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Wright, foppish babboon.

Performance poet Luke Wright prides himself on being the first person to show up on a google image search for “Foppish Buffoon”.  His new fringe show, The Petty Concerns of Luke Wright, is an hour of poetical reflections on ambition, tight trousers, famelessness and the tricks creative people play on themselves to keep motivated when success is taking its time coming.

For me the highlight of the performance was Wright’s stanza by stanza knock-down of a poem he wrote about a road accident when he was fifteen.  From the waves of laughter triggered in the audience, I don’t think I was not alone in recognising the mix of mortification and affection inspired by looking back at ones self-indulgent adolescent attempts at poetry.

Some the poems Wright performed can be read on his site  here – I don’t recommend reading too much of the blog if you are planning to go to the show, as some of the material seems to be directly lifted from old posts.

Luke Wright is an energetic performer, and while occasionally his audio-visuals look a bit too much like a school power-point presentation for comfort, Petty Concerns is a fun show.


The Petty Concerns of Luke Wright

Underbelly @ George IV Bridge
Until the 30th of August.

View

I’m a bit late in writing this up, but couldn’t let it go without a post (Yes, I actually like Yoko Ono).

About a week ago I took the train down to Newcastle to see the city and visit the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art to see the Yoko Ono retrospective.

I should start by saying that the Baltic is a fantastic gallery. Converted from a flour mill, there are lots of wide gallery spaces and a fantastic high ceilinged atrium on the top floor.

Before I get to talking about the exhibition, two caveats:

1)  People who think Ono broke up the Beatles generally don’t like her art.  If you are one of these people, I recommend you read my posts on more popular topics.  Like nude opera or Alan Rickman.

2)  Yoko Ono’s aesthetic is a bit twee and occasionally painfully earnest.  I like it.  Some of the artworks seem politically naive in 60s, long haired hippy sense.  But they are from the 60s, so you can take it in the spirit of the decade.

That is why my favourite works were the earlier ones.  The early 60s short poetry pieces like ‘Paintings’, ‘Play it by Trust’ the giant chess set with only white pieces (1966) “Chess set for playing as long as you can remember where all your pieces are”, ‘Cut Piece’ (1965) and  ‘Amaze’ (1971).

‘Cut Piece’ is a performance work filmed originally in 1965 and then again more recently where Ono sits on a stage and invites the audience to cut at her clothes with scissors.  ‘Amaze’ is a clear perspex maze.

The more recent work was generally less interesting, but had some highlights.  ‘Wish Tree’ is a fairly literal interpretation of the Shinto ritual where people tie strips of paper to branches to send prayers and wishes to the Kami within trees.
Here are some I saw visiting Japan a few years ago – in Tokyo:
Outside Tokyo

And in Kyoto:
Fushimi Inari-taisha

I took a sneaky picture of the wish tree in the Baltic exhibition (I’m all for artwork copyright protection, but I think the participation element justifies stealing a picture here):
Wish tree

I took note of some of the more interesting wishes:

“GANSTA [sic] 4 LIFE”

“I want a pony and a stable please”

“I wish I can get a 2nd upper in my law degree”

This one was funny:
Brian's favourite
The text reads: “I wish Patrick-wolf-boy would fall in love with me please x.”

Like Ono’s contribution to the LOVE exhibition I saw last year, the strength of these participatory works is in finding a concept engaging enough to actually get people writing heartfelt, sarcastic and occasionally absurd comments on little tags for the general public to read.  There were two other similar set ups: ‘My Mommy is Beautiful’ (blank canvases for messages of love to mothers) and ‘We are all Water’.  ‘We are all Water’ is a series of glass jars filled with water and  labelled with the names of historical figures (Gertrude Stein sits beside Groucho Marx and 50 cents [sic]) with a final blank jar with cards for visitors to write a name on.

A more interesting recent piece was ‘Helmet’, a development of one of her short poem works ‘A piece of sky’:

Take a piece of sky.
Know that we are
all part of each other.

‘Helmet’ is a small room full of upturned German World War II era helmets suspended from the ceiling, each full of jigsaw puzzle pieces like this:

Sky

Visitors are invited to take a piece of sky.  I like ‘Helmet’ because it was visually striking, and representing war accountability with hundreds of puzzle pieces that individual people hold is neat (I did warn you all it was going to be twee* at the start).

Baltic

*Apologies for the recent overuse of the word ‘twee’ – Unfortunately both a indie pop genre and an appropriate adjective here.

As you can see here and here, I spend a bit of time thinking about conceptual art, and particularly enjoy looking at work by female artists.  When I was down in London recently I was interested to see the new turbine hall commission by French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster at the Tate modern.   The Independent has a profile of Gonzalez-Foerster here.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s TH.2058 looks 50 years into the future, as the inhabitants of London take shelter from a never-ending rain. Filled with bunk beds scattered with books, the animal forms of gargantuan sculptures, a massive LED screen playing edited extracts from science-fiction and experimental films, and piercing lights that suggest some unseen surveillance, the Turbine Hall has taken on the attributes of an epic film set.

at Tate modern

The piece has a futuristic noir atmosphere, with the flickering of the film and a thick green and red curtain shielding the main exhibit from the light of the entrance. The sound of dripping and persistent rain is amplified around the hall.

Tate modern

What I particularly liked about the instillation was that people seemed to enjoy interacting with it, standing around pondering, watching the film excerpts and climbing over the bunks. Like these children here:

Children and bunks

That is good art.

DSCF3621

Once upon a time, the economy broke and a whole lot of other awful stuff happened…

Don't worry

…but art cheered me up.

From my past posts, you can probably gather I’m a big fan of seeing lots of live performances, as cheaply as possible.  Actually, every performance I’ve written up on this blog has cost less than 15 pounds – all of the Edinburgh festival events, and all the stand-alone performances at day ticket prices.  It helps to have a student card and a flexible morning schedule to scope out tickets, but even for posh places like the ROH you can try your luck at the ticket office just before the performance.

Back when I was in Sydney I liked going to the Belvoir St box office on Tuesdays to get pay-as-you-can-afford tickets (or a minimum of 10 dollars) for shows at the downstairs theatre – if you’re there about forty minutes early you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat, depending on the popularity of the show.

According to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian arts sector is starting to suffer from the economic downturn, and companies are starting to look at discounting tickets across the board.

ETA: Here’s another one today.

Last night I went to a great Balkan club night here in Edinburgh – seven pounds for a couple of hours of crazy folk-ish/gypsy/klezmer music, plus belly dancing, and an impromptu farandole-mosh-pit.

I love you

Tonight I went to local arts co-op Forest to see a performance from Anti-folk-ish harpist Erica Holcomb.  It was great.  The harp pieces were better than those on the guitar, and the crowd was a little distracted and noisy at times, but free concerts are awesome.

Harp

Moral of the story:

Take advantage of cheap tickets if you can get them – show everyone there is a demand for good quality, affordable theatre and music.  Go see new things.  Be nice to box-office staff.  Student performances and emerging new acts are cheap, and sometimes free.  Free/inexpensive shows can be bad.  So can expensive ones.  Arts companies like loyal audiences.  Support them.

Art is free!
Art is (sometimes) free!

On Friday I went back to the National Gallery to have a closer look at LOVE – a touring exhibition curated in partnership with Bristol’s Museums, Galleries & Archives and Tyne & Wear Museums. I went quickly through on Wednesday, but wanted to have a proper look at it all (and take up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hang something on the National Gallery’s esteemed walls).

I really enjoy small thematic exhibitions when they are well done. Working at a gallery earlier this year I found that exhibitions with a theme were generally the most popular and the most fun to work at. While you can get tired of an single exhibiting artist’s ‘rugged rural aesthetic’ surprisingly quickly, when you have a collection of works by multiple artists there is always something exciting to find.

LOVE only takes up about three rooms of the gallery, but includes a huge range of styles, eras and subjects. It covers themes of religious devotion, romantic love, parental love, desire and charity. There are works from major artists including Goya, Vermeer, Chagall, Raphael, Turner, plus contributions from some modern artists: David Hockney, Tracey Emin and Yoko Ono.

I wasn’t aware that Ono was taken at all seriously as an artist until I saw that she had a piece in the Sydney Biennale this year (not that being included in the Sydney Biennale is a definitive mark of being taken seriously as an artist). I suppose this is just unfair skepticism about the value of performance art on my part, and distrust of incidental celebrity. Her work in the Biennale was a telephone (attached to a nondescript wall) which she planned to call at various (undisclosed) times during festival. I didn’t hear it ring.

In LOVE Yoko Ono’s contribution was Secret Piece III – (from the catalogue):

“A new conceptual work of art, conceived by Yoko Ono, will develop as the exhibition takes place, one that encourages contemplation on the visual articulation of love. Secret Piece III invites each visitor to contribute an image of, or a message for, a loved one to a blank canvas… The personal, subjective visions that make up its whole are a sign of life in the twenty-first century, for place and time have always shaped works of art and their means of communication.”

Some of the contributions were quite funny:

I love me.*

I love scientology this much: [with a accompanying tiny double sided arrow.]

I made you a cookie, but I eated it.

I used to love you. Now I love my friends.

SCOTLAND: MY LOVE, MY HEART.

It’s irritating that I’m doing this because Yoko Bloody Ono has told us to… but I can’t help it because, Quentin, I love you so much.

Other messages were quite sincere:

I LOVE YOU! Dear someone who I meet someday. LOVE & PEACE. It’s all about the world.

I wish I loved you enough to tell you everything.

The dance floor is never the same without you.

I feel more like me when you’re there, than when you’re not.

My sweet grandma. I love you and miss you so very much, I am eating lots of chocolate because the little Indian lady at the corner shop reminds me of you.

All these lyrics. Moments between us. Shadows on the blinds, mixed together with your taste. This is how I love you right now.

Now I don’t think I’m really excited enough about conceptual art to write anything particularly profound about it. But I have one opinion. If your artwork is nothing but an idea, it really should be an idea that people engage with.

If people look at The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, and think ‘that shark is looking a bit fishy’, the artwork isn’t too successful.

I really liked Secret Piece III. People were obviously enjoying engaging with it, and the things people had to say about love were an interesting contribution to an exhibition that showcased many different types of emotion.

But what did I write on the love wall?

On behalf of Lydia and Pete (who are probably still skulking around AGNSW waiting for Yoko’s call):

DSC00809.JPG

*Other ‘I love [blank]’ comments: dogs, cats, my cat, ‘Marco the string zebra’, shoes, cheese blend and ‘be bop’.

I got to London from Brighton at about midday on Wednesday, hoping to find a ticket to Don Giovanni that night. The Royal Opera website indicates that cheap returned tickets are available four hours before the performance, so I went along at three to try and get one after checking into my hotel. I didn’t have much luck. Apparently these are actually called standby tickets and while they theoretically exist the box office never has any to sell. Returned tickets are sold at the original price as soon as they come back. He said I would have a good chance of getting something if I came back at about six, as they usually got a few last minute returns. Or he said I could wait underneath the white banner (he pointed to the side of the corridor) and he would call me back when anything came in.

I decided not to loiter in the hallway for hours and instead walked over to the National Gallery to spend some quality time with Cézanne and Manet. The National Gallery is a magical place. I was just wandering around for what I thought was just a little while, but when I looked at my watch I had been there for two and a half hours and had to head back to Covent Garden.

National Gallery

Back at the box office a very nice woman told me that the cheapest returned ticket she had was a hundred and ninety pounds. I told her that I couldn’t quite spend that much and considered waiting with the little group of desperate looking people with backpacks that had congregated under the white banner (clearly they didn’t have a hundred and ninety pounds either). But I smiled and thanked her and said “That’s such a pity. I was so looking forward to seeing it.”

I’ve found over the past few days that grovelling to box office staff is well worth the effort. She tutted sympathetically and said she could take another look.

“No, no, no. Wait. Do you have twelve pounds fifty? I can see a standing room ticket here for you that just came in. It’s a very good place to stand too, no poles.”

So I thanked her profusely and bought the ticket. Although she did seem a little surprised that my name was already in the ROH database. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t overdo the ‘poor cultureless guttersnipe from the colonies’ act.

Before the performance an announcement was made:

“Unfortunately, Marina Poplavskaya is recovering from a severe respiratory infection [collective groan]. We are delighted that she will still be performing the role of Donna Anna [audience cheers], but she asks for your understanding. [slightly less audible groan].”

Opera audiences are funny. I didn’t notice any weakness in Poplavskaya’s voice, but I can imagine how difficult it must be as a singer to make the decision whether or not to perform when you don’t feel your voice is at its best.

The current cast:

Leporello: Kyle Ketelsen
Donna Anna: Marina Poplavskaya
Don Giovanni: Simon Keenlyside
Commendatore: Eric Halfvarson
Don Ottavio: Ramon Vargas
Donna Elvira: Joyce DiDonato
Zerlina: Miah Persson
Masetto: Robert Gleadow

(Conducted by Charles Mackerras)

It was a wonderful performance. Usually my favourite part of Don Giovanni is Donna Elvira’s ‘Ah, Chi Mi Dice Mai’ in the first act (and DiDonato sung it very well), but at this performance I was completely blown away by Miah Persson as Zerlina. Her voice was incredibly strong and clear. Kyle Ketelsen was also particularly good as Leporello.

The bad thing about standing room tickets is sore knees. The good thing about standing tickets (aside from affordability, of course) is you get to hang around with some interesting people. Almost as soon as the curtain went up on the second half a man to my left started yelling ‘I want my seat! I always find a seat by the second half!’ and running up and down the aisle until he was forcibly removed from the auditorium.

The design of the production was traditional. Fairly static in the first half, but with plenty of stage lifts, flaming hellfire and swinging hands of judgment in the second. In that respect this production makes an interesting comparison to Opera Australia’s modern Don designed by Elke Neidhardt currently on at the Sydney Opera house. The OA production has modern costume and abstract sets (not a problem in itself), but with several cuts. So Don Giovanni, serial seducer (1003 women in Spain alone) does not refuse to repent in the face of commands from the ghostly spirit of the man he’s killed. He gets high and dies. These young people. They like the drugs. Apparently.

Unlike the OA version, this production kept the final sextet where the other main characters have a lovely little sing-song telling the audience to learn from the mistakes of Don Giovanni and be good. But just because a performance is faithful to the original score doesn’t mean it has to be too serious about the morality lecture at the end. After the final note in this production the curtain rose to reveal a devilish red lacquered box inside which Don Giovanni stood naked with a naked woman in his arms.* Heaven would be no fun for the Don.

Tickets for the first performance of Don Giovanni last week were sold through an offer in The Sun newspaper, all for thirty pounds or less. A bus full of page three girls was stationed at Covent Garden to hand out cast sheets. According to a report in The Guardian on Wednesday the young audience was more formally dressed than at those attending regular performances, better behaved (no mobile phones went off, there was no exodus at interval) and applauded the performance very enthusiastically. If readers of The Sun can enjoy a traditional unabridged performance of Don Giovanni, I don’t see why Opera Australia had to try so hard to make it relevant to modern audiences.

Don Giovanni
Mozart

Royal Opera House
10/09/08.

*More than one person has stumbled across this blog by searching google for ‘nude opera’ and ‘naked + opera’. Naturally I’m thrilled. With any luck this will become one of the world’s best blogs on nude opera. Although I’m not sure what sort of competition I have in this endeavour and I really don’t want to find out.

Here is the funniest thing I’ve read in a while:

Damien Hirst, conceptual artist (and White Cube YBA like Emin), responds to a bad review from Australian art critic Robert Hughes:

“He probably cried when Queen Victoria died.”

He may not know how to pickle a shark, but he’s at least got a handle on defensive retorts.

Emin

Tracey Emin is probably the best known of all the Young British Artists after Damien Hirst, and certainly the most famous female YBA. This exhibition currently at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is the first ever independently curated retrospective of Emin’s work.

Her trademark confessional style is most clearly exemplified in My Bed: a bed and collection of items around it displayed as an instillation – intended to be a frank snapshot of her life. The piece was nominated for the Turner prize, but did not win.

The one thing that I find quite annoying about Emin’s work is her use of body fluids in instillations. It isn’t really shocking and it certainly isn’t interesting. An artist must be pretty jaded if they think the only way they can move their audience is through repulsion. I suppose if you were interested in Freud it might be of use in assessing the artist’s stage of psychological development, but if you are more sane than all that it just marks the artist as manipulative and insincere.

What Emin has done successfully is develop a distinctive feminine and political aesthetic, as can be seen in her series of appliqué quilts, starting with a piece she compiled as a résumé listing places she had lived and quotes from her family. Like Damien Hirst she now employs assistants to construct many of her artworks, particularly the pieces in the quilt series (another contentious point for those who don’t buy the Warhol factory argument).

From the galleries I’ve visited this week in Edinburgh it seems that the Scottish are very enthusiastic about maintaining visitor books at art exhibitions. At the Impressionism in Scotland exhibition currently showing at the main galleries I saw a man get quite agitated waiting for a room attendant to bring him a working pen so he could scribble his (profound I’m sure) thoughts on Degas.

I took note of the two most recent comments in the visitors book at the Emin show:

“Margate has a lot to answer for.”

“Overrated. So you can make a collage quilt? No one cares. Stay in bed.”

Conceptualism really shouldn’t be that scary.
Earlier this year I was volunteering at an art gallery in Sydney where people would come and ask me in all earnestness if things in the gallery were art. With the emphasis on ‘art’ as if they might be some other mysterious conceptual thing. No ma’am, it’s a unicorn.

And these questions weren’t even about those weird humidity testing boxes people always observe so intently at the modern art gallery, but rather artworks clearly identified with plaques beside them. I wish people would just calm down about modern art. You can accept these conceptual installations without liking them. A lot of modern art is bad art.

The perfect antidote to the over-hyped Emin exhibition is conveniently located across the road in the Dean Gallery, the extension of the main modern art gallery holding most of the permanent collections.

I spent most of my time in the dada and surrealism gallery – a few small rooms full of lots of interesting paintings by Salvador Dali and Man Ray, Magritte’s only shaped canvas (following the curves of a woman’s hips and lower torso) and an extensive collection of Eduardo Paolozzi’s sculptures. Things that where shocking and different when they were created and still have the power to make you think in a different way. I’m sure people are still making that sort of art. Just maybe not Tracey Emin.

Tracey Emin – 20 Years

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

&

Dean Gallery

Belford Road, Edinburgh

June 2017
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