Sunday, 18 November 2012
This was the climactic moment of the two-parter ‘Fear and Faith’, an exploration of the psychology of religious belief and fear/anxiety. Part 1 was Derren meets the Wizard of Oz as people with various fears (heights, social conflict, singing in public) were given the new drug ‘rumyodin’ (being trialled for the first time outside the military) to help them conquer it. With the help of rumyodin, socially timid Bloke A stands up for himself in a pub fight (perhaps inadvisably), vertigo-stricken Bloke B stands on a narrow ledge, you know the sort of thing. This is Derren Brown so it pretty much goes without saying that the drug is just a sugar pill, an anagram of ‘your mind’, and that these people were – ta da! – all conquering their fears themselves, using their own inner resources. You kind of suspect that they all kind of suspect all along; indeed, one of the women who’s been told that it is an intelligence-boosting drug says “look, I’m not stupid, I know it’s probably a placebo”, having effectively been given permission to express this thought. It’s all a little bit self-help. Jolly good fun, sure, but it's Derren Brown. We don't want good: we want mindblowing.
Part 2 is much better from the start. It kicks off with a satanic rite, demonstrating that even among self-proclaimed atheists and skeptics, very few are willing to stab a photograph of their nearest and dearest and pledge their eternal soul to Satan in return for earthly ease. (I have to say I’m with them here. It’s Pascal’s gambit in reverse, and surely not worth it for the lulz.) The rite itself is genuinely disturbing and the prorgamme gets darker from there. People are left in pitch blackness in a crypt and (with the help of a few parting words from Derren) thoroughly freak themselves out, hallucinating faces in front of them and presences behind them. All except for Natalie (the aforementioned stem cell scientist) whose rational brain isn’t going to be fooled so easily.
The rest of the programme is a skilful and engaging tour round the various aspects of religious belief, including a section which seems almost like a quick guide to giving yourself paranoid schizophrenia. Derren tells a woman that she has been selected for his new show, Intervention, that she’ll be secretly filmed at all times, and that his people will be making a series of small interventions in her life at unexpected times, some more obvious than others. Of course within days she’s seeing significance in every dropped coin in the supermarket and re-evaluating her priorities in the light of it. And of course, ta da! There was no secret filming, there were no interventions. Tell someone there’s a meaning,a plan, a secret pattern behind the random stuff of life, and they’ll discern it – or in the case of paranoia, they don't even need to be told. Derren knows that we know this is how it works by now, and some of this (people don’t cheat if they’ve been told there’s a supernatural presence in the room, you can make people think they smell mint), although fun, has the feeling slightly more of an argument being made than of shock memorable TV moments.
The difficulty here is that, if it’s an argument rather than (or as well as), entertainment, it’s got to be rigorous. Early on, Derren is discussing why we might be hard-wired for belief, and gives an argument from evolutionary psychology; drawing on the work of the psychologist Jesse Bering, Derren explains that “most likely” good moral behaviour is desirable because language means bad deeds can be gossiped about, and that the easiest way to ensure moral behaviour is to implement the idea of an all-seeing divine being. Admittedly, framing this argument in under a minute, accompanied by animated gossiping cavemen, may not do it justice; however, it seems to be exactly the type of ‘just so story’ which we should surely resist. It does no good to spend several hours (indeed several years) giving beautiful and unimpeachable demonstrations of skepticism if you then present something equally speculative as “most likely” true.
However, Derren’s conversion of Natalie, which unfolds gradually throughout the programme, leaves you in no doubt of his personal power. Surrounded by candles in a church, in a conversation that’s part confession, part memory, part foreplay, he taps his fingers on the table, playing her like the virtuoso he is. He encourages her to evoke and relive feelings of protection, love, and awe, leaving her at just the right moment with more or less explicit permission to allow all of these feelings to sweep over her and carry her away in a tidal wave of belief. She buries her head in her hands, weeping.
When she comes back to see him at the TV studio a week later, she still looks post-orgasmic, flushed and starry-eyed but riven with conflict. What’s true? What does she believe? Who is she? How has she lived her whole life without God's love - and yet what's left of her life if there is such a thing? Derren’s not-too-gentle explanation, in front of the audience, that he created those feelings in her, leaves her visibly in turmoil as she tries to reconcile this second grand upheaval to her belief system. This is the really incredible stuff Derren (and his team) can pull off, this getting right to the core of people, this quasi-sexual domination, this always sadistic revelling in control and revelation. It’s really very good stuff. More please.
Friday, 24 August 2012
From tonight, renowned Japanese artist and writer Yayoi Kusama will take control of Selfridges windows [...] Part of a new friendship with Louis Vuitton, with whom she has collaborated to create two clothing and accessory collections, Kusama's takeover of Selfridges is one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken by an artist.
Revered for her simple, timeless dot prints...
Hmm, well, more like revered for being a voluntary inpatient in a mental hospital since the 1970s and creating existentially nauseating pseudo-organic sculptures where thousands of phalluses sprout like crazed mushrooms from domestic furniture.
But never mind. It's a shop window! Yay!
Karen concludes her analysis thusly:
And with dots a major focus on both the catwalks and high streets for autumn and winter, it seems they are certainly sticking to the point this season.Badoomtish.
Friday, 17 August 2012
|Leonardo da Vinci, Views of a Foetus in the Womb (c. 1510 - 1512)|
|Andre-Pierre Pinson, Anatomy of a Seated Woman (late 18th century)|
Jusepe de Ribera, Saint Sebastian Attended by Saint Irene (1628)
|Il Sodoma, Saint Sebastian (1525)|
|Agnolo Bronzino, Saint Bartholomew, 1556|
When that sense of the body is lost, when it's all too clever-clever and blingy and sterile, Hirst leaves you cold. But when he makes you hot and bothered, perhaps it's something worth thinking on.
Thursday, 26 July 2012
A green crane towered over the suburban trees and picnicking families. Indian string music began and a host of dancers took to the stage, a ballerina in a glittering red dress and Kathak dancers, the stage ringed with parasols and floodlit in red, purple, white. Masses of white balloons floated up and away over the dark-grey trees.
As it went on, the music and the not-quite synchrony of the dancers became trance-like, the taka-taka tongue-clicking and the tapping toes, the flicking heads and expanding, contracting circle of dancers, building into a transporting whole. Unlikely people were drumming their feet in the audience.
Seven giant white bells rose high into the darkening sky, releasing balloons as they went, and transformed into seven white angels in dresses who threw glitter into the wind. The trees sparkled. As the crane swooped and circled over the crowd, there was one breathtaking moment after another; fireworks, flashing lights and powder unreal against the navy sky.
Traipsing home through the park afterwards, red streamers still hung in the trees where they'd fallen. I thought of the Mary Poppins books - the quiet, orderly park always the place where reality melted at the edges and other worlds could slip in. Where statues come to life and shadows escape their owners, and a woman with a parrot-headed umbrella floats down on an unexploded firework with her feet neatly turned out.
Bells is a collaborative spectacle created by Theater Tol (Belgium) and Akademi (London) combining aerial theatre and Kathak dance. It was presented by Artsdepot and is part of Showtime, presented by the Mayor of London.
The show will be on 2nd August in Lewisham and 4th August in Chiswick. I recommend it for a gentle blurring of the edges of the real.
Monday, 16 July 2012
Friday, 10 February 2012
Gok Wan is on a mission.
“I don’t want any teen to go through what I did”. The How To Look Good Naked star reveals how as a 21 stone teenager he endured years of misery and bullying.”
It’s all very Jamie Oliver: a passionate, personal crusade, comprising a bit of raw confessional, some contemporary social critique and taking action for real change.
However, while Jamie’s various series have seen him slogging his guts out dawn to dusk, chasing up recalcitrant truanting teens, arguing with local authorities, managing school canteens, and ultimately winning an audience with then-PM Tony Blair, Gok’s mainly involves looking at pictures of models while going “urrr, she’s too thin!” and getting girls to write on mirrors in lipstick and cry.
The teens in this programme are amazingly docile.
“Why do you think you don’t look good enough?” Gok asks.
“Because I see images… on the internet… celebrities,” says Paige, hesitant but obedient.
They flash up lots of thinspo photographs and slogans. Perhaps they could have chosen instead to show Isabelle Caro, dead at 28, or Katie Chilver, rather than these glamorised, 'triggering' fantasies. But this isn't a programme specialising in conceptual coherence.
Gok takes Paige on a life-changing journey to see a model do a photoshoot. The photo gets retouched. Paige cries.
“I didn’t know it was fake,” sobs Paige, who puts this new knowledge into action when she goes home by, erm, uninstalling the Photoshop software she uses to retouch her own pictures online.
14-year-old Brianna, meanwhile, whose anorexic phase has already long passed, sits quietly while an American dietician shows her some computer-generated images of how she’ll look at 30 if she’s anorexic (weird, haggard, wrinkled and grey) and not anorexic (just weird).
“Gosh, I think I prefer the non-anorexic one,” says Brianna politely. “Thank you.”
“I think I really got through to her,” says the dietician to camera as Brianna leaves.
At some other point, Gok gets a bunch of adolescent girls to look in a mirror in front of their mums and teachers and to say they have fat thighs or flat chests.
“I just look… ordinary,” says an ordinary-looking girl. Mums dab at their eyes with tissues.
Assorted celebrities crop up from time to time. The idea is that they confide their own teenage horrors and reassure today's younger generation that this too will pass. The problem is that (a) they're mostly incredibly irritating and (b) their problems include 'fitting in with everyone so not being really true to myself' (Duncan from Blue).
Despite the odd bit of lip service about ‘confidence’ and ‘self esteem’ , the programme is thoroughly Christina: “You are beautiful, no matter what they say.”
What is never suggested is that maybe you’re not beautiful, and maybe that doesn’t matter; maybe that’s not the worst thing. It’s not because the images are retouched that it’s a bad idea to aspire to have thighs with a big gap between them: so what if they’re real? Perhaps there could be other things to dream of, wilder skies than these.
In the photoshoot, while Paige and her comrades are squealing over the revelation that even the primped and preened model can’t match up to her own photograph, there is another woman in the scene: the photographer. Hair scragged back, in jeans, without make-up, here is a woman doing a technologically savvy, well-paid job, one that doesn't entail being half-eaten away by your own excess gastric acid by the age of 27.
But we don’t hear anything from or about her, and here’s the untold story, the one where looks aren’t everything. The one where Paige's very creditable photomanip skills could be put to better use than making her collarbone stick out.
The stated aim of this programme is laudable but no serious thought has gone into it, as evidenced by the repeated inclusion of pro-ana material as wallpaper. Judging from the teaser trailer for next week’s programme, the flashy stunts (landing in helicopters) and relentless shallowness which characterised ‘How to Look Good Naked’ aren’t on the way out any time soon.
Gok’s Teens: The Naked Truth is on Channel 4, Tuesday evenings, 8pm. And on 4OD here
Friday, 20 January 2012
The Cult of Quatermass took over a basement in Hackney last night. Maps of communication networks and an old Periodic Table are tacked up above the wooden control desk, where a reel-to-reel tape is flanked by flickering video images and an oscillator screen with green lines arcing across it. The panels on the walls are a mass of clunky buttons, switches and knobs, delivering an instant nostalgia kick. And you can touch them (yay). Some seem to shift the noise which fills the air; others don’t have any discernible effect.
The creators emerged unannounced and unsmiling. Willing acolytes crowded the stairs as AAS twiddled dials, stopped and started tapes and climbed ladders to produce a sustained performance of droning, pulsating sounds. There was squealing at the upper reaches of the sonic spectrum while low thrums made the walls vibrate. Sometimes a thought-defeating chaos of noise, at other times different signals and voices seemed to make themselves heard and something more defined and rhythmic took shape as sounds meshed mid-air.
AAS were impassive and focused as they operated the controls and picked their way silently through the crowds of receptive listeners. Upstairs, bottles of Red Stripe swam in a barrel among splintering icebergs.
At first, without introduction and with no obvious moment of beginning, it seemed kind of shambolic and inexplicable. Then it gradually exerted a quasi-hypnotic pull so that the restlessness you felt after 1 minute faded away, and after 10 minutes you could have carried on listening more or less indefinitely. Rising and falling with the sound, dipping in and out of thought and pure hearing. There was something compelling about the slightly clumsy, amateur way it was carried out, the unremarkable clothes and the way that they had to push past people which made it quite genuinely odd and intense.
The Cult of Quatermass was commissioned by Pil & Galia Kollectiv for Xero, Kline and Coma and is developed from the earlier AAS project, The Quatermass Code (2006) which took place at BlocSpace in Sheffield.
It is a sculptural installation of a laboratory control room containing video works, an audio work and machines for producing sounds that can be mixed, live, by the audience. The narrative is built around the characters of Professor Quatermass of the British Sonic Research Unit, a drone band called Samekhmem, a cult of people called ‘Receivers’ and the ‘sacred eternal drone’ that is the obsession of Samekhmem, Receivers and Quatermass alike.
‘Silence. Even a vacuum may contain vibrations. Space itself is the dark matter we seek. All of time is compressed into a single vibrating filament, a new form of religion emerging from alphawaves.’
– Journal entry three months ago
The video and audio works draw inspiration from a range of cultural references and practices including: J. G. Ballard, Situationist dérives, audiomancy, William Burroughs’ cut-up technique, and glitching.
For more information go to aasgroup.net or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org