Sunday, June 25, 2006

Permanent marker

Drawing by Dan Perjovschi, This photo was taken by Blinkybee

Tate Modern commissioned Dan Perjovschi to draw with permanent marker all over the member's room. I went to see the drawings before, like all permanent markings, they got scrubbed off.

My favourite was the one showing the bus driver and passengers looking glum but the advert on the side of the bus showing someone looking as happy as Larry.

There will come a time when the panels on the side of public transport are simply screens , connected to the internet, which could display any combination of image and message.
But will there come a time when the people on the bus will be able to influence what is expressed on the side of the bus? Or will the image/message always be determined at a distance in time and space from the driver and passengers?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Reduced to almost nothing

I went to the Big London Brainstorm in Lindsey Street, Smithfield yesterday, where lots of architects have had put forward their ideas for improving our city.

My favourite was the one suggesting that instead of building Renzo Piano's shard of glass, we should build a massive grain of sand. This would serve as a tribute to William Blake, and as a reminder to people that we are present in the universe.

Here is the quote from Blake's Auguries of Innocence:

''To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.''

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Let’s be

Jorge Luis Borges died 20 years ago this week, aged 87.

At the age of 79 Borges had made the following brave and honest statement in a lecture entitled Immortality:

‘’I don’t want to continue being Jorge Luis Borges: I want to be someone else. I hope that my death will be total: I hope to die in body and soul.’’

Borges does not claim to know what will happen after his death. He does not deny that there is a possibility that he might find himself re-incarnated as another being, or that he might find eternal life in heaven. But he is saying that he does not desire either re-incarnation or eternal life.

Later in his lecture Borges describes how some of the things that he has said and done will live on in the words and deeds of people to come. This is the way that Borges does want to live on in the universe: in the same way that Borges himself has kept alive Shakespeare,Dante, his own parents, neighbours and acquaintances by using and remembering their words and deeds.

I hope Borges got his wish. I am not convinced that eternal reincarnation or eternal life for one individual entity is in accordance with the spirit of the universe. The universe seems to be more interested in re-using and re-combining things than in ring- fencing and preserving things. The greatest gift of the creator to this universe is evolution: the fact that life can learn and adapt and new life forms can develop which are novel and different.

Why would the universe need a James Lappin in a million years time? What possible use would ‘I’ be to anything?

Jeff Barry, who lives in Borges’ home city of Buenos Aires, blogged last Wednesday about this same quote, as part of his wonderful series of blog posts called ‘30 days with Borges’. I’ve posted each of the 30 days to a page if you want a quick way of accessing all thirty of them.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Uncertainty now

Photo of me in Blackfriars yesterday. The photographer (Seize the Dave) must have taken it from the top of St Paul's Cathedral.

Jorge Luis Borges came up with a comprehensive classification of all living creatures. He attributed the classification to Dr Franz Kuhn and it was the organisational basis of a Chinese Encyclopedia called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolant Knowledge.

It has often been held up as an example of the potential absurdities of classification, but I have learned something quite profound about my appearance from it: I look like a fly from a distance

Here is the classification in full:

a) those [animals] that belong to the emporer
b) embalmed ones
c) those that are trained
d) suckling pigs
e) mermaids
f) fabulous ones
g) stray dogs
h) those that are included in the classification
i) those that tremble as if they were mad
j) innumerable ones
k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s hair brush
l) etcetera
m) those that have just broken the flower vase
n) those that at a distance resemble flies

I must look like a fly from a distance, it is the only category I fit into. Continually breaking flower vases is not a viable option socially or financially.

Most people seem not to notice, either because they are standing to close, or because their eye is tricked by a curious effect of an uncertainty principle which is caused by the following:
  • When I look like a fly from a distance I am included in the classification, and therefore must move from category n) to category h).
  • As soon as I join category h) there is no necessity for me to look like a fly from a distance
  • As soon as I stop looking like a fly from a distance I am no longer in the scope and therefore, need to look like a fly again (from a distance).

This Uncertainty principle can be stated something like:

  • You can determine precisely the position of a living creature within Borges’s classification, and you can determine whether or not it looks like a fly from a distance, but you can not determine both things at the same moment in time.

It just shows how much effort is required to fit into someone else's world view

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Photo: Forth bridge by Aesop

There are an infinite number of parallel lines on the same plane. They reach backwards to infinity and forwards to infinity and are destined never to touch each other.

Along the path of each infinite line there are an infinite number of points. At each of these points the line is crossed by an infinite number of other lines, coming from different angles on the same plane; or from different planes; or from the past or the future.

Each one of these lines has something in common with the creator of the universe (as described in many of the great spiritual traditions): it has no beginning and no end in either space or time.

Thus the creator of the universe was never lonely, never bored with the emptiness. There always was an infinite number of infinite lines, but a creative spark was needed to make something finite out of them, something that wouldn’t last for ever, and could grow into anything.

After 29 years in Weybridge (Surrey, England) my mum and dad are settled back in Dalgety Bay (Fife, Scotland), where they spent their first decade of married life, and where me and my sister were born. I was so pleased to hear both of them sound so happy when they rang me on Friday.

Hats off to my mum for masterminded the move. Douglas Adams said that it was a good idea to redefine yourself at least once after you reached the age of 50. He did it by moving from England to Los Angeles. My mum has done it twice.

After retiring from teaching twelve years ago she took up embroidery. She found a creative streak noone knew she had and produced really lovely work based on patterns in things that inspired her, the gradual decay of old walls, the canal, rooftops of a Japanese town.

Then she started producing work based on motifs from the Forth bidge: everything from wall hangings to a toilet roll holder.

That is the great thing about doing anything creative, and about expressing your creativity: it’s such a good way of honing in on what you really love in life, like diving rods for water.

They can see the Forth bridge from their new home.

Friday, June 09, 2006

One zag

Can you have a zag without a zig?

Is there a word for a word which sounds like the letter that the concept it represents looks like?

Do geometry professors use the word zigzag? Or is it just a lay term?

Does the zig zag count as a shape or is it just a pattern? What if someone drew a zig zag line that went round in a circle and joined up with the start of the zig zag line again. Would that count as a shape? Would it be a zigzag shape or a circle?

Did Euclid have anything to say about zig ags?

What do languages without the letter ‘z’ in their script call zigzags?

Does the word ‘zigzag’ have anything to do with the word ‘ziggurat’ or do they just sound the same.

Good luck to people leaving England on great adventures today:
  • Val heading south to the world cup in a van
  • Mum and dad heading north to their new home in Dalgety Bay

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


This is a mirror.

You are a written sentence

Luis Camnitzer issued the above statement as a work of art in 1966: one of nine statements on sticky labels that he sent out by post.

In Chronology Camnitzer explains why he had stopped making pictures and prints and started producing these statements. He had been looking for ways in which his art could escape from the trap that once someone bought the art object it was lost to the rest of the world.

He discovered the answer staring out at him from his local newstand. He states:

The ideal was the newspaper headline: a simple reading allowed appropriation which then unleashed imagery within the viewer. Material possession of art would lose its meaning since possession would take place through reading

I love this quote about the later development of his art:

I discovered (1971) that if I made a minimal mark on a piece of paper, I irrevocably altered the order of the universe. Any new order would have to include my mark. My action conditioned any new definition of order. Thus, to change the universe wasn't that difficult and anybody could do it. It was more difficult to convince the art market of the fact that the alteration had taken place.

Thank you to the Lehman College Art Gallery for making the full catalogue of their Camnitzer retrospective available online, including articles by and about Camnitzer.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


I took the 242 bus to Shoreditch to see ‘Some pictures and a song’ – Claire Harvey’s installation at Store.

I was tempted up Hoxton Street having read that the installation includes drawings of people on scotch tape, stuck onto the walls. I imagined the walls plastered with hundreds of these figures, like the end of a brainstorming workshop gone mad.

It is more restrained than I'd anticipated: the sticky tape people are confined to a small area of one wall, over in the corner, by the front window of the gallery. Each drawing is made on two pieces of sticky tape: one for the person, one for their shadow.

They are a loose collection of people, walking away from me; detached from me; detached from each other; detached from the ground on which their shadow would have been cast; and as the title of the piece acknowledges, easily detached from the wall.

On the other side of the window I was aware of the occassional passer by walking down Hoxton Street to the college next door and the little shops.

The installation really came to life when I took up the invitation on the record player to play the 7inch single that sat on the turntable.

I heard Harvey sing a wistful song about a fly who fell victim to her botched attempt to save it after it had flown into her studio and got stuck on some oil paint on one of her paintings that had not yet dried.

As I listened I looked around the gallery: bare wooden floor, some oil paintings on the wall, Hoxton outside.

The paintings on the wall are neither large nor bright. The colours used are greyish blue and white. Some of the paintings show people on the edge of the land and the sea, alone but not lonely, absorbed in what they are doing.

One shows a close up painting of a person’s face, smelling a cheese, what is he thinking as he inhales? The next painting pans back, and shows all of the cheese smeller, it’s a young man. The title of the picture (cheese counter) betrays the fact that he is in a supermarket, but the hazy blue/white/ grey way the cheese counter is painted makes it looks as though he too could be on the edge of land and sea.

The installation took me right back to student days . Maybe because the room was bare, or because it was a record not a CD player, or because no-one in the installation was in a rush, or wearing a suit (unless you count me standing there with my rucksack on my back), or doing anything particularly demanding.

The lady at the gallery said to me ‘its like slipping back into a familiar memory of something that never actually happened to you, just like the fly story may never have happened’.

(The exhibition is running until 1 July 06: read Russell Herron's account of the private view)