Nelson's enigmatic little sketch formalised into a historic account: mathematical, geometric, correctly military; theory rather than practice. This is, perhaps, the danger in all writing after the fact. The narrative is clarified, made correct. It is a design exercise, making a coherent object out of a melée on the sea with cannonballs breaking ships into splinters, people being killed, drowned, wounded. In this allegedly 'popular' print, the sea is like the table tops of battles between lead soldiers. By this time, seven years after Trafalgar, the battle had become mythic, as had Nelson.
A wall of ships, the British ships sail toward it planning to cut the line in three, taking out the flagship first, i.e. no signals. Not being a naval historian, and reading a brief summary, it appears that part of the English fleet was at Gibralter, weakening the total Navy, and so the French and Spanish thought they could defend Cadiz by forming a long line in front of it. However, weather will intervene. Little wind and contradictory orders to the French and Spanish to turn resulted in an extremely slow reformation leaving clumps of ships over a loose five-mile line. In come two tight arrow-like British lines. As they all were no doubt luffing around in the same calm weather, the battle must have seemed a bit like slow-motion. However, outnumbered, outgunned and out-shipped, the British won, Nelson was shot and died, and storms that blew up the next day sank several of the wounded ships of the day before.
If there is anything that endears one to Nelson's 'England expects that every man will do his duty' spelled out in signal flags flying from his own flagship, it is this scrap of a battle plan on the back of what looks like a bit of blotting paper. One must never be seen to be trying too hard, but duty is done nonetheless.
Does this kind of thinking exist any more? I only come across it in British espionage novels, those thrilling, complicated, but allegedly deeply conservative tales that pass these days as my escape reading. Ex-SAS men gone rogue sort of stuff. Not really rogue, in the end one finds they are on the side of right and duty. Of course.
Anyway, beautiful little drawing. It moves me to tears for some reason.
This particular video is of the recording studio units that were used for Bahamas's Please Forgive My Heart, evidently a rare 1967 Germanium Neve console, which means nothing to me, but they also show a tiled shower stall for reverb. I know about this because Eon Sinclair wrote an article in On Site review 28:sound 'Singing in the Rain', p43, about all the music recorded in washrooms in the 50s and 60s. Please Forgive My Heart is a Bobby Womack song, but that is by the way, other than his version of 2012 sounds pretty electronic – I don't think a shower played a part.
There were a lot of sound links in Eon's article which aren't linked in the ISSUU pdf, but are found here: www.onsitereview.ca/28/p43 We had to take off a few for copyright violation, but what's left is a half dozen videos with beautiful reverb.
It is always encouraging to find a substrata of creative activity that actually prefers the old techniques: vinyl lovers is one – a richer sound supposedly. As I never get rid of anything, I still have my old vinyl collection, but without a system anymore to play it on, other that the Philips portable turntable I got for my birthday in grade 11, but which turns slightly faster than it should having had the belt replaced by Philips in London to suit the change in power delivery. A long sentence, but one could do such things once.
Having ridden a bike from the age of six, I've had in total four beloved bicycles in my whole life ending up with a quivering azure racehorse of a 10-speed that simply has a fit at each pebble in the road. I love it dearly. In this column I have written about bamboo bikes, ash bikes, carbon fibre frames, build-your-own bikes – it is a huge field: bicycles, bicycle lanes in cities, street bikes, bike-shares, bike couriers, bike paths, and the variety of bikes themselves is seemingly endless. A long way from having to choose either a CCM or a Raleigh.
This one, the Freestep, comes they say from the skateboard world. Well, only in the shape of the non-pedals really. Instead of pedalling, one pumps the boards as on a step-master thing (clearly out of my depth here). No seat, you will notice. You stand and pump your way along, and in the process get very very fit.
This model, above, has a nice fat retro frame, all gentle curves and cream enamel. It is a curious blend of soft 1950s styling and 2010s auto-mobility here – we seem to want autonomous travel, without rules, just to be able to get about under our own steam seemingly without tradition, except for a sweet nostalgia that companies such as Best Made, or Labour and Wait promote. It is a feeling that things were better once, that you could trust things when they were more solid, more straightforward, more utilitarian. Does this feeling exist in direct inverse proportion to how much time our minds spend in the virtual, ephemeral, complex world of our devices, while our bodies sit inert, in thrall to a preoccupied brain? And somewhere after a long day at the screen face, we would like to take our clunky childhood bike and tool around the neighbourhood?
No doubt everyone has seen this, the whitewashing of the old Sunset Pacific Motel slated for demolition on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Vincent Lamouroux is the artist, there are several videos out there about the process (big machines spraying the trees, the ground and the building itself); it was open as an installation from 26 April to 10 May, 2015 and then left to the weather, again.
Much has been made of the informal reference to the motel as the Bates Motel and Hitchcock's Psycho, despite the motel in the film being one of those old auto courts beside a lonely stretch of highway, and not in a city at all. But whatever, a motel is a motel, evidently. Does any derelict and empty building become sinister because it no longer functions in society? And are motels particularly susceptible to this? Motels in film always offer anonymity for antisocial plot and action, it is a building type that exists outside the narrative of law and order, family homes and settled, normative lives.
Martin Luther King was shot at the Lorraine Motel, now part of a Civil Rights museum in Memphis. As it stands, un-whitewashed, it seems conventional, disengaged from its history. If it had been painted white, or black, or any detail-obliterating colour, would that have transformed it, empowered it, or rendered it exceptional? This touches on a discussion in On Site review 33:land about the limits of architectural expression; how much of architecture is form, how much is typology, how much is programmatic history.
The Sunset Pacific no-longer Motel has become a 1:1 white gessoed model piece in the greater model that is the actual city: its form is both heightened and made meaningless, its typology is lost along with its function, but its history is alive in both its nickname and in its original, hopeful, end-of-Route 66 name: Sunset Pacific. This is old California, the palm trees, the deco assemblage of building parts, and it is middle California of Sunset Strip, sleaze and screens that got small – all clichés that made a derelict building very attractive for the transformative processes of art. Now it is a French art installation in an arid city in an urban desert in a four-year drought.
There are Christine Hiebert's blue tape drawings, lovely masking tape lines on large walls, and there are her charcoal drawings. Her website shows drawings that are transparent and layered: the clarity and high-contrast of tape on painted drywall translated to charcoal mark-making. One of the addictive tendencies of charcoal is its smudging – a clear mark made by a stick is then made ambiguous by the hand, but Hiebert uses an array of charcoal, ink and pencil lines precisely as they hit the page, each of which outline a space on the page that intersects and overlaps other line-drawn spaces.
The wide bands, the width of a char-kole stick, or a graphite stick (each giving a different density of particles on paper) reveal both their own qualities plus the qualities of the paper. They are laid down by a hand on an arm that follows its own rules.
Drawing to birds as the sound track. David Birchall's Bird Song Book uses pencil marks on paper to write the sound of birds. There is text, in english, a running commentary of being out where birds are, and then it all becomes clusters of small noises.
Another series, Sound Drawings (white ink, black paper) also uses the small scratch mark written language of birds combined with english language notations of place and mind; bird song and bird presence punctuate Birchall's thoughts, which in turn intervene in the continuity of bird life.
These drawings inform Tacita Dean's inscribed cloud drawings — phrases from books, from everyday speech interrupt the process of drawing – they interrupt the perception of the drawn image as representation, returning the chalk marks to just that: marks, like letters that we ascribe value to. Birchall's drawings are of sound, not the things that produce sound, so in looking at them, the degree of representation is not visual but audial.
I'm no longer sure whether we are a logocentric people, where language and parole, text and textuality, register all the layers of meaning and interaction we need to know about. Although both Dean and Birchall are film-makers, not writers in the traditional sense, both are drawing a language, one in english, the other in bird.
Tacita Dean, on a residency at the Getty in 2014, produced a number of very large drawings of clouds: chalk on blackboard paint on 4 x 8 sheets of masonite assembled to wall-sized 8' x 16' panels. Some are written upon: Sunset has a phrase from Lord of the Flies, 'fading knowledge of the world' written across a Constable-like sky of clouds illuminated not by the immanent presence of god or nature, but by sun on the ocean off Los Angeles. Thinking of Constable, there is something quite dead, thunderous, leaden, ominous about these clouds.
This is such meditative work, done by hand, slowly moving chalk dust around – lots of time to think. Does the antithesis of action painting mean figurative work? One is working slowly to some visual end, which seems different than working physically in some process that ends when the action ends. I might be saying it badly, but drawing a cloud is very different from drawing an existential shape, previously un-visioned. We know what clouds look like, even though they are never the same.
And then to undercut the cloud-like nature of the cloud drawings, they are written upon – these are blackboards – flattening the spatiality within the drawing. These aren't clouds, they are diagrams. Of course. In this they are like Keifer's mountains, Twombly's Greek myths: annotated marks on a surface.
Does the annotated drawing reveal a distrust of the image, and the images, manufactured, photographed, designed and assembled, that swamp our visual field? Estimates of how we see thousands of ads a day makes images in general unreliable; there is no such thing as the innocent image, it all means something. How does one make a drawing then that is without reference? Perhaps it is to reference something abstract in itself, such as a cloud, draw it with care and then make your own notes on it that keep it from being a palimpsest for other people's projections.
I only think this way because I like reduction, stripping away, limitations, abstraction – early training in modernism that launched me totally unprepared into a world that was layered, complex, rich with contradictions and reference.
All right, it is late July, it is hot, it is almost the weekend. Yesterday, the ice cream van tootled down the street playing Lambada, a great advance on last summer's Theme from The Sting, over and over and over.
I have a list here of various versions of Llorando se fue, the song first recorded by the Bolivian group Los Kjarkas in 1981. Kjarkas taught Andean folk in both Peru and Ecuador and they and the music travelled far; in the 1990s a little Andean group could be found in most North American plazas or busy street corners: the one outside The Bay on Granville and Georgia in Vancouver was a solid fixture, eternally good-humoured while playing on the grey streets in the rain.
Llorando se fue was recorded in 1989 by Kaoma in Portuguese whereby it became the Lambada and a huge pop hit. I first heard it the first morning I was in Barcelona where two gitanos (always up on the absolutely latest tunes) with an accordian and a guitar were playing it at triple speed under the balcony. I was entranced.
This is an early video version of Llorando se fue, where Gonzalo Hermosa González looks about 15.
and then what happens when it goes French: Kaoma and Brazilian Loalwa Braz and two rather brilliant child dancers.
Honestly. The eighties. They were fun. in places.
Something about this wall of sound inspires this kind of prose: TheAndrewc5120's YouTube comment — everytime i listen to this song it surprises me. it's so aggressive and monstrous. it makes me think of the most intense, insane movie trailer ever. like something that you can't even imagine. bombs going off. colors everywhere. people yelling with everything they have in their bodies. until blood fills their lungs and starts pouring out of their eyes and ears and mouth. and then they metamorphose into humanoid butterfly monsters that can shatter plains of existence in a single stroke of their infinitely coloured wings.and they do. and all we can do is watch. and listen.
For some reason both the music and the video make me feel so optimistic.
I'm sure this won't last.
A different take on dark matter, and its metaphoric corollary, dark matters. Crystal Pite and Kidd Pivot take the sense that dark matter, the 95% of everything that exerts force and gravity but cannot be seen or even measured, pushes us around in ways we often do not understand. As do dark matters, those pulls and pushes of irrationality that have our rational selves, our known world, bouncing around in a kind of Brownian motion.
Here dark matter is not visualised in an act of control, instead its own controlling force field is explored. Dancers are particles busy, busy, folding and stretching, pulling and falling, seemingly random, in the end using dark matter as an analogy of free and unfree will.
Pite explains it thus: Dark Matters is structured into two distinct acts: Act One portrays the tension between creation and destruction through a decidedly theatrical fable; the players are manipulated by anonymous puppeteers who drive the narrative yet subvert its artifice. Act Two is pure dance, with choreography that aspires to the impossible purity and grace of a marionette, while grappling with the essential question of free will, and the conflict inherent in manipulation. The revelations of Act One inform the way we view the dancing in Act Two.
Max Wyman has written, Dark Matters does what great art always does: encourages conjecture, invites reflection on what it means to be human. Thank you Max.
Modernist me, in love with reduction and minimalism, I am suspicious of this drawing. It is called Representation of Dark Matter, which isn't the same as a drawing of dark matter, which no one has ever seen, being a molecular void and therefore visually absent. No, this is a representation, not of dark matter, but of Abdelkader Benchamma's idea of what dark matter ought to look like, which is a particularly subjective, layered, autobiographical presentation of one person's idea of cosmology. So I find it not as interesting as, say, Christine Hiebert's work which makes no claims to represent anything.
Here is a discussion between Benchamma and Maryam Modjaz, an NYU astrophysicist:
The Benchamma drawing addresses the confusion I experience when watching almost anything on the news to do with space, or medicine or science: the text being presented is always a voice over a graphic which turns, for example, DNA into the helix, all striped and coloured with falling telomeres. I don't actually know or understand whether the helix is a representation of a set of molecular relations that make up proteins, or if these make actual helixical structures. I could look it up I suppose, but it isn't just this instance as graphic representations of all sorts of things abound, and whose veracity I mistrust.
I doubt that veracity is the goal; a turning impossible-to-wrap-your-head-around concepts into graphics is. As with the radio piece which is determined to introduce the topic in a slangy, non-threatening, cheery sort of way, I feel vaguely patronised. The act of thinking about dark matter, its invisibility and its power, is full of possibilities and so rich compared to fixing just one idea of it in a giant drawing. However, in the absence of a million other images of what it might look like, this is the one that begins to represent it, that fixes it. This is a disservice.
This is an artist who has made drawings with blue masking tape since 2000. in this 2012 conversation she mentions when working graphically before computers learned how to draw everything for us, she would make curves using very thin tapes. Yes, I remember this, a physical relationship between hand, tape and eye that was sensual and scaled to the arm: the automatic marks of the anthropos.
On her own website she talks about how the lines are flung out into space as a negotiation of the unknown, or the unexperienced. It seems that how they land on the wall is not unlike a map that precedes experience, indeed, frames experience. The selection of certain marks, the choosing of certain widths of tape, of placements, draws a map of desire and intention. These are landscapes – they follow mapping conventions that are difficult to ignore. However, just because they look like maps does not mean they are maps. They are drawings that delineate planar areas where the borders of each territory are made significant: nothing is blurred, or ambiguous. Some are strong, some weak – have I slipped into metaphor again? Yes. They are pieces of blue masking tape on white paper and white walls that spur us to think of things.
and a very small image, but showing that the scale is way beyond the hand and arm, it is now the wall, the ladder and the whole body.
A beautiful room, the Anna Akhmatova Museum in Petrograd/Leningrad/St Petersburg. It was her apartment in the Sheremetev Palace, a 1750 palace that included a hospital, a theatre and orchestra and a formal, fountained estate. Akhmatova's apartment was in the south wing, and she lived in it from 1925-1966.
Akhmatova's second husband was a tutor to the Sheremetev family; they stayed on in the north wing after the family fled during the revolution. Her third husband was assigned an apartment in the south wing and there she stayed.
There is Akhmatova's history, her poetry, her modernism; there are her intellectual husbands – poets, art historians, artists; there is the trajectory of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union: all was well with her poems and her affairs until 1921 when her then first husband was shot as part of the Kronstadt rebellion. With the loss of Lenin and the ascendance of Stalin that hardened the Russian commune, all the promise of the Russian avant-garde was turned: the Suprematists, Malevich, el Lissitsky slid into a perceived counter-revolutionary bourgeois activity. She lived through it all, biographies list her countless affairs – intellectual, political and physical. She wrote, sometimes published, often not, she wrote against Stalinism, confusingly she was deemed a soviet poet with czarist leanings, a promiscuous classicist in revolutionary times; she lived on in her beautiful apartment.
Please, just give me a room with these proportions. I'd take out the fluorescent unit in the ceiling.
Blogs, or daily journal entries such as this one were once a clean platform, before the rise of facebook and twitter and all the other kinds of messaging, before phones and the massive conversion to mobile specs for all websites. They were expansive, and there are a number I still check in with every day: publishers who run their blogs as separate strings that run parallel to their main function which is the selling of books. Others sit on vast collections of material: photos and art works and keep drip-feeding this material into the public realm. On my long list of bookmarks are sites that were once really vital and now have become conventional, repetitive – they exhausted their topic.
And news sites such as the Guardian, me being a faithful reader of the paper since the 1980s, have become desperate horses in the ratings race with endlessly punning titles, reader photo challenges and hot sexy leads: the final presentation of the world as entertainment. Even if about disaster, war, tragedy, economic collapse or politics, there will be a clever gimmicky title in case the readers aren't interested enough to read on. It is exhausting, this participation in the snappy world of cool, so instantaneous and ubiquitous. The other thing is comments: as with radio, one has a one-to-one relationship with the material, the writers, the hosts. However, as soon as one starts to read the comments on, say, The Guardian, one finds a rather horrible constituency that I hope is not me – sexist, racist little Englanders. I was shocked and wonder if this kind of response is actually elicited by Guardian material and I am not clever enough to realise it. I was happier not knowing about the comments.
This daily journal for the On Site review website was started simply so that the home page would be different every day in case anyone visited it twice. At the time most magazine and journal sites filled their home page with subscription material and a cover image, simply because most magazines and journals were busy producing print copy and didn't have time or resources to run a separate online version. It has been fast, the demise of print in favour of digital online magazines which are wider, cheaper, more interconnected and in the right hands, faster and more democratic. Literary journals were first, the number of small literary online journals is legion, they are beautifully designed, and they start up and die like mason bees in the summer.
In a weeding out of my bookshelves I have a pile of 1970s and 80s Capilano Review, Island, Malahat Review and small chapbooks which I can't bring myself to send off to Literacy Canada, where no doubt they would be better placed than in my bookcases of superannuated ambitions. These are the small literary journals before computers, still here, the words are still in place on the page. And the writers then constitute a historical blue chip Canadian literature aristocracy now. They were immensely powerful influences on Canada Council and the CBC, today both headed for irrelevance. Times are different; the responses to the 1949-50 Massey Report that were the foundation of a proposed Canadian identity, mainly the National Film Board, the Canada Council for the Arts, the cultural programming of the CBC have watched that identity atomise in the new century.
Identity politics are transnational although very much inflected by local conditions; the sense that the arts could define a people and a nation is something that vaporised with the discrediting of nationalism as any sort of progressive future. Plus, writers, of any sort from poets to journalists can now self-publish and find a global readership that exceeds the capacity of any print journal. There is, however, a technological lag in both the traditional funding agencies and political infrastructure, both based on pitting or uniting regions, pitting or uniting demographic categories, pitting or uniting disciplines. How the word racism is based on a belief in race, so do regions perpetuate regionalism, nations nationalism, demographic division demography. By even addressing the geographical constituent parts of identity, one perpetuates inequity.
All this said, there is a coloniality to architectural discourse which favours Europe, the USA, sometimes Japan. The smattering of critical work from peripheral places: South Africa, Australia, is given a kind of honorary first-worldness while the professional vernacular of such places is indistinguishable from American conventional building dotted about with specimen Calatrava bridges and Foster office towers. Someone such as Eyal Weisman does not write about Palestinian architecture, rather about the political geography of architecture, i.e. the material consequences of an unequal war. Not sure anyone is doing this in the banal geographies of Regina that affects local thinking about architecture in any way. Architectural discourse has all the hallmarks of uneven development, where there is a centre, or centres bound together by opacity and wealth, and semi-peripheries and peripheries rankled with degrees of false consciousness. And the web facilitates this: I can watch Eyal Weisman lecture in London on my own computer in my own house. I feel connected, but connected I am not.
What might be the opposite of all those assertive pieces of last week? Perhaps Shelagh Wakely's large ephemeral pieces that lie flat on the floor, and if not a sheet of gold or turmeric, then small fruits and vegetables, covered in gold leaf, that slowly collapse. Her potted biographical note shows both the RCA and a BSc in Agriculture which might be one of the roots of her affinity to the horizontal surface, its inscriptions and patterns.
I suppose it dates me, as does so much in this journal, to like Richard Serra's work. This piece was in an exhibition in the 1980s of Serra and Keifer at the Saatchi Gallery – can't think of two more powerful artists at the time – it was overwhelming.
This particular set of works was all about balancing extremely heavy sheets of steel in configurations that leant against the gallery walls, or against each other. It was dangerous, fragile, deceptively still. A heavy lead pipe sagged quietly in a corner. The gallery rooms were small, silent, all that metal lying not quite inert.
This drawing, however, from 1972, being just oil stick on paper, races off the page.
Have always seen Serra's work as a series of registrations: of land, of physical forces, of structural properties – that intersection of a natural world of weather, people and, usually, civilised urban spaces and Serra's great slabs that in interrupting the natural order we never think about, actually point it out, heighten it, makes us think about the drones in the gallery system installing these dangerous works, or the office workers whose ant-like paths across the plaza are diverted, annoyed, or the allegedly neutral walls, floors and spaces of the gallery or museum which are forced into strenuous support of a temporary installation. The work is so structurally and formally engaged that it forces us to engage with it.
Found Hamada's beautiful work originally in Raw + Material = Art. Found, scavenged and upcycled, 2012 by Tristan Manco, a survey of a wide international range of artists using non-traditional materials.
I used to find scavenged materials really exciting, especially in building: the transfer of dadaist collage to architecture, but after this book I sort of lost a bit of interest. The work often seemed gimmicky: not arte povera so much as art clever clogs. Hamada has quite a few of the pages from this book on his own blog including the Chilean Luise Valdes, whose 'Cocinar', part of Casa de Karton, I quite like as it looks not unlike my own house: small, white, basic, hand finished – it reminds me of the irregular rooms hacked into the cliffs above Alicante which were all nicely tiled. Not that my house is a sculpture, or that Valdes was building a house, but the nature of the surfaces are hand-worked, not the product of a machine or an industrial process. This is increasingly rare to see, the marks of the hand.
Two ends of a material scale: Hamada's resin finished like ivory with inlays and thin seams of ebony, and Valdes' whitewashed cardboard. One immensely calm, solid and contemplative, the other earnest, fragile and beloved. The Hamada piece above, #73, does not appear in Raw + Material = Art, but is on his website along with a number of prints of this folded shape:
This work is all material and shape and has gone on for years within a very limited formal palette. Valdes is about material and material culture: form is supplied by the everyday world and as such rich and complex and intimate. I like this pairing.