Friday, March 14, 2014

Top photo:; bottom:
I managed to catch the new Spike Jonze film Her recently, which stars Joaquin Phoenix. Set in a hyper-stylised LA about 11 years from now, it concerns his character, Theodore Twombly, falling in love with (wait for it) the operating system of his computer, who has 'artificial intelligence'. As far-fetched as this sounds, it should be pointed out that in Jonze's vision of the future, operating systems have voices, which interact with their users. Furthermore, in Her, the operating system, called 'Samantha', is voiced by the sultry tones of Scarlet Johansson, as opposed to, for example, the creepy voice of HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (more on that later).
The idea of humans falling in love with computer 'personalities' is not as far-fetched as it seems. In Japan, there have been cases of young men falling in love with female computers. However, in Her, what's important is that Johansson's operating system 'character' is so advanced that she has something approaching 'emotions', and interacts pretty much as a human would with Phoenix's character.

This brings to mind the aforementioned HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), the ship computer of the U.S. spacecraft Discovery One, who famously 'malfunctions' in 2001 en route to Jupiter and attempts to kill the entire crew. 'He' – if we can ascribe a gender to HAL – succeeds in doing so, except for Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea), who manages to shut HAL 9000 down. In an extraordinary sequence – one in a film of many – we see Bowman 'disembowel' the various connections of HAL while HAL pleads to Bowman in his monotone voice not to do so. “Please, Dave, stop - my mind is going...” HAL repeats, before his voice is a reduced to a robotic baritone as a result of regressing to his earliest programmed memory, whereupon he sings the song “Daisy Bell”, the first thing that was programmed into him:

“Daisy, Daisy
Give me your answer, do
I'm half crazy
All for the love of you.”

The computer then disconnected, a pre-recorded message is automatically played, which reveals to Bowman the real purpose of the journey to Jupiter, relating to those ubiquitous black monoliths. But I digress.

Out of the two films, Kubrick's robot feels far more convincing than 'Samantha'; HAL's deadpan monotone voice, even while he is being destroyed by Bowman, conveys artificial intelligence much more persuasively than 'Samantha', who in Her veers too close to implausible, hysterical real emotions to be really convincing (at least for this viewer).

What's interesting watching Her, though, is in the way it captures how a near-future society will be even more technology-obsessed than we are now. In the film, Twombly has his emails read aloud to him from his smart phone (via headphones) while he takes public transport; he can choose to delete them by simply stating the word 'delete' (surely something that's bound to be reality sooner or later). Meanwhile, his use of 'Samantha' is as a substitution for real love, and technology features all through the film (indeed, the whole thing looks like an advert for a tech firm, with its sun-kissed, sepia-stained vision of California that brings to mind something from the Instagram app).
In this, the film captures the way that technology is encroaching on our lives in ever more closer ways. When I get the bus around London, it's almost impossible now to not hear someone bellowing into their mobiles at full volume (something that the Underground is blissfully free from due to a lack of signal most of the time). It's as if we've collectively forgotten about the comfort of other members of the public, and retreated instead into our own atomised bubble. This is in contrast to the early 90s (before mass use of mobile phones), when taking the bus was a serene, enjoyable experience. The invention of smart phones has meant that more and more people on public transport effectively blot out the world around them. I'm not exempting myself from this – I usually play music apps on my mobile, and am guilty of checking emails on the bus when I don't need to. But then, I do the former in order to drown out the sound of other people talking on their phones. It does feel sometimes as if technology has made us more and more impersonal from each other. And that extends too to the fact that it's very difficult to walk into a shop or cafe now without being bombarded by music at frequently loud decibels. It's almost as if we've become afraid of silence and reflection.
The fact that technology can very rarely be a better substitution than corporeal interaction with other people face-to-face is captured in Her's slightly corny, if endearing, ending, after 'Samantha' has left Twombly (as a result of 'her' being due to be 'upgraded', as I recall); he responds by visiting his ex, Amy (who has also had a relationship with her OS, and subsequently also been 'dumped'). The two sit on the roof of the apartment building that they share, suggesting that they may get back together. Human contact has been restored, somehow.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Seasonal greetings, all. Apologies for the lack of posts, which has been down to work, the inevitable busy period before Christmas, and generally feeling shitty.
Earlier this month I attended the final three-day UK festival of All Tomorrow's Parties, which took place at its original stomping grounds of Pontins Camber Sands. ATP will carry on going (including hosting a two-day fest in Iceland next summer), but have announced that it will no longer be hosting the regular three-day festivals in the UK which became its trademark.
I've been to a fair amount of the ATP UK festivals over the years (you can view pictures here from it here on Flickr - more will be added), so this really did feel, as the tagline put it, like the 'End of an Era'.
For those not acquainted with the ATP three-day music festivals which have just ended, they usually took place at a British holiday camp, with at least one band 'curating'. Said band headlined the festival and chose the other bands on the bill, as well as the films in the cinema and on the TV.
The festival began at Pontins holiday camp in Camber Sands, Essex - a desolate coastal resort with even more desolate Dungeness, famous for its bleak-looking landscape and power station, just nearby. It then moved after a few years to Butlins holiday camp in Minehead, in Somerset, a tiny town with an estuary facing the Welsh coast across the water. The first ATP at this site was the first one I went to, thus sadly missing the magic of those first ATPs in the early 2000s, which really did sound special.
Over the last fifteen years, ATP's roll call of curators is as close to comprehensive in left-field music as it's possible to get: Belle & Sebastian (as curators of the Bowlie Weekender in 1999, which morphed into ATP), Shellac, Mogwai, Slint, Sonic Youth, Vincent Gallo, Thurston More, Mike Patton & The Melvins, The National, My Bloody Valentine, The Mars Volta, The Breeders, Portishead, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Animal Collective, Pavement, even the ticket-going public themselves (with 'ATP vs The Fans'), and a ton of others...the last of which, which took place at the beginning of December, was curated jointly by ATP themselves and Loop – a band slightly before my time, but whom I've discovered subsequently while checking out the late 80s UK scene of bands such as Spacemen 3, A.R. Kane, Bark Psychosis, etc.
Unlike the hardcore ATP fans, many of whom have been to something like thirty ATPs, I have only been to a couple (well, about ten). The first was curated by Thurston Moore, at the new site of Butlins Minehead. I think the year was about 2007 or so, possibly earlier. My recollection is of the insanity of that first ATP, at Butlins with its abrasive line-up of power electronics, noise, punk, out-there rock and free jazz outfts. There was Nurse With Wound's barrage of post-industrial noise, with David Tibet (of Current 93), the latter screaming “I'll see you on the dead side of the moon!” to a stunned bar staff more used to Steps tribute bands; My Cat Is An Alien playing a two-hour long drone while I chucked chairs around the room with my pals (it was that kind of weekend); Iggy & The Stooges live onstage at Butlins, almost like a dream; The New Blockaders, a group of men in radiation outfits with a bunch of power tools onstage, much of which they revved up to a background of deafening power electronics while a front row of beards watched on, the security men looking disctinly uncomfortable (it was 1pm on a Saturday afternoon, after all); Sunburned Hand of the Man crowding the stage on Sunday night with about twenty band members, one of whom spent the entire time blowing bubbles at the audience while dressed in a Victorian outfit and oversized pink sunglasses...then there was the procession late at night with people with sheets on their head, circles cut out for them to see.
Subsequently ATPs that I've been to have been no less insane, including a 10-hour set by Oneida, the Wu-Tang Clan's GZA queuing for a hotdog, and spontaneous concerts by Lightning Bolt everywhere in the holiday camp but the stage. But going a number of times has meant that I've been able to check out delights too, such as the cinema showing ATP documentaries, the swimming pool (with underwater sounds broadcast as “Wet Sounds”), and (ahem) crazy golf.
The genus of ATP wasn't just the idea of curation by a band or individual, which hadn't really been done much before at a three-day festival. It was the setting in these faded British holiday camps such as Butlins and Pontins, with the public staying in chalet accommodation, which lent the whole atmosphere a surreal kitsch when juxtaposed with the frequently experimental nature of the music. ATP pioneered a whole other kind of festival, one smaller-scale and free of corporate sponsorship, in contrast to mega-fests such as Reading and Wireless; at ATP, a lack of VIP areas meant that bands and the public converged together in the on-site pub (literally – I was standing next to Michael Rother from Neu! at the pub counter queuing for drinks at the event this December). This smaller scale model of a festival can be echoed in festivals such as Liverpool Psych Fest, Supersonic, Supernormal, Colour Out Of Space, and others, which will be the festivals of choice for yours truly in the next few years, in the absence of ATP – who will themselves carry on with boutique festivals abroad, in exotic locations from Iceland to New York and Australia. Just not Pontins Camber Sands or Butlins Minehead. 

So au revoir ATP, it was nice knowing you. Here's to the last fifteen years of mayhem and fun.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Photo by Hywel Williams © 2006 (taken from
The ebb and flow of the Thames Estuary has always captivated and inspired artists and writers. An exhibition currently on show at the Museum of London Docklands, due to finish on the 27th October 2013, captures this fascinating interzone, focusing on the poetic psycho-geography of the winding river as it meets the English Channel. From the WWII paranoia of the Maunsell Forts, their decay and erosion captured by a blogger living in isolation in one of the forts, to the Bow Gamelan Ensemble utilising the semi-industrial zone of the Rainham Barges, Estuary captures the existential reaction to this powerfully dramatic segment of land, with its saltmarshes and mudflats, the river winding through desolate vast vistas both physically and in the mind. Along the way are captured the flotsam and jetsam of the river’s journey in Gayle Chong Kwan’s The Golden Tide, capturing the detritus and junk left over, whether condoms, food packets, cocaine wrappers or needles – the human imprint. As the Thames winds through Essex to the North Sea, the exhibition captures the ghostly semi-urban feel of the area, full of factories, wind farms, and sewage-treatment centres, like something out of the landscape of Tarkovsky’s Stalker
Fans of industrial music will like the footage of the Bow Gamelan Ensemble in action in 1985, on site at Rainham, captured in Jane Thorburn’s short film 51º 29’.9” North - 0º11’ East, Rainham Barges (the title a reference to the map grid reference of the site, with the ‘gamelan’ referring to the Malaysian percussive instrument). Surrounded by abandoned concrete barges, the trio of percussionist Paul Burwell, performance artist Anne Bean, and sculptor Richard Wilson are filmed frequently nearly submerged in water, utilising everything solid floating around them for percussive effect. They’re also captured sending sparks flying with various machinery while on dry land, making an unholy racket along the way, in a nod – conscious or otherwise – to industrial music.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, William Raban’s Thames Film - shot in 1986 and narrated in a dream-like poetic prose by John Hurt - starts at Tower Bridge before making its way (via tantalising shots of the pre-Canary Wharf Docklands) to the sea, taking in power stations, ports and Canvey Island seaside resort. The calm, hypnotic ebb and flow of the sea is also captured in Horizon (Five Pounds A Belgian), in which a camera in a wide static position captures the sea off Margate in different weather conditions, the sky filled with different hues and shades of dark, casting shadows on the waves. Occasionally kite-surfers and golfers enter the frame, before amiably disappearing off-screen.
But the real find is Stephen Turner’s Seafort Project, in which Tuner took up residence alone in 2005 in the Shivering Seafort, one of the Maunsell Forts built in the Second World War as a deterrent to German aircraft using the river as a navigation aid. These huge turrets still rise today out of the sea near Whitstable in dramatic fashion, but have essentially been abandoned for seventy years, with the Port of London Authority up until 1992 maintaining a gauge to measure the state of the tide. The time span he chose to spend in the fort – thirty-six days – was deliberately set to correspond with the tour of duty that military personnel spent in the forts during WWII.
Communicating to the outside world via a blog and webcam, captured in the exhibition on two large screens (one for text and the other for images), the installation captures the sheer solipsist claustrophobia and isolation of the forts, surrounded by rotting decay and rusting machinery as they face the elements. Accompanying images show parts of machinery, images of birds resting on the side of the forts, barely legible old letters, and holes in peeling walls. The impression is of a man slowly going insane, yet he finds things to do with his time: in an environment of steel and concrete, he manages to nurture some life by growing an herb garden.
Meanwhile, the waves beneath him lap endlessly as the English Sea opens up. From there, the current makes its way out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

For the last few months, while the weather has been hot, I have been cycling and jogging along the River Lea, starting off from Springfield Park and navigating through there through Walthamstow Marshes, though the Lee Valley, through Hackney Marshes, and all the way to Hackney Wick. Sometimes I’ll even go the other way, down to Tottenham Marshes and Tottenham Hale. All these ‘marshes’ were drained a while ago, so they’re actually more like fields, providing a much-needed source of calm and green in the area. It’s made me become more interested in just how much London is intersected with canals and rivers (other than the main one, of course – the Thames), and how it’s affected the topography of London.

The River Lea has always been there, a constant feature of my life growing up in this area of London. Its name possibly comes from the old Celtic word for ‘bright’, ‘lug’, though there are other, competing claims. When England was ruled under Danelaw, sometime in the 800-900s, it was used as part of the Danelaw boundary. Meanwhile, cities and areas of London owe their etymology to the river: think of Leagrave, Luton, Leyton, and Leamouth, all variants of Old Anglo-Saxon signifiers of an area near the river Lea.
It begins all the way from the Chiltern Hills and winds its way through Hertfordshire and its various towns, before entering London via Enfield Lock (again a reference to the river), just beyond Waltham Abbey. From there it navigates through all the places familiar to me: Edmonton, Chingford, Tottenham, Walthamstow, Upper Clapton (right near Stamford Hill), Leyton…and Hackney Wick, which is where I’ll usually finish. Along the way, I pass pubs overlooking the river and hundreds of moored barges, many with people living in them; some sell drinks, some are full of people playing music; some even sell books.
But the Lea carries on beyond the Wick, winding right around the Olympics site in Stratford and through Fish Island, Bromley-by-Bow, Poplar, Canning Town, and Leamouth. There, its work done, the river terminates at Bow Creek, running eventually into the Thames. One day, I’ll attempt to cycle the full distance.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Some non-Arbeit Gallery posts will be coming up soon, but for now, this is what we're doing this weekend as part of the annual Hackney WickED festival, which takes place in the Hackney Wick area and involves lots of arty shenanigans (though it wasn't on last year due to the Olympics nearby), with many galleries hosting private views and other events and workshops taking place. Here's some stuff about our contribution to the festival, with a PR release below.

We are extremely excited to announce that, for the first time, Arbeit Gallery will be participating in the annual Hackney WickED festival, taking place from 16 to 18 of August 2013. On 16 August at 6pm, we are proud to present Formed View, a multi-media performance piece by the artist Christopher Matthews. Formed View investigates politics of perception of the moving figure through different kinds of improvisation. It is a collaborative research piece in which the body operates as a performance site and an object of observation, a piece “looking into how the body gives us signs that we both can and cannot read, how the moving body can operate in registers defying expectations”, as the artist himself puts it.
The installation involves Lyle Wheeler, a contemporary dancer, improvising with the support of movement practitioner James Haswell D’Arcy, whilst artist Sally McKay and writers Alexandrina Hemsley, Jamila Johnson-Small and Charlotte Ashwell of BELLYFLOP Magazine make responses. Their responses will be fed to television screens so that spectators outside of the space but within the gallery can witness the research process. In doing so, Matthews hopes that fundamental questions will be asked: “What is the role of the dancer as he/she is being watched?", "What is the role that the physical appearance of the dancer plays in the situation?”, “What role does the mode of presentation play in the perception of the moving figure?”, “How does improvisation affect or not the relation between the performer and the spectator?”
Formed View will be streamed live on the Hackney Live website, the digital pilot platform initiated and funded by Hackney Council.

We invite everybody to watch the performance inside Arbeit Gallery via the TVs and/or participate remotely through the Hackney Live website. Christopher will answer questions and comments on through the social media platform during the performance. To be part of the streamed event follow us on Twitter - @hackneylive #hackneylive and like us on Facebook - fb/hackneylive.

Christopher Matthews (b. 1980, USA) lives and works in Hackney, London. Currently, he is a CreativeWorks London Entrepreneur in Residence with Roehampton University where he will be devising courses on themes around the artist as a nomad. Christopher was an Emerging dance artist in residence at the Southbank Centre in 2011 and that same year was awarded a Wild Card residency in Croatia by Jardin D’Europe. He was a resident performer with the Hayward Gallery exhibition and tour of Move: Art and Dance from the 60’s and British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet. In 2012, he was a core performer for Tino Seghal’s These Associations at Tate Modern.

BELLYFLOP Magazine is an East London based artist led online magazine. 

Friday 6-9pm
16th August 2013
Arbeit Gallery
Unit 4, White Post Lane, Queens Yard, Hackney Wick, London
E9 5EN

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Memo Mori, by Emily Richardson
Greetings. A whole load of stuff taking place at Arbeit Gallery in Hackney Wick this weekend as part of the grass-roots Lab Film Festival taking place in the surrounding area. On Saturday we’ll be hosting ‘One Pound Cinema’, in which we’ll showcase a selection of short films directed by emerging local and international film-makers from midday all the way to 9pm, all for the princely sum of, well, £1.
On Sunday, meanwhile, from 6-9pm we will be hosting for free a programme of artists’ moving image works entitled London Seizure Part 2: Extension of the Zone of Operation (the first part of this series was screened at Bermondsey Project in Southwark last month).

Arbeit is located at Unit 4, White Post Lane, Queens Yard, Hackney Wick, London, E9 5EN (map).

Some info below on Sunday’s programme of screenings. There's also a lowdown on the individual entries here on Arbeit's website, with screen shots of each. The screening programme will be followed by a panel discussion with the participating artists.

We live in a world shaped by people. What some might call nature has been transformed by human beings, from the earliest communities clearing forests to the sudden acceleration of the process at the end of the eighteenth century with the beginning of the industrial revolution, through the origins of mass production, the large scale urban planning schemes of the modernist movement, the fragmented narratives of postmodernism, to the second decade of the twenty first century. As a process, this transformation continues, with more people than ever before now living in urban centres, mega-cities of steel and glass, engines of a global economy, fuelled by mass consumption.

In metropolitan areas such as London, changes of use and ownership of public and private space are often driven by economic imperatives and security concerns.  Urban developers and private investors make commitments to deliver an improved version of the city which is clean, secure and controlled, though, ultimately, what is created, as a result of this process, is a sterile and less democratic space for the public to use. In due course, these urban neighbourhoods become commodified and branded entities under the control of estate management boards and/ or local authorities, which make decisions on the current and future use of said neighbourhoods. 

A social pattern, well documented in recent decades, has seen creative practitioners, attracted by the easy availability of empty, disused or cheap spaces in former industrial areas, seize the initiative and become resident, temporarily, within the ascending spiral of regeneration processes.  The inevitable consequences are rising property prices, increased socio-cultural value and a highly contested space between various competing interest groups.

With regard to one specific former industrial area, Hackney Wick, it might be argued that no other part of London better evinces this perpetual re-negotiation and interpretation of space and resources.  With the arrival of the now familiar blue fencing, there was a clear signal that decisions about the use of urban space are not guided by the inhabitants of cities but by corporate interests. The blue fencing is symbolic of high security, control and exclusion, subverting even the ethos of events, which are supposed to epitomise inclusiveness, pluralism and democratic values.

The two part-film programme, London Seizure, represents a new contribution to the dialogue on the current social, economic and political climate in London. In order to contextualise the featured works, the screenings have been hosted by institutions in two separate areas of London significantly affected by regeneration processes, Bermondsey Project, Southwark and Arbeit, Hackney Wick.

The artists featured in Part 1: Urban DISease, shared the same motivation to record instances of disruption to the fabric of everyday urban life, with regard to both the quotidian and the wider socio-political agenda, giving voice to a general sense of unease.
The artists featured in this Part 2: Extension of the Zone of Operation, take a special interest in current practices governing urban land use and the hidden narratives behind market oriented housing policies. Oscillating between propaganda, political theatre and anthropological research, their works engage with the recent past, insecure present and uncertain future as a tool against disappearance and forgetting.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Schlager schlager schlager

So a friend of mine acquired a flat in Berlin a few years ago, only to find out that the owner had died shortly afterwards. An old man who lived on his own in the then-unfashionable and low-rent Neukölln district (now rapidly gentrifying – but then, aren’t they all?), the man’s flat included a cellar in which all kinds of crazy ephemera was left behind: calendars from 1983 (the year that his wife died), barely functioning bikes, tons of cigarette packets, sepia-tainted…and boxes and boxes of Schlager music.

Schlager music never really took off in the U.K. Obviously there was the language barrier, but that didn’t stop other Germanic, Northern European countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden having their own adapted form of Schlager in their own language (not to mention, according to that Wiki page, Slavic countries and even Turkey having their own form of the genre elsewhere on the continent). You could, of course, argue that Chas ‘n’ Dave were essentially a British form of Schlager, and having seen the duo twice I can vouch that their oeuvre is somewhat similar in sound if not language. They also share some visual similarities, such as the insistence on wearing men’s suspenders and braces (in the photo above, check out the two guys called 'Original Naabtal Duo' and, two cassette tapes to the right, the barely visible guys in the 'Super Stimmungs-Festival' thing).
The photo above, in fact, should give you some idea of just how many schlager tapes the man had - but that's just a fraction.

This includes what seems to be an inroad into straight comedy, as evidenced by the number of tapes by Fips Asmussen, above (still alive today) - such as Schlag auf Schlag ("Hit After Hit") - whose terrifying-looking website includes the prospect of a "Joke of the Week".

There’s also outfits such as Truck Stop and Hallo Trucker! (both above), whose repertoire seems to be based around emulating fat American truck drivers with baseball caps and large beards, what with tracks such as 'Cowboy bei der Bahn' ('Cowboy By The Railway') and 'Old Texan Town, die Western Stadt', which doesn’t really need translating.
There’s also Freddy Quinn, a genuine ‘star’ on the schlager scene and nothing to do with Joaquin Phoenix's character in the recent Paul Thomas Anderson film about scientologists. His album Star Portrait includes such classics as the dodgy-sounding 'Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins' ('On the Reeperbahn at half past midnight'), and, even more peturbingly, something called 'Older Men Make Better Lovers'. There’s also 'So geht das jede Nacht' ('So it is every night'), in which his chick is caught shagging around, and the below medley in all its glory via the magic of YouTube.

Peter Alexander (below, on the right) also appears to have been another shlager superstar (he died two years ago, apparently), as well as accomplished actor.

 Best known for the ‘hit’ 'Und manchmal weinst du sicher ein paar Tranen' ('And Sometimes You Certainly Cry A Few Tears'), his self-titled album (well, I think it’s self-titled) got a spin by us. It includes such classics as ‘Ich Zähle Täglich Meine Sorgen’ (‘I Count My Daily Worries’), which sounds decidedly upbeat for such a depressingly existentialist song title:

So we decided to have a session while in the Neukölln flat where we would get wasted and listen to these tapes…hours and hours of them. By the end, I can certifiably say that it is the worst music I have ever heard in my entire life. I am still traumatized from listening to this soundtrack to insanity. But I think I’m OK now. Except when I watch all sixty-eight minutes and thirty-five seconds of the below, which I urge you to do, in order to understand the very definition of madness. Like living in Buddhist-inspired ascetic denial of all material gains up a mountain in Bhutan, you will feel cleansed and pure in mind by the end of it.

And then come to the night that we plan to hold in a Neukölln bar (a real German Kneipe, not one of those hipster joints that have spouted up in the area), where we will play the entire set of cassettes in tribute to the man’s life and death, all night. No songs by Can, Faust, or Neu! (or any other lauded Krautrock outfit from the mid-70s) will be permitted. Details of this forthcoming night will be posted right here on this blog - so watch this space!