Monday, 25 January 2010

to sleep, perchance to dream

from the Fallen Princesses series by Dina Goldstein

This is why it's never a good idea to spend the weekend reading only books about neuroscience and Lucan's Pharsalia.

Last night's epic dream:

Things started off innocently enough. I was driving an old beat up car down a dusty, deserted freeway in Phoenix when I pulled the car over onto the side of the road. I got out of the car and walked down a hill, whereupon Phoenix turned into a huge lake in the middle of a tropical jungle. I crossed the lake on a series of primary-coloured plastic stepping-stone box things until they began to crumble into the lake and I had to dive in and swim. Obviously, I couldn't swim with my flip-flops on so I took them off and set them on one of the crumbling boxes while stopping to save a turtle who was trapped inside the box. After swimming for quite some time, it turned out that the jungle lake was actually a water feature at Claridge's (go figure). As I was swimming out of the lake, a bell hop ran up to me carrying my discarded flip-flops and told me to be careful that no one saw me in the lake - it was a protected environment and he didn't want to piss of the eco-people staying in the hotel as part of a big scientific conference. He also mentioned that if the eco-people knew I was swimming in the lake, my funding would be pulled. He gave me a white tuxedo blazer to wear and I began to go about my merry way, when I thought - fuck it, I'm here - so I turned about and went into Claridge's for lunch. Once seated, two preposterously obnoxious children proceeded to terrorise me until I pawned them off on the very charming couple sitting at the table beside me.

After lunch, I went back outside. The lake and Claridge's had disappeared only to be replaced by a landscape resembling the war-torn Afghani countryside, though it turned out to be a video game. Of course in this video game world, civil war was raging and the video game people had managed to trick a group of real world people into entering the video game 'to play' at war. All the men had gone off to fight and the video game women were explaining to the real world women that it would soon be their turn to fight. Some of the real world women began complaining that it wasn't their world so why should they have to fight. At this, the ringleader lady of the video game people turned into a giant jelly baby and knocked six shades of Hades into the women who had been complaining. The ringleader lady kept calling me Ingrid Bergman and asked me what I was going to do, whereupon I made a rousing speech about fighting for liberty and honour. I said that even if we weren't fighting for our own freedom were were still fighting for the cause of liberty and that there was nothing more honourable than the fight for freedom. I screamed 'vivre libre ou mourir' at the top of my lungs and we all ran off over the hill to fight.


Monday, 18 January 2010

Ode on an English Poet

Some time ago I wrote a piece about the relationship between artists and critics. The piece went something like this: a lady journalist for the Guardian said that critics shouldn't write about their artist friends. I said she was full of shit, though to be fair, I wasn't quite so rude at the time. Here's an example why I think she's wrong.

Enter stage left, Ross Sutherland. Okay, so I wouldn't exactly call Ross a friend in the friendly sense of the word, but he's not quite an acquaintance either. We haven't had a drink together, but he performed at one of my SALON nights, I've got his number in my phone, and we're 'friends' on facebook. According to the laws of 21st century relations, that probably constitutes friendship.

The reason I so vehemently disagree with the lovely lady journalist is because sometimes your artist-type friends are really good at stuff and just because you're a critic doesn't mean you can't be objective about your own friends. Not only that, but you shouldn't be afraid of telling people how good stuff is, even is said stuff is penned and performed by people you have less than objective relations with. Obviously you want to support these people, but you also want to help the viewing public - to introduce them to something new and amazing.

I had a conversation with another friend at lunch last week about modernism and the decline of close-knit cultural circles. Even though neither of us are that keen on modernist philosophies, we agreed that it was a great time to be an artist: with your Peggy Guggenheims and your Gertrude Steins - your Eliots and Picassos and Hemingways and Pounds - this sort of cultural community that sometimes feels like it doesn't exist anymore. And if lady journo had her way, there wouldn't be any cultural community at all - for how can such a thing exist if critics and patrons are encouraged not to patronise (can you use this word in this sense anymore?) the people whose work they admire and respect.

But one glittering bonus that came out of putting on the SALON exhibition is that I saw a whole different side of London's artistic community. There are people making things happen - this man is a very good example - and making cross connections and doing and supporting and having a jolly good time. Ross is very much a part of this and his show reminded me that I shouldn't be so sourpussed about the golden ages of cultural history past - we're doing pretty fine with what we've got.

So. The kid's got talent. I've seen him read his poetry before - from this book - and he's great: most of his poetry is inordinately clever, and narrative driven, but rather surprisingly steeped in formalist technique. Like the best rules and restrictions always do, though, formalism frees Ross up to do all kinds of crazy stuff. His take on univocalism has me in stitches every time I hear it (though it isn't in the current show) and his N+7 (where you replace every noun/verb with the one seven places below it in the dictionary) reworking of the little red riding hood story turns out the hilariously inspired 'the liverish red-blooded riffraff hoo-ha'. But apart from the fact that Ross' poetry is more than good enough to stand on its own, the framing device offered by this show turns it into something altogether more poignant and provocative. What surprised me most of all is how moving the show is - not something I often experience at more straight-up poetry readings.

Ross does what many of the best artists do - in one of my creative writing courses at Uni, the instructor was always shouting at us to, 'write what you know!'* - and has taken episodes from his own sort of annus horribilis and turned them into a lesson for us all: our future is of our own making. Thankfully, he never bludgeons the lesson into his audience but allows it to creep neatly in via his artful time-capsule. One of my favourite bits of the show was when Ross explained how Keats' 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' inspired the creation of the time capsule - he managed to make Keats totally and hilariously relevant to an audience full of people who I'm pretty sure had never read any Keats in their life, let alone his ode to an urn. Any man who can do that is all right by me.

The point is critics should write about their artist friends because sometimes their artist friends are great. So go see The Three Stigmata of Pacman not because Ross is my friend, but because his show is great.

* funnily enough he sounded exactly like Wallace Shawn. There's a whole other story there, but I'll save that for another time