Monday, August 13, 2007

Art Show: Global Cities

In 2006 the glass turned half full - or half empty, depending on wether you belong to the species of confessional urbanites or new age country bumpkin. This year, for the first time in human history, half of the global population has chosen (or was forced economically) to survive in a habitat that is defined by speed, size, density, diversity and last but not least pollution and noise.

The great thing about this exhibition is the fact that it is so accessible, digestible. You are actually experiencing one of the displayed Mega Cities - London - either as a resident, or as a tourist during your weekend trip. And the smartly curated display does make you wonder and ponder a lot:

For instance about the densitiy issue. Think London is crowded? How must it be in Cairo then with about 35.000 - thirty five thousand - inhabitants per squaremile, which is nearly 10 times as dense as London (4.5K) You can really grasp this through this cleverly material-printed 3-D model above, the higher the topography the higher the density. BTW: The most densely populated disctrict in the world is Monkok on the Hong Kong peninsula, with an unbelievable 250.000 inhabitants per squaremile. One of the things you should experience in your life!

Also, even though I hear my native tongue nearly every day in Zone 2 (that is excluding all ze Jerman tourists on sightseeing) and the fact that there are at least five German number plates within 10 mile radius of my flat, I am always stunned to hear the latest immigration figures: 40.000 Deutsche call London their home, like me. That's the size of a so-called Middle Town, or one load at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea Stadium for non-locals or footie ignorants) However, the really striking statistic is the heterogenity of London immigrants. Ok, there are about 170K indians and another 85K from Bangladesh dominating a little bit, but other than that, there seem to be about 20-40 thousand from almost a two dozen of countries, which only mirrors the true cosmopolitan spirit of the Big Smoke. Go to L.A. and you have 1.5 million Mexicans, another quarter million from El Salvador and 150.000 from Guatemala, wheras the Germans stand at 25.000, and Brits bring it to 35K.

Speaking of Latinos, Mexico City is a monster in size and of smog, mainly driven by pollution from cars supported by a totally misled transport policy. In Mexico City, water is more expensive than gas. That is sick! Al you have another mission...Ken wanna emmigrate and become mayor...? When comparing cities like L.A. withg Tokyo on issues like puplic transport, the different styles of life couldn't be more drastic: only 7% of L.As population commutes to work on public transport (and it is mainly the poor) while a staggering 78% rides the mega efficient subway in Tokyo.

Apart from huge info-tainment walls, cubicles and videos, the show also includes art that addresses the subject matter. Richard Wentworth has made a site-specific video installation and some of Andy Gursky's large-scale photographies are on display. But the real winners are rather unknown artists: Nagoa Hatakeyama has photographed a 1/1000 scale 3-D model of Tokyo with the effect that it looks absolutely real, if clean and bar any humans or cars. The model itself contains thousands of buildings, and the texture actually comes from real photographies of the originals. This conceptual approach of a russian doll achieves remarkable aesthetical cleansing.

Then there is a weird vitrine full of every day objects and memorabilia constructing utopian city; quite impressive craftsmanship as well.

My favourite piece in the entire Turbine Hall-specific installation is a wall of photos by South African artist Kendell Geers documenting life in Johannesburg: the decay, tristesse and violence exuding 12 photos of inner city life should be shocking, but you have seen this before and heard the hideous crime stories and taxi wars. No, it is the 80 pictures from affluent suburbia that are truly disturbing, because most foreigners probably have no clue how much armed response there apparently needs to be (that is private companies protecting your property with guns and dogs) and that a multi-million villa actually resembles more a fully protected army camp in a combat zone with kilometers of barbed wires and electric fences. Very sad, but very much a reflection of the world order and safety realities in many countries.

I am glad I have lived in big cities like London, Hong Kong, NYC, LA, Singapore, Tokyo or just visited them, but somehow this Tate visit came at a time when we are thinking about moving a bit further out, bigger place with garden, getting a dog and doing more outdoors in the parks, forests and along rivers and ocean shores. It seems like I had my fair share of urbanity, but my glass is becoming half full - in favour of the country side.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Art Show: Candice Breitz

Music is a universal art form. Most of us like certain music genres or styles over others. We also admire, fancy and love our stars. And some of us go above and beyond, and start looking like their idols and mimicking their behaviour. That's what Candice Breitz has captured in three photographs of monumental scale on the ground floor of The White Cube in Mason's Yard. The three groups of devoted followers are Iron Maiden, Marylin Manson and Abba.

At first, i was taken away by the beautiful arrangement of these group portraits, but when looking at the details it triggered fast-moving thoughts and memories: about my own stint in heavy metal gangs during adolescene as well as saturday night tribes, and our desire to belong to a group in general. More than any other art form, music seems to provide a framework for an identity, as these enthusiatic fans look pretty much like their idols - theme and variation.

Moreover, these sub-cultural identities often define themselves through mutual exclusion and aversion, think mots versus bikers back in the 70s. This phenomenon is mirrored by one beautiful detail in the Iron Maiden work: a woman wearing a typical heavy metal uniform comprised of jeans and leather vest cluttered with stickers and patches of her favourite bands and other attitude-bearing pictograms, and the one on her right arm says "Saufen gegen Goth" which means "Binge drinking against gothics" - these deeply melodramatic-depressed-looking disciples of marylin manson are hung on the opposite wall; what a genius juxtaposition!

Downstairs is a 25-screen video piece, and if the photos haven't already made you smile, this will make your day. Instead of listening to John Lennon himself, you see 25 hardcore fans singing his anthems, but each left to their own devices. They listen to the songs via earplugs, and sing alongside his voice - but you can only hear them, one by one, filling a screen on their own, 25 of them in one row, individual yet synchronized, well almost - what a gigantic and hilarious cacophony. Very funny.

To actually watch people "giving everything" in front of a camera looks like worshipping to their god: some are in pain, some look like they just entered heaven, and all that moving limbs and shaking heads, not to forget the pulling of spectacularly weird faces is comic relief and results in a rare atmosphere for a commercial art gallery - wild laughter, open and loud.

The next moment it makes you think how YOU look when passionately singing in the car at 7am in the morning on the M25...

Until 28 Aug 2007 at White Cube | check a short video on

Concert: BBC Proms - Gustav Mahler Symphony No.9

Having played Mahler's 1st myself - The Titan - on the clarinet in my late teenage days, I somewhat became obsessed with his symphonies. To my ears, there is nothing more deliciously complex and dramatic than his first, fiths, and only Schubert's Unfinished tops his ninth in terms of the opulent melodrama of romanticism. Oh well, music history...

Granted, the Royal Albert Hall is not the mecca of accustic fidelity - unlike the Cologne Philharmony, a purpose-built venue for classic concerts - but the charme to walk in after work for a fiver equipped with a blanket and a bottle of champagne urges you to re-position the evening on pleasure.

Hiding the booze like a teenager away from the patrolling staff on the gallery under the roof, it resembled the quest for a working class boy to mingle with his aristocratic lover at dawn without being detected by the entourage of the upper class girl guarding her viginity on the streets of Victorian Kensington.

Then you get the usual rituals of concert master and conductor coming in, receiving applaud, bowing, sitting down, the orchestra getting into pose, a few seconds of empty silence, and then the masterpiece emanates from the stage and illuminates the O2 of the 19th century.

Lying on the floor, closing your eyes, feeling your blood circulation and holding your better half in your arm, your thoughts float into the night and give space to concentrated listening while half asleep. You can just imagine yourself as a well-dressed gentlemenn with a broken heart in 1908 on the dawn of the Belle Epoque roaming the streets of Vienna.

Epic music meets monumental architecture. Can't wait to see the 10th - his unfinished one.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Art Show: Insider Art

There is an urban myth that true art can only be achieved when minds and hearts are distressed, surpressed, and pushed to the limits. In the spirit of that stereotype (which is often devised by collectors and curators as a means to keep their artists poor) one should ask the question wether truth in art can be better accomplished by artists living in dodgy studios, or inmates of prisoners, mental clinics and immigration detention centres.

For all the different reasons of this world, their neccessity to think about the world is a result of the forced time they have available, timed with the pain of realising what they have lost, given up, traded in or fucked up. Hence, this summer show at the ICA displays some pieces where that pain punches you head on. For instance, somebody has painted hundres of ugly and menacing faces lurking behind him - victims that haunt him or other inmates that want to take revenge...for what?

Others are more subtle while some are even witty and funny: a game, devised to be played by new entrants in a prison as a means to learn the "the way we do things around here" is loosely based on Monopoly, but instead of expensive streets and landmarks you have different wings and visitor centres.

My favourite piece is a large embroidery work that has about hundred names with year tags next to it cluttered around the canvas (yes it does look a bit like copying Tracy's tent) but then these names are also accompanied by icons ranging from gothic faces, pigs, red lips, crosses, dolphins etc. Only when you see one sexually explicit depiction, you start to wonder what the story of this inside (or rather outside?) artist is all about - mind you the names are a mixture of female and male, and the artist is a woman.

Coincidently, I got a DVD today with little animation movies of ideas for future architecture - and one is called "Creative Prison" by Alsop. His idea to transform prisons into places where people unleash their creative potential is based on the statistic that the shocking number of 80% of ex prisoners fail after 2 years in this country. If prisons were more accomodating to inmates to be productive while serving a sentence, then they would better re-socialse and integrate afterwards, because they could apply for jobs with newly acquired skills and certificates.

Moreover, there are not many other places in this country for working class male (unfortunately the majority of inmates) to show any form of feminine emotion, and painting your hopes and fears as well as talking about it when you are awarded with one of the Koestler prizes (the basis for this exhibition). In this light, you should not focus on artistic craftsmanship, but the aspect of identity and possibility.

And never forget: there is always a - if admittably very small - number of inmates in prisons or mental clinics, that shouldn't really be there, not genuine criminals with a long history of violence, but people that somehow got onto the wrong track, did that one mistake and got caught, went to the wrong demonstration, or even got sentenced without any evidence of their guilt like so many in 21st century detention camps - and one of them could be you and me; and how could we possibly survive if not through artisitic expression, just like Koestler, a writer and the founder of this prize, who was wrongly imprisoned for three months during the Spanish Civil War - apparently for civil unrest.

Theatre: Boeing Boeing

As much as I am a contemporary arts man, I am not exactly a theatre man by the same token. And I could - or should. My cousin Eva heads up the music production at the mighty Globe on the Southbank, but when it comes to Shakespeare versus an intense 2-cast blackbox play at the Bush theatre I would favour the latter - sorry sweetie.

More shockingly, I have only been to a West End show five years - and that was upon request of my visiting parents. However, my partner got free tickets for Boeing Boeing, and that is where at least one end closes to my cousin: she wildly recommended me to see this production when Marc Rylance, the then artistic director and head actor at the Globe, departed his venture after 10 years to embark on a mainstream production, yes, this one. (he is not there anymore but his successor was fab to say that upfront)

So, what is it all about?

Revisit the 60s, when flying was considered not a commodity but luxury for a very few, and being an air hostess for a venerable airline granted you C-celebrity status and a lucrative affair with the tanned pilot (B-celebrity) if that was your cup of tea. In Boeing Boeing, however, the air hostesses are all engaged to Bernard, a successful architect living in Paris, and to be precise, he has three of them. He manages this love rectangle with meticulous attention to detail, by studying their flight schedules, changing his diet, and of course, all the taste swings in his swanky appartment.

It all goes smoothly until one day his old friend from school shows up - the exact opposite of the cool elegant playboy, and becomes, you guess it, witness of a day gone wrong: storm over the Atlantic brings the American from TWA back on the wrong evening, and the Italian gets another day in transit, all when his German favourite is supposed to fly in for the night.

What happens then over the course of the next 2 hours is a one big laugh caused by wicked humour, lots of banality jokes, and a terrific performance from Gretchen, the Lufthansa Eagle, who encapsulates the intense drama queen to a T. I have not laughed at my own cultural stereotypes so loudly in a while. And of course, Robert, the dorky shy friend, is being dragged into juggling these three hotbeds, together with the annoyed and cynic house keeper.

The piece is very retro, and predictably posed some questions in my head afterwards: were that the good old times my parents were talking about, when flight schedules were stable (stale) for years, when a lot of jobs triggered a romantic fascination in people, like being a sailor in the 18th century, all before the efficiency squats of huge management consultancies strip all roles and tasks bare of any (inefficient) fun parts. On a side note, an air hostess isn't even called that way any more, but I guess we call them flight attendants more for reasons of political correctness. Fine, but the glamour has gone as well: there is a sarcastic German term for it nowadays coined "Saftschubse" which literally means 'Juice Pusher'. That doesn't suggest IT Girl, does it?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Photography: The Hitcher by Chris Coekin

Chris Coekin spent 5 years hitch hiking around the UK, picturing himself standing at the road side with cardboards in his hands, as well as documenting road deaths and other relevant topics. For this type of photos he used a disposable camera, while he shot the portraits of the kind and trusting drivers with a more sophisticated equipment, and the results look distinctively different.

Coeking achieves something magical: you start to wonder who these people are - the one in what 50...or even 100 - who actually picks up a complete stranger. I started to analyse the faces, the make of their car, any other evidence of class, background, the jobs they might have been driving to, or from, as well as their age and potential interest.

And then you ask yourself the "why question" - What makes some people to share their "moving castle" with somebody obviously handicapped in his mobility, while hordes of others drive by thinking...well...what do we think when we see somebody displaying a cardboard for a ride? I have taken hitchers when surfing in Cornwall, mainly because I felt sorry for them, and also because I thought I'd get some valuable tip offs in return (I actually did) Then I had situations where I wanted to but didn't have any space. However, I also often don't give a damn, don't I...

The photographer gives away some of the motives why people picked him up, but thankfully, but he only does this every now and again, giving you enough food for thought while leaving enough room for further guessing and wondering.

A selection of the cardboards used to write down his desired destination is mounted in a grid formation on the third wall of the cafe space. This well structured approach is an effective ironic take on the rather inconsistent hit-and-miss approach of hitch hiking, where you probably do not get from A to B in a predictable and orderly fashion, assumably more lateral, often via C and D.

At the Photographer Gallery until 2 Sept

Concert: Manteca at 606 Jazz Club

You drive into Chelsea Harbour, Lots Road, 18th century factory buildings, you stand in front of an unassuming door eyeing through the metal bars down the stairs, no sign, then you find the door buzzer, hidden, a guy in the basment opens the door and you leave 21st century behind and expect a prohibition establishment selling Vodka made in a bath tub.

Downstairs, you enter 606, my favourite Jazz club in London. You won't find the really big international names here (go to Ronnie Scott's) but you will find the creme de la creme of British Jazz as well as young shooting stars from around the world. The trick is, you only spend £10 pounds for fine artists who (in many cases) are band members of the big names anyhow, performing with their own projects and under their own names (you just don't know them) - also a good way to make yourself accomplished with the scene.

On Friday, we were delighted by Manteca, a mixture of salsa and Latin Jazz, and they lit the spark. It only took the opener to turn everybody's attention away from half eaten dinner to a combo of seven lead by Colombian vocalist Martha Acosta. Her passionate singin was backed, pushed and embellished by Trumpet, Sax, Bass, Keyboard, Drums and Bongo. Together, they turned this little venue into a Latino hotbed. The only shame was that there is no place to dance.

At £40 per head including dinner, prosecco and wine, this venue is a real alternative to the bigger names and concert halls, especially if you like it more intimate. A great choice for a second date!

High Street: Wholefoods Temple in Kensington

This is THE ART of Gourmet Shopping and thus it deserves a post on this blog. I know Wholefoods back from The States, where its is the kind of bigger, more corporate brother of Trader Joe's. Granted, most of the food is organic in here, but you have to close one eye on the carbon food print, since it imports a lot from around the world. The trade off is: you will find EVERYTHING, no matter how sophisticated of a home meal you want to cook.

Where in London can you get delicious rarities such plaintains from Costa Rica and fresh Tamarind from Thailand in the same supermarket, instead of trawling different markets from Green Street to North End Road? Exotic goods aside, a lot of the produce is local and spanking fresh, and I have never seen so much choice of salads on a single shelf, well it is 50 feet long!

Basically, this temple of monumental proportions devotes the size of a Tesco Local each to distinct areas such like fish, herbs, nuts, coffee, and easily the size of a Tesco Centre for cheese, wine and staple food. Oh, the wine extensive and covers all our favourites from Casa Lapostolle (Chile) to Rosenblum (California) and you can even (re-) fill your own bottle of organic Spanish wine for £5.

You don't want to just do the usual after-work-stressed-pressing-for-speed go shopping there, you want to spend time on this whole experience; explore, wander, wonder, get lost, find new ways to Rome (I seriously thought about their approach to feasting) and simply be carried away by whatever your 'weakness' is - one thing is for sure, it is measured in calories. According to Meghan, I said "we need to go" apparently a number of times - as a means for self protection against being skint in the first week of a months and blowing-up to Peter Griffin size from the TV series Family Guy by the last of it.

We ended up with a few samples and tasters for a tenner and comparing the prices to Tesco and Planet Organic, well it is somewhat inbetween, depending on your taste buds.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Art Show: Mark Dion - Systema Metropolis

Mark Dion's environments are a bit like art for geeks: a taxonomy of species (mainly insects) and objects found in urban spaces like the Brompton Cemetary, Highgate, and the Thames. In the latter, his research teams find way more plastic bags, balls of all sorts and other waste, but also a dozen species of fish, including a sea horse! And the probes have been taken in front of Battersea Power Station, not Henley.

I do like these taxonomic, almost scientific apporoaches in the art world, being it Michael Landy's 'Breakdown' or Joseph Beuys' 'Wirtschaftswerte' - meticulously documenting, clustering, and clinically displaying whatever they chose to examine. Dion's projects have an archeological strand excavating living creatures as well as man-made objects from locations across the globe. His style of installation, however, reminds me of Damie Hirst's glass vitrines.

My favourite piece in this exhition is the stuff that he digged out of the Themse river, and put it into a translucent tent: you can see what's inside, including clay pipes from the 17th century, but it is all fuzzy and blur, just like the murky water where it rested for weeks or centuries. Only when you walk around it, you can gaze through a fine green moskito-like net, and out of a sudden the objects become clear and sharp - and, well, greener. A nice reflection of the fact, that the Thames is actually a clean river, ok, at least from Fulham upstream.

Until 2 September 2007 at the Natural History Museum

Art Show: Paul Chan

Paul Chan uses moving shadows projected onto Gallery walls and floors. Different objects move through the video surface at differnt speeds, and there is anything from abstract shapes and forms, to cars, trees, people, weapons, lines, dots, and flags

These clever immaterial installations cause many different associations in the spectator. Some samples: Genocide in Africa, Conquistadors versus Indians in 16th century Latin America, ghost ships, planes dropping bombs on cities, villagers watching bombs being dropped at them, bodies jumping down The Twin Towers, AK47 machine guns passing by as if they were feathers in the wind and so on.

However, your associations never get confirmed, it remains fuzzy and ambiguous. And that is the trick. It makes you wander what is out there, has been in the past, and will be in future - or rather is flying around you, painfully visible, or eerily unoticed.

Amongst all this dark visual poetry (the shadows are black after all) there was one thing that made me laughing out loud: I had the pleasure to observe three people either abruptly avoiding to trip onto the shadow projections, or being seriously warned by their anticipating partners "to be careful" as if they would destroy a fragile piece of art. Obviously, the formal and controlled space of a public gallery has ingrained the behaviour in many people to not touch art by all means, and if in doubt, to better not take a close inspection since the guard might strike a pre-emptive alarm. Watching folks when trying not to trip into an immaterial shadow on mere floor tiles, is quite a comical sight, believe me...At the other end, other visitors walked right through the picture, in established wave-into-the-camera-style:-)

Until 1 July at The Serpentine