Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Random shots from the V&A

Having missed out on the school trip to the Coronation Street studios on Monday, I accompanied some Cultural Studies students to the Hayward Gallery and the V&A yesterday. At the Hayward we saw the History is Now: 7 Artists Take on Britain exhibition, which was probably the first time many of my students have experienced conceptual art. Some raced through and nipped off to McDonald's, some were transfixed, others were confused (which is a perfectly fair reaction). I was intrigued, though slightly disappointed that some ethnic minority cultures and general leisure activities weren't included by the artists. (Also, one of the joys of a trip to London with students is seeing it through their eyes: this time the massive economic gap was obvious. I don't think they'd seen so many Rolls Royces and similar limos in their lives).

Then we went to the V&A for the Staying Power exhibition of black photographers' work. Small, but stunning, and much more accessible to the students than the more conceptual work. I took a few random photos.

Yinka Shonibare's photographic set echoing The Rake's Progress with a black protagonist

'In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo

And talking of Michelangelo… (from the Cast Room)

Netsuke of a badger wrapped in a lotus leaf

Detail from an Eastern tile

Shiva Stamping on the Dwarf of Ignorance (my favourite for the new university logo)

A propitious cow

Monday, 23 March 2015

She's got a little list

Until surprisingly recently, Room 105 at the BBC harboured an ex-military chap who would stamp job applications and personnel file with an upside-down Christmas tree. This denoted non-chaps: ladies and gentlemen whose opinions were entirely legal yet considered rather infra dig

This is the way the British establishment does it: determines who deserves freedom of speech and who doesn't. Officially, unpleasant thoughts are perfectly legal. Unpleasant actions, however, are not. You can harbour paedophilic or extremist thoughts to your heart's content, as long as you don't act on them.

In practice, anyone suspected of Thought Crime will find themselves on a list. Today the Home Secretary announced that she has started an Enemies List.
A Home Office blacklist of extremist individuals and organisations with whom the government and public sector should not engage is being drawn up, Theresa May has revealed. 
The list of legal but unacceptable organisations is being compiled by a new Home Office “extremism analysis unit”, which is also to develop a counter-entryism strategy to tackle Islamist radicalisation and ensure there is no repeat of the Trojan horse affair in Birmingham schools across the public sector.
 Apart from being sinister, this seems rather stupid. If any of these perfectly law-abiding organisations do start to cross the line, we won't know anything about it.

This stuff isn't new: here's an excerpt from 1885's The Mikado (slightly updated, as is traditional)

and here's Eric Idle's version:

The basic question is this: who's an extremist? Followed by this: who decides? My answer's very simple: the courts decide, not little committees out of sight. If you've committed an offence, you get what's coming to you. If you haven't, you get the same rights as everybody else. Once we add a third category of People We Think Are A Bit Rum But Can't Quite Pin Anything On, we're all in trouble.

Meet the literati

What a spectacular weekend. A long and very hilly bike ride to blow away some cobwebs (and ligaments), and three astonishing rugby matches after which the result went the right way. If only Stoke City had managed the same thing…

The highlight of the weekend though was going to a proper posh book launch. The book is The A to Z of You and Me and its author is James Hannah, a man who combines intellect, emotional depth, serious engagement with ideas and (this is the annoying bit) being a fully rounded human being. In such circumstances I feel like Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, who having been made accidentally immortal, discovers that the natural immortals are a 'load of serene bastards' who annoy him intensely.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that you should all buy James's book. And then his next one, whenever that's due. The launch was lovely: held in the gorgeous Wenlock Books (whose owners sung a hymn of praise about one of my students, which was lovely) and presided over by Christine, James's wife and eminence grise (and her dad). There were several other authors present, so I had to buy their books, plus the combination of wine and endless shelves of books meant that I came home with a bulging sack of treats, such as the 1954 collection of Times Leader articles, a battered but beautiful 1938 edition of Sacheverell Sitwell's Gothick North trilogy and lots of others besides. Though obviously I'll read James's novel first.

James also signed my copy of his novel. Declining to dedicate to 'EBay, with love', he recalled that Eimear McBride signed my A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing like this:

and entered a dialogue with her:

which is utterly thrilling.

I took some photographs. Apologies for the quality: the entire bookshop was lit beautifully but dimly by a standard lamp and perhaps some starlight. ISO2000 and very slow shutter speeds required.

James Hannah, author

James read a section called 'Feet'. So this shot felt appropriate.


Friday, 20 March 2015

Eclipsealypse Now

I grabbed the camera and took a few shots of the solar eclipse out in the courtyard at work this morning. Nothing spectacular (filters cracked, tripod still in a cardboard box somewhere) but it was good to see people excited. The rest are here. Click on these to enlarge.