Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Endurance @ The Studio, Royal Exchange

The Endurance is utterly mental but complete bloody brilliance. 

The best arts experience, whether it be film, theatre or any of the visual arts, should endow the next few hours with a strange sense of unreality. I blame Ben Faulks mesmerising performance for me wrapping my knock-off pashmina round and round my neck and scurrying over to M&S to buy some thermal underwear. 

I should admit right now that this could not possibly be an unbiased review. From the moment the final raucous, lead poisoned chords of the "tin song" died away I realised I was a little bit in love. I grew up with the myth of polar explorers and all the masculine bullshit that goes with them. In recent years read enough to become aware how nutty, cruel, self absorbed and just plain stupid these fellas were, and Ben Faulks, through his prancing, performative characters, manifests this aspect in strange glory. 

At just under over an hour, this madcap, mesmeric one man play is a glorious bite sized treat. If you're looking for high drama this probably isn't for you, but if you're looking for something intricate, enjoyable and a little off the wall this is for you. In equal measures it's hilarious and fascinating, and the gently revelatory end brings together the disparate parts of the protagonist's madness into a touching and manageable parcel. 

Sadly, The Endurance is only at the Studio, Royal Exchange, for two more days. Quick, go see, be mesmerised and battered by this brilliant, insane, enchanting play. 

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Antigone @ The Royal Exchange

I live with a lady who has the most expressive eyebrows you have ever seen. She expresses scepticism in the move of one glorious, nuisanced eyebrow with an ease and eloquence most of us could only dream of.

The Royal Exchanges' production of Antigone was great on so many levels, but there were several aspects of it which made me wish I had my house mate's skill with the eyebrow.

The Good: The acting, with was mostly incredibly good, captivating, stepping the fine line between delivering interminable speeches, which I guess cannot be avoided with Greek theatre, and expressiveness.

The set, simple, with a funeral bier complete with charred bones and a uneven floor with a massive crack in it reminiscent of Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth 2007.

The contemporary clothes made it feel a little like we were watching an episode of Lost, but also gave a kind of timeless, post-apocalyptic feel to the whole affair that I quite liked.

Despite initially balking at the prospect of watching a play for a hour and forty minutes without a break, I didn't actually feel as painfully long as I expected. All of a sudden everyone is dead and you know there can be only a few more speeches before you're allowed to escape to the pub.

The slightly silly: The modern dance. I'm first to confess I'll always prefer prose over poetry. I like a bit of narrative with my fish supper. I can understand its purpose, breaking up the production, giving us a breather from the endless speeches and the actors a chance to change, but I really just didn't get it. It seemed rather silly and tacked on.

The army chaps in full black block desert storm regalia. It took contemporaneity a little far, and made every reference to "crimes against the state" a little heavy. The shenanigans with the riot shield just seemed completely nonsensical.

Antigone's arms. Although Matti Houghton was mostly great, there was some weird going on with her arms. They seemed determined to do with odd, mannequin like, automaton flapping. Although this gives us a sense of the highly controlled nature of the character, I frankly found it distracting, jerky and utterly inexpressive.

Anyway, don't let this put you off. I reckon I have a pretty normal attention span and didn't find it wandering once, something which is pretty remarkable for ancient classical theatre. I really did enjoy it, despite wishing I had better skills with the sceptical eyebrow.

Antigone is at the Royal Exchange until the 8th of November.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Another week: Badger Set, Are You Dead?, Antigone, Neil Gaiman & The Endurance

Once again I'd heartily recommend visiting Illuminations before it shuts down on the 30th.

This week takes on a different feel than the last few. The end of the Manchester Literature Festival means my week is not base so much on literature, and is taking a rather theatric turn. Sadly I haven't been able to find any art events to hunt down, other than the 1st Badger Set party at the Nexus Art Cafe. This is a chance for everyone to rendezvous at Nexus for their new monthly party. They promise live music, comedians, games and even a raffle. Sounds rather pleasant and quaint. The fun kicks off at 7pm on Saturday 1st November and entry is only £2.

Although I count myself as a big supporter of the Nexus, and was mostly impressed by Are You Dead? I was a little disappointed by one aspect of it. Frankly having a bit of familiarity with taxidermy, I didn't think the quality of the work was that high. The poor quality of the taxidermy on the staircase installation was a little distracting. Despite being a vegetarian I don't really have any problem with the use of dead animals, just wish the work had been done a little better. You can go see for yourself if you hurry, Are You Dead? ends this Saturday.

Tomorrow I'm going to see Antigone at the Royal Exchange. From City Life's rather inconclusive review I really don't know what to expect. Antigone runs until the 8th of November.

On Wednesday the mighty Neil Gaiman is promoting his new book, The Graveyard , at Manchester University. A chance to see if Tony Lee was really telling the truth or not about him working on Doctor Who comics for IDW in the US.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to fit in a trip to see The Endurance at the Studio in the Studio at the Royal Exchange. I grew up with the myth of Shackleton, a fact which drove me to read and eventually write my undergraduate dissertation about polar explorers. This, and the fact the City Life pulls together a rather more conclusive and encouraging review is getting me quite excited. Endurance runs until the 1st of November.

I have family visiting this weekend, so I'm not sure what direction this weekend will take, however there is a strong possibility you will see me riding my bicycle down Deansgate dressed as a cat on Friday night, en family and a pack of anarcho-eco-punk bodies.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Illuminations by Trace @ ServicePoint Building, Whitworth Street

One of my favourite exhibition experiences of my whole life happened in one room of the Pompideu centre in spring of 2006. Rodney Graham’s film Rheinmetal/Victoria 8 ( 2003 ) was a projection of white powder slowly falling onto and settling on a typewriter. It was eerie and beautiful, a significant personal experience with a work of art, that I have never really spoken about but have carried with my since that time. Some of the aspects which so touched me about Graham's piece seem to be repeated in Illuminations at the ServicePoint Buildings.

I haven’t enjoyed, and been impressed by, an art exhibition as much as Illuminations in an awfully long time. Consisting of work from over 30 recent graduates from the Slade School of Fine Art, they exhibit under the collective name Trace. Although not all of the exhibits are of the same high quality or originality, nearly all are evocative and interesting. The decision to place the show within a blacked out and disused building is rather clever. Individually illuminated pieces seem eerie and beautiful, and the darkness covers a multitude of sins. Weird corporate fixtures and fittings sink into the background, loom strangely and unimportantly in the corner of your eye and while also adding to the whole experience. Another significance of the blackout/illumination choice is that it makes the exhibition difficult to photograph, eliminating one of my major bugbears with peoples behaviour in gallery spaces.

To wander around the building in near dark is a wonderful experience. The projected art is ghostly and beautiful, and seems to bring down a comfortable silence and air of contemplation. I also like that it is not a circular exhibition, that when you get to the end of the exhibition you do not spill out at some predetermined destination complete with shop. You have to retrace your steps, revisiting exhibits which you passed perhaps only minutes earlier. With video art this is a real gift, since with luck you find yourself presented with parts which you may not have seen again. With the most beautiful ones, such as Sam Belinfante's Tube Lines or Permille Leggat Ramfelt and Richard Bevan's Point this is a real gift.

So go find this exhibition and have a relaxed wander, free of excessive curatorial direction and do the interpretation for yourself. It's great, and I hope this style of exhibition can take over from the prissy, didactic and tired trends that seem to rule the roost at the moment. Illumnations is at 4 Whitworth Street West, the Deansgate Station end, and runs till the 30th of November. It is open Mon-Fri 12-7pm, Sat/Sun 1-5pm.

Manchester Blog Awards - In Pictures

Wednesday night I went to the Manchester Blog awards with my trusty photographer side kick Sam, he was the chap with the phallic slr that kept leaping around and snapping away down by the stage. It was loads of fun and a chance to see the blogerati off the internet and in Matt & Phreds. The readings were great, especially liked Mr. Chicken and Pies, pictured below. However, the creative writing did seem to all focus on internal dialogues of dysfunctional morons, but I suppose blog writing lends itself to that. Anyway, thanks to the legendary Manchizzle for organising it, you can read about the winners of the evening here. Anyway, I know that other people have done a much more through job of blogging the event, but wanted to post a link to Sam's set on Flickr.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Another busy week: Blacksad, Mervyn Peake @ MAG, Manchester Blog Awards, Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair, Illuminations and Dystopian Novels

Wow, what a weekend! Spent today recovering, writing event reviews for the Manchester Literature Festival Blog. Friday's event, Destroy Powerpoint is online and my attempt to render the glourisously beery monstrosity that was Vvoorp Vvoorp! at the Lass O' Gowrie into comprehendible words should follow shortly. I have not even began trying to put into words how utterly divine it was to meet the lovely Hannah Berry and Paul Gravatt on Sunday.

I'm sure Hannah will forgive me, because the second Blacksad book came through my door today and demanded a few hours of my time. Unfortunately, as observed with the previous book by my multilingual goddess of a house mate, the translation is not that great, even clear to an uncultivated hack like me because the spelling of one of the characters name keeps shifting inexplicably.

This week is not quite as geeky, but still has a claim to nerdy fame. It starts a tomorrow with an event I am blogging for the Manchester Literature Festival. with the son of the author of Gormenghast, Sebastian Peake, reading his father's writings by Mervyn's painting of glassblowers in Manchester Art Gallery.

Wednesday is the Manchester Blog Awards, run in conjunction with the Literature Festival and City Life. I wasn't nominated of an award, but still want to attend out of Mancunian blogging solidarity. Prepare to nominate me next year, people, for I shall be queen!

Thursday is the preview of the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair, which I am really looking forward to. Craft lies pretty close to my heart, as a daughter of a weaver and craft maker. Yes, that website is pretty ancient, but it's my mama's so be respectful! After the beautiful disappointment which was Cloth & Culture Now, and fully aware of the proverbial meat market which crafts fairs can be, I'm looking forward to see what my reaction will be. Like fine art, there are some rather strange, and to an outsider rather inexplicable, hierarchies within the craft field. The use of contemporary in the title flirts with me shameless, tempting and disconcerting, like a burlesque dancer with an adams apple.

On Friday night is the start of Illuminations, which I have previously blogged about.

If all that wasn't enough, I'm also covering a Dystopian Novel Debate on Saturday.

Good job I'm unemployed, otherwise I would be shaking myself to sublimely cultural pieces!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Science Fiction Ruins My Life @ Studio Salford

Why is it every time I go to the theatre I laugh so much less than everyone else?

As previously noted, even in the hallowed UFO that is the Royal Exchange Theatre, even during the epic that was the recent performance of Chekhov, people laughed their heads off at events and lines which I reckoned were more conducive of a wry smile or a private giggle.

Science Fiction Ruins My Life is a funny play, just not THAT funny... Perhaps it was because it was a comedy, people were just more ready to laugh than me? Perhaps I actually, really and tragically am a terrible old gin fuelled crone? Take this line for instance, delivered with no comic weight at all: “I’ve got stuff on me mind.” Guy in the front row almost fell off his seat.

Anyway, I enjoyed the play. It was sweet, flirts with being twee and the attempt at a life affirming ending is pretty clunky and unsuccessful. However, there is a real affection for the freakishness of the geeks and obsessives who actually inhabit the worlds of comic book shops and mutual-masturbatory sci-fi, fantasy and roll playing clubs. Thank fuck, we are not treated to another bullshit rendition of the “cool geek”.

The madcap happenings are actually both hilarious and familiar, at least to someone who’s current life plays like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. It is the socially awkward twattishness of the characters is what makes this play both touching and fun. The geek culture references and post-modern touches are inserted without the self satisfied gurning which are their normal accompaniment.

Science Fiction Ruins My Life is at Studio Salford ( in the Kings Arms near Salford Station) until Saturday 18th October.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Hannah Berry Interview

Last week I had the pleasure of having a quick emailed based chat with the author of Britten & Brülightly, the lovely Hannah Berry. The results of this are finally up on the Manchester Literature Festival Blog as a wee warm up for Between the Panels on Sunday.

Illuminations @ ServicePoint Building, Whitworth Street

My good friend Sam pointed this out to me. Interval , a artist led organisation which focuses on digital media practice, are presenting a odd but intriguing sounding show at The ServicePoint Building on Whitworth Street West next Thursday, 23rd of October till the 30th.

Illumination offers:

"Works by more than 30 exiting and innovative young artists, incorporating photography, film, performance, video, drawing and installation are conceived or repositioned for this exhibition.

Individually illuminated, each work interrupts both the darkness and the functionality of this non-gallery space revealing alternative and intriguing approaches to contemporary and traditional media.

I'm not the biggest fan of media and performance art, often seeming gimmicky and quickly dating, but this group show sounds really quite promising. It sound really quite curatorially interesting and a bit of an experience.

From the 24th it's open Mon-Fri 12-7pm, Sat/Sun 1-5pm and is FREE.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

William Holman Hunt & The Pre-Raphaelite Vision @ Manchester Art Gallery

If you need proof that the nation is ageing just go to a civic art gallery or museum at 11.20 on a weekday. Just three days in on Manchester Art Gallery's blockbuster-esque 'William Homan Hunt & the Pre-Raphaelite Vision' and the gallery is awash with grey heads and bent backs. They crawl around the edges of the exhibition, following the curatorially dictated path, devotedly reading the plaques and texts on the wall. They make me think of decrepit Theseus', who have been told they will escape the Minotaur's maze if they follow the edges and keep turning right.

There seems to be a trend in art viewing at the moment to stand as close as possible to the painting, after of course reading the plaque which tells you the meaning and import of every detail, and waver your head back and forth, as if trying to suck up every detail of the surface. Maybe it an unknowing attempt to bathe your brain in the health giving aura of the work of ART. Anyway, it's pretty annoying for everyone else who stands a respectful three foot back.

The exhibition is actually surprisingly small, but in a compact way, packing a lot of stuff in. Thankfully they have taken a few steps away from white cube-osity, painting the walls rich colours that complement the jewel like tones of which Holman Hunt was fond. Organised along chronological lines, favourite paintings are complemented by objects associated with them, books, engravings and photographs. It's a panoply of Holman Hunt merchandise. It really feels like a showroom, which is probably more appropriate than most would think. Holman Hunt's paintings sit within an unspoken, but undeniable, Victorian context of religious commodities, think Hardman & Co., stained glass windows, Pugin & The Great Exhibition of 1851.

The narrative qualities of all his paintings are alluded to by texts on the walls. However, although it's fun to play name the biblical/Shakespearian provenance, it's pretty clear we still don't really have appropriate tools to talk about these works.

Some old geezer confused matters further, gesticulating to the earliest version of 'The Light of the World' and declaring to his poor wife that this was the "original", a term I believe to be near useless when discussing Victorian art, and especially as an iconic and endlessly reproduced image as Light of the World. It was interesting to see some reproductions and appropriations of the The Light of the World, but I don't think they accurately communicated the sheer mass of reproductions which were made. I'm certain they could have papered half the walls with the knock off versions which have been made over the last 150 years.

Anyway, don't get me wrong, it is an unquestionably beautiful exhibition of works, but beautiful an illustrative and saccharine manner. The paintings are all amazing examples of painterly craftsmanship and iconographical narrative communication, but there has always been, to me at least, a lack of depth to these works. I have never liked the calculated geometry of the woman's faces, massive doe eyes, ruler straight brows and long, almost phallic, noses. A perfect example of why I just don't get the PRB is 'The Triumph of the Innocents'.

The cherubs frankly freak me out. They are not angelic, they are more like the goblin baby in Outside Over There ,they are bugged eyed changeling babies. There is something both magical and stingy about the atmosphere Holman Hunt's boggled eyed, sinewy creatures inhabit. I can fully understand how others might fall in love with these overly perfect renditions, but I find them both oppressive and depressing. The perfection makes them unreconcilable, they lack the forgiving softness of Raphael or Rubens.

Then again, if you like Holman Hunt, and believe that focusing on a painters biography is a good thing, this is just the exhibition for you.

William Holman Hunt & The Pre-Raphaelite Vision is at the Manchester Art Gallery until the 11th January 2009.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Busy Week... Manchester Literature Festival, Science Fiction Ruins My Life @ Studio Salford & William Holman Hunt @ Manchester Art Gallery

It's a busy week in Manchester for me.

Firstly, I realised this morning that I had completely forgot that Manchester Art Gallery's Holman Hunt show started two whole days ago! The Guardian manages to sound both priggish and polite about it. I always felt that PRB ( Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, gah!) eclipse and confuse our understanding of the Victorians, as well as sound like a all round bunch of twats, naval gazing and shenaniganising each others little ladies. However, despite my, albeit, wavering contempt of the PRB, there sounds like there may be some interesting curatorial decisions made about displaying all three artists reproductions of the endlessly reproduced and disseminated Light of the World.

Wednesday evening holds Science Fiction Ruins My Life at Studio Salford. I have, in fact, just clicked that Studio Salford is above the Kings Arms. Shame on me!

Next weekend is jam packed with events from Manchester Literature Festival, for who I am guest blogging. It started last week with Lucky Voice , and continue with Vvorp! Vvorp! on Saturday, which has an ever expanding guest list of fearful proportion and import. Science Fiction, combined with my foot/mouth habit, could quite possibly ruin my life. Wait and see. Guest include my favourites Ian Edginton and D'Isreali ( I have been re-reading Scarlet Traces, Stickleback and The Great Game in preparation ) , but supposedly I should be more excited about Gary Russell and Dez Skin.

On Sunday, Between the Panels, combines painterly noir-author Hannah Berry ( interview over at the Manchester Literature Festival blog should be up soon ), Eagle Award hog and 2000ad regular Bryan Talbot and the man behind Jack Staff and Burglar Bill , Paul Grist.

Both these events involve more or less powerpoint, so in preparation I want to attend Destroy Powerpoint on Friday at Manchester Art Gallery, "Flash fiction author and novelist, David Gaffney subverts PowerPoint software to bring us witty and moving tales of corporate life, revealing how the human spirit manages to thrive between the templates."

Friday, 10 October 2008

Buy Art Fair @ Urbis

The Buy Art Fair is a chance to see how the other half live. Those with a fistful of fifty pound notes to throw around.

It must be a bit of a coup to get it at Urbis, that stunning building in the centre of Manchester, just across from the hell hole which is the Printworks and Next, the screaming baby and harried mother magnet. Urbis: It's shiney, it's cool, it's the Pompidou Centre with it's guts tucked it.

Even if you don't have a sweaty fistful of cash to sink into some 'art', the Buy Art Fair is an interesting experience. there is just so much art, compartmentalised into odd sized booths. A lot of it is quite cheesy, there are rather a lot of naked women and flowers in acidic colours on milky smooth surfaces. Dull and frankly rather 80's... In a bad way.

Richard Scott - 'pick an orange' from Beyond The Sea

But other stuff is rather lovely and cute, there are some glorious painterly pop-y images, birch trees and now and then stunning miasmic combinations of colour and form. It is interesting to see lots of images in a gallery space removed from that pernicious didacticism. Among the cacophony of images it is surprising what pictures take your fancy.

My scrubby art date was transfixed by photorealistic renderings of rivers and forests. If he had a pocket full of fifties he would have brought something. Perhaps, since he was headhunted by a model agency to photographed as Jesus, after his modelling debut.

Buy Art Fair is at Urbis until the 12th. There are various talks and 'debates', but these seem so aimed at those with purchasing power, they look pretty pointless for the rest of us.


Look... not a single mention of the credit crunch.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Thought Bubble Convention in Leeds

To tell the awful truth I have never been to a proper comic book convention. I once went to a Dreddcon a few years ago when I lived in Oxford. I hid in a corner drinking gin and tonics, peeking round the corner at the people who seemed to know how to behave. I counted manifestations of beards and leather jackets and said hello to Colin MacNeil. Wild achievements to be sure.

I entertained vague hopes of going to the Birmingham International Comics Show , but lack of forward planning meant that financial and other issues prevent attendance. Frankly, I mainly wanted to go for a bit of a party and see Dave Gibbons presentation about Watchmen.

However, I just found the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds. Part of the 22nd Leeds International Film Festival, it looks much smaller and less established than the yearly leviathans of Bristol and Birmingham. It is this, combine with their utterly adorable website, which makes this convention look very appealing.I know that the comics scene is not as hegemonically masculine as it once might have been or is thought to be, but I think a little bit of untypical feminine shyness has been holding me back.

As a part-time tom boy, I got into comics through 2000ad and Judge Dredd. The more "female friendly" stuff followed only years later, discoveries of Daniel Clowes and Love and Rockets were important, but my roots are in the Megacity.

Outside of my personal experience, it seems more women are reading graphic novels/comics, either in the "novel" form or more targeted forms. Manga, supposidly child and female friendly, now has it's place in the western mainstream, as demonstrated in the recent Manga Show at Urbis. The graphic novel is now established too, which is great, and there are more women creators, such as Leah Moore , with her indisputable pedigree, and Hannah Berry. ( Who, incidentally, will be at Between the Panels , part of the Manchester Literature Festival, which I'll be blogging. )

Anyway, Thought Bubble is being positioned as a " four day annual event which celebrates sequential art in all its forms." Sounds just my cup of tea. Though Leeds is still a bit of a treck, hopefully there will be enough time for me to get my ducks in a row. Perhaps even, though this could be just be a complete fantasy, get a train ticket for which I won't have to sell a kidney for.

The convention is on the 15th of November, but there are other events running between the 13th and 16th. It is a little discouraging that they haven't announced any of them yet, but, as instructed, I shall 'watch this space.'