Friday, 24 September 2010

hypnosis: fact and fiction

originally uploaded to flickr by acejet170

From acejet170's collection of rescued Pelican paperbacks.

elaine sturtevant's house of horrors

A ghost train ride with a difference. Inspired by the Universal Studios thrill ride of old Hollywood monsters, Elaine Sturtevant's House Of Horrors is twisted so that it even includes the bad taste scene of Divine's doggy-doo eating from the then-notorious, now cult classic John Waters film Pink Flamingoes. Her Elastic Tango, a nine-piece pyramid video installation, is on show at the Anthony Reynolds gallery in London from next month, but I wish she'd brought this one too.  Both pieces, and the youtube clip above, are from her exhibition earlier this year at the Modern Art Museum in Paris. 

Sturtevant is 80 years old, by the way.

ancient astronauts and the Aquarian dream

"How could a primitive African tribe possess a detailed knowledge of astrophysics centuries before the west? How did the Dogon of Mali know that the Dog Star, Sirius, was orbited by a white dwarf neighbour invisible to the naked eye - and only recently discovered? And how did they know to the decimal the orbit of this distant star?

In the most exciting new book since Chariots Of The Gods, Robert Temple suggests that the Dogon have preserved knowledge from intelligent visitors from the Dog Star's solar system, and produces evidence that 'one can only regard with awe' The Sunday Times."

As Gary Lachman reveals in The Dedalus Book Of The 1960s, books like this, later films and TV shows like The Phoenix, and Daniken himself, were all inspired by Pauwels and Bergier's Morning Of The Magicians, the book that kickstarted the modern occult revival in a way not seen since the Victorian age. As for ye olde spacemen visitors, they weren't just history, but a major part of the Aquarian age vision:

"By the mid-sixties the notion that new man was brewing amidst the paisley and day-glo was commonplace. Ancient astronauts then were not only a symbol of a forgotten golden age, but a signpost to the future."
Gary Lachman: The Dedalus Book Of The 1960s

ancient astronauts

The almost inevitable sci-fi/archeology/new age TV series, albeit shortlived, inspired by the blockbusting 70s success of Erich Von Daniken's Chariot Of The Gods (the book that popularized the idea that long ago spacemen came from a galaxy far away and gave us technologies which made them revered as gods).

A being from another world, left behind in a sarcophagus in a Peruvian tomb 1000 years ago and frozen in time with a gift for humankind, but he has woken too early and doesn't know his mission.

His superior intelligence allows him stay one step ahead of those who would try to control him (still that 60s hangover of freedom from the man) and, while he's at it, also be a total king of The Phoenix videogame in the local arcade and win free games for all the kids.

He depends on the sun for his survival (aliens love California), which fires up his magic amulet (you can find yours on eBay) while he searches for his female alien partner so he can discover his ultimate role on Earth.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

lars bang larsen on art's use of the paranormal to communicate

"... turning to the unseen as a means of short-circuiting the spectacle, searching out occult gaps in modernity to evoke an acute sense of historical space."

"Through the occult, it seems that art can take a position at the fringes of society, and yet at the same time communicate broadly in ways that go beyond the scope of artistic codes."

From The Other Side article, Frieze Magazine, April 2007

"A prophet in his house" by Bifidus Jones, sent to Eduardo Cardoso's globetrotting Paranormal Mail Art blog.

echoes : electronic media, transmutation and the flow of history

"... the cultural articulation of 'presence' around electronic media ... depends in large part on how the public imagination of a given historical moment considers the flows of electricity, consciousness and information to be homologous, interchangeable and transmutable."

"Tales of paranormal media are important then, not as timeless expressions of some undying electronic superstition, but as a permeable language in which to express a culture's changing social relationship to a historical sequence of technologies."

Haunted Media: Electronic Presence From Telegraphy To Television by Jeffrey Sconce, Duke University Press Books, 2000

toy coffin bank

Put a coin in front of the hand, press the button and jump out of your skin as the hand whirrs into action to grab the booty. Because you can't take it with you ...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

whitelock's mural, leeds

In the alley outside Whitelock's pub, a fading mural with scenes of village cricket match, pie shop throng and a vicar on his rounds. John Betjeman called the pub "the heart of Leeds".

gog, magog, poplarism and powers of ten

It's a long way from East London to Detroit, Michigan, but architectural and design leapfrogging gets you there pretty fast. What started as a curio piece following the sculptural links between resurrected pagan giants in Guildhall to a socialist modernist town hall in Poplar led to a footnote connection to modernist icons Eero Saarinen and the Eames.
At the hub of that nexus is David Evans, the sculptor of the Gog and Magog statues. These pagan giants, whose origins lie in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th century melding of Celtic, Biblical and Greek myth, were said to be the fathers of a race of giants in mythological Britain, and they're the heroic traditional protectors of London.

Carried through the capital's streets at the Lord Mayor's Show every November, the folk effigies are all too vivid throwbacks to the human sacrifices of ancient festivities, so it's perhaps apt that the most recent versions have been 14-ft (with size 56 feet) wickermen made by the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers.

David Evans' metal Gog and Magog, commissioned in 1953 to replace the 18th century versions destroyed by the Blitz, take a quieter role protecting the grand Guildhall, originally home to the Lord Mayor's court and now home to the City Of London corporation.

They're as impressively detailed as a Harryhausen skeleton but also, it has to be said, as cute as the Clangers Soupdragon or George Pal's Puppetoons and, likewise, as animation-friendly.  

I can't help thinking of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin on the Lewis Chessmen (the inspiration for Noggin the Nog). Just as the chessmen to them looked benign, resigned and not in the least warlike, so Gog and Magog look grumpy rather than glowering. Like Raymond Briggs Santa, they need a cup of tea and the chance to put their feet up.

When this pair of gargantuan warriors were being put in place, Evans was living, as he had been since 1940, in Welwyn Garden City, which is dotted with a few more of his public sculptures. But he was already known as the official sculptor for the Poplar Town Hall, which opened in 1937, the visual representation of radical socialist principles that had made the local council notorious.

In scenes that would see a kind of distant echo later in the 1949 Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico, the landslide inaugural Labour-ruled council of 1919 caused outrage and scandal in 1921 when it withheld revenue due to authorities across London and instead used it for local social reforms and poor relief. Thirty councillors were jailed, there was a public storm and an Act of Parliament eventually standardised rates for rich and poor boroughs.

Poplarism became a byword for local authorities who fought central or national control, and the town council erected 16 years later was similarly revolutionary. It cast aside the usual lavish adornments of town halls of the era for a definitively "modern style". But this time the storm was of praise, as both the popular and architectural press fell for for the factory-like look. David Evans' work was at the heart of the display, with five bas-relief panels along the front showing workers involved in the building, as well as the sculptor himself, and a stunning mosaic canopy of local industries over the council members entrance.

Evans may not be a big name in art history but, had he taken a different turn in his career, that might have been different. In 1929, before Poplar, Gog, Magog or a garden city, Evans became the sculptor in residence at the Cranbrook Foundation in Michigan. Cranbrook, which was founded by the Detroit newspaper mogul George Booth, was the start of a philanthropic culture and education venture that included the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Booth developed ideas with a visiting professor of architectural design, Eliel Saarinen, who, a few years later, taught architecture there.

Eliel was the father of Eero Saarinen, later a student of the same academy, along with his friends and fellow revolutionary modernist icons, Florence Knoll and Charles and Ray Eames.

At which point the mythic giants of Gog and Magog meet the mythic dimensions of the Powers Of Ten documentary made by the Eames Office for IBM in 1977.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

random shades

Had some things to do, with family and otherwise, and trying not to overwhelm myself with the ever-increasing number of draft posts I seem to be conjuring up but haven't completed. Yet. 

Meantime, I've still found time to dig up plenty more distractions, like the new Vincent Price Art Museum, which upgrades the original East LA college site into a shiny big new modern building. Vincent's lifelong love and collecting of art is pretty well-documented, but basically he donated hundreds of pieces to the East LA college over several decades from the 50s. Vincent also spearheaded the Sears catalogue venture into selling fine art, and you can watch him instructing Sears salesmen on how to pitch the collection to their average Joe customers. I'm guessing most salesman would've preferred having Vincent Price on hand to deliver the pitch himself, but it all reminded me of one of the TV interviews where Vincent talking about making films in Britain in the 60s and how he used to go to Portobello Market on his time off to look for art. It's too tempting in London to walk around and imagine a street scene as it was, and this just adds another location for that kind of walking in someone else's footsteps.

I'm rereading Marina Warner's exploration of spirit and soul since the enlightenment, Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors And Media Into The Twenty-First Century, and would happily quote whole pages of it, except that's probably bad form copyright wise, so I'll have to pluck out some soundbite echoes. Just for good measure though, I added a hefty heap of books to the reading pile courtesy of my friend Nick Abrahams stall at the Wills-Moody Jumble Sale, including Caligari's Children: The Film As Tale Of Terror, Francis King's Ritual Magic, Witchcraft At Salem and The Cross And The Drum, a pulp voodoo tale. 

Will Kane (thank you) gave me a heads up on the pre Halloween night by the fantastic Flipside at the Bfi, Mysterious Britain  - John Betjeman, standing stones and more - which, when it's actually listed on the Bfi site I'll post properly about.

I sorely wish I could've made it to the Magic Show exhibition at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, which looked at the connections between art and magic, illusion and perception, but although the show finished on the 12th September, there's a batch of photos that show off what they had, from vintage posters to playing cards with a lock through them and an unnerving dark wood box that looks like an early robot.

And then it's Open House this weekend, so I can get my urban traces fix with a mix of brutalism, expressionism and Span houses. The Brunel Uxbridge looks like the best big treat though. I might need a bowler hat and some milk for that one.

Friday, 10 September 2010

come back lucy

Pamela Sykes' 1978 children's drama, Come Back Lucy, (which gets the full background rundown here) is pretty creepy, nightmare-inducing fodder. Even for an era so overloaded with paranormal-flavoured popular culture that it seemed you couldn't move without tripping over sinister megalithic stones, having your house turned upside down by poltergeists, being possessed by demons, accosted by witches or woken up by things that go bump in the night (or ancient astronauts), Come Back Lucy's quaint ghost story has an unnerving uncanniness to it.

It begins in cosy enough, girl's comic style, with old-fashioned orphan Lucy struggling to fit in when she moves in with the loud, large, modern family of her aunt, uncle and cousins, and finding escape in befriending an attic ghost called Alice. Aw. And then it turns all dark and tales of the unexpected. Alice is really a parasitic bully of a ghost preying on Lucy's longing for the past by trying to draw her into her world. And eventually Alice tries to kill Lucy to get her own way, pulling her down through the water in an ice-covered pond.

From the opening titles where Lucy looks into a mirror and turns away, leaving a reflection with no face to Alice's manic laugh, staring eyes and homicidal tendencies, there's no comfort in an ending that suggests that Alice won't return because Lucy doesn't need her any more. Without a horror movie finale in which Alice returns again and again until Lucy is fleeing for her life, her whole family killed by the evil phantom, and Alice is exorcised (with maybe a bit of Linda Blair head-spin and ectoplasm in the process), it remains a nice bit of late afternoon terror that stays with the viewer long, long into the night.

Saturday, 4 September 2010


Grounds, Romberg & Boyd's medieval-modern secular temple,
the Academy Of Science building, Canberra, Australia, 1959

Thursday, 2 September 2010

echoes : wb yeats, spiritualism & modernity

William Butler Yeats... "sought in the netherworld of the seance room not easy enlightenment, but a confirmation of his belief in the slipperiness of human consciousness, the precariousness of language, and the overwhelming complexity
of modern life."

Helen Sword: Ghostwriting Modernism, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001

the voodoo Mad book

"Are you sick of the drum-drum-drumming of Madison Avenue ads?
Can you tell witch doctor is which on television programs?
Are you mesmerised and hypnotized by Hollywood movies?

Here's your chance to come out from behind your mask of indifference!
Here's your opportunity to stop swallowing the same old song and dance!
Here's where you get down to the sourcery of all your troubles!
Mainly, you are about to practice that old black and white magic of ...


... and have your revenge by sticking pins into some sacred cows"