Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tower house

Christ Church Greyfriars , originally uploaded by EZTD.

If you fancy living in a church tower thanks to the Blitz, it'll only cost you four and a half million pounds. But it's well worth it - you get a prime location in central London and a garden in the shell of the bombed-out church. The photos look wonderful. I don't know how long they'll be up, mind you. Via Londonist.


No - it's not cold here today. Just ever so slightly chilly first thing in the morning. So far, at least, Autumn here has been kind. 'Frozen' alludes to the title of this photo gallery from the New York Times. I know a lady in Belfast who keeps a house very much like this one...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Open spaces

The painting above was finished not last year, but nearly 100 years ago. It's by an Italian artist called Russolo, and it's called The Revolt. Russolo was a Futurist, and the Futurists were fierce, angry artists who wanted to smash the prescriptive, ordered ways of thinking of the past and speed towards a modern future that was more fast, free and easy than the slow, bogged-down past.

During my recent holiday in London, I did a lot of walking. I did some photography, some of it while walking, other bits while sitting down or ambling aimlessly. While sitting down, I was usually also reading or thinking. And whereas earlier this year I was thinking about light and dark and surface and depth as things in themselves and what their properties might be, this time I'm thinking more about movement through dark and light, and movement across surfaces. And what the dark and the the light and the surface contain, and mean.

Moving across the earth, whether you walk down your road, or whether you take a tube-train in London and pop up above the ground again, or whether you fly, has lately become very... directed. We start our journeys from a particular patch of ground given some significance and a name. We move from that point to another point, and to do that, we usually walk along a road, or a path, or we follow a map, or we sit within a form of transport that will impose our route upon us. We are as directed in our movements as actors upon a stage or as plants upon a pergola.

Richard Long is an artist who is interested in those paths and roads and the surface of the earth and how we move across it. He is interested in prising greater freedom of movement from apparently regimented ways of moving. For example, one of his works comprises a higgledy-piggledy series of worm-like lines, moving freely across a white surface - the lines are actually an unmarked map of the paths and roads which 'allow' our movement over a particular area of the English countryside.

Another work, which looks much more limitational, is a straight line drawn across a map from one random point to another. There is no path - the idea is simply to treat the surfaces of the earth along the line - the random sequence of mud - stone - paved road - grass - pebbles - dry leaves - more grass - mud - heathland - outcrop - crag - as free land to be travelled upon and over without paths in mind, without routes to follow. The straight line ruled across the map suddenly opens out in the imagination and becomes the pathless way without rules of any kind. And his gallery installations - the ground on the wall in the form of mud, lines of mud splashes looking as delicate as the shoots of bamboo or reeds on a Japanese print - simply draw further attention to the freedom of the surface.

Which is why, wandering aimlessly around the gallery, I was surprised when a Tate gallery attendant told me I couldn't take a photo of a group of stones. And which is also why, wandering wide-eyed around Tate Modern's Futurism exhibition, I was surprised at how directed a future the free-thinking, museum-smashing, free-thinking, velocity-loving, car-driving Futurists seemed to be speeding so headlong and blindly towards.

It's not that their love of the machine is alien to me. I love aeroplanes and fast trains and slow, clunky underground ones, with their shadows and sounds and flashes of light and colour just as much as they did. But it's all so samey for fierce, free-thinking people, isn't it? And all those people in the painting above, rushing forwards as one, so fast that they seem to be breaking the sound-barrier... couldn't they see the threat to freedom lurking in a mechanised future?

Or was it that nobody could have seen that, and now that we're in the present day with its planes, trains, automobiles and timetables, it takes an artist like Richard Long to nudge us out of the airport, away from the coded motorways and across the open fields?

(And another couple of things. One: there's no way my camera could have captured all that - stop your silly snapshot policies, art galleries. Two: Roni Horn's art, which I blogged about before, suddenly seems more 'Free-Futurist' than ever.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Well, I'm back from a holiday London - apologies for the silence, which I know has persisted for longer than I have been in London. There are good reasons for it, the most prosaic of which are work and being tired and not having had a creative thought worthy of a follow-through for a while. I may blog about some things later.

Anyway. Yesterday, something happened which was rather mystifying, somewhat eye-opening, and a source of confusion even today. I don't simply mean the act of travel, although it is like that also. I mean what happened when I was sitting, a little worn-out, before the closed door of the departure gate, minutes before the security girls appeared to check our passports and shoo us to the plane.

I had settled down for what I thought would be no more than a few minutes. A few minutes passed. My eyes misted over with memories of London. Little things about my surroundings brought me back - the gradual sparse arrivals in the little lounge, the out-of-place guy standing on the left, the.... out of place guy standing on the left who had been looking around him, the only person standing... and who then looked straight at me as if he had intended to all along, and then smiled right at me and shyly and firmly walked over and knelt down on the floor in front of me.

He reached into his pocket. "A trick." The eyes. The smile. Maybe Italian? Maybe Eastern European with a tan...? A pile of coins. Two little containers of metal. His smile. His eyes directly on mine. The coins go into one container. He puts it into my hand and closes his hands around mine, ever so gently, still smiling at me. And I am expecting slight of hand, flicking between his eyes and his hands, no movement. Just his smile. Everything else stops. London is forgotten. I haven't felt this way in a year. His smile says he meant this. He must have meant this.

He could physically yank the damn thing from my hand and I still wouldn't notice, so it is hardly a trick. But the coins in my hand have disappeared from the container. Of course they haven't, I think. It's a trick. But the childish amazement comes back and I clap and grin and smile at him and he laughs quietly too, and leans towards me, and brushes me with his hair, and touches me and said "...see you..." and touches me again and walks right out of the gate and down the long corridor back to the main airport and never looks back.

I sit there, dumb, and think: he's not on my flight. This gate is miles from the others and everywhere else too. He meant this! Should I run back?

So then, of course, all the closeted-in-public gay and bi guys on the flight had noticed this and had to sit near me on the plane. And flirt, in silent Northern-Irish ways. But that wasn't the point.

Who *was* he?

If you're reading this, I was in the yellow t-shirt, and I think you have beautiful eyes, and I know those coins were fake. Totally.