28 June 2012

Emin's on the map

Just a quickie. I know she's not everyone's cup of tea (and I've gone off her drastically since I discovered she was a raving Tory that resents paying a high rate of tax) but I can't help but find Tracey Emin's sketches really enchanting and/or haunting.

I managed to pick up one of the tube maps today with her interpretation of it on the front.

I'm one of those sycophantic London-lovers who thinks the tube map is a work of art as it is, but this edition is really welcome- such a beautiful sketch. It's a personal take on the map, might be seen as a bit indulgent, but if I had to make my own version of the underground map, it would certainly only contain ten or twelve stops at the most.

There's a good article about it here.

If you can't make your mind up about Emin, I definitely recommend you read Strangeland. It really changed my mind about her (this was pre-Tory discovery) and made me be more forgiving about her art work, which even now with my bubbling resentment of her, I can't help but love, particularly her sketches, textile work and light installations.

Also, on her entry on the Feminist Art Base, where all artists have to write a statement about their relationship with feminism, she says: When I had my interview for art school in 1983, one of their questions was: “What do you think of Feminism?” My answer at the time: “I don’t.” By that I meant that I didn’t think about Feminism. Of course that’s changed a lot now. I often think about feminism, in an everyday way and in an historic way. But to be honest, being a woman has never stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do. Apart from fuck a man really hard up the arse. I’ve never had penis envy, but I’ve often wondered what it must be like. I know that just having a penis definitely affects your wage packet, but I’m not bitter and twisted. I’m grateful to all the women that work so hard to enable women like me to have a voice. And I’m still shouting.

Which I think is so typical of her, it's very aware, very paradoxical and very exposed. Still not sure I think Tory values can really coexist with feminism, since the crux of feminism is about removing hierarchy and power, but it's still an interesting statement. 

9 May 2012

Maurice Sendak's other great work...

I came across this a while ago in my library, and I thought it was pretty horrific in terms of poor messages for fairy tales to carry, I'm talking of course, of Wilhelm Hauff's Dwarf Long-Nose - one of the more un-PC children's books I've stumbled across.

Apparently, in Germanic countries, this tale is as well-known as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. It involves a young handsome boy who is turned into an "ugly dwarf" by a "hag" who was "ragged and in tatters" after Jacob takes offense to the way she manhandles her mother's herbs (I know) with her "dark brown, ugly hands". After not believing that this new incarnation is her son, the mother sends him away calling him "an ugly monster".

The father is equally dismissive, and Jacob weeps.

And then masturbates with his nose.

To cut a long(ish) story short, he becomes a chef to the Duke (after turning down the chance to be court jester).

He then buys three geese, one of whom (Mimi), is spared of the chopping board because she cries and sings him a little song. Mimi helps Jacob find a herb that restores his height and good-looks and only then do his parents take him back with open arms.

I don't need to point out the obvious about the many levels on which this story is offensive, but I thought it was timely to share, as the illustrator for this particular edition is none other than Maurice Sendak who died yesterday. Obviously not his finest moment, but interesting to point out all the same, thankfully he will be forever remembered as the genius who brought us Where the Wild Things Are.  

5 May 2012

Why I love Jodie Marsh

My cousin recently said to me ‘I can never tell if you’re being serious about loving Jodie Marsh’, and it seems to be a recurring theme amongst people I know who are aware of my fascination. I wonder why people find it difficult to get their head around how someone so “low brow” and seemingly void of any distinguishable talent can be the source of interest for someone who otherwise has only a fleeting and superficial relationship with the sort of Heat magazine brand of popular culture. Well, firstly let me stress that I don’t think there is any such thing as “low brow” and I don’t think that popular culture is the opposite of “high” culture (which is also a fallacy), just a different facet of culture. And secondly, I don’t feel like I need to justify fawning over a celebrity at all, but I will.

I had never really paid Jodie Marsh any attention, to me she was just a more attractive and interesting looking version of Jordan, who seemed to take herself a lot less seriously. As shallow as this makes me sound, I only really started paying her any attention when a: she announced she had a girlfriend, and b: she all of a sudden morphed into a tattooed beauty with a brilliant undercut. I initially just liked her on a very superficial level; I liked how she looked, I liked how she was always smiling, I liked that she seemed to effortlessly piss people off.

But this last point is note-worthy, because it’s not because she’s oozing with confidence, or just famous for being famous, or because of her nose (which seems to anger the Daily Mail readership no end) or because she’s had a lot of bed companions (or so it would seem), I think it’s because she’s all of those things AND A WOMAN. I’m certainly not the first person to point out that the treatment of female celebrities by the media (and the kind of people who post on the Daily Mail comments section) is nothing short of appalling bullying in comparison to their equally over confident, famous for nothing, strange-nosed, sleep-around male contemporaries. Jodie Marsh is painted as a “slut”, while Russell Brand is portrayed with the rather grandiose term “lothario”. I instantly warm to people who are pilloried and bullied, not out of pity, but because such a state of being allows an insight into people’s strength and capacity for overcoming the hatred (and also, as Quentin Crisp once said "if you have love to give you must give it to the unlovable, anything else would be unfair").

Gradually Jodie Marsh has become a voice for the outsiders and the bullied, most notably in her brilliant documentary on the subject on Channel 5, where she was a compassionate and informed listener, and an insightful and powerful speaker. As well as this, she is clearly intelligent, passionate about her vegetarianism and animal rights, is definitely dedicated and hard working (her recent foray into body-building that some dismissed as just “more attention-seeking” proves that quite nicely), she seems to be getting more and more beautiful with age, and the most interesting beauty at that, the kind that isn’t so flawless and polished that it leaves no room for character. Also, I don’t remember where I read this, but she said in an interview when probed about her tattoos that it was her addiction, which is much better than being addicted to smoking or drugs, which, if you ask me, is a pretty brilliant message to young people delivered in the most accessible way possible, and also quite an intelligent statement to make, which acknowledges that people have addictive personalities, and her life recently has perhaps showed how best to channel those addictions into achieving something, be that a super-toned and competition-winning body, or arms full of artwork.

And about the tattoos, recently the Daily Mail had an article about the lead singer from that military wives group apparently being the victim of online bullying about her body art. The reader comments suggested a wave of disgust that people could be so vitriolic towards a woman with such an angelic voice whose husband serves in the military, yet every time an article about Jodie Marsh pops up, the very same readership are quick to point out how “disgusting” her tattoos are, and even worse, talking about her nose, which has been the source of her problems with bullies since she was a child. It’s pure, pure hatred, on a greater scale than any other female celebrity experiences, and I think the way she handles it is brilliant.

This excellent blog post which makes a case for Jodie’s defense much more eloquently than I ever could, describes the bullying program as “feminism and misogyny in microcosym”. I hope one day people come to see Jodie as a positive force, and someone who has the power for real change in terms of how females are treated by the media, and who continues to create awareness about bullying, and inspiring confidence in people who identify as outsiders.

You should all follow her on twitter @JodieMarsh, for a feed that radiates warmth and positivity much like she does.

13 March 2012

Bog People

I have just bought The Bog People by P.V Glob, I read it years ago when I worked at Leeds University Library and have wanted a copy for yonks.

I first became familiar with the Bog People when studying Seamus Heaney in my undergraduate degree, who had a bit of an obsession with them, especially in his 1975 collection North. In a nut shell, bodies have been found in bogs in Northern Europe from as far back as the Iron Age, perfectly preserved due to the chemical balance of the bogs, often showing signs of torturous murders, presumed to be sacrificial.

This book by P.V. Glob is fascinating, and was groundbreaking in its publication in 1965, though has lost some of its edge over time, as views about the nature of the deaths (and in some case even the genders) of the bodies are fairly contested. Many now believe that some wounds weren't infact inflicted while they were living, but rather incurred due to the weight of the bogs above them. It's a gripping read regardless.

I bought it second hand on Amazon, unable to find a copy in any of the bloomsbury second hand book shops, and the seller included an article from the Guardian in 1998 inside of it, which was a very nice touch.

It's incredible the extent that these bodies have remained in tact (google them!), it's no wonder that when many of them were found, it was assumed that they were recently murdered people.

There's more information at this website, the site's a bit style over substance for my liking, but there are some oral histories and such on there which are quite interesting.

Also, an interesting read about Heaney's bog poems here.

And a more contemporary news piece about the bog people from the National Geographic.

Strange Fruit Seamus Heaney

Here is the girl's head like an exhumed gourd.
Oval-faced, prune-skinned, prune-stones for teeth.

They unswaddled the wet fern of her hair
And made an exhibition of its coil,
Let the air at her leathery beauty.
Pash of tallow, perishable treasure:
Her broken nose is dark as a turf clod,
Her eyeholes blank as pools in the old workings.
Diodorus Siculus confessed
His gradual ease with the likes of this:
Murdered, forgotten, nameless, terrible
Beheaded girl, outstaring axe
And beatification, outstaring
What had begun to feel like reverence.

8 March 2012

How about I be me (and you be you)?

Happy International Women’s Day! While I’m sitting in the house waiting for a washing machine man, I thought I’d celebrate one of my very favourite women, and her triumphant new album.

Sinead’s had a bit of an inconsistent back catalogue. For me, Her first two albums were stunning (Lion and the Cobra, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got) as was her fourth, Universal Mother (a personal favourite), her other two original albums were a bit hard to stomach for me, Faith and Courage, aside from a few good tracks was a bit tired I thought, and Theology (original in the sense that they weren’t covers, but interpretations of scriptures…) was nice, but a bit melody-light. Her other three albums were cover albums- which are all brilliant, but difficult to judge against her earlier masterpieces. I think it’s patronising to say that How about I be me (and you be you)? Is a “brilliant return” simply because she hasn’t been anywhere, she’s still been consistently producing music since the late eighties, and even when it wasn’t as strong, it’s always been challenging and worthy of attention, it’s not a “return to form”, it’s just a continuation of the fascinating evolution of a singularly mind-blowing and unique artist.

That said, I do think the new album is my favourite since Universal Mother in 1994, when I first heard it I was eight or nine, and it blew me away. It was a time when it wasn’t very fashionable to be a Sinead fan, especially being raised a Catholic, because people misconstrued her infamous Saturday Night Live pope-picture-ripping as an attack on faith, when it was really a (justified) attack on the Catholic Church in relation to the child abuse scandals that only surfaced fully in the public conscience about twenty years later, proving O'Connor the oracle right. Universal Mother had vitriol and anger (Fire on Babylon, Famine, Red Football), vulnerability and quiet moments (Tiny Grief Song, A Perfect Indian, Thankyou for Hearing Me) and pure poetry (John I Love You), I was staggered by it, and as much as I had been consumed by pop music at the time, I think Sinead was my real introduction to more alternative and challenging music. While How about I be me is not as challenging and nuanced as Universal Mother, it’s polished and it’s fresh and angry and beautiful and new, whilst still sounding utterly ‘Sinead’.

The stand out tracks are Take off your shoes, which is so angry and powerful and Queen of Denmark- a John Grant cover where her straight-laced take on a very witty song sounds as petulant and indignant as anything from Lion and the Cobra: “why don’t you bore the shit out of somebody else”. Reason with me is the most beautiful song, taken from the perspective of a “junkie”, it’s very self-aware (as the whole album is), compassionate and honest. Her cover of Song for the siren is only on the deluxe edition, but is the most gorgeous version of it since This Mortal Coil's.

It’s definitely the best album of the year so far (stiff competition from Perfume Genius, Lana Del Ray and the Cranberries, this year is shaping up to be another good one). If you’re a Sinead virgin, I recommend checking out her first two albums, and this one as priorities, and perhaps the career retrospective ‘She Who Dwells in the Secret Place of the Most High Shall Abide Under the Shadow of the Almighty’ (the longest album title ever?) which is a collection of demos, covers and live versions and is much better than a generic greatest hits.

Long live Sinead, who is as beautiful as she ever was, contrary to what the self-hating women who write for the Daily Mail think. She’s a massive inspiration and I’m so pleased that the media have stopped banging on about her personal life and are focusing on how brilliant her new body of work is. I was lucky enough to get to see her last year after sixteen years of being a fan, which was the first time I heard most of the material on this album, and she was remarkable, her voice was unfaltering. Hopefully I'll get to see her again soon.

Buy it!

23 February 2012

Exploring LGBT Archives at the London Metropolitan Archives

6pm, 22nd February 2012

As part of LGBT history month, the LMA hosted an evening designed as a taster session to introduce the rich and varied LGBT-related material held there. The evening also served as an opportunity to gauge interest in a regular LGBT History month event beginning in May. The evening was hosted by Jan Pimblett, the Principal Development Officer.

LMA is the largest Local Authority Archives in the country, and is the second largest Archives in London (after the National Archives). The LGBT material (that they have identified) dates back to the 17th Century.I just thought I would highlight some of the issues in collecting and identifying material of LGBT interest that cropped up, that I thought were of particular interest:

  • Before the Wolfenden report in 1957, the majority of LGBT related materials are voiceless, in that it does not necessarily reflect the more human side of LGBT people, and rather focuses on the legal (criminality), the medical and the moral (religion, you’re all evil etc.).

  • The LMA hold an annual LGBT conference, the starting point for which was a book from the LMA library Homosexuality in Renaissance England by Alan Bray (1982) which relied heavily on the LMA archives and helped to humanise the material held about the gay community.

  • Contemporary material is disappearing. Because homosexuality was illegal until 1967, many gay men and women who lived through that time are secretive of the material they themselves own, often material has already been destroyed. Because of the secretive and “shameful” nature of the material, it is often difficult to find, people have letters hidden away in their attics, not realising the worth of them in terms of social history. If there were magazine runs, for example, they were often crudely home-made publications with very limited and finite runs.

  • Contemporary alternative voices are still being lost, stories that have never been written down need to be captured as they are disappearing, the use of oral histories and hidden diaries for example.

  • Searching for material of LGBT interest in archive catalogues is often tricky, as the word ‘gay’ would not bring up material from the 17th century, whereas words such as ‘sodomy’, ‘buggery’ or, as Oscar Wilde’s criminal record said ‘misdemeanour’ might. It’s important to take a more lateral approach to catalogue searching.

  • On the same note, it’s important not to appropriate the past with inappropriate terminology, you can’t use the word “homosexual” to describe a classical Greek pederastic relationship between a man and a boy, as the word simply didn’t exist then. “Gay” is a very contemporary term, as are the LGBT initials (which evolves every year, last time I checked, it was LGBTQQI Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex- quite the mouthful).

  • It’s also important to collect material outside of the typical, ie: queer collections often focus on either sex, or as a document of suffering. While these are important parts of the collective queer story, there are everyday people living normal lives with families, jobs and hobbies that aren’t necessarily ruled by their sex lives, or AIDs or oppression.

  • Jan recommended we take a look at A narrative of the life of Mrs. Charlotte Charke, which is available as a free Google book. She lived between 13 January 1713 – 6 April 1760 and was a renowned transvestite and lesbian who was disowned by her father. The LMA holds a letter written from her father denying her money and explaining how ashamed of her the whole family is. Very depressing, but fascinating, stuff.

  • The History Club events will be held 6pm-7.30pm on the following dates: 9 May, 6 June, 4 July, 8 August, 5 September, 10 October, 7 November and 5 December. Email ask.lma@cityoflondon.gov.uk for more information.

    19 January 2012

    Rosemary's baby

    I need to gush about how insanely brilliant Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin is. The film is definitely in my top five horror films of all time (perhaps top three), but I’ve only just got around to reading the book, thanks to @_LadyAlex’s recommendation, as it was on her reading list for uni. The premise in a nut shell is that Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into a new flat in the ‘Bramford’, which has a fairly murky reputation of Satanist ex-residents and high numbers of suicides and dead babies in the basement and so forth. They are taken under the wing of their next door neighbours, Minnie and Roman Castavet- an eccentric 60+ couple whose kindness becomes a bit stifling to Rosemary. Guy is an actor who is having a tough time getting his big break, and misses out on a big part to another actor, who, soon after the Woodhouses start spending time with the Castavets, becomes blind and Guy gets the role by default. Rosemary falls pregnant in a feverish dream sequence, and that’s all I’m prepared to say without ruining anything. The thing that makes this such an exemplary example of brilliant horror fiction, is how compelling the characters are, and unlike many horrors, you really care about the protagonist. Also, the character of Minnie Castavet is perhaps the most subversive “protagonist” ever, she is endlessly infuriating, but her gaudiness and sheer campness makes her an incredibly endearing character. Rosemary is such a complex character in the most accessible way possible, she's bright but extremely niave, unfalteringly trusting, and hers is eventually a story of crushing loneliness. Definitely read it, it will blow you away. In spite of the fact I knew how it ends, the build up to the climax had my heart racing. The film is so faithful to the book, it’s so phenomenal, it's hilariously funny, pretty heartbreaking, suffocatingly dark and genuinely horrifying. I can’t gush enough.

    13 January 2012

    Gibside Hall

    For the last module on my MA, I had to create a technology-based alternative interpretation of an underused heritage site. I chose Gibside Hall at Gibside, which in spite of being a National Trust property, is pretty much ignored in favour of the gardens and the smaller buildings, simply because Gibside Hall is now just ruins.

    I've always loved the ruins, I used to go to Gibside with my parents when I was a child, and I always thought it was the most beautiful part of Gibside. I decided to make an audio guide of sorts, that was a monologue by a former resident of Gibside, Mary Eleanor Bowes, who had such an interesting life, and in her own strange way, was a bit of a late eighteenth century feminist figure. I also made a video of the ruins, so that people could access the interpretation remotely as well.

    Here is the Tumblr page for it with some more information and the video. Excuse the crude video, my editing skills are limited (it was the first time I've used a mac for anything other than checking my facebook page). There are also some clumsy edits in the audio as well, but we didn't need to make a complete thing, it's really just a prototype to demonstrate what I would (employ someone else to) do if I was in charge of interpreting the site. My auntie Ann did a brilliant job of playing the role of Mary Eleanor Bowes.

    Here are some pictures I took of the ruins. The whole collection is up on a flickr page here. The pictures enlarge if you click on them.

    26 December 2011

    tomb of the unknown craftsman

    For my birthday a few years ago, I got this from the Tate Modern, which I love. For christmas this year, Babs got me the new one made to accompany the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman exhibition at the British Museum.

    It's beautiful, can't wait to get some twin frames for them both. The exhibition is on until mid February, so go if you get the chance, it's brilliant, one of the few exhibitions you'll see where people actually laugh out loud as they walk around it. I took some pictures of Alan Measles' pilgrimage motorbike on my iPhone (it's not Alan Measles in the box, it's one of his stunt doubles).

    Hope everyone had a good christmas.

    15 December 2011

    My favourite albums of 2011

    Last year I was fairly underwhelmed with the music that was coming out, but thought that Robyn's album was the best.

    This year, the music has been miles better, here is me top five, with a few notable runners up afterwards.

    5. Lupercalia Patrick Wolf

    A bit cheery compared to his earlier efforts, but still very successful, miles better than his last foray into happiness AKA the disaster that was Magic Position.

    4. The Rip Tide Beirut

    My only complaint about this album is that it's a bit too short, at only nine tracks. It's such a gorgeous album, best tracks are A Candle's Fire, Goshen and Santa Fe.

    3. Let England Shake PJ Harvey

    Never thought she'd release another album that I loved as much as White Chalk, but alas, she proved me wrong. Really pleased this got all of the credit it deserves.

    2. Feel it Break Austra

    I love having new bands to get excited about, and Austra is definitely my favourite new music of the year, it's pretty much my ideal type of music, female vocals, dark and maudlin electro pop. It's a stunning album, and the delux edition has a load of extras as well, including a b-side called Trip, which definitely should have made the album.

    1. Biophilia Bjork

    I'm sure people are bored of hearing me shiting on about how beautiful this album is, I shall direct you to my earlier gushing review of it.

    The runner ups include: Collapse into Now R.E.M, EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK Glasvegas, 21 Adele is good if a little overrated, Born this Way Lady Gaga, Wounded Rhymes Lykke Li, In the Pit of the Stomach We Were Promised Jetpacks, Ordinary Alien Boy George, Ceremonials Florence and the Machine, and of course 50 Words for Snow Kate Bush, which I love, but it's not as good as I had hoped, I really don't like Elton John's vocals at all, and her son's singing drives me bonkers, I thought the album would be as good as disc two of Aerial, but for me the concept just falls a bit short, a colleague's review of it made me laugh: 'it's a shame a producer didn't think to say, perhaps you should stop at 35 words?' Misty is one of the stronger songs but does it really have to be 13 minutes long? I appreciate the pace, and the fact that the songs are quite spacious, but it just doesn't work for me. I thought Director's Cut was stronger. Another runner up, is Mount Wittenberg Orca Dirty Projectors, which was technically released in 2010, but came out as a physical release this year, check that out it's wonderful. The new Amy Winehouse release is alright too, obviously not a patch on her two studio albums, but it's worth having.