Cultural Events Summary 20 May 2018

I hope you have all been enjoying the nice weather this week. I’ve been mostly stuck inside, as we’ve been busy at work with two conferences, a workshop, becoming GDPR compliant and budget forecasts. However, sunshine is always good for the soul, and especially at the weekend. And I’ve managed to sneak in a couple of cultural events too…

On Thursday I watched the film 120 BPM (beats per minute), runner-up at the Cannes Festival last year. Filmed as a sort of faux-documentary of life as an activist member of ACTUP Paris in the early 1990s, it captures that frenetic spirit of being young (but not only), fighting for your life as well as for justice, fighting Big Pharma, public ignorance and apathy, government failure to debate, inform or provide any coherent policies. It is also a love story and, inevitably, as with any story about AIDS, there is grieving. But this is no Philadelphia or Longtime Companion, unashamed tear-jerkers, with (usually not gay) actors fading away eloquently and elegantly. This is about anger and survival, doing anything you can to feel alive, about strategy and protest and disagreements within the group, but also about coming together, solidarity and changing the world. ‘Paris were frankly a bunch of complete maniacs’, a former ACTUP London member said, and I had to laugh as I tried to imagine those protest or virulent discussions transposed in a British environment. The two male leads are extremely charismatic: Arnaud Valois from Lyon and Nahuel Pérez Biscayart from Argentina (who, as far as I can tell, are both gay, which makes it all the more realistic) make that very serious struggle look like fun.

The real ACTUP Paris in 1995.

The film transported me back to 1989-1992 when I too was young and politically engaged, although in our case it was regime change and democracy that we were fighting for. In spite of the disillusionment or flaws or failures (and the pain of watching friends die), it was an exhilarating movement to be part of (both mine and ACTUP) – and this is perfectly captured in this film. It’s all too easy to say that the world has moved on since then regarding attitudes towards AIDS and the LGBTQ+ community, but sadly, it hasn’t really progressed that much. The film is forbidden in several countries (where homosexuality is illegal) and in my own home country, alas, there was a church-organised protest when it was first screened.

A very different atmosphere on Friday when I attended an early morning viewing of the Rodin Exhibition at the British Museum. This beautifully curated, reasonably small show demonstrates that you don’t need to overwhelm museum-goers with information or exhibits if you stick to a narrow topic and present it well. Rodin was obsessed with ancient sculptures, and collected many of them himself, so it was refreshing to see to what extent they inspired his own work.  There were plenty of original plaster, bronze and marble examples of many of Rodin’s sculptures on loan from the Musée Rodin in Paris, as well as the Parthenon marbles that are already (controversially) in the British Museum.

Icarus’ sister.

I also got to hear that Lord Elgin originally wanted sculptor Antonio Canova to ‘renovate’ the Ancient Greek fragments and complete them. Luckily, Canova was wise enough to not meddle with the beauty of the original. Rodin himself was so taken by the incomplete statues, that he deliberately sculpted many of his own like that.

The Walking Man.

The links with literature were never far away. Not only was Rainer Maria Rilke briefly Rodin’s secretary, but I was not aware that Rodin had illustrated Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal (one of my favourite volumes of poetry, especially back when I was in my teens). And that he intended to reproduce it in sculpture as well.

Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre…

A wonderful, calming way to start the day with art, not forgetting the quotes from Rodin about the sculptor’s ability to capture motion.

For next week, I have a very special recommendation for you: experience a piece of literature in an all-immersive annual event at Senate House on 23rd May. To celebrate 200 years since the first creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the School of Advanced Studies will present a Living Frankenstein evening, with pop-up activities, talks, films, performances and ghost stories. The full programme is here.

Finally, no weekly summary would be complete without a few books begged, borrowed, stolen or bought.

From the library I borrowed Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason, the May read for the David Bowie Book Club. Written in 2007-8, it is sadly more timely than ever. I was also looking for some Richard Yates novels which I haven’t read yet, but found instead a very bulky biography by Blake Bailey A Tragic Honesty. Nicely cheery, then…

I also got Ali Smith’s Autumn, the so-called Brexit novel, and Louise Penny’s A Great Reckoning. I’ve already finished the latter: this author is one of my favourite comfort reads, and Three Pines is where I would love to retire if only it existed. I also came across a strange little volume called Alberta Alone by Cora Sandel, an early Norwegian feminist compared to Colette and Jean Rhys.

Last but not least, Europa Editions are producing new editions of Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseille trilogy and have sent me the first volume, Total Chaos. Little do they know that it is one of my favourite French novels (or trilogies) ever and that I bribed a second-hand bookshop in Lyon to find me all three volumes in French. You can expect a close read of the book in French and in translation coming up soon. (Although my personal favourite is Chourmo, the second in the trilogy, coming out in August 2018.)

 

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Cultural Events Summary 7 May 2018

I’m greatly enjoying the Bank Holiday weekend with my children: a lazy pub lunch, even lazier attempts at gardening, lashings of ice-cream, visitors and BBQs… and the occasional cultural foray.

This was the weekend of Open Artists’ Studios in our area, under the somewhat misleading name of Henley Arts Trail. Misleading, because we never made it as far as Henley, since there are plenty of artists in our more immediate neighbourhood. But a great initiative overall to get to know local artists, of varying quality of course, but something for every taste.

We only made it as far as two venues, but it was inspiring nevertheless. At The Big Plant Nursery near Twyford we saw animal sculptures made out of bronze, metal and recycled kitchen utensils hidden amongst the foliage, as well as the multilayered, large-scaled pointillist paintings of Sarah Pye. I don’t have a wall big enough in my house to hang one of the paintings up, but I got some postcards to remind me of their colourful, tactile exuberance.

Summer Dreams, Copyright Sarah Pye.

The second venue was a private property which had been opened up to the public and for local artists to display their work in an almost purpose-built extension to the rear. It turned out that the owners had previously housed a graphic design agency there but had now retired and were thinking of organising art classes in the future. The combination of gardens, art, sunshine and coffee and cakes was simply irresistible.

Micklems Farm.

I was particularly taken with the stained, fused, slumped and woven glass of John Eastwood. Despite my financial uncertainties, I couldn’t resist the jewellery of Pink Costello either, or the extremely diverse, East Asian-inspired ceramics of Lucie Lambourn. After all, I know how hard it is to make a living as an artist… And, as if to confirm that, I met a couple at a BBQ later that day who were artists – or rather, they had met as artists, but he had given up his jewellery making to become a systems architect and IT specialist, so that he could support his family and their move to the UK.

Ceramic bowl by Lucie Lambourn.

I was also going to tell you about the books I acquired this week, but I think I will prepare a video to post tomorrow. So let me just finish off with another glorious image of the venue. Nothing beats cake by the pool, with a black cat purring nearby and the scent of clematis filling the air like a haze.

Friday Fun extends all the way into Monday…

Friday Fun: The Courtauld Gallery

The Courtauld Gallery (which I seem to pronounce differently from everyone else in the UK) is a beautiful little gem, no longer quite as well hidden as it used to be when I was a student at King’s and could access it during my breaks. Covering an entire wing of Somerset House (plus modern extensions), it boasts a splendid art collection, particularly of 19th century painters. Most recently, it hosted an exhibition of portraits by Chaim Soutine, which struck me by their compassion for the suffering and boxed-in feeling of the working classes, service staff that most hotel visitors ignore (even nowadays). I don’t often feature art, because I think the colours go all wrong online, but here are a few samples.

The Little Chef by Soutine.
The Bellboy by Soutine.
The Chambermaid by Soutine.
Other paintings from the permanent collection: German expressionist painter Gabriele Münter: Portrait of a Young Woman with a Large Hat.
Degas ballerina.
The building is beautiful too: the staircase.
And even the floor details.
Last, but not least, on a sunny day, the basement cafe is delightful

Friday Fun: Women Reading

Portraits of women reading is perhaps one of the loveliest examples of ‘memes’ in art history, particularly in the 19th century and particularly in France. Was it the rise of the middle classes and of leisure time? Were the men boasting that their wives and daughters were well looked after, well-educated and could therefore spend time on that frivolous pursuit of reading novels? Or was it that there is a certain stillness in the act of reading which men as doers felt that they could not or would not choose to quite live up to? Or was it simply a respectable form of voyeurism for rich men/art collectors? Whatever the reason for it, it has left behind some beautiful paintings (all in the public domain, as far as I know, but please correct me if I am wrong).

One of the best known – by Fragonard.
Woman reading in landscape, by Corot.
Another dreamy summer readingscape, by Monet.
So intent on reading, this must have been a real page-turner, by Jacques-Emile Blanches
One of my earliest favourites, by Renoir.
She hasn’t got eyes for anyone but the book, leave her alone, by Matisse.
Victorian portrayals of the angel in the household on the rare evening off, by Edward John Poynter.
Blue Girl Reading by August Macke from the Blaue Reiter school of art.
American impressionism via Dutch painter Isaac Israels.

 

Book Haul April 2017: Making Up for Lost Time

For the first three months of the year, I was on a book-buying ban, loosely participating in the TBR Double Dog Dare challenge on James Reads Books blog. I didn’t quite get to read that many from my TBR pile because a lot of ARCs came in for review, but by and large I managed to resist book buying temptations, with the exception of Lyon. However, since that was right on the last day of March, I consider that a success!

From griffith.edu.au

Since then, I may have succumbed *a little* to book splurges. I blame FictionFan for not bestowing her Queen of Willpower Medal on me! I blame Tony for sharing a picture on Twitter of his lovely Japanese novellas from Strangers Press, based at Norwich University. You too can get them here: Keshiki – New Voices from Japan. I also blame the other Tony for his rant about the Best Translated Book Award shortlist for ordering Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books). Neither of these two orders have arrived yet, so I can fool myself that there will still be room on the shelves for them.

However, when I tell you that the 25 vintage Penguin classics which I ordered from World of Rare Books are still patiently lined up by the desk, awaiting shelving, you will realise that I may have overdosed on books recently.

But how could I resist a special offer on the Penguins – a surprise bundle of 25 titles? It was mostly the orange fiction series (John Wyndham, Somerset Maugham, Nancy Mitford, Charlotte Bronte), but there were also a few greens (crime fiction by Christianna Brand, Holly Roth and Erle Stanley Gardner) and some unusual finds, such as Passages from Arabia Deserta, a sort of travelogue/anthropological study by Victorian travelling gentleman Charles M. Doughty; a biography of G. K. Chesterton by Maisie Ward;a strange little genre-straddling memoir by Richard Jefferies The Story of My Heart, which looks like a prose poem with wood engravings by Gertrude Hermes; two novels about the British Empire in India by now-forgotten novelist (and former colonel) John Masters; and a book by Peter Wildeblood Against the Law, ‘a first-hand account of what it means to be a homosexual and to be tried in a controversial case and imprisoned’, published in 1955.

The final two books I felt obliged to buy attracted me for different reasons. The first, Rumba Under Fire, edited by Irina Dumitrescu (Punctum Books), was because of its content. It is a collection of essays, poems, prose, interviews about what it means to do ‘art’ in times of crisis. Can art and intellectual work really function as a resistance to power? How do works created during times of extremes of human endurance fit into our theories of knowledge and creativity – can we even attempt to understand them from our privileged and comfy positions? There is quite broad geographical representations here: Bosnia, Romania, Congo, Turkey, Afghanistan, World War 2 concentration camps, India and Pakistan.

The collaboration between poet Derek Walcott and painter Peter Doig Morning, Paramin (Faber & Faber) is pure indulgence. Each double page spread features a poem and a painting, calling out to each other, answering and completing each other. The one to blame here is Melissa Beck, who reviewed this so magnificently on her blog.

While commenting on the review, we connected with Anthony Anaxagorou on Twitter, who asked if we would be interested in reviewing two books of poetry from Outspoken Press, which he promptly sent along. The first is To Sweeten Bitter by Raymond Antrobus, the second Dogtooth by Fran Lock. You can expect to read reviews of both of these very soon.

Quotations to Keep You Going

Last night I dreamt that I had met up with an old friend of mine, whom I haven’t seen in ten years or so. I see her occasional updates on Facebook, but I don’t know much about her anymore or how her life has turned out. It’s important to make that clear, that what follows has little bearing to reality.

In my dream, she was turning cartwheels in a nature reserve somewhere in Valais. [How do I know it was there? Well, some lovely St. Bernard puppies were playing with her in the field.] When I remarked how happy and content she seemed, she turned to me quite seriously and said: ‘Don’t judge by appearances. You have no idea. I have to take strong painkillers for my back pain, follow my husband around to all sorts of different countries and I’ll be a franchisee, for heaven’s sake!’

From Shadow Moutain Saint Bernards site.
From Shadow Moutain Saint Bernards site.

So then I became all competitive and shouted at her: ‘Call that trouble? You should try being me, unemployed, divorced, got a rejection every single day last week – no rest even at the weekend – plus I’m not sure I can keep a roof over my head?’ [N.B. This is an exaggeration as well.]

The woman who was feeding the St. Bernards and cleaning out their litter boxes [yes, I know that’s for cats, not dogs, but in dreams nothing quite makes sense, does it?] turned and said: ‘You should try being my sister: her husband was killed for protesting against the dictator, her child has cystic fibrosis and can’t get treatment in their country, and she has been waiting for two years to get vetted but is now rejected by the US and has spent all her money on the application process.’

I don’t remember if the puppies then licked all of our faces to make us feel better, but I awoke soon after and started wondering what my friend was up to and why we had lost touch (our email addresses kept changing is one reason). Meanwhile, the barrage of world news is relentless, while my mother’s idea of support and encouragement is to phone me regularly to tell me how overweight I am and how discriminated women over 50 are when looking for a job (I am not yet 50), while my father gets me in a panic about the political situation in Romania. Private and public depression and stagnation intermingle, or, as Rebecca Solnit puts it, so much more eloquently than me:

One of the essential aspects of depression is the sense that you will always be mired in this misery, that nothing can or will change. There’s a public equivalent to private depression, a sense that the nation or the society rather than the individual is stuck. Things don’t always change for the better, but they change, and we can play a role in that change if we act. Which is where hope comes in, and memory, the collective memory we call history.

p1030031

So how do you keep going under the circumstances? With some great books and beautiful quotes, of course. (Motivational wallpapers not included, but here are some pictures which cheer me up.)

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgement. (JFK)

20160822_080019-1So much world all at once –

How it rustles and bustles.

The joy of writing:

The power of preserving

Revenge of a mortal hand. (Wisława Szymborska)

Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art. (Andy Warhol)

Poetry changes the poet and, if you do your job rightly, it changes the reader. What’s being composed is me. (Gwyneth Lewis)

From Mental Floss
From Mental Floss

Don’t waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

We must accept finite disappointment but must never lose infinite hope. (Martin Luther King)

Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail. (Helen Keller)

p1030076A failure is not always a mistake. It may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying. (B.F. Skinner)

It is important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and destruction. The hope I am interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It is also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse one. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. (Rebecca Solnit)

As far as I can see from here almost everyone I know is trying to do the impossible every day. All mothers, all writers, all artists of every kind, every human being who has work to do and still wants to stay human and to be responsive to another human being’s needs, joys and sorrows. There is never enough time and that’s the rub… creation depends as much on laziness as on hard work. (May Sarton)

The first snowdrops of the year...
The first snowdrops of the year…

 

Van Gogh Erasure Poetry

Picture and art credit to Emily Blincoe at www.emilyblincoe.com
Picture and art credit to Emily Blincoe at http://www.emilyblincoe.com/arrangements

 

Even if I go under in the attempt

this I know:

I have a definite belief as regards art.

The great doesn’t happen through impulse alone.

If one is competent in one thing

one can learn rhythm in other areas.

It’s the succession of little

things

events

even if we’re tired, we go on –

because we’ve already gone a long way.

You may not always be able to say what confines you.

And the Prison is sometimes called mistrust.

If it were that easy

one wouldn’t have any pleasure of it.

That is all I seek:

always something other than heroism.

I try not to forget how to jest.

Based on the Selected Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. The picture above is one of a series of pictorial prompts on the theme of ‘Arrangements’ from dVerse Poets Pub. The colours reminded me so much of Van Gogh’s palette. Plus, I tend to be a stickler for a tidy desk arranged just so before I can start writing…