Thursday, 31 March 2011

a field student of meat and polutry

I've been trying to find a quote from a comment by a certain modernist architect about architectural ornament and it's excremental social value. The quote may be in, 'Trouble in Utopia', a chapter in Robert Hughes', The Shock of the New, which, as it was first published in 1980, is getting on a bit though continues to be for me a primary reference for ideas about art and architecture.
Most mornings I cycle to work via Queens Road, site of a new build school/community education building. The former school building was levelled and cleared (or erased) from the landscape to make way for a new streamlined building fit for the purposes of the 21st century. I prefer the melding of old and new such as that done at Walthamstow Central Library. I was surprised to be told many current new buildings are not intended to see out the century - partially or in their entirety. As an aside, having commented on the Community Learning and Skills Service failure to provide cycle stands at it's other sites, there are stands (a hub?) to be found there.
What are the skills necessary for the 21st century? Cycling? How do the skills which have built the new building compare with those which created the former?
Perhaps my enjoyment of the modest 'beaux arts' to be found about Walthamstow is nostalgic, a fey indulgence - at best a resort to a sense of place akin to the realm of a fairy tale.
Above are images of architectural ornament to be found at the St James St end of Walthamstow's High St. Here different cultures of commerce reside in a collage of past and present in varying forms of decay.
Though referring to a much more grandiose culture of ornament, Robert Hughes' treatise on the ideals and skills of architecture suggests ornament/decor was once a demonstration

'of condensed "surplus value" - acres of marble, bronze, and gilding, sumptuously orchestrated, gathering together the labour of armies of plasterworkers, stonemasons, polishers, metalfounders, and ebinistes - an impossible architecture today, because the craft traditions that built it are either extinct or too expensive to use on a public scale. Compared to today's public architecture - mean, scaleless, tacky, and intimidating - such a building is an act of generosity; it assures the private citizen that he or she is the reason for the State. But it would have said nothing good to say to a poor man in 1875. The poor man did not have l'architecture. They had slums.'

What remains in part at the lower end of the High St and elsewhere might be understood as a different sense of moral necessity - the relics and folly of Victorian and Edwardian mercantile surplus.

The coincidence of 20th and 21st century acrylic signage with the bygone plaster and stone ornament is enchanting. Nearly two years ago, as part of the E17 Art Trail, there was a rooftop exhibition above the flats over the Gazi International Supermarket close to the shops featured in the above photographs. The bottom photograph shows part of the facade of the apartment block. Up over and behind the ghouls and garlands of plenty 'Tales from the Forest' were told via an array of prints from the East London Printmakers and others. The exhibition, organised by Katja Rosenberg, featured images based on fairy tales, fantasy and myths from many sources including The Brothers Grimm.

To me it seemed poetically apt that the exhibition took place in such an architectural milieu - a multi- or inter-cultural mix which is, I stress, anything but excremental.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

a field student of forgotten dreams

My thanks to The Daily Constitutional for featuring this blog. I'm flattered.

A blue plaque I was most surprised by is that one for Kurt Schwitters, on a house in Westmoreland Road, Barnes. The surrounding suburb is pleasant however to me it was, to partially quote Will Self, definitively (if not ‘effortlessly’) dull; a perception affected by the monotonous work I was doing there. The sight of this particular blue plaque jolted me from the drudgery of seemingly unrelenting visits to letter boxes. That a seminal and radical German Dada artist lived in such a suburban semi in the 1940s was discombobulating.

What trace of the acclaimed father of modern collage remained in the suburban terrace? Was the house a site of a Schwitters’, ‘Cathedral of Erotic Misery’? Elsewhere Schwitters had anti-artistically crammed the interiors of rooms with junk or urban detritus creating ‘merzbau’. These cave-like retreats were shrinking spaces within which the artist flitted about in his own intensely externalised identities. I imagined Schwitters, in a furore of sneezing fits, bouncing off the Dada grotto walls.

Robert Hughes has playfully referred to Kurt Schwitters as, ‘the saint of reclamation’, transposing junk into art. In creating cave like art installations might Schwitters have been attempting to connect with or reclaim the progenitorial in art; a founding essence of why to create?

Joseph Campbell has written about caves and cave art as a mythological realm in which we can be witness to ‘the symbology [sic] of the labyrinthine chambers of the soul’. He understands the prehistoric chambers as progenitors of all temples and cathedrals, embellishing this with a notion of an inscribed cave as a site of a connubium. Frustratingly, or perhaps not, some of Schwittersmerzbau have been lost; some to the ravages of war. How might the primal artistic spirit be reclaimed? What is the nature of this communion?

Werner Herzog has recently rendered ancient artistic ecstasies in cinematic 3D, with his film, ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’. The film features the prehistoric art of the Chauvet Cave in southern France. ‘Lost and Found in E17’ clambered about the exterior of Walthamstow’s EMD cinema feeling and sniffing for celluloid drafts - signs of such long lost cinematic life. Sadly the landslides and coalitions of local history have continued to render this cave entirely out of bounds, at least to film-goers if not the trespass of spray can wielding ravers who have some way to go before emulating the talents of our prehistoric ancestors. ‘LaFiE17’ headed for Stratford Picturehouse instead, to enjoy Herzog’s vivid imagery and other metaphysical interventions. The eminent master of ‘New Wave’ cinema guided us through and about the palimpsestic reliquary.

Philip French’s Observer review fairly reflects my appreciation of the film; in particular the musical content. He comments on the breathtaking beauty of the drawn and painted figures and that the ‘price to be paid for seeing these images is Herzog’s heavy breathing excitement, his wild conjecture and hyperbole, his choice of music upping the ante on the numinous, and his fey playfulness....’. Given Herzog is working on a film about convicts on death row, and that he discussed this with Jason Solomons in the Q&A following the nationwide Picturehouse Cinemas premiere, ‘fey playfulness’ is a particularly pointed criticism.

As with other Herzog films (including, Land of Silence and Darkness) I was drawn into the land of nod where I’m sure I dreamed but of what I do not remember clearly. I have some vague and ironic sense of the interior of the EMD which had become a magnificent ‘merz-bild’ of dripping celluloid formations.

For more information about the EMD cinema:

Monday, 21 March 2011

a field student of speech lines

A song sung of Walthamstow

Recently, at the table on the marsh event organised by Liz Ellis (rivers under the pavement), I met some artists involved in the 'rivercities' project. They showed me photographs of their visit to the source of the River Lee, near Luton. The photographs revealed an inauspicious start to the course of one of London's most important rivers; a succession of grim concrete culverts is partly what I remember of the images.

Despite the bleak account I hope some of the photographs will be published via their blog/website.

I was intrigued to find out a particular aspect of their trip was to locate the source of the Lee by asking locals for directions rather than rely solely on maps and the potential plethora of contemporary gadgetry available to us. Not for those explorers was it to be the guiding bleeps and blinks of Sputnik's microwaving progeny.

Here is this recording again - the beginnings of an oral or spoken map of Walthamstow.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A field student of moonstroke

The moon was brilliant over Walthamstow last night and I wonder if it was the cool stroke of pale Hecat which touched my mind as I ventured along a path between St James St and Stephenson Rd.


I video recorded my walk along the path between St James St and Stephenson Rd. later, using, Windows Movie Maker 2.6 - the video editing suite for Windows XP which is available as a free download for use on Windows 7 systems - I cut the sequence up into numerous sections and applied a fade transition between each. I saved each set of cuts and fades as a whole movie file, and then re-treated those movies to the same cutting and fading process. Whereas the source sequence was over 2 minutes long, the several times cut and faded sequence was just 20 seconds long. Using the Win'7 movie maker suite, I slowed the shortened sequence down to the same duration as the source sequence.

I am reading Kingdom Come, J G Ballard hence the little homage at the end of the film. I am wondering where, if at all, the word, nowhere appears in this novel.

Friday, 18 March 2011

a field student walks on the grass

Recently this citizen art blogger extrordinaire reported on the absence and forgetting of the Bulrush Sculpture near the Lea Bridge Road. The (former) site of this sculpture has recently been stripped bare of the abandoned and overgrowing municipal shrubbery. I was told by the master turfers the site was dangerous - an area in which there had been muggings and other attacks and that the rampant bushes had provided cover for assailants to waylay innocent passers-by - hence the soft grass carpet treatment.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

a field student of missing steps

Recently I listened to Lottie Child in an interview broadcast on Resonance Fm. For people interested in the art of walking and related disciplines, I recommend this programme and blog:

Lottie Child also featured on another Resonance Fm broadcast

In the Furtherfield programme, Lottie Child talks about her work during the following times: 14:05 to 21:54 and 27:20 to 35:50. Her interview is followed by another with members of Space Makers Agency.

Lottie Child was one of the artists who participated in 'Games and Theory', an exhibition at the South London Gallery, in 2008.

SLG et al provided a free neat little (A6) 27 page booklet to accompany this exhibition, of which a few scanned pages are featured below

For those interested in the archival adventures of Field Study's man in E17, I can report the task of retrieving this booklet from the labyrinth of boxes beneath my bed was particularly unpleasant. Indeed, while in this sub dream space, I was ambushed by a pack of field study man eating mice. Armed only with a tooth pick I fought them off and managed to heave the relatively weighty tome out of the darkness and into the broad tungsten light. Field Study's man in E17 strives, in the midst of many perils, to provide for your delectation.
Incidentally, the Furtherfield programme also features (shortly before the Child slots) Stewart Home threatening to levitate a building in which Stockhausen was performing - 'psychodisturbanism' if not psycho-terrorism at play.

Monday, 14 March 2011

A field student's notebook 1992/1993

Details from a notebook made during 1992-1993. The book contains a lot of material, including the field notes for the lost and found properties field study at some of London's premier cultural institutions. There is a more extensive album of notebook images posted on Picassa.

a field student of counter cultural saxophonics

Michael Horovitz (with 'anglosaxophone') at News from Nowhere Club
The Epicentre, Leytonstone
Saturday 12th March 2011

For me, the highlight of the evening with Michael Horovitz, at News from Nowhere Club, was his solo rendition of Kurt Schwitters’ sound poem, ‘The Furore of Sneezing’, performed 46 years on from a wholly communal sneeze at, ‘The First Great International Poetry Reading’, at the Royal Albert Hall. ‘The Furore...’ was one of many poems he performed amidst a wealth of anecdotes drawn from his creative life. Horovitz, a renowned transcultural revolutionary Olympian beat poet convenor, was in the less grandiose surroundings of Leytonstone’s, Epicentre, to talk, perform and generate discussion about counter cultural connections.

It was fitting that the assembled fellow’s announcements from the floor, prior to the talk, included clarion (perhaps ‘anglosaxophonic’) calls to our hearts and minds to protest about the draconian public spending cuts. How can and will culture counter the belligerence of a governmental alliance purporting to big society?

With hope, energy and poetry.

The poet, with his ‘anglosaxophone’, appeared to transcend the frailties of his age as he sprang about, animated by the ecstasies of poetic language and primal communication; only to return to an apparently nervous if not highly strung awkwardness, in which he stood, while his hands restlessly fiddled with his hair. In contrast to the sonority of his performance poetry, his voice flattened, sometimes somnolently, as he reflected on the darker side of experience, were it historical, contemporary, familial and personal.

He recalled his unsettled childhood as a German Jewish refugee in Britain during World War II. This experience marked the beginnings of his resistance to doctrines of faith and ideology made bellicose and internecine. The young Horovitz grew up defiantly counter cultural, inventing resorts of skies painted green and trees blue, to express Utopian and poetic interconnectedness. This was sometimes, he recounted, much to his mother’s consternation.

Horovitz’s 76 years have formed a long, wide and sometimes turbulent stream of consciousness which, for the purposes of understanding, requires an extensive array of anecdotal stepping stones or ports of call at which to encounter the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Stevie Smith and Cornelius Cardew. One and a half hours was a very short time to explore the interconnectedness of their visionary and often troubled contumacies.

So how potent is the counter culturalism of such Dada infused exclamations as, ‘The Furore of Sneezing’? The various connections between history and context reveal the potency as being in a state of flux. That poem performed to what was likely to have been a highly educated, liberal, middle class audience, at the Epicentre, possibly did little to counter that presiding culture. At its most contrary, the performance may have been novel, eccentric, zany or silly. The poem’s originator, Kurt Schwitters, was one of the artists derogatorily featured in the Nazi curated 1937 Degenerate Art (entarte Kunst) Exhibition; a show which toured Germany extensively. Six months prior to the opening of that show, Schwitters had fled Germany, finding exile first in Norway and then Scotland and Britain. He was interned as an enemy alien at the Douglas Camp, Isle of Man for a year and a half. Schwitters and Horovitz are/were both refugees and share an artistic consciousness born of rupture, survival and adaptation.

In the discussion following Horovitz’s talk and poems, a member of the audience told how she had discovered those World War II ‘enemy aliens’ had created a university at the Douglas (Internment) Camp. This is an example of counter culture at work, adapting to circumstances and hopefully resisting dehumanising forces. Schwitters may have been a student and/or teacher at the university and Michael Horovitz’s spirited performance of one of his sound poems represents a playful testament to the full, free ranging and liberating power of art and the capacity to learn by it in the most difficult of circumstances.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

a field student of provenance and nestduftwarmebindung

Sean Hearn explaining some of the complexities of nestduftwarmebindung

Detail of the insulation of Organiclea's Hawkwood classroom - straw bale construction
- nestduftwarmebindung in action -

Detail of a section of a Warre hive - used by natural beekeepers.

Detail of a Warre hive super showing comb formation on hanging bars.

Apiary with new willow hedge

A Warre hive/apiary in situ

Sean Hearn of Organiclea Community Growers organised an awareness day about natural bee-keeping at the Hawkwood Nursery. The event was attended by a group of practising bee-keepers based in north and east London who are in the process of establishing an east London bee-keepers network or association. The event was attended by apiarists of various kinds and was intended to foster awareness, understanding and constructive debate about issues affecting bees and the environment.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

a field student finds a bottle

detail: From Castaway to Plague Years (photo: David Dellafiora)
Stoke Newington Library, October 1993
reproduced by kind permission

I'm indebted to David Dellafiora for venturing into his archive and returning with a more detailed photo study of the Daniel Defoe homage. The photograph features just a small selection of the many items sent to David and Daniel. Among them are some of the bottles I posted; more of them than I remembered at the time of writing 'a field student pays homage' . My imagination was specifically caught up in Daniel Defoe as the author of Robinson Crusoe. I was particularly pleased to see and be reacquainted with the bottle in the lower right hand corner. It shows how I created these offerings as objects for the post, attaching luggage labels around the necks, to which I affixed the stamps. I don't remember if I took the stamped bottles to a post office to post via an office counter or if they were pushed and gently forced into a post box as, I hope, a quirky encounter for the 'postie' on his/her collection rounds. The bottles were posted unwrapped as seen in the photograph. The thought of a bottle in transit, bobbing about on the surface of a huge sack of post made me smile - as it does now, bobbing about in a very different contemporary medium.
What has washed up on the shores of this time? In this bottle there was (or is) a collection of clippings of holiday makers carefully cut from brochures and magazines. What sort of vision this is, of invasion by beach landing/assault or of salvation and rescue is the question and purpose of the art. There is an (obvious?) irony of Robinson Crusoe being joined by a community of tourists hoping to lose themselves on a paradise island for two weeks - and I wonder, having spent a couple of weeks together, if Robinson Crusoe would want to leave with them?
From what I understand of some of the critiques of psychogeography I have read, the aims of some of it's practitioners have included the subversion of capitalism - of which tourism is a huge part. The ethos of the mail art network was and is to create a free and sometimes subversive exchange of artefacts to question and undermine the constraints and exclusions of capitalism (and arts place in it) as well as other ideologies. Those visitors might have been an anathema to the idea of Crusoe as a shipwrecked adventurer - an erroneous idea I have of him for he was a plantation and slave owner and he was en route to bring slaves from Africa when he was shipwrecked.

Much of modern capitalism and colonialism is founded on the Atlantic Slave Trade, and Robinson Crusoe was an agent in that. He seems to be a difficult and contradictory character to have as an archetype for a discipline(?) which sets out to subvert economic exploitation and the banality of the capitalist spectacle. Perhaps the cultural relativist struggles of Robinson are what make him fit for this purpose?

One of the ways I have interpreted the assemblage of envelopes is as a map of social spaces; an irregular grid portraying David's temporary residencies in and by the hands and minds of the mail artists before they cast him back into the sea.

Friday, 4 March 2011

A field student searches for a fact

I’m approaching the gruesome climax of David Peace’s, GB84, (faber and faber). Peace tells a story of the 1984 miners’ strike through fictitious characters (Arthur Scargill aka ‘The President’, David Hart aka ‘The Jew’) portrayed in an episodic and parallel manner. It’s in part an imaginative account of intertwining venal, devious and callous motives which manifest in instances of extreme violence, of which there are many legacies. How do I know there is a gruesome climax?
I have not enjoyed the author’s writing style or the interrupted narratives. A few weeks ago I flicked to and read the final chapter and so decided I would still stick with it, out of morbid or forensic curiosity. What specific relevance could this conspiracy thriller have in the parochial terrain of Lost and Found in E17, aside from a fact I bought the book from, Bargain Books, on Walthamstow’s High Street?
David Peace states the novel ‘is a fiction, based on a fact. That fact was found in the following sources' -
‘Blood Sweat and Tears’ by Roger Huddle, Angela Phillips, Mike Simons and John Sturrock (Artworker Books, 1985)
- is among the 32 listed.

Is the ‘Roger Huddle’ the same Roger Huddle who resides in Walthamstow and keeps the history of its anarchist and radical past alive by a variety of means necessary - among them, a forthcoming talk for the News from Nowhere Club ( June 2011 / )?
If he is, does he know of his place in the book and what does he think the 'fact’ is? I doubt there could be a broad consensus about the miners’ strike or its consequences, and the current political climate is one in which ideological differences are likely to grow bigger and more divisive. ‘What is the fact?’ might be a question to ask again at the talk.
It was the recent encounter with the dragons in the foothills (or is it, concrete jungle?) of the mcalpines which seeded a brainstorm of confused and confusing associations concerning the relevance of facts in the ramblings of this here blogger. Those mosaic beasts occupy a site on the wall of the Chingford Hall Estate at one of the dedicated pedestrian entrances to and exits from Ching Way. What are they protecting the estate’s residents from - miscreants straying from the badlands of the Tarkovsky Trail, across the motor moat which is the A406 otherwise known as the North Circular or Southend Road?

What a wall! Replete with flying buttresses and cctv cameras, bordered with a suitably spikey evergreen shrubbery - ideal for snagging, absorbing and deflecting the flotsam, jetsam and roar of the North Circular flow. It appears to be brick but is it brick?

And below are a couple of images of the railway bridge at Selborne Road/Hoe Street (Sept’ 08) which reveal a brick construction to be more substantially a concrete one. Bricks of one sort or another have been used to clad concrete structures since Roman times.

Could the brick be a thin veneer panelling, faux cladding (erectable in any weather) to make the surrounds seem more humane? It could be as if the wall is rising from and belongs to a ground in which there is a history of (thicker more solid) local brick making? What if concrete was and is at the heart of the wall?
On one of the Chingford Hall Estate plaques I saw McAlpine and thought, ‘Concrete Bob’. This muddle of Alfred and Robert took me (mistakenly I think) to a rendition of McAlpine’s Fusiliers.
I stripped to the skin with Darky Finn down upon the Isle of Grain,
With Horseface Toole I learned the rule, no money if you stop for rain.
For McAlpine's god is a well filled hod with your shoulders cut to bits and seared
And woe to he who looks for tea with McAlpines Fusilier

The presence of Norman Tebbit (blogger by The Telegraph) on one the plaques, further enlivened the psycho squall about this place. Norman Tebbit was, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry / President of the Board of Trade (16th October 1983 to 2nd September 1985), during the time of the miners’ strike. His self acclaimed ‘greatest achievement in Government’ was, The Employment Act 1982. The latter created many difficulties for the character, ‘Terry Winters’, in GB84’s rendering of the intrigues and struggles of the NUM’s national strike committee - ‘hiding’ union funds in overseas accounts to avoid seizure, and making furtive and unwitting trips to Libya to seek funds and other support for the strike.
So what is this place built on?
At the beginning of GB84, there is a collection of excerpts from reviews of the book. The excerpt for, The Times:
‘Internalising J.G. Ballard’s suggestion that because we live in a world ruled by fictions the writer’s task is to invent the reality, [Peace] has brought that very old-fashioned strike kicking and screaming into modernity ...... A violently original novel.’

The reality or fact of it's fictions?

Thursday, 3 March 2011