Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The beauty of Marina is like ...

This is what I wrote her, in the hope of securing a date or some conversation - it was accompanied by an appropriate note of course. She is from a country in Eastern Europe, a particular country whose citizens I now understand to prize their freedom more than almost anything else. But I didn't know where she was from until I'd almost finished writing it - didn't even know her name until then.

Groping for patterns, for meaning, for something that fits I seize on the apparent connection between freedom and rejection, the fluidity of beauty and the association with the city. London, I realise, I associate with nothing so much as freedom - a generalised freedom of existence and of mobility, inasmuch as it is possible within a civilisation. Ironically I suppose. But above all the anonymity, the ability to dissolve completely and yet exist so splendidly.

To be honest, I’m not sure what sort of girl would show any kind of interest in a guy who tries to woo her in this way. That is not to say I don’t think there aren’t any, God forbid I should become so cynical. Perhaps therein lies the answer to the question who or what it is that I am looking for: for such a person as would be interested - or for freedom. Perhaps both.

Yes, sometimes I take myself a little seriously. So, on a lighter note ... Eh, yes, and fwiw and to protect her identity, her name isn’t really Marina.

To Marina

Marina, your beauty is to me
like night-time London's West End streets
that speak and rattle restlessly
through Soho's shadows steeped in unrequited sleep;
down Regent Street at Christmas
where the city sings its venal neon hymns -
and between lattes a shopper hears
forgotten fears, and a broken promise murmuring.
Your beauty is on the Underground
in shaven chins and silences of worshippers
who sway and pray in those cathedrals now
as havens, then transitions. Some disappear.
Marina, although you come from far
I see your beauty where you are.

Monday, May 30, 2005

A weekend in Bristol

After more than one and a half hours on the train we pass Bath, which is picturesque with its old buildings lining the view on both sides of the railway. This pleasure is over all too quickly though and in another 15 minutes or so we arrive at Bristol’s Temple Meads station.

Neither of us has been here before – we have directions to Bristol Backpackers on printed out sheets of paper, information about a few sights to see such as the harbour and Clifton Village, and that is about it. We make our way around Temple Circus and move up Victoria Street when the drizzle turns into rain. I’m too lazy to get out my umbrella. We walk on, cross Bristol Bridge and unwittingly catch our first glimpse of the Floating Harbour. Aye, I was sure the harbour was where the river Avon meets the river Severn about 10 miles outside of Bristol.

Anyway, we find Baldwin Street and eventually St Stephen's street and start looking for the Latino Bar which the directions indicate is across from the hostel. We see the hostel’s banner long before the bar, tucked away at another entrance without much of a signboard outside. We check in, meeting Andrew from New Zealand. I recognise him from his picture on the wall where the current rotating reception workforce has photos. It’s all very efficient and at 14 pounds a night I am still impressed – if you’re just looking for a place to lay your head at night while you get around Bristol you can’t really go wrong with this. There are 6 beds in our room.

We want to go to the harbour, which Andrew tells us is just 5 minutes walk away. Yes, it probably is the little river we spotted on Bristol Bridge … Back on the street M suggests we follow the slant, because the harbour is likely to be at the lowest point. He turns out to be dead right. We have our second glimpse of Bristol's West End and the Bristol Hippodrome near the Centre Promenade, and from there we can see the harbour – man it’s close.

I spot the new Watershed Centre off to the right. In front of us at the quay some boat rides on the ferries are being advertised. I walk closer and a guy seems to appear from nowhere, selling the rides. You can do 40 minute and 1 hour boat rides, all the way to Hotwells and other places. He’s friendly and I ask him about the area. M eyes out the crepes at a nearby stand. I want to try the Mud Dock so I try to convince him that we shouldn’t let the immediacy of our digestive desires deter us from the ultimate aim of experiencing Bristol food in style. Whether he thinks I’m having him on or not I have no idea, but we start looking around for the elusive Mud Dock.

We veer off the docks past the Wildwalk and go to the Tourist Information Centre looking for information on things to do in the evening (we find nothing of interest there). Back at the water a waitress at one of the restaurants overlooking the quay points us in the right direction and we head off across Pero’s Bridge ...

Musician on Pero's Bridge

... to the other side, to Queen’s Square and down to the docks again where the Mud Dock building overlooks the water and the boats in the harbour. It’s too windy to sit outside, but the interior – it’s a bicycle shop downstairs and several bikes are suspended in mid-air or propped near the ceiling as decoration – is interesting and trendy. We stay. The food is good too – and not too pricey if you’re used to London!

View of the harbour from Mud Dock

On our way back we pop into the Architecture Centre. It is rather less than I expected, but does tell a bit about the history of buildings in the city and about several council schemes that have been thwarted over the years that would have impaired or destroyed some of Bristol’s architectural heritage. I’m impressed by that, if not by the “exhibition”.

We pass by Bristol Cathedral and the College Green, where lots of teenagers with black or purple hair, black clothes, silver body piercings and dark eyeliner sit around in groups. I’m amused and half wonder whether I could get acquainted with one of them to find out more about this subculture in Bristol, but our presence seems to arouse no interest in any of them and I am guessing that two tourists in respectable-looking jeans and tops are just too ordinary to hold their attention. I also speculate that this relegates us to the category against which they define themselves, but I don’t have a chance to find out whether this hypothesis is correct because we go off to peer inside Bristol Cathedral where a choir is practicing.

Outside again we pass Bristol Central Library and follow a small street to cross Queen's Parade and enter the park surrounding Brandon Hill. Giovanni Caboto (or John Cabot, as he is known to Bristolians) set sail from Bristol in the ship the Matthew, on May 2 1497 and discovered Newfoundland while looking for a passage to the East. The Cabot Tower on top of Brandon Hill preserves his memory and is visible from various places around the Old City area. We go all the way to Cabot Tower and up Cabot Tower. I have it on good authority from M that there are 81 steps to the first landing and 26 steps more to the second landing. The first landing is extremely windy and my slight fear of heights is provoked at the thought of being swept off (which is unlikely, it is quite enclosed). The second landing is less windy for some reason. Both offer fantastic views of the city.

View of Bristol from Cabot Tower

We head back to the city centre via Charlotte Street and in the hostel I go and lie down for a bit - a dangerous thing as I almost fall asleep! M goes off to look for a Sainsbury's, and lures me into a sitting position with a Jaffa Cake when he returns. He's been as far as the Broadmead Shopping centre to find his necessities.

We go down to the bar area to get a beer. Two guys are playing chess on the bar counter, others are playing cards at a table and a larger group of people chat at a second table. One of the guys at the counter starts grumbling that it’s a shame I’m wasting £1.50 on a beer when you can have two litres of cider from the supermarket for £1.80, pointing to his brew in a see-through bottle. I amiably agree and decide not to linger. We go back to the lobby and sit ourselves down on some of the sofas. Over at the TV some people are watching Troy. A girl from Malaysia sits down and starts talking to us. She studies architecture in London. I invite her to join us for our evening out when we will investigate the live music scene in Bristol.

The wind has it that live music is not very popular on a Saturday night. There are loads of clubs but all offer DJs playing music – nothing live. One person we ask suggests trying a place off Corn street. We run into the queue outside the Walkabout in Corn street before E finds out that the place we are looking for is close by in Clare Street. The Tantric Jazz Bar. They’re full but after pressing the bouncer a few times he relents and finds us a spot. Lovely atmosphere. One guy plays the keyboard and the other a double bass – the string instrument, not the fish. Occasionally a woman joins them to sing.

Back at the hostel we go to the bar. E goes off on her own and I start talking to two girls from Chile. They’re both very friendly. One teaches me a few phrases in Spanish. I can say “chica bonnita”, which means “pretty girl”. Oh, and “hello” and “how are you”, of course.

I drink too much, after another Jack Daniels and Coke I go to my room to find most of my roommates fast asleep. It must be some time after two. I am so considerate, I take my suitcase all the way to the bathroom before opening it to get my toothbrush and finish up. After unlocking my luggage, I carefully put the keys back in my jeans. I start preparing to wear my sleep gear. The jeans slip off easily enough, the said all-purpose party garment is then carefully placed amidst other soft clothes to preserve its texture and a new sleep-garment is pulled from its position inside the suitcase (I would have said space, but the handling of the suitcase tends to cause resettling of elements). I neatly bury all other evidence of the day in the suitcase and without any hesitation proceed to lock the suitcase. Now didn’t I leave my keys inside my jeans? Because I sure as hell don’t see them anywhere on me …

And so the realisation dawns on me that I will probably have to bust open the lock somehow the next morning, at the very least, in order to get to my luggage. Dang! And with that thought repeating itself in various scenarios ranging from aggressive suitcase battering to the abuse of cutting pliers on a titanium lock, I fall asleep.

Clearly, I am not at peace. By 07:40 I am down in the lobby/reception area where all is quiet – very quiet. In fact it is so disturbingly quiet that one of the bar’s clients from the previous night is still sleeping peacefully on the couch. I recall that he was looking set for a severe hangover by the time I left so maybe noise wouldn’t wake him anyhow. Whatever the case may be, I soon find out that reception will only be available after nine. I go to the kitchen to make coffee. Two other early risers - staff members – have come to make coffee as well. I start talking to a girl from Australia who offers some inspiring conversation. She has done some interesting things, one of which was to study Buddhism in Cambodia for 6 months.

Some time after nine reception opens. Reception partied until after 5, and it shows. But she is very helpful. Whereas I was sure nothing less than violence to the lock would open my luggage, she starts applying a hairpin to it. I catch on and take over so she can get on with her duties. Within 5 minutes my suitcase is open. Hurrah! So what use is the lock then …?

I shower, get dressed, take my laundry down to reception and wait for M to come down. After handing in my luggage for safekeeping we head off to the harbour to get some crepes for breakfast. The ferryman from yesterday spots us and comes over for a quick chat.

We decide to go to Clifton Village and to the famous suspension bridge. You can walk most of the way next to the river, which proves to be as good as taking the ferry. We see the ss Great Britain and the Matthew on the other side of the river near Hotwells.

The Matthew

When we reach the Avon Gorge we are greeted with great views from below of the buildings along the Gorge on the Eastern side, including the famous Avon Gorge Hotel, and of course of the Suspension Bridge. A little path through the trees up the hill takes us all the way to the gates of the suspension bridge and more great views. And we had to walk across the bridge, of course 

The Suspension Bridge

Avon Gorge Hotel

The rest of the day passes all too quickly. Near the suspension bridge is the observatory and Camera Obscura. We try it out – the Camera Obscura that is – and for such an old piece of technology it is surprisingly entertaining. In a dark room the camera obscura basically projects images of the surrounding areas onto a concave surface. So you are watching the environment in real time, enlarged and projected, in the dark. It’s quite cool. Outside again I notice some people rehearsing a play and we decide to watch them for a bit. They’re doing stories from the Brothers Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The actors seem pleased that we are showing an interest, but since their play will only be later in the week this is all we’ll get to see.

We take the route back through Clifton Village. Clifton Village has a remarkably seaside holiday type atmosphere. It is difficult to put your finger on where it comes from, but there is definitely something about the area – something very relaxed. Closer to the City Centre we go around the other side of Brandon hill and stop over at the City Museum and Art Gallery near the University of Bristol Wills Memorial Building (one of the taller constructions in the surrounding area). The art collection exhibits, amongst others, the works of artists who have lived in Bristol over the years. Some names I remember are Francis Danby, Rolinda Sharples, William West, Samuel Jackson and Samuel Colman, and contemporary artists like Beryl Cooke. There is enough variety to keep the exhibition interesting and we end up staying for more than one and a half hours.

Just before we reach the hostel I notice some more graffiti against a colourfully painted empty structure. Banksy uses stencils – could this be some of his, or is it just someone who also uses stencils? (I noticed another stencilled anti-war graffiti artwork against the building on the corner of Park Road and University Road).

Finally it’s back to fetch our luggage and go to Temple Meads Station. It’s been an enjoyable two days – and wouldn’t you know it, I’ve seen something of the place where the famous Bristol Sound originated in the early 90’s. Well!

On platform 15 a train stops for a bit. The brakes whistle as they are relaxed and the doors disengage. A few people get off, pushing through the crowds that are breaking up in clusters at both ends of the coaches. We enter coach C, quibbling briefly over a window seat before settling in. The train pulls away at exactly 17:10 and 10 seconds. We’re on our way back to London.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Shameless self-promotion or adaptive creativity?

"...those whom society considers as artists, and who, in deferring to society's point of view, subscribe to it, have two distinct activities. One is creation itself and the other is the business of promoting that creation... the result is that they are burdened with an onerous activity that leaves them very little time for creation itself. This activity detracts to such an extent from creation proper that their works ultimately become no more than a pretext for their promotional enterprise and are produced as a function of its requirements. This is the mechanism by which social art moves away from real artistic creation and becomes, in fact, opposed to it."

These words of Jean Dubuffet are quoted in the Artesian magazine I bought when at the Raw Arts Festival, by the editor. It is easy to see why an emphasis on non-commercial art would be supportive of raw arts, the emphasis being on creativity and creation. And yet I couldn't help but feel that it is something of a false dichotomy to overemphasise it. There is a famous anecdote about a gallery where both Turner and Constable were going to exhibit. Not only that but a certain painting of each would be displayed hanging next to the other.

Turner saw that Constable's work was more striking than his, overshadowed his. In an unusual move he took a bit of bright-coloured paint and painted something into his picture - purely to attract attention. Now, history is on the side of Turner, because he's been hailed as Britain's finest. But to me it is a symptom of adaptive creativity.

Shameless self-promotion or adaptive creativity? You decide.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The weekend

Well it's been a busy weekend. As I'm sitting here in a coffee bar in Charing Cross Road I reflect that it's been a varied one as well.

The highlight definitely was the May Martini Mixer party organised by Network Canada, held at Canada House on Trafalgar Square. The theme was espionage and from James Bond to Austin Powers to the golden girl from Goldfinger people looked the part. Everybody I talked to - and there were quite a few - was either interesting or beautiful, and in a few cases both. What a wonderful way to spend the evening! I have to say that the openness of the organisation (the party was accessible to anyone who cared to book online at Network Canada's website - and it was very popular, tickets were sold out a few days before already) really added to the flavour of the evening. People from countries as different as Australia and Finland, South Africa and Germany, the USA and Russia were present. And I take my hat off (yes, I was wearing a disarmingly large secret agent hat) for the organisers, who managed the party.

I'd been to Islington earlier in the day, where the Candid Arts Trust have an arts exhibit location just behind Angel tube station. A show on Resonance 104.4fm alerted me to an exhibition of outsider and raw art there - the so-called Raw Arts Festival. Now I have to admit that the terms are all new to me, but generally they seem to refer to art created by people who have had no formal training and/or simply do not follow establsihed artistic methods. I'm hard pressed to describe just what I saw there because it was all quite diverse - one guy, Ben Reche, created drawings in ink (and oil?) that are each highly detailed and very dense, black ink, with lots of little figures and shapes making up a slightly organic, slightly fractal whole. What amazed me was the level of detail in each painting - it's a series of ten, and took him 3 years to complete. They describe a spiritual journey.

It is tempting to ascribe some general meaning to, for instance, the term outsider art but I get the impression that the artists themselves do not see themselves as part of such a category. One lady in particular, when I asked her what it means, said: "I have no idea." Then a bit later I found out she is Liz Parkinson, quite a prominent artist whose works were also exhibited there!

One theme that came up a lot was spirituality - I generalise a bit, but several artists painted figures that have spiritual or visionary meanings for the artists, oh, and there were lots of eyes floating around in some paintings :-) What I personally liked best about the works I saw was the general lack of pretense. For some the artwork is as necessary a creation to communicate with the world as speaking might be. This compulsion is familiar to me - creation as necessity.

Unfortunately the exhibition ended yesterday, but I would recommend giving the place a visit anyway - even if only to have a sandwich or a coffee at the Café (right next door) which has a wonderfully friendly atmosphere and is clearly frequented by other culture vultures. And the prices are very reasonable.

Today I decided to give the Kuba installations at the old sorting office in 21-31 New Oxford street a visit. The installations, recommended by a guest at the Martini Mixer last night, are the creations of the artist Kutlug Ataman who takes people's lives as his topic and record them visually and in their own words.

I know nothing of the milieu really, but apparently Kuba started as a community of people in Istanbul lodged in “safe houses” during a dangerous period. The name Kuba is arbitrary, and one featured person in the installations said it came from a TV series or a movie. Life was tough for these people and their parents, but they've survived and now some are telling their stories. There were 40 installations in all and I only got around to viewing about 6 or so. The most arresting was the women (one just a girl) who described unhappy family circumstances, arranged marriages, and lifelong suffering when they are on their own, friendless, loveless and without the support of a husband but several children to look after. Another installation was more uplifting, a guy who has lots of ambition and who fights against the confines of his situation. He doesn't seem to mind the place where he lives, rather he tries to rise above its limitations through his self-belief.

I would have added pictures to give the text an added dimension, but I was kindly rebuked for trying to take pictures and upon enquiry was referred to Art Angel. Copyright issues.

One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit is the building in which the installations have been placed (apparently finding unusual settings for art installations is an Art Angel trademark - see their website). The old sorting office has been empty for over ten years, completely derelict, most rooms and halls boarded and locked, and over the years a number of people have probably squatted there. There is a lot of graffiti. I was able to photograph some of the interesting evidence of building disuse en route.

View from the street

Cover me, I'm going in!

At the groundfloor lifts

Get rid of all white space

Blending in with the graffiti - or is it disregard?

Another lift! But it doesn't go ...

The abandoned landing

Almost there

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

vlog: the freedom of trees

Fun with trees and fingers, and here it is my first vlog post.
Click on the image to view.

the freedom of trees

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Cybernetics and the birth of family therapy

Which brings us to ecosystemic theory in psychology and its links with cybernetics. There were numerous well-known pioneers involved in the development of cybernetics - Nobert Wiener, John von Neumann, Warren McCulloch, Walter Pitts, Von Foerster, Maturana, Gregory Bateson, and numerous others. The field of scientific cybernetics, practically founded by Wiener through publication of his seminal work in 1948, Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, became one important branch of the burgeoning frontier of cybernetics. The scientific branch looked at control in machines, finding most of its early data in the focuses of war - notably guided missiles.

The concern with control is manifest in the word cybernetics itself. In Greek it means helmsman - the one who steers a ship. Cybernetics is concerned with self-regulation - how systems can be regulated through another system, or by itself.
The possible application of cybernetics to the social sciences, the second branch of cybernetics, was understood early on by Bateson, who many family therapists (i.e. those psychologists or counsellors working within the framework of ecosystemic theory) regard as the intellectual founder of systems theory.

To appreciate the birth of cybernetics in the social sciences - and how it is linked to the development of similar ideas in science and biology - it is worth observing that many of the important early names already mentioned were present in a now famous series of interdisciplinary conferences (the Macy conferences, because they were sponsored by the Josiah Macy Foundation). Many of the attendees were at that time the leading mathematicians, scientists, engineers and social scientists.

A lot of the discussion there focused on feedback mechanisms, an exciting new way to understand how systems are able to maintain stability despite: by introducing historical information into the system. In a much later interview Bateson recalls how at first the talk was all about positive feedback (not a value judgement - it means that the system acknowledges that a change has taken place), but it wasn't clear how the system could keep on incorporating change without blowing out - and then the concept of negative feedback was introduced to describe how a system maintains status quo. In essence these concepts were exciting because they provided a framework (which was completely new at the time) to formulate a way to change the future behaviour of a system through a change in feedback information.

Although Norbert Wiener also started reconceptualising psychological concepts in the new language of information processing, Bateson started investigating how families maintain stability and thereby casting his work in terms that have since become familiar to family therapsists. But Bateson was always more interested in the epistemological concerns, which he developed in his most famous work Steps to an Ecology of Mind and later Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, and finally also Angels' Fear, co-authored with Mary Catherine Bateson, his daughter. He remained outside the practical applications of his work in therapy, leaving it to others to continue that and to extend it into what has since become knwon as the field of family therapy.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Loving Linda

He is a man of beautifyingly
her wisdom and the more
she grows and does unknowingly
breathing blood, then sensuously upons
all suddenly she rewards.

But oh man the guilt
I've hid in her bower
insidiousing her
this cruel twisted power

and I'm thinking: "Linda, oh my god, Linda"

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Oooh radio, radio

Londonist recommends listening to resonancefm - and frankly, so do I.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Something original online

I've been searching the web looking for suitably original online art (in any media) that does not fall into the mainstream and isn't boring. Apart from one or two slightly (too) bizarre, but not necessarily uninteresting, underground offerings, I also found sites that have substance or cool entertainment value.

undergroundfilm.org, a non-profit organisation, endeavours to give creative filmmakers an online audience. It is trying to amass a digital film library and makes much of their material directly available to the online public. Some interesting work - a lot of it you will probably not be able to find anywhere else.

Diesel U Music, both a competition and a platform, has the stated intention of finding original rather than merely marketable music. Whether they succeed is for the listener to judge, but they do showcase plenty of streamable tracks on their website to allow you to join the experience.

Electrica's Kung-Fu Mixer is great fun for Bruce Lee fans like me - it allows you to orchestrate action sequences by recording ready-made samples using the keyboard. I was quite proud of my final product, but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a way to save and distribute recorded sequences or I'd have presented it here. Great fun. (thanx to the ICA website for this one).

Banksy is a graffiti artist who has photographed some of his escapades and posted them online. And here is a more faithful chronicler than the artist himself.