Wednesday, 20 April 2011

journeying into the edgelands

I've been enjoying Edgelands, a spider's web collection of essays about the wild hinterlands (mainly in the north and midlands of England) between urban areas and the countryside that uses words, mainly about visuals, both art and what they see, to make noticed what often goes unnoticed. 

The two authors, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts are poets, and capture little worlds of atmosphere in words and phrases (my current favourites: "electric druids" and the furnace of a power station like a volcano). 

Jennifer Jenkins, Iain Sinclair and Roger Deakin are the obvious, if at times, unlikely (particularly Sinclair), touchstones (I haven't finished it yet, so I'm still undecided about where JG Ballard might fit in), with a mix of ghosts past and future, the unexpected interplay of humans and nature and ideas about, the borders of power, society's fringes and who we are. 

Farley and Symmons Roberts' journey is also a personal one into identity and memories (two memories surfaced for me - a vivid summer aged 10 on a wasteland near home where, with friends, we built dens and bike ramps, and the "haunted" abandoned mansion behind the primary school where we explored the overgrown garden while dodging the glue-sniffers). 

There's a couple of related videos that provide much-needed visual accompaniment to the text - The Bright Light On The Edge Of Town five-minute documentary and the authors' tour of Birmingham's "nameless spaces" for The Guardian, and it's well worth going back to Richard Mabey's book from 1973, Unofficial Countryside, to see how far, or not, we've come in this now pretty cluttered books and film territory of geocultural exploration. Meantime, here's a little Edgelands snippet: 
"There are many ghosts in the edgelands’ never-quite-dark. Post-industrial England is haunted by a future that never happened, and the inescapable truth that these are the results of our long reclamation of the night: a blackbird singing at midnight on a floodlit roundabout; the silvery lake surface of a deserted conference centre car park; the steadfast glow of bus-stop advertisements. Ballardian trickledown meant synth pop stars like Gary Numan could posit a future (from a vantage point sometime around 1980) where there would be no street lights, but no dark corners either." (published by Jonathan Cape, £12.99)

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

pitt-rivers museum, oxford

A day trip to Oxford a couple of weeks back to visit friends and a gladly accepted suggestion of going to the Pitt-Rivers - a return trip for all of us, but it's one of those museums you can't just visit once. They've spruced up the entrance, but the giant totem pole is still at the end of the room, and the original Victorian glass and wood cabinets still cluster together, packed full of curiosities – the spectral traces of the empire's looting and pillaging across the globe and folklore remnants from across the nations of the UK. 

There was enough in the cabinets alone to satisfy last time I was here: talismans and shrunken heads, bobbins and dulcimers, masks and insects in dresses, all arranged by type rather than location, but this time part of the pleasure is in pulling open the drawers underneath to find more. When you're looking at a cabinet titled Charms Against The Evil Eye or Magic And Trial By Ordeal, you really want to see what's hidden in the drawers underneath, and what there is is more of what's in the display cases, as well as whole drawers filled with woven wheat harvest tokens in plastic bags, or curative and fertility-enhancing wax molds of parts of the body, or devil doctor bone wands, miniature metal hands and plastic seaside trinkets for charm bracelets.

The labels are as compelling as the artefacts: handwritten at the time the items were brought in by different people on tiny, apparently random shapes of card and haphazardly formalized with a border and string. It all makes the cases even more of a visual maze. Everything is ordered and classified, but with a personal touch, so that although the items are out of time and place, disconnected from the real world rituals of sound, smell, touch and taste, in the end Pitt-Rivers really is a kunstkammer, or wonder-room, a reconfiguring of the world and the past through the curator's eyes, and a memory theatre for our eyes.

stuart kolakovic : under the damp earth

Eastern European folk tales, mythology, fairytales and family history all seep into the narrative-driven illustrations of Stuart Kolakovic. His day-to-day work has popped up in national newspapers and magazines, appeared on book covers (I first saw his work, aptly, on William Blacker's Along The Enchanted Way: A Story Of Life And Love In Romania), as well as on badges, tea-towels and recently on Marks & Spencer own brand teabag packs. He's set up a teaser trailer website for his new show of illustrations at the fine NoBrow gallery in east London (until 23 June), which veer off in a darker direction than his previous work. The teaser's a little animated, with music - go see.

Monday, 18 April 2011

randomness : april

When you're interested in something, and you're really focused on it, you see it everywhere, so I should've expected to come across something like the story that Lady Ga-Ga thinks she's guided by the ghost of Alexander McQueen. Moving along, my new favourite thing on Found Objects: The Witchmobile, an "anti-occult" van dreamt up by an evangelist in early 70s California. Also still mesmerised by photographs of Beautifully Eerie Abandoned Hospitals. I'm not so sure about David Tennant taking over Roddy McDowell's role in the forthcoming remake of Fright Night (out autumn 2011), particularly now the character's a heavy metal-styled illusionist rather than a friendly late night TV host, but we'll see. Enjoying the backlog of custom soundtracks at the Cottage Of Electric Hell, particularly for the Weird Tales For Winter. Likewise reading about the terror of tiny Marc Bolan on his tv show Marc at Unmann-Wittering's new blog, Island Of Terror, and the pure hauntology of The Hauntological Society. I'm having some "is it just me, or is there lots of more of this kind of thing around?" moments, and whether that's back to seeing signs of what you're looking for everywhere or real, I don't know, but decided it's a good thing. Whether I'll go and see Doctor Dee, Damon Albarn & Rufus Norris's show about Elizabethan mathematician, sorcerer, alchemist (allegedly) and astrologer John Dee, again I don't know. Might just stick with going to see Dee's black mirror in the British Museum again (permanent display)... when I've caught up on blog posts here ...

the king & the minotaur (a labyrinth gallery)

The King & Minotaur (until 30 April at the Labyrinth Gallery, The Courtyard, 7 St Pancras Way) plays with the idea of London's labyrinth myths, with sculptures, sound, film, dance and a pop-up cocktail bar on a weaving art installation trail within a 1850s barn. It's not on the grand scale of Jorge Luis Borges (who called London a labyrinth) or Iain Sinclair (whose visions of London's labyrinth myths travel back to the city's founding) but then those labyrinths are easy pickings in the city, whether walking around, or imagining, in the layers of history that keep being built upon but which never disappear, the gory histories in dark corners, the dark/light dream/nightmares of fiction and news, the ghosts of the underground, and all the rest.

the prefab modernism of the ancient astronauts

(originally uploaded to flickr by Fire Of The Mind)

When Frank Lloyd Wright dreamt up the textile concrete block way of building homes like the Ennis-Brown house in Los Angeles (pictured top) in the 1920s, it's been suggested that he may have been influenced by pre-Inca monuments in South America. Most likely, that means the Puma Punku monument (pictured below) in the central highlands of Bolivia, a megalithic complex thought to be as old as the last Ice Age, but which looks like it's inspired every cinematic sci-fi dystopia of the past 40 years. Puma Punka is made up of mammoth blocks of stone so hard they can only be cut with diamonds, and engineered with such precision that you can match the patterns on the interlocking stones exactly - and cut your fingers on the edges while you're doing that. It's prefab building on a grand scale, but with an otherworldly abstract patterning throughout that demands some op art fashion shoots be set there. The visual parallels with Wright's textile block houses are stunning, and if it wasn't stone age indians who built Puma Punku, then maybe those alien astronauts had a pretty sharp eye for abstract modernism. Or maybe Frank Lloyd Wright just liked their style. Incidentally, the outside of the Ennis-Brown house was used in William Castle's 1959 horror, House On Haunted Hill, and the inside has been used in shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Twin Peaks.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

horror bags 70s crisps advert

Jings, crivens, crisps in the shape of bats, advertised by Captain Peacock (as Dracula) and Mr Rumbold (as Frankenstein) of Are You Being Served in the late 70s. (Crisps also available in the shape of fangs, claws and bones). Related bat crisp eyecandy - flickr photos of the "batburger" 48-pack case.

horror top trumps 1978

When the Top Trumps themed card games first came out in 1977, they were an instant hit in the playground, albeit better known for arguments about the apparent random scoring of the various cards rather than any sense of cunningly designed gameplay. 

The Horror two-pack series, headed by a Christopher Lee Dracula and a Devil Priest, made such arguments pretty puny when it came out a year later, what with trying to work out exactly what a Venusian Death Cell was or how big a maggot had to be to be that scary. 

Issued in 1978 they were highly sought-after then, and still go for about £50 on eBay (*mint* packs only), despite being reissued (the cards glow in the dark, no less). Top tip, kids: mix up the packs and get monsters battling Harry Potter characters, Top Gear presenters or Disney princesses. The monsters will win.