Wednesday, August 22, 2012

NE Sojourn

I've been in the North East for a few days, seeing friends and family. I didn't read much - too busy for that, but good to have a change of scene. I popped into MIMA - the modern art gallery in Middlesborough, which was a fantastic building, but a little less impressive inside. It's signature summer exhibition being a large show by potter Julian Stair. As interesting as burial pots and sarcophagi can be, I'm not sure in what way this was modern or even art (as opposed to craft.).Worth the visit though since I finally got to see Claes Oldenfield's "Bottle of Notes" which was (is?) his only large scale piece in the UK - and which I'd first heard about when going to an exhibition of his work in Los Angeles in 1995.

A second gallery visit was on the recommendation of a friend, to the BALTIC to see (or rather hear) Janet Cardiff's sound piece, The Forty Part Motet, which takes a choral piece by Tallis and has it playing through 40 different speakers, with the audience in the middle of the circle. A lovely piece of work, that was worth the trip. I was less enamoured of the Mark Wallinger exhibition that filled the top floor of the gallery. The execution was good, but the ideas seemed weak, or maybe that's me trying to find meaning in work that is not particularly meaningful. But I'm not in review mode, being on holiday, so go see for yourself.

I've been following the Pussy Riot trial before it got picked up by the majority of the media, thinking their art performance/provocation was a stunning piece of agit prop. That its now lead to a 2-year sentence for the 3 perpetrators is not surprising; I don't think I'd ever any illusions about Russia's new found "freedoms", but its been instructive seeing the Western media come slowly to the cause. For Pussy Riot bring into question not only the veneer of Putin's new Russia, and are as relevant a protest as the student protests of 1968, but also ask questions for the West. For its almost impossible to imagine a musical/performance creating such moral outrage in the UK - or, perhaps, more importantly -  gaining such traction. Even hearing their raw Riot Grrrl styled "punk prayer" on the news seems to me the first time I've heard loud, aggressive, under-produced music on mainstream media in years. Pussy Riot would be confrontational anywhere, I feel, but I immediately saw what they were doing, responded to their actions and methodology. It has to be one of my worries of the times that organised religion, rather than retreating into its rightful place as private faith, is reasserting itself as somehow "special". When this is closely allied with the state, as it apparently is in contemporary Russia, then its a dangerously illiberal cocktail. And, to choose a religious turn of phrase, let him without sin cast the first stone. We aren't jailing colourful performance artists in the UK, but we are trying to extradite young computer geeks to America. I liked Peaches quickly written "Free Pussy Riot."

This year's Booker longlist has got people's interest up in a way usually reserved for the shortlist. My publisher, Salt, has a debut novel on the list, Alison Moore's "The Lighthouse", and its one of several interesting looking books up for the September winnowing. I notice displays of the longlist in various Waterstones, and I just hope when the shortlist is announced in early September, that the longlisted books don't disappear from view, as "losers", after all, the best British novel of the last few years, David Mitchell's Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, was only longlisted.

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