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!