-curtain twitch.
There are suggestions; made by whom, one wonders? Made by the author of this piece, one suspects. "The change to the website ... applies to group pages; meaning users can see who has visited any group which they are a member of," she writes, poorly. But then she leaps to her suggestions and descends to  sub-Glucina puce prose: "the naughty-naughty-stalky-stalky generation may soon see their fingerprint-free snooping habits curtailed"

No, Vaimoana Tapaleao, they won't. You made it up. You have no sources, no facts. You are not writing journalism. You have taken an unexceptional event and made it salacious. You have invented a story and found some witless university student, mostly likely one of your friends, to pad it out with her breathless Oh-My-God-this-is-the-end commentary. The paper for which you work (if that is the appropriate verb) has descended from being a source of news and opinion to a purveyor of title-tattle. That is why they employ you, as can be seen from your history.

All of which is a shame, because only a couple of years ago you won a Qantas, for real journalism. Yet now you are making up stuff, and writing about celebrity hair.

It is time to go. Get a real job doing journalism. If you stay at the Herald you will wind up like Shelly. See what she has just done: she has found the 2012 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce by the "US-based Environmental Working Group" and made a scare story about it, in her own particular way: "Cannelloni stuffed with spinach is my Sunday night go-to dinner and I often whip up spanakopita too. I'll be tracking down organic spinach for sure."

But what, you may be asking, has this to do with New Zealand? Well, nothing, since it is not a survey of New Zealand produce. Who knows what fruit and veges are covered in chemicals here? Shelly certainly doesn't.

Worse still, you might end up with friends like Shelly's. They are not terribly bright, you see. They get fooled by Internet scammers. Yes really; you can read all about it here:
"I just felt so grateful for his help," my friend said later when she'd cancelled her credit cards and generally tidied up in the aftermath of unwittingly providing her passwords and bank details to the con artists. "And I felt so clever each time I managed to do whatever he asked me to do," she added, aware too late that by following his step-by-step instructions she was actually helping him gain remote access to her computer.
Yes, that dumb. And what about her dinner party hosts?
Our hostess answered the telephone. "It's for you, darling," she said and promptly handed it to her husband. "There's something wrong with my computer?" he asked as he wandered into his study, presumably to switch on his laptop.

"This must be a serious matter, darling.  The Computer Company wouldn't phone unless it were important, especially at this time of night. I had better deal with it right away, before it gets worse."

"I always leave this sort of thing to him. He is so good with technical things and I'm just a housewife. Would you like some more cashews?"

I should advise you that made up those two lines of dialogue, just in case you thought it must be true because you read it on Internet. It would be an easy mistake to make.

Stereolab, une fois de plus

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Spy vs Spy

Spy: Lets cut to the chase, was Sonny a good lover?Jaime: (blushing, hard) I'm not answering that!
Spy: Sally, was your bedroom next door, could you hear the athletic love-making?Sally: (also blushing, mildly outraged) No! I was downstairs!
Spy: Okay, and this is fair, Jaime, was Sonny a good kisser?Jaime: Yes, he was a good kisser.
Sally: Do you know what, I have to say, Sonny spent a lot of time in our home and he was a beautiful person to have in the house. Not just visually, but in terms of his aura, and personality.
Jaime: Mum! Not just visually?
Sally: Hehehee. No, but seriously, he was amazing with my kids Astin, Oclane and Boston. Chicky (Oclane) used to call him Sunny Bunny and Boston just thought he was the coolest guy ever. He is just lovely. Such a nice guy. The one thing that fascinated me about Jaime and Sonny was the age difference. When you spent time with them together, there was no age difference. Jaime was 18 and Sonny was 26. I mean come on.
I mean blurgh. What is wrong with these people? Who asks questions like that? Who answers them? People who give their children names like Jaime, Astin, Oclane and Boston; that's who.

Of particular note is the exchange over the entrées:

At this point, as the first course of dinner was served, Ricardo, Sally and Jaime remembered that the three of them had appeared together (with 10 other celebrities) on a Metro celebrity cover shoot in 2011.
Sally: Drama! There were some nasty people on that shoot. Rachel Glucina and Denise L'Estrange-Corbet. I shouldn't say Denise is nasty, because I don't know her, but .....
Spy: Denise is lovely once you do get to know her. Though she isn't afraid to speak her mind, it's true. Do you know Denise's daughter Pebbles?
Jaime: I haven't met her, but she has tweeted some horrible things about me. She won't tweet me directly but makes jokes about me. If you're going to say that stuff, why not include me in the tweet?
Indeed, why not? Why not let us all hear what one teenage girl has to say about another? All the news that's fit to print, as someone once said.

The aforementioned  Rachel Glucina, of course, is the former editor of the Spy, the Herald on Sunday's trash-to-cash celebrity gossip page in which this interview appears. Glucina is now editor (if that is not too professional a word) of The Diary, the weekday Herald's serving of figs, waffle and custard, a page in which she regularly airs her obsession with Duncan Garner. She is also the author of prose like this, also to be found in today's HoS:
I spent a surreal four nights in the company of the legendary ladies' man. There was copious amounts of flirting and rigorous banter.
No, she won't win a Pulitzer; but she is a colleague and it is quite extraordinary that the mystery diner who writes under the Spy banner should print the Ridges' snarlings and make no attempt to defend her.

But then,  they are all horrible, the lot of them. If one found oneself dining near them, one would ask to be moved to another table. These people could make the soufflé of the season turn.

One other question: who the hell is Ricardo?

Encore de la Stereolab:

Monday, July 09, 2012

Against interpretation

      Upper Harbour Local Board chairwoman Margaret Miles says the board was concerned it would take up car parks and commuters would not have time to stop and look at the tower.

"I'm sorry but if you're wanting to catch a bus in the morning I don't think you've got the time to start reading about what this structure is," she says.   
Auckland needs faster art, sculpture that can be interpreted in no time at all or, better still, sculpture that can interpret itself. Some sort of boil-in-the-bag aesthetic is required here. At the same time, such sculpture will need to be flat, to avoid taking up valuable parking spaces. It's a tough call, making art in a competitive, high-paced,  commuting environment.

Are New Zealand's young artists up to it? Maybe they could just paint the parking spaces with meaningless, empty, gestures. Or would that be too challenging for a Monday morning? What kind of art will meet the needs of today's motorist, today's commuter?

Where is this post going? Who knows? Why don't we stop right now and instead listen to Stereolab?  But before we go, we must thank David Slack for the story. Allons.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

This sporting life

There is a general antipathy to any kind of change in the Lea Valley among psychogeographers. Elsewhere, Self has written that the Olympic Delivery Authority ‘may make compulsory purchases, tarmac over the sports pitches, roust out the travellers’ encampments and tidy the urban detritus under their magic finance carpet, but very quickly it will all come tumbling back, the steely weeds of a city that has defied everything that God, men or even planners can throw at it’. In architecture, in the built environment, Self sees the hubris of mankind.
See, that's where you went wrong, Seb. You thought the Lea Valley would be a safe place to put the Olympics but it turns out to be a nest of psychogeographers. They are all over the place, wandering around, muttering about everything, writing books. Look, here's Self and another one, that Iain Sinclair, on Australian television of all places. Some might say that Olympic Park was put there just to make Sinclair feel even more alienated than usual.  Chris Petit will probably make a film about it.

And here's that Will Self again, on Newsnight.  As we learn here, the Westfield shopping centre that forms the entrance to the Olympics (yes, it is difficult to understate the vulgarity of the people behind this nonsense) will include an academy to train the young to become retail workers, a school for shopgirls.

In scarcely-unrelated news, Eric Hobsbawm's daughter has become a Visiting Professor of Networking at some business school the University of London never knew it needed until every other university started getting one.

Meanwhile, my own alma mater, the Courtauld Institute of Art, is now led by not a mere Director but a Märit Rausing Director. Indeed yes, the job title includes a sponsor's name and the current incumbent is not even an art historian.

And back to the Olympics and back in New Zealand;  the contract for the all-important team formals uniforms was given to middle-management outfitters Rodd and Gunn, manufacturers of comfortable clothing for men of dismal taste, men who imagine themselves trout fishing and taking long walks on the beach with their labradors.

In keeping with the mores of our time, the design was done by a Czech in Australia, who found the material in Italy and had the uniforms run up in Turkey, China and Italy. In keeping with established tradition, Denise L'Estrange-Corbet is outraged, as should we all be. To add insult to injury, the design is based on that of the 1948 kit, made in an era when New Zealand had a textiles manufacturing industry. The contract for the team's casual wear was given to Peak, an Italian company.

So, sod off New Zealand.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Mostly dead plankton

By smashing protons together at the speed of light in the huge underground tube near Geneva they have isolated a new particle that existed in the collision for a trillionth of a second, then shattered. 
In that moment a 48-year theory became a fact. The glimpse of the 'Higgs boson', or something like it, allows minds to boggle on the existence of "dark matter" and the possibility there really is a dimension to the world that is beyond human sensory perception.
Who knows where that knowledge will lead? Next they will work out how to control the particle, then they will remove it to enable things - people - to travel at the speed necessary to explore the galaxy.

Science!  Who knows where this ignorance will lead? I do. It leads to the bottom of the page, that's where. And there in the depths of John Roughan's resentment can be found environmentalists, the greens who stole science:
  It is a distinct crustal mass ridged and pitted with mountain ranges and basins and over eons of geological time a constant rain of organic matter, mostly dead plankton, will have settled in the basins. There it would have been buried by mud erosion from the mountains and fossilised into oil or gas trapped in layers of rock.  
Geology says we should let oil prospectors go looking for it, environmentalism says we should not.
Oh well, at least we have Geology, the science that says "go west, young man!"

But what about those bosons? What will will do with them once we have extracted them to make massless astronauts? Should we keep them for the astronauts' return? Are they stackable? Will they shatter?

I think we should be told.

The Raincoats:

Friday, July 06, 2012

Keeping the arts industry vibrant

Creative New Zealand is trying to encourage philanthropy as a way of keeping the arts industry vibrant. The government agency has set up Creative Giving, a three-year, $1 million programme helping arts and cultural organisations find and increase funding from private donors.
Hmm; another way of putting this might be "Creative New Zealand is trying to encourage private donations as a way of keeping the arts alive, since more Government money looks increasingly unlikely." But then again, Creative New Zealand is no stranger to philanthropy, being a major supporter of arts industry businesses at home and abroad. The extent of CNZ support in the visual arts was revealed by Over the Net recently:
14 the number of visual arts grants 
25 the percentage of the total funding given to the visual arts
43 the percentage of visual arts grants given to offshore ventures
Stop right there. Visual arts account for a quarter of CNZ grants and almost half those are for offshore ventures. What, you be well be asking, is an offshore venture; who ventures offshore; baby, baby, where did our cash go? Now read on.
$15,153 Hopkinson Cundy towards the presentation of a solo exhibition by Ruth Buchanan at Liste 17, Basel 
$23,347 Michael Lett Gallery towards a solo presentation by Simon Denny at Art Statements, Art Basel.

Yes, Sibyl, Basel - so far offshore it is landlocked; Basel in Switzerland where people have huge amounts of money and only cuckoo clocks on which to spend it. And the lucky winners of an all-expenses paid trip to this land of cheese and bankers are... Hopkinson Cundy and Michael Lett. The lucky winners are art dealers.

Yes, that's right art lovers. Our money is being given to art businesses, members of trade that is not traditionally known for being short of a bob or two, to take their artists to Switzerland.

What is going on? What is this Art Basel? Well, it is a bit like this:
Founded by gallerists in 1970, Art Basel stages the world's premier art shows for modern and contemporary works, sited in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong. Defined by its host city and region, each show is unique, which is reflected in its participating galleries, the artworks on display and the parallel content programming produced in collaboration with the local institutions. In addition to ambitious stands featuring leading galleries from around the globe, each show's singular exhibition sectors and artistic events spotlight the latest developments in the visual arts, offering visitors new ideas, new inspiration and new contacts in the artworld.
Art Basel is what - in any other business but the art business - is called a trade fair. Galleries from all over the world go to Basel to sell their wares.  Most of these galleries, I suspect, have to pay their own air fares. In New Zealand, however, Michael Lett Gallery receives a government subsidy to represent one of its artists.

And what is Liste 17? It is all about the  zeitgeist, Sibyl: 
Since its inception in 1996, LISTE has set about the task of introducing exclusively galleries of a new generation that are involved in the zeitgeist and represent important young artists. In this way, LISTE has made a consequential and important contribution to the promotion of emerging artists and young galleries.
At Liste 17 Hopkinson Cundy exhibited three works by Buchanan, "a new curved curtain, a vitrine, and a large-scale photograph."

And where, you may ask, can I find these artists, Buchanan and Denny? Well, it is funny you should mention that; Berlin, that's where you'll find them. Both Ruth Buchanan and Simon Denny live and work in Berlin.

Berlin and Basel are about 688 kilometers apart. A couple of return flights from Berlin to Basel can be had for less than $NZ800. But instead we spent $38,500, so that Hopkinson, Cundy and Lett could leave Auckland and fly across the world to a trade fair, for a reunion with their artists and the opportunity to sell their work.

Buchanan and Denny live overseas, doubtless for professional reasons; they are artists from New Zealand rather than New Zealand artists. Hopkinson Cundy and Michael Lett are businesses: they sell artworks. Yet CNZ pays substantial sums so that these businesses can go to trade fairs in Switzerland to represent their Europe-based artists.

What, you may we wondering, is in it for us? Buggered if I know. I think we should be told.

Meanwhile, there are a whole bunch of artists in New Zealand who could do with some of that funding, who might use it to bring art to local audiences. Funny old world, isn't it?

And what does this tell us about Creative New Zealand? Perhaps this: the worst characteristic of contemporary art bureaucrats in New Zealand is their desperate need  to be international, to prove to foreign people that we are global players like them, to hang out in New York, London, Paris, Munich. Few attitudes could be more pitiful and more provincial.

The Bats

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Several ways to avoid discussing the Scott Guy verdict

By feigning a narcoleptic episode;
to sleep, perchance to dream.

By talking about Feilding;
"David Slack, the noted wit,  attended Feilding Agricultural College, don't you know?"

By talking about the Higgs boson;
"it gives the universe mass, and without mass there would be no Feilding or anywhere else."

By talking about Steve Braunias;
"the funniest writer in New Zealand is reading from his book on Nine to Noon this week."

By pretending to be Martin Amis;
"I am unaware of this case but the literary world is fizzing with talk of my new novel, you know."

By pretending to be a tree;
there really is no answer to interpretative dance.

By quoting Žižek
“Word is murder of a thing, not only in the elementary sense of implying its absence - by naming a thing, we treat it as absent, as dead, although it is still present - but above all in the sense of its radical dissection: the word 'quarters' the thing, it tears it out of the embedment in its concrete context, it treats its component parts as entities with an autonomous existence: we speak about color, form, shape, etc., as if they possessed self-sufficient being.” 

By listening to The Raincoats;

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Glossaries injected daily

"Organisations will say they are doing well with a pilates class or a bowl of fruit but it has to be a much more integrated approach."
See how easily it all slips away. In this minor masterpiece of  employment journalism, the unnamed journalist tells of disengagement in a manner that is itself disengaged. Perhaps it is a protest against the drudgery of arranging media releases into the pretence of a story, the work of one who had dreamed of a journalism career, gathering news and writing real stories about things that matter, but who now languishes on the employment pages where the copy serves little more purpose than keeping the advertisements apart.

And who can blame the writer? Every story in the employment section, after all, is a little bundle of anxiety in which employers are warned about the employee - a constant source of woe, a liability, a threat. The writer is an employee. The writer may have some interest in détournement. The writer may have tired of reading the findings of dubious surveys that purport to show the true state of the workforce but do little more than promote the survey company.

Might we be living in the early days of a new literary movement, some sort of gonzo employment journalism, in which the media flannel of organisations like Gallup is cut and pasted into bizarre new shapes, defeating its original purpose and sowing the seeds of discontent among the bewildered army of job seekers? We can only hope.