Saturday, October 21, 2006

Phil Collins and the Turner Prize

Phil Collins says that he uses his camera as an excuse to meet people, that he has made his art in places like Bogata, Baghdad, Ramallah and Belgrade because he doesn't trust the images that the global media shows us of these cities, of the people in those cities.

Collins poses a question or a challenge to people in the city:

Come and tell us how appearing on a TV chat show has ruined your life (Istanbul)
Come and dance for eight hours non-stop at a disco (Ramallah)
Come and do a karaoke version of a song by The Smiths (Bogata)
Come to a hotel and remove articles of your clothing (Baghdad)
The trivial nature of the challenges could appear insulting given the serious predicament of some of those cities. But Collins gives people the time and space to talk/sing/dance/pose for themselves. The challenge may come from a globalised nowhere, but the work itself reflects the people who stepped forward to answer it.

I've got tickets to see him talk about his Turner Prize entry on November 22.

The Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain has four artists exhibiting side by side for three months, then on December 4 one gets chosen to win the prize. I'm sure Collins will win. The opening hours of the exhibion are from 10am to 6pm each day. Collins is showing an eight hour long film (Return to the real), that starts at 10am each morning and finishes at 6pm. He hasn't left time for you to look at the work of the other artists.

The film consists of eight one hour long interviews with people talking about how appearing on a chat show ruined their life. You watch it in a room that is like a cinema, except you don't sit facing a screen. There are two screens : the one on the front wall shows the interviewee, the one on the back wall shows the interviewer. You sit on a side wall, and you have to turn your head from one screen to the other to follow the conversation, like watching a tennis match.

The interviewee has a single colour backdrop behind him or her, as though packaged for future television broadcast. The interviewer has no backdrop, you can see the studio monitors and equipment behind him, and the odd colleague wondering past to adjust a setting.

As you listen you realise that the tone of the conversation is intimate, undermining the gulf between the two roles, the two backdrops and the two screens . They may be on seperate screens now but when it was recorded they were sat facing each other, near each other. The conversations make no acknowledgement of the fact that they are destined to be viewed by people arriving half way through the interview. There is no summary of what has gone on before, no hype, no razzmattazz, no attempts to package the story or the person as being more interesting or more sensational than they come across in their own words.

Collins started with the chat show formula, with a sensational question about an intimate part of someone's life. He took the formula so far and then dropped it to leave us with a normal unsensationalised conversation. Just as the interviewees had, after appearing on the chat show, been left back with an unpackaged, unsensationalised life to lead.

If you do arrive half way through an interview and want to catch up on what you miss then you have to return to 'Return to the real' on a different day, but this time arrive a little earlier (or spend a bit less time looking at the work of the other artists).

When you leave the little cinema you pass by the second half of Colllins entry: a working office for Shady Lane Productions. You can look through the windows of the office and see Collins and his team working on his next project which is a challenge to the people of Britain, similar to that issued to the people of Turkey, to come and tell him how appearing on a chat show has adversly affected their life. You can open the window to the office if you want to chat to them, or want to volunteer your story to them.

A great idea by Collins, using the Turner Prize to repackage his last project (he did the work for Return to the Real for the Istanbul biennale in 2005) and to get free office space, heat, light and publicity for his next project. It works for me: its as though he is projecting his project forward in time and space. And projects are meant to be projected. Especially projects by film makers.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I went to see iLiKETRAiNS last night, in the brick arches of Cargo, just behind Old Street.

They came on stage wearing shirt and tie, jeans, and old British Rail drivers' jackets. Most of them had beards. They played a brooding, intense, indie guitar music.

The first lines of their songs hook you straight away:

'I discharged myself today'

'Don't go into the kitchen, that's where the knives are'

No-one danced. You can't dance and brood at the same time.

A guitar broke just before they were going to start playing their song about chess. Whilst we were waiting the singer invited members of the audience to describe any chess matches that they had played recently. Sounded promising, but a flat headed screwdriver was found and the gig resumed.

I bought a t-shirt: a map of Britain with lots of squiggles on, each squiggle marking a railway line that Dr Beeching closed down in the 1960s: isobars linking places of equal marginalisation.

The highlight of the gig was their encore when they invited the support bands on stage to be the Greek chorus in their tragic dirge of venom 'The Beeching Report' : you can here the track on their myspace site

Monday, October 16, 2006


Yesterday we went to Hersham where the Wimbledon branch of the Retired Greyhound Trust have their kennels.

We took one of their greyhounds (Celt) for a twenty minute walk. It was a really nice thing to do, I would heartily recommend it.

Tania and Anna wanted to take Celt home with us (we couldn't because we haven't got a six foot fence all the way round our garden).

Thursday, October 12, 2006


The flying steamroller: a big yellow diesel roller linked by wires and a beam to a counterweight. It was very grounded when I walked between the Tate Britain and the Chelsea Parade Ground at five to five on Monday.

I assumed it was some arty joke: that we the audience had to imagine it flying in our heads, just like Mark Titchner's Tuner prize entry asks us to use our psychic powers to lift his sculpture off the ground.

I confess to failing to lift Titchner's statue. I am aware that this failure of mine is one factor contributing to the likelehood that Titchner will not get the Turner prize (another being that Phil Collins's reality TV work has blown everyhting else away). I really did not feel confident about levitating that steamroller.

They didn't need me. At five o'clock an announcement was made, stewards went to the four corners of the parade ground and a driver in blue overalls walked over to the roller. She turned its engines on and drove it noisily round the parade ground a few times. Then all of a sudden it lifted up. She switched the engine off, and her and roller very quietly rotated round the counterweight for a few spins of the parade ground.

She closed her eyes, and driver and steamroller looked as serene and weightless as human being and machine have ever looked.

I felt as light as air, as though it was me flying above the ground, not the steamroller.

We don't have to let gravity keep us down

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Peace trail

Yesterday New Malden woodcraft folk did the four mile London peace trail from Tavistock square (with its monument to concientious objectors, statue of Ghandi, and cherry tree for the victims of Hiroshima) to the Tibetan peace Garden at the Imperial War Museum.

It was organised by the movement for the abolition of war: the kids got quiz questions and a passport that they had to get stamped at each point.

New Malden woodcraft folk were the first group to reach Trafalgar square, we were greeted by Bruce Kent who whisked us over to the South African embassy where Cyril Ndaba, South Africa's deputy high commissioner spoke to us about his country's journey from Apartheid. The kids listened enraptured even though they were really hungry.

Mr Ndaba reminded the kids that some of their parents generation had stood outside the South African embassy in the continous picket of the embassy that went on round the clock for years and years during the Apartheid era. I told him of my happy teenage memories of going up to London for a night out and stopping off in Trafalgar square on the way back to Waterloo to sign the petition and maybe stand around for a few minutes. Bruce Kent rightly pointed out to the kids that it took a lot more dedication than that to keep the picket going all those years.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Something simple to start with

The Institute for the Future of the Book are encouraging authors who are in the course of writing books to blog as they go along, before the book is published.

Its a great idea. Potential readers get to see the the book emerging and to influence and enrich the book with their comments . The author has a means of generating interest in the book and anticipation of its arrival.

Psychologically writing a book must seem like a long, lonely haul. Writing a blog, with the immediate feedback you get from your readers, would keep your motivation up, and keep you turning up at your writing desk/laptop each morning.

Mitchell Stephens is blogging about the writing of his book, Without Gods, a history of atheism.

One of his posts posed the following question:
how should an atheist reply to a request by a dying friend that they see the light and start believing in god so that they can be re-united as friends in heaven?
This promoted some great debate by both atheists and theists in the comment thread. Todd Sayre turned the question on its head and asked:
what should an atheists' last request be to a friend who believed in God?
Todd thought that the best request the atheist could make would be:
feed my cats
Mitchell writes a really good blog, its thought provoking and I've learned plenty from it. My only quibble is that a number of his posts seem to be concerned with the question 'are the types of statement made by religions true?' I don't think there is such a thing in the entire universe as 'truth'.

Even if there was a such a thing as truth, we would not be able to express it using words. As Jorge Luis Borges is said to have said
everything put into words is fiction.
Neither science nor religion can escape this limitation.

Any abandonment of the belief in universal truths must also involve an abandonment of attempts to demolish certain beliefs as universally untrue. Borges is useful again. An interviewer asked him whether he believed in angels. He replied:
Its a possiblility, after all it requires no more of a miracle than the fact that we are sitting here talking like this
I'm more interested in seeing whether religious discourse can be useful, than whether it could be true. For me religions would be just as useful if they dropped their claims that they convey the word of the creator(s).

I imagine the creator as a being that didn't use words at all, that has never had any use for them. I think the creator did something incredibly simple to bring the universe into being. Lifted a metaphorical finger, or breathed out or just thought 'what if'.

I believe this because it fits nicely with my other beliefs that anyone can do anything and that simple actions/events can have profound results, provided they resonate through enough things or people, over enought time.

The purpose of life? To explore some of the many possible consequences of that first breath/thought/lifting of a finger, and to set up a new universe of consequences and possibilities every time we breath, think or lift a finger.