The Tempest

I’m long back from Ukraine, visiting family and having had a long unscheduled guilty holiday from the blog. Oh well.

Seeing an open-air production of Shakespeare’s ‘All’s well that ends well’ got me wondering what my favourite Shakespeare play is (answer: The Tempest), and jogged a memory of a beautiful puppet version from childhood. A whole series of animated Shakespeare tales was commissioned by the BBC in the early 1990s from the Christmas Films Studio in Moscow. Luckily, they’re available on youtube to share here:


Thanks to some new friends I am becoming properly educated in Ukrainian culture. Meet Чебура́шка (Cheburashka), an unknown species of cute furry creature who turns up in a box of oranges and his friend Крокодил Гена (Krokodil Gena), a bow-tie-wearing, accordian-playing reptile.

Here’s the first episode: Gena the Crocodile, made in 1969 by Roman Kachanov.

Kenoujak Ashevak (and me) in Paris

On Tuesday I got back from a short family trip to Paris. We revisited old favorites (Cluny Museum, crème brûlée) and savoured some new (chocolate soup, Rodin Museum). I’ll share those later, but first, a highlight:

Fantastic Kenojuak Ashevak at the Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris.

This exhibition showcased 40 works by Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013), an artist from Ikirasaq, near Baffin Island in the Northwest territories of Canada. Ashevak transferred her skills in traditional inuit textile designs to drawing and printmaking and became one of the first artists from the area to attract international attention.

Her images often depict birds and animals, sometimes alone, sometimes in symmetrical groupings. Some are drawn cleanly and straightforwardly, others are surrounded by blobby protrusions, as if appearing from the patterns of ice floes, like images discovered in cloud formations.

Fantastic Kenojuak Ashevak is on show at the Canadian Cultural Centre, 5 rue de constantine, Paris 7ème until 6th September 2013.

Ashevak was also the subject of this short film Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak made in 1963 by John Feeney, available to see for free on the National Film Board of Canada website.

Dieter Roth at the Camden Arts Centre

Notes on a visit to the Camden Arts Centre’s exhibition Dieter Roth: Diaries, 17 May – 14 July.

Dieter Roth (1930-98) was a Swiss-German artist known for his varied range of mixed-media artwork, often using found materials.

© Camden Arts Centre, London

The first gallery has a library-like atmosphere; on one side stand five bookcases, interspersed with lamp lit reading desks. There are five shelves on each side of the bookcases, each housing fourteen carefully dated ringbinders filled with the detritus of Roth’s life – photos, letters, medication packets, cigarette ends, bus tickets and numerous sundry scraps of paper. His one criteria for candidates into these files was that objects should be no thicker than 1/4 inch.

Roth seems to have had the understanding of an archaeologist that it’s actually the objects we use daily to the point of being unconscious of them, the detritus that usually ends up in rubbish pits and landfill sites, that reveals the most about us. These give a more honest portrayal of an individual or society than any official biography or collection of high-end artefacts, through sheer accumulation and by the very fact that they tend to be overlooked and underestimated. The piece raises the question Why keep everything?, but then again, Why keep anything?

© Camden Arts Centre, London

In the second gallery, a series of wooden boards covered in stains, notes, paint and doodles reminds me of long-suffering school desks and the kitchen table of a friend whose children have free reign to scratch and sketch over its surface. These, along with the shelves of ringbinders and the journals in a nearby cabinet, are just another kind of diary for Roth, a record of his life.

Gallery 3 houses Roth’s most extreme and ambitious project of documenting his life. He set up video recorders in rooms in his house and studios and for two years captured his daily life. A wall of television sets simultaneously show Roth sleeping, eating, washing up, making phone calls, going to the toilet, and, largely, working. The last video impassively records the empty studio on the day he died.

Later, flicking through the exhibition catalogue, I chanced upon this telling quote by Roth:

D.R.: For me, it’s…it’s like a cancerous tumour, it’s basically an illness. An illness that I have. Now.

I.L-H.: This compulsion to represent your entire life.

D.R.: Yes. That’s my terminal illness. It’ll probably be the cause of my death.

Extract of interview with Irmelin Lebeer-Hossmann, Stuttgart, 20-22 June 1979, published in ‘On Keeping a Diary’, Dieter Roth: Diaries, ed. Fiona Bradley (Yale University Press, 2012), p. 158

I wonder what Roth would have made of social media and blogging had he witnessed the current culture of recording daily life on a massive scale? The questions raised by his pointedly indiscriminate recording and archiving seem more pertinent than ever.

Is the desire to be heard and remembered a terminal illness that we all suffer from to some degree?

Dieter Roth: Diaries runs from 17 May to 14 July 2013 at the Camden Arts Centre, London. Free entry to all.

Act of Terror Documentary

Just seen a short film by Gemma Atkinson that I thought worth sharing. It’s an animation about her experience of UK police misuse of the terrorism act, funded by the resulting settlement.

There’s more information about the film on the act of terror documentary website.

It reminds me of what a powerful weapon a camera can be. This happens to be the subject of the latest This American Life piece – ‘Picture Show’. If you haven’t come across this Chicago Public Radio show before, I’m delighted to introduce you to one of the most thoughtful and varied discussion shows out there in this baffling expanse we call the web. All their past shows are available free here on their archives page.

Historical Hairdos

‘Sappho’: fresco of a lady holding a stylus to her lips, with a writing tablet in her left hand. From Pompeii.

Recently my sister told me about this amazing lady called Janet Stephens who makes youtube videos on reconstructions of historical, mainly ancient, hairdos. A lot of them actually involve using a needle and thread to stitch the hair in place, and so also require a handy slave to do all the work.

I also found this wonderful quote in the catalogue for the current Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum:

Ovid in his Ars Amandi (III, 133ff) “…in the same way you can’t count the acorns on an oak tree, so you’ll never be able to count the different ways of doing women’s hair … many women look great with a bedraggled careless look. You’d think it was yesterday’s hairdo (but she’s only just done it…). Contrived styles must look casual.”

Paul Roberts, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum (British Museum Press, London, 2013), p. 135

PJ Harvey’s England

For a few months now, I’ve had PJ Harvey’s album ‘Let England Shake’ going round and round in my head. And I’m still not sick of it.

I think this is testament to her unlike-any-other, ever-changing voice and singing style, catchy tunes and, above all for this album, incredible lyrics.

I came across this interview with her online, which helps to explain why her lyrics work alone as poetry in their own right.

The words of the song ‘England’ are perhaps my favourites. They capture my own love for and ambivalence towards this country.


I live and die through England
Through England
It leaves a sadness

Remedies, never were
Within my reach
I cannot go on as I am
I cannot leave

A withered vine
Reaching from the country that I love
You leave a taste, a bitter one

I have searched for your springs
But people stagnate with time
Like water, like air
To you England, I cling

Undaunted, never failing love for you

Okay Knit!

Cary Grant learns to knit!
A little discovery I made after googling “men knitting” (what can I say? everyone has a fetish).
I’d love to see the rest of the film – ‘Mister Lucky’, made in 1943 with Cary Grant as Joe Bascopolous, Laraine Day as Dorothy Bryant and Florence Bates as Mrs Van Every, the knitting instructor.

Some favourite quotes:
“We want a group of obviously masculine men to take up knitting, do it perfectly casually in public places.”
“We’ll educate those little piggies!”
“Take off your hat! Take that cigarette out of your mouth! Now siddown! ..Give him the needles!”
“Oh! Don’t be alarmed young man.. let me look at your hands..”
“You take the one gimick and you stickitinhere like this, and then you take the string and putitbetween the two gimicks and then you takeit and you just..all off!.. that’s all there is to it!”

Men, Women and Clothes

I’ve just come across this amazing series from 1957 in the BBC archives called Men, Women and Clothes. The six episodes were presented by the formidable fashion historian, Doris Langley Moore, and the series was the BBC’s first in colour. The whole series is available, free, online here.

Doris Langley Moore in the first episode – Men, Women and Clothes: How Fashions Come and Go, 1957.