Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Tomorrow, in our Memory class, we'll be thinking about Things and memory - the way in which objects are repositories of memory, act as vehicles for personal or family history, and can be used, in writing, to try and make readers see, imagine that they can touch, or feel, something that conveys emotional significance for someone else. And we'll come at this through Woolf's "A Sketch of the Past" - we've already used some of this, since she's so good at elucidating the challenges of writing about one's own past, and I'm intrigued to use a text where the "past" described is also one very unfamiliar to the students in the group. So this jug and bowl seem suitably Victorian objects which to contemplate.
They don't, however, hold any particular resonances for me. I'm pretty certain that I bought them at the Old Jam Factory near Oxford Station, at a time when it held a lot of little antique stalls - but I can't swear blind to that. I know that they lived on top of a bookcase in the spare room in Oxford, where they looked spectacularly good against bright apple green walls. But when I looked at them this evening, it was, in fact, the rather bedraggled peacock feather that supplied the real memory prompt. Yes, I know - at least my mother believes - that it's unlucky to have peacock feathers indoors. But this one somehow made it. It came from a wild peacock: I gathered it in the grounds of ... well, where? I know I could go to an old journal - from 1993 - and look it up. It was an oldish hotel in Ranthambhore, in Rajasthan, and looking at the internet, I think probably the Raj Palace - though the name doesn't spark any bells. It certainly seemed left over from the Raj: I remember eating curried cauliflower in an echoingly empty dining room. What I hadn't been expecting, in writing and doing a minor amount of googling, was to be hit by a very powerful sense of Indian-ness, and, not having been there since 1997, to find myself missing the country badly.
Monday, November 29, 2010
One thing that this ridiculous, fluffy, all-humans-are-coyotes-therefore-I-should-hide-under-the-bed animal doesn't realize is that actually, she (like the decluttered shoes and tee-shirts, safely in their plastic containers) is very, very visible as one comes up the attic stairs ...
Sunday, November 28, 2010
When I saw this in Highland Park earlier today, I thought for a minute that it was a severe, puritanical homily - the kind that one occasionally finds painted on the side of buildings when one takes a back road somewhere in Pennsylvania or Ohio. But no - it seems to be an awning beckoning one into a beauty salon.
Still, it's rather disturbing. Given the observant Jewish population of Highland Park, one might assume that very many of them are quite familiar with the Book of Ecclesiastes. And certainly, although I'm not sure what strictures are laid down in Orthodox dress codes, the long back skirts and flat shoes, etc, seem to suggest that vanity is a sin very much to be guarded against. Even I (were I to be tempted to go to a beauty establishment in Highland Park, which admittedly is deeply improbable) would baulk at this name, which seems to reprimand one for frivolity, and to remind one of the futility of trying to push back one's wrinkles rather more than one wants to be reminded. Because even if Ecclesiastes isn't at the front of one's mind, how could one not think of Charles Allan Gilbert's 1892 fin de siecle drawing, "All is Vanity," with a skull jumping out at one from what's ostensibly a woman adorning herself at a dressing table?
Saturday, November 27, 2010
This isn't a piece of furniture, but nonetheless comes from one of our favorite furniture shops, Orchard Hill, in Lambertville (where it would be possible to stage many imitation scenes from colonial times, even if all the tables and chairs and cabinets are in fact Indonesian imports). Our dining table and chairs and various mirrors and the wine cabinet and the strange kind of wooden ottoman that the TV sits on all come from there, as does the rather fine cabinet that will have to sit in their warehouse until we move back to Los Angeles (where, most disconcertingly, it is currently raining hard, turning the USC / Notre Dame game into a mudbath).
No, I do not need another bag, but as I've noted before, I can justify my greedy compulsions in this area by calling myself a collector. I think. And I'm sure it counts as clutter ... but since our realtor didn't call before bringing round punters today, and we were out, leaving as our avatars only such dubious attractions as drying underwear and an open trash can - I really can't bring myself to care about this too much.
Friday, November 26, 2010
If in doubt ... stems. Plants. Vase. Repetition. Depressed statements about house staging for zero visitors (we walked past the Century 21 offices today on Raritan - one downbeat looking inhabitant, apparently shutting up shop for the day). Weather - grey. Eventually it stopped raining, round about the time that Rutgers lost their fifth football game in a row. Even the book I'm reading, Laura Marcus's most excellent The Tenth Muse, about cinema and modernism, seems to work determinedly against thinking about the still photograph, since it emphasizes cinematic - and viewer - fascination with motion, and by comparison, a jar full of calla lily stalks are determinedly static.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
This was a slightly strange sight in Donaldson Park this Thanksgiving morning. We'd gone to take a brisk constitutional before it started to sleet, and came upon a car slowly driving up to a flock of seagulls - looking to accelerate, maybe, in order to capture a bird for dinner? (the thought of how fishy a seagull would be to consume has stayed with me since we read The Lonely Londoners for a class in the spring - there were, after all, a bevy of guys fishing in the Raritan this morning too, and quite possibly roast seagull wouldn't taste conspicuously worse than anything that they might land). But in fact, and slightly disappointingly, the car's occupants looked to have rolled up with a whole lot of scraps and crumbs to drop. And yes, it was all just as raw and grey as it looked ...
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Late fall, Highland Park, 2010: this does make me feel rather sheepish (if thankful) to be in a position to have been picking up a designer bird, a heritage small Red Bourbon Turkey from Griggstown this Thanksgiving (another form of guilt was symbolically assuaged by checking that President Obama had, indeed, pardoned two very handsome looking white turkeys earlier today, Apple and Cider - oh, how New England rural - who were sent off with a stroke on the head from the presidential hand - plus an inquiry as to what wattles are actually for - to have a good life at Mount Vernon. And the answer to the wattle question is to let off heat, since turkeys don't sweat). It's the optimism of drawing a bucket and mop and broom that's particularly poignant about this. I'm relieved to see that a couple of phone number strips have already been torn off - but the board outside Rite Aid, on a windy corner with ice pellets in the forecast, is not the most propitious of advertising spaces.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
There's something very satisfying - to me, at any rate - about this as an image, in its near abstraction. Of course, if I think about it in purely representational terms, it's just another in an occasional series of photos documenting the decline of 36 Union Street - on this occasion, the basin in the second floor bathroom which, although technically clean, is cracked and rusted and discolored beyond measure. The true contest, however, is a floor higher up - and focuses on the question of whether or not the ceiling on the stairs (badly stained with rusty blotches and streaks in one place, cracking and starting to bulge downwards in another) will give way before I vacate my office (an office of which, I might add, I'm inordinately fond, especially since I bought it a heater) - it's just that its surroundings are what we'd call in England decidedly manky, The dictionary isn't much help on "manky" - there's one on line optimistic suggestion that it comes from the Italian "mancare," to lack - but even though its use dates back at least to the 1950s, no one seems really clear of its origins. It's a very useful word, all the same ...
Monday, November 22, 2010
Here's the latest example of NJ's mandatory do-it-yourself handcrafting: the self-reporting gas consumption form. Six months worth of little dials are offered up on the same sheet of paper - three one side, three the other - and in the middle of each month one has to go down to the basement, trip over things in the dark, turn on a light, and peer at some tiny dials in order to draw arrows onto the empty dial faces. Then one has to stick it in an available window for three days, and someone comes by to read one's supposed consumption (I have no idea whether or not they also perform spot honesty-in-reporting checks). I imagine this is designed to Save Labor Costs - I just hope that they haven't fired the very pleasant guy who used to make the obstacle course expedition into the basement on a monthly basis.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Saturday, November 20, 2010
I am so very much looking forward to entertaining my friend Clare's daughters in Los Angeles - lunch with them in Cambridge today, and both Marina (7, above) and Kitty (10, below) are completely adorable and exactly the kind of humans one wish that one had living with one. Kidnapping may have to be resorted to. It's one of my big sadnesses at living with the Atlantic in between us that I don't get to see more of them (though I do have a painting by Kitty - an Aboriginal style spotty one - hanging in my office).
Friday, November 19, 2010
I'm pretty certain that I'd recognize this as an English city window anywhere - pick it out of a window identity parade - but why? The turn of the C19th/C20th brick, certainly; that particular way that the whitish ledge is crumbing; the net curtain - extra privacy granted by the rippled glass in the front pane, too; the plastic flowers; the general knick-knacks - and the fact that all of this is very visible right on the street, with just eighteen inches or so of private yard before a low, decrepit brick wall. I'm not sure that this catalogue fully answers the question of national identity, though - unless the coupling with dull grey light helps, and the sense that plenty of slow rain has seeped into all the brickwork over the years. It's in Tabor Grove, Wimbledon - on the way to the station - the kind of window that one walks past for years, for decades, without ever really noticing.
For of course, this is the kind of window display that one's meant to notice
- one more haughty mannequin to add to my roster, in Miu Miu on Sloane Street -
one Tiffany diamond pendant, set off by mirrors, a Victorian church, and a Braque like fragment of me taking a photograph, just as one turns into Sloane Square.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
There are plenty of surreal objects, and surreal juxtapositions, in the new-ish Ceramics Gallery in the V&A - and an incomprehensible number of china bulldogs. Indeed, there are some excruciatingly bad-taste pieces - especially 1950s horses (including what I think is a model of Col. Harry Llewellyn on Foxhunter - the kind of detail that my memory dredges up with worrying ease). And there are shelves and shelves of Staffordshire figures, and Newcastle lustre jugs, and majolica plates, and some quite extraordinary sculpted snakes and lizards on plates - very 3D, after the Adam Fuss snake-created patterns in the excellent "Shadow Chasers" photogram show on the ground floor (where, o flashy bliss, there were a couple of pieces by Floris Neusüss in which he'd left big sheets of photographic paper out in a thunderstorm, letting the lightning expose them. Must try that in NM next summer ...). And then some interesting new glass sculptures, and a staircase with semi-translucent green glass balustrades. This donkey, though; this somnolent Bottom; this sad, sad image of despair, did rather stand out for its capacity to sum up the wetness of the November afternoon outside.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
This was a surprise: walking up to Goldsmiths College from New Cross Gate station (reached on the London Overground, which I didn't even know existed, after a parodically slow journey on the District Line - signal failure; person under train stopping the Central Line, etc), I was wondering how to take a picture of grimy London in the rain that would make it look significantly different from a bad day in New Brunswick - other than the fact that the cars drive on the other side of the road. Oh, sure, there are a million differences, starting with the fact that Deptford is even grimier, but the overall impression is much the same. And then, suddenly, just past the rather magnificent Victorian Deptford Town Hall, and in the middle of an otherwise nondescript row of shops, was this carnivalesque costumier's heaven, a whole jumble of fanciful dresses and wigs and accessories that looked as though it had escaped from from the wardrobe for the music hall scenes of *Tipping the Velvet.*
A quick Google shows that this is Prangsta Costumiers. Quite possibly everyone in London knows about this except me, but it just made me want to come back with a camera and go wild. Or throw a party...
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Faithful readers will know how happy I am when I arrive in my old bedroom and find that my mother has left a little vase of fresh flowers for me: posting a picture of these flowers is my way of offering up homage to this ritual. This evening - having arrived off the daytime flight, which always is the best way to come - the curtains were already drawn, and the flowers thoughtfully removed from the windowsill and placed on the glass top of the desk.
These blooms act as a very calming antidote to the popular media frenzy over The Royal Wedding That Has Been Announced (can they really be using terms like A Fairy Tale Wedding, after the last time around?). Actually an equally strong antidote was offered up by the fact that when I came in, my parents were watching an excellent BBC4 program on the late C19th Scottish painters, The Glasgow Boys - which was a sudden blast of BBC documentary at its best.
Monday, November 15, 2010
I really don't know why I'm going through a pomegranate phase (I am ogling my favorite 'granate picture of the year - not this one - and wondering whether it will become a Christmas card). They are, indubitably, better fruits to look at and photograph and draw than they are to eat, although I do remember, sometime in the mid 1960s, a couple of these exotic beasts turning up and being taught by my mother how to eat the little seeds, one by one, impaled on a pin. They are, of course, on my list of Things I Want to Grow in California - up there with avocados and limes.
Pomegranates come originally from the Himalayas (so do lots of fruits - I caught a fascinating program about rare and heirloom apples on NPR at lunchtime today, although I couldn't quite work it in to today's Memory class - probably just as well, since it ranged from Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" to the big Newark sweatshop fire of 1910 to Simon Ortiz's poetry as it was ) - and Armenia and Persia and Azerbaijan. Wikipedia claims that Granada, in Spain, was even named after it - can that really be the case? Certainly, a pomegranate is the city's heraldic emblem, but in fact the name seems to derive from Gharnáta (Arabic: غَرْنَاطَة) (but that, in turn, means what? I am caught in a Google labyrinth, and will disentangle myself). Ayurvedic medicine claims so many uses for the fruit that perhaps I should start pressing and guzzling the remaining specimens in the fruit bowl. I've always thought of its mythology just in Greek terms, as a rather sinister fruit of the underworld, but its symbolic resonances go on and on. The Koran has it growing in paradise; in many countries it (understandably, given all those little seeds) is an image of fertility. So ... any depiction of it is going to be completely overdetermined - a pomegranate is never just a pomegranate - but it's a very seductive natural design.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
probably the single thing that I'll miss most about New Jersey is the fall (well, and the spring - that sudden aggressive outburst of green that one never believes will happen). It's not that there aren't seasons in California - but they aren't as singularly dramatic as this. Donaldson Park this afternoon was looking at its best: this is one of those deceptive shots that makes the Raritan look as though it has all the qualities of the Susquehanna or one of those other rivers whose name I'm always apprehensive about trying to spell. It seems as though it's lying deep and still at the bottom of a wooded valley whereas in reality one's horrendously aware how loud the traffic is going down Route 18 on the opposite bank ...
Saturday, November 13, 2010
The Montreal hotel in which I'm staying - the St Paul - is so utterly chi-chi that they even arrange their ultra non-gender-specific bathrobes in an attitude of - as I read it - same sex togetherness. Very cute. I would stay here again in a blink of an eye - it's sleekly designer minimalist, and one feels pampered without ever being remotely fussed over.
A follow-up from yesterday's post - since I couldn't post this as a picture into the reply space ... anyone who picked up the reference to Derrida's cat will be interested, I'm sure, to see that this cat, at any rate, is Siamese, and that Derrida is, on this occasion, fully clothed.
Friday, November 12, 2010
This is a very handsome piece of graffiti on a vacant lot in Montreal: it's not easily explicable (there's another, greyer one in an alley down the street, too). It does look remarkably like Emmett in its expression. I was strolling past it - that is, walking off my lunch - on the way back from Schwartz's Charcuterie Hibraique - if only its founders had thought to open in Highland Park in 1928, not Montreal (though I think HP was very Italian back then). I haven't eaten so much meat for six months or so, but their basic smoked brisket sandwich (white bread, mustard) was perfect, and will keep me going for the next six months. I didn't hear any papers about cats, although Danielle Coriale did acknowledge the recent turn to Animal Studies, before going on to give such a brilliant paper about polyps that one thought Oh! Why have I never taken polyps seriously? (whether freshwater or sea-based) - for after all, the Victorians certainly did. And she showed a stunningly beautiful translucent blue grey little video of a polyp consuming a water-flea.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
I'd be lying if I said that the top picture here was my favorite of the pictures that I took here today in Montreal ... I've posted that below ... but it seemed appropriate to find something with which to memorialize Memorial Day - which, I note, is marked here in Canada, as it is in England, by people wearing red poppies. This sunlit pew is in the Basilica de Notre Dame, which was made quite magical today by a rehearsal going on for a concert this evening. The singer was Natalia Orlova, from St Petersburg - let's just say that this cutesy wholesome image on her website was entirely contradicted by a black and grey ensemble involving a very short skirt and high black boots that looked more suitable for the Bada Bing than for a basilica. But her voice was extraordinary - among other things she was singing a version of John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" (not being Canadian, I hadn't internalised that a Canadian poet was responsible for "In Flanders fields, the poppies blow) and Schubert's "Ave Maria" - and I much preferred wandering round the aisles and looking at the late afternoon sun coming through the stained glass windows and hearing this than I would have wanted to sit through a formal concert.
And then there was this wonderful camera down the street ...
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
After two homage-images this week, here's an anti-homage, a satirical homage (in other words, still homage) to Edward Weston. Though obviously I didn't take the time to mimic the pose, the lighting, the sensuous semi-sexualization of his famous peppers: I'm now regretting this, because these Bowery bums of the refrigerator drawer merited a little more care. But I can't extricate them from the trashcan now: they will be squashed ... all I can do is turn them into black and white.
I'm a great believer in artistic (and verbal) mimicry: I think one does actually learn through imitation - something that I was taught a long time ago in art classes at school, where Winfred Pasmore - the sister of Victor Pasmore, but I can't find anything on line about what her own training might have been - made me paint skies in imitation of the Impressionists. It was an instant tactic to make me think differently about how I used media, about how to make eye and hand co-ordination work differently (and then I went back to imitating Samuel Palmer, right down to painting with glue).
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
No homage that I'm conscious of today - though that doesn't mean that there isn't an influence lurking in there, unsuspected - just some very fine late fall light on a bunch of smallish somethings - gerberas? - I think I may call all flowers that look a bit like this gerberas. I have taken off their limp and fading leaves, and repositioned them, hoping to eke out another few days' decorative worth, for clearly the hordes of prospective buyers are still failing to materialize. And this is a far from perfectly arranged room - that round lump, depressing the sofa in the background? LucyFur. The magazines, however, remain tastefully displayed, with the current copy of Artforum on top - though I have absolutely no idea whether one would have more success with Vogue, or Real Simple, or House Beautiful. Indeed, I'm not even sure whether House Beautiful is still in print - it may just be a dated signifier, picked up from decades of US fiction reading, of suburban domestic stultification.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Another exhibition at LACMA was a room hung with representations of fruit - including their own wallpaper of garlands of blemished and rotting and ripe fruit - by Fallen Fruit, the LA collaboration that seeks, among other things, to draw attention to quite how much fruit goes to waste in the city. At least, that's pretty much how it started out, but it's now expanded to encompass all kinds of fruit awareness, from the conditions of Monsanto banana plantation workers to - well, mezzotints. Yozo Hamaguchi's mezzotint that was on display was of one solo half pomegranate, its pith showing up white against the dark of its seeds, and the burred shadows of the table or whatever other ground it stood on: here, I've borrowed some of the effect, albeit in a dark aqua blue tinted black and white image.
And I have a new promise to myself: when this house is sold, I'll do what I did when I sold my last house that bore the number 113: buy a print. Last time, when eventually I sold 113 Marlborough Road, in Oxford, I bought myself a Piranesi print of the ruined temple that now stands just outside Rome's central station. (I kidded myself that the reason the house wasn't snapped up was that the front door was mysteriously hung upside down, but it may have been the IRA sympathizing drug dealers as neighbors - I managed to get rid of it as student rental housing, in the end) This time, I have my eye on a gallery that sells Hamaguchis.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
One of the best things about my trip to Los Angeles was getting to see the big William Eggleston retrospective at LACMA (ironically, I was in LA when it was on at the Whitney in 2008). It was a show in which I found a number of his photographs peculiarly familiar even if I hadn't consciously seen them before: he's a photographer by whom I've been very influenced, even though I don't know if I would have recognized this fact loudly and consciously without seeing the exhibition. But his stress on the ordinary - the "democratic camera" of the exhibition's title - and his love of slightly over-saturated color (pre-digital, he produced this through the dye transfer process, which allowed him to isolated and concentrate colors in his images) - both feed into my own work all the time.
I hadn't known his freezer interior, with its chilly blues and rather unhealthy yellows, but couldn't wait to get home and imitate it. I was rather surprised to open the freezer door and find how healthy it looked, by comparison - the only prepared foods in here are pre-packed bags of Whole Foods spinach, which hardly count, and some Smart Water, which is probably me turning a marketing rip-off into something that I can pop into an insulated bag when next travelling long distance in the car. There's a slight disappointment in this, in that there's limited documentary value. One of the things that I found myself reflecting on at the exhibition was the passage of time that ensures that the strictly contemporary - the food packets and the advertisements, the cars and the hairstyles - date and become documentary history, so that the images take on a patina of nostalgia that they rarely had initially. I say "rarely" cautiously, though, because Eggleston was, and is, a self-conscious recorder of the south, and of small town diners and gas stations - exactly the kind of locations that have individual character, and the passing of which is easy to lament even before they are actually closed and derelict.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Down on the beach, somewhere south of Venice, on a slightly stormy afternoon - although it never actually rained. I can never understand why the beaches in Los Angeles aren't packed out (probably people are too busy shopping - the freeway back was certainly packed enough), even when the weather is slightly less than perfect, and the seagulls have been reduced to mugging people eating hot dogs with hot sauce. But I'm very glad for all the space, and the great vastness of the Pacific Ocean, and the mountain backdrop to the north, without tripping over thousands of people. There is something so exciting and foreign about the Pacific - I've always found the Jersey Shore (sorry, natives) too greyly reminiscent of the Atlantic the other side - as seen from Aberystwyth on a bad August day, say.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Lying around in the hot sun on the USC campus today were a couple of near dismembered artificial corpses, apparently about to be used for some strange competitive resuscitation obstacle race. Since they are - simulating a horrible accident - very obviously Dead, it's hard to know quite what a useful exercise could be performed on them - reassembling their legs? Even practising artificial respiration would be a little late in the day, one would think.
Nor were they the only notable sight on campus ... um, are many of my students really going to look like this?
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Ah, I do know that it's a tourist cliche to take pictures of views reflected in shiny office blocks, but it's also irresistible, especially when one's staying as a - well, if not a tourist, a guest - in one's own semi-home town. This is the view from the 10th floor of the Omni in downtown LA, looking as though it's been segmented and posted onto graph paper: the shiny curvy bits in the center, looking like a golden balloon descending, are in fact a few segments of the Disney concert hall. And beyond the office block are hills - I so love the presence of the hills here, and the sense of being poised at the edge of the Pacific rim ...
So what are these things? Every year I puzzle about them, and mean to find out, and don't. There's nothing like them in England - it's as though cauliflowers have escaped and mated with croquet balls. Here, a frat house up the street from my office seems to have arranged them as fall decorations, though it's very tempting to sneak them off and paint them the colors of billiard balls, given quite how they are set out.
Fall decorations were all very well in NJ this afternoon: they now seem a little surreal, since I'm in LA, where the temperature hit 95 degrees today. I don't think I've come sartorially prepared for this ...
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Oh, this is just how I feel, watching election results come in - though seeing Rand Paul's acceptance speech is enough to make one drop off one's stem altogether. That is a metaphorical reading: a literal one would just glumly lament how often flowers that are used for Staging a house have to be replaced ...
Monday, November 1, 2010
Icons, of course, are meant to be easily legible: figures or actions or properties reduced to the most elementary signifiers. But what if they've been constructively mutilated or collaged? I've never noticed this figure before, on College Avenue: if it's an angel, rather than Icarus descended, it's most appropriately crossing the road between the Hillel and the Second Reform Church. But was it created by a believer in ecumenical worship? And what's that large case in the figure's left hand for? It looks like the kind of carrier that would expect to contain billiard cues. But maybe, if they're lightweight wings, one could fold them up neatly and take them on New Jersey Transit? And why (here I need a normal pedestrian crossing picture, for comparison) is he - I think it's a he - not wearing shoes? And then, his flying suit looks a little padded and Michelin-man like. Perhaps that's a hidden property of icons, whether in their original form or transmogrified: they don't bear very much logical dissection.