Sunday, 28 February 2010

the Death of (Street ) Art

Hi-jacking Bookcrossing once more to go off-topic...

or... Don't Believe the Hype

So we saw the Banksy film in Leake Street yesterday. It was very entertaining. It was only about half an hour later when the penny finally dropped... Of course! The whole thing was a fiction, not a documentary – a mockumentary, if you will. It was a scam, a tease, Banksy's biggest and best, an elaborate jape satirising the cupidity of the art market and the general public's lack of discrimination.

You're even given a warning before the film itself starts, in the form of a montage of old 70s ads cut together to say “Don't Buy This Nonsense.” But we still fall for it, though it's full of clues. The 'greatest street art film that never got made', for example, is a framing device, a red herring designed to throw you off track. Or the title itself - when you're experiencing art in a museum or gallery setting these days, you're encouraged to consume and spend at the same time. Art getting consumed by commerce.

Basically, this is the plot – the apparently na├»ve and engaging character of Thierry Guetta gets an in to the world of street artists, following them with his movie camera and obtaining an apprenticeship in the art of street art, until he decides he'll become an artist himself. What does he learn?

1.Plunder art history and pop culture for images that people already know, so it triggers an immediate familiarity and response in the viewer.
2.Use modern technology to copy it a million times.
3.Make it big. Very big.
4.Plaster it everywhere, to saturation point.
5.Name drop/network.
6.Get media coverage.

Voila! Instant fame and fortune. No need for ideas, aesthetics, craft or talent. You have arrived as an artist.

I don't mean that Thierry Guetta is not a real person (though his comedy persona reminded me a lot of Andy Kaufmann in Taxi), or a real cousin of Space Invader, or mate of Banksy. But they might have cooked up his exhibition of horrendous, eye-watering, breath-takingly banal art together, just to see how far they could take it. AND IT WORKED.

He made a million dollars from his show in LA, and the run was extended from 6 days to 3 months. Suckered... But this film exposes the mechanism by which street artists become famous and galleries make their money. The art market will happily collude in the hype, because this is how it makes money. Exit Through the Gift Shop is like The Art Bubble crossed with Nat Tate crossed with, um, Spinal Tap, or maybe Borat. Anything that blurs the line between reality and fiction. But there's real anger driving this satire.

Is it unlikely that Banksy would go so far to make a point? Maybe. The production company is called Paranoid Pictures, after all. But check out the installation in the entrance way – graffitti sanitised and made toothless and powerless by the approval of the establishment.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Carter Beats the Devil

Now I'm cheating slightly, as I'm still reading this. Also, it's not mine, but the former tenant's (but seeing as he's left it behind, along with a cupboard full of very blokey DVDs - every war/James Bond/Red Dwarf box set every made - he's getting married next year, I reckon his future bride made sure they were "forgotten" when he moved in with her) I'm sure he won't mind me leaving it on the tube.

I'm enjoying it an almost indecent amount, racing home to get back to it & leaving late every morning because I can't put it down. Carter is a magician in the roaring 20s in San Francisco, given the seal of approval by Houdini & mixed up in some kind of assassination plot of the president. It's all about trickery & misdirection, but also really strong, graceful writing.

One tiny thing that struck me, and made me think how Gold is really a class act, is how it reveals that Carter's brother's partner is a man - and says nothing more on the matter. Just takes it as normal. Because it is.

Monday, 22 February 2010


I cracked. Now on Twitter. Come on everybody! It's just not the same without you.

Saturday, 20 February 2010


by Bram Stoker

After watching an entirely dumbed down and uninteresting programme on the current vogue for vampires, was inspired to give away my battered old copy (with entertainingly hammy cover of Frank Langella as the Count.)

Dracula is a genius, gripping, over the top, bad-taste, page-turning, Gothic, technically brilliant tour de force. It's written as an epistolary novel, through the letters and diaries of all the different characters, and reads like a compendium of late nineteenth century millenial neurosis - women getting outta control and sexy! Syphilis! Contagion! Disease! Invasion by furriners! Losing control of the Empire! As well as the very real possibility of being ravished and bitten by the Undead on a trip to Transylvania.

One of the things I love about it is the spooky invasion of Whitby by a ship carrying a dead captain tied to the mast, a terrifying log detailing the strange events on board, and the gradual disappearance of the crew due to a malevolent prescence. If none of these images give you chills, you must be a bit undead yourself.

We visited Whitby once (where Bram Stoker wrote the book holed up in a hotel room) and you can see how the drama of the landscape must have inspired him.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Secret History

Donna Tartt

A moi, l'histoire d'une de mes folies...

We were talking about Donna Tartt, about her second book after the wildly successful The Secret History, and *SPOILER ALERT* how you never find out how the kid goes missing. I felt cheated, conned, and kept flicking ahead in this mammoth book to see if the mystery was ever revealed. But no. Yet in the film Picnic at Hanging Rock *SPOILER ALERT* it in no way detracts from the film, in fact in adds to the mystery and power of it, that you never know how the girls went missing. Why it should work in a film, but not for a book, I have no idea.

Anyway, The Secret History is great, you should read it. Boys seem to like it less than girls though - P's friend Johnny got half way through P's copy of it then decided to frisbee it out of his bedroom window into the garden. I love it.

So Richard grows up lonely and bored in the Californian suburbs, and in an attempt to escape his grim family and tedious existence, he applies to college as far east as he can get. He falls in with the mysterious, cliquey students who study Greek, and gets so drawn into their world that his loyalty extends to covering up for murder (no need for spoiler alerts as the murder is referred to on page 1.)

I love the way it describes falling in love, not just with one person, but with a whole group of people. That group dynamic is very familiar, the shifting of power and changing relationships within a group. And the psychological truthfulness of it, how everything invariably unravels. Richard goes from outsider to insider, back to outsider again. I take my hat off to women who write brilliantly from the viewpoint of a male character, too. (see also Rose Tremain, Anne Tyler...) And the low key way she writes about unrequited love. Sniff.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


by Pablo Neruda, translated by Alastair Reid

This is a bilingual book of Neruda's poems, which I picked out of a box of books that was dumped on the sidewalk when visiting our dear friends in Brooklyn a few years ago. And now it will end up on the Central Line in London. What a life it has lead, this book!

I do like Neruda. He lived a full life and wrote passionate, funny, surreal poems about it all. He got the Nobel Prize for Literature the year I was born.

(My favourite poem of his is not in this book, sadly, and I can't seem to track down the excellent translation I once found online, so I leave you with a Google translation I tinkered with, which is slightly wonky, but serves its purpose. (It's all better in Spanish, of course.) This is one of those poems that I read thinking "this is about US, it's about MY FAMILY." How do they know, poets?)

Melancholy in the Families

I keep a blue bottle,
within it an ear and a portrait
when darkness forces
the feathers of the owl,
when the hoarse cherry tree
shatters its lips and with husks that sometimes the ocean breeze threatens to pierce,
I know that there are vast sunken depths
quartz ingots,

blue waters for a battle,
many silences, many
veins of retreat and camphor,
fallen things, medals, tenderness,
parachutes, kisses.

It is only the step of one day to another,
only one bottle
walking by the sea,
and a dining room where roses arrive,
an abandoned dining room
like a thorn, I refer to
a glass shattered, a curtain in the background
a deserted room through which a river flows
dragging the stones. It is a house
located in the foundations of rainfall,
a two storey house with obligatory windows
and strictly faithful vines.

I leave in the afternoon, I arrive
full of mud and death,
dragging the earth and its roots,
and its lazy belly, in which sleep
the bodies of wheat,
metals, collapsed elephants.

But above all there is a terrible,
a terrible abandoned dining room
with broken bottles of oil
and vinegar running underneath the seats,
a ray of the moon stopped,
something dark, and I look for

a comparison within me:
perhaps a tent surrounded by the sea
and broken panels dripping brine.

It's just a deserted dining room,

and around are extensions,
submerged plants, timber
I only know,
because I am sad and old,
and I know the earth, and am sad.