what I didn't realised I was doing

Life Just wanted to thank Annette (who I wrote about here) who because of the time difference between London and her part of the world, stayed up until three in the morning to watch me live on the plinth and has pointed out what I didn't realised I was doing at the time. If I'd only known I had a global audience!


London Henry VIII was a bastard. Not in the literal sense (even though there was a lot of that about in the sixteenth century) – his father was Henry VII, his mother Elizabeth of York. But after seeing the span of his reign at the exhibition in the British Library, the only way to express what I think of him, in the modern vernacular, is that he was a bastard. Apologists might suggest that the pressure of power, the weight of the Tudor legacy, the need to consolidate his family’s position on the thrown are what led him to work his way through six wives, to force his people to throw out their way of life, to gratuitously spend his wealth on a massive scale to create palaces that would generally sit empty and remove the head of anyone who happened to look at him sideways. But I’m not convinced. In recent times, I’ve been considering whether we wouldn’t simply be better off being rules by a monarchy and how at least you knew were you were with them. Henry VIII is a five hundred year old demonstration of this being a very bad idea.

Guest curated by television’s Dr. David Starkey, the main draw of the exhibition is that it collects together the real documentation related to that reign, a reminder that most of the events in everything from Shakespeare’s All Is True to The Tudors really happened. We see the notes scribbled between Henry and Anne Boleyn during services, the divorce papers from Katherine of Aragon, the material which led to the dissolution of the English church from Rome, innumerable peace treaties and, by the way, the chain Henry is seen wearing in the famous Holbein painting, a version of which is also included. The attention to detail stretches to the floor, where labels mark where each artifact fits in the king’s biography, we’re stepping through history. I gasped, I grinned, I knew I didn’t have long enough, I bought the catalogue.

Elsinore 3D

Shakespeare 4 Kidz' Hamlet to become 3D film: "A musical version of Hamlet by theatre company Shakespeare 4 Kidz is to be turned into a 3D film, as part of a deal that will see six of the organisation's plays adapted for the screen."

But I was alone.

London Time to write about what happened in London when I wasn’t on the plinth. Readers who yawned at my interminable Stratford-Upon-Avon story will be pleased to know that I’ve decided that on this occasion brevity is the soul of wit and to deliberately give the following short shrift. This is just the tip of a massive ice-cube but I enjoyed myself so much that on this occasion I don’t want to spoil things by over analysing. Not everything in life means something. Some things. Some things which happened on this trip in fact, but not everything. For the interested, if I learnt anything in those three days, it’s that London can be a beautiful, exciting, kinetic, energetic place but which I can imagine can also be a dark, scary, lonely isolating condition if you’re not careful, and don’t have the kind of personality which can fight against it.

The J W Waterhouse exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts has been greeted with some rather sniffy one star reviews from the (as it turns out) unpopular press and it has to be said, as I passed between rooms, between bursts of the audio tour, I did hear some so-called art experts deconstructing the works, casting about for as many synonyms for ‘kitsh’ as they could find. Of course, even though I appreciate this stuff isn’t to everyone’s taste, they’re wrong. Apart from the skill in Waterhouse’s execution in producing these scenes, his ability to create drama and surrealism is astounding. Take St Eulalia (1885) in which the martyr lies slain on the snow covered floor as the populace look on in horror, her naked form both sensuous and horrible at the same time. That’s a pattern repeated throughout the exhibition in which your male gaze is focused where you’d expect and then suddenly you find yourself blinking when as you realise what the painting is really about.

If there’s one repeated feature of my visits to museums and art galleries in the North West, it’s that the designated Waterhouse in a given collection is always on loan and the retrospective is one of the reasons. Sure enough, in amongst the pieces borrowed from the Tate, the Royal Collection and Tim Rice, there was (amongst others) Psyche Opening the Door into Cupid’s Garden from the Harris Museum in Preston and Destiny from Towneley Hall in Burnley. Also on show were a couple of pieces from National Museums Liverpool so familiar it was like greeting an old friend in unusual surroundings (not the only time that happened during the trip) as well as Hylas and the Nymphs in which Hercules’s companion is seduced by seven identical young ladies which I had a poster on my wall during my teenage years. Yes, indeed. But keep in mind I also had Kylie and Debbie Gibson up there too. I was post-pubescently conflicted.

Also presently at the Royal Academy is the Summer Exhibition, a show so volumous that you could easily spend a day looking around. I allotted myself about half an hour (first day, tight schedule), hardly enough time to absorb much of anything. At one point I found myself staring at a dyptic of canvases, primary colours and wavy lines. There was something very curious, very impressive, very interactive about it, despite it simply being a two dimension object. I wanted to tell somebody. But I was alone. After a while, two rather elegantly dressed women stood just behind my shoulder. One of them looked familiar but I didn’t think much of it then. I heard them trying to interpret what they were seeing. Of course I immediately thought of this classic scene from Doctor Who:

After a bit I turned to them:

“Would you like to know how this works?” I said.
”Would you like to know how this works?”
“How do you know?”
”I just know.” I tried to create a twinkle in my eye. I didn’t, but then I’m not David Tennant.
“How does it work?”
“If you stare at the wavy lines for long enough the image is imprinted in your eyes, then if you look right new colours emerge…” They really did.
“Ooooh.” They said in unison, “Thank you we’ll try that…”

I strolled away. Then I thought about whether it is a good idea to bother fellow patrons in art galleries like that and who the lady reminded me of. Moments later I realised. It was Eleanor Bron. The Eleanor Bron who made the cameo with John Cleese in Doctor Who all those years ago. I've checked my memory against the internet, and found this photograph. It was definitely her. Blimey.

links for 2009-08-13

links for 2009-08-12

There was a naked man on the fourth plinth

One & Other HQ

Life There was a naked man on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square when I was going to bed on the night I got back from London (Tuesday). As I said in the blog post I wrote while I was up there, I felt just as exposed on Monday morning, though obviously without the police asking me to cover myself up and passers-by chanting obscenities. Having cultivating what I like to think is a certain level of mystery on the blog and elsewhere online for the past however many years, there I am in a video on the web (if you’ll pardon the depressing self absorption and brutal honesty), waddling about, with bad hair, the sun bouncing brightly off my forehead, wittering to myself about the clothes I’m wearing, in a t-shirt big enough that the dozens of helicopters that hover across the capital could have used me as a marker during that hour if their navigation systems had malfunctioned.

That’s not me is it? Really? REALLY? That explains ... everything…

And the crucial thing is I’ve done it and I’m very pleased and feel very privileged that I’ve done it and the ancillary broadcast is besides the point and it was at the nucleus of three very happy (if not entirely uneventful) days in London. I’ll talk about the rest some other time. The plinthing experience begins an hour and a half before the “show”. You’re welcomed into the portacabin offered a drink and given some forms to sign, from Sky Arts for use of your image and from Artichoke the company producing One & Other agreeing that they’ve done everything to safeguard your safety so if you hurl yourself off it’s not their fault (incidentally, Artichoke were also behind La Machine, the giant spider that trampled Liverpool underfoot last year).

The fourth plinth was originally designed by Sir Charles Barry for an equestrian statue in the 1840s, but a lack of funds led to the construct remaining notoriously empty for nearly a century and half. From 1998 onwards, artists have been commissioned to fill the space which has led to site specific pieces from the likes of Rachel Whiteread, Mark Quinn, Mark Wallinger and now Antony Gormley. The expectation might have been that Gormley would produce another in his long line of body casts in bronze, like the Angel of the North or like the statues in Another Place on Crosby Beach. Instead, as a new way of investigating “the distinction between what we look like and who we are” he is asking volunteers to each stand on the plinth for an hour, twenty-four hours a day for one hundred days and Sky are filming the results.

What’s important about the initiation process is that you’re made to feel special, that your contribution is important. The helpers who welcome you into Antony Gormley’s world all make a point of introducing themselves, are chatty, genuinely seem pleased to see you and want to make sure you enjoy this strange and rather wonderful experience. Without them, I can honestly say it wouldn’t have been the same. We chatted about the project, about the other plinthers, about the media reaction (that it has in general misunderstood what the project is about and I agree with them) and what the legacy might be. I won’t say too much more about them because they deserve their anonymity (especially since now and then I think they too go up on the plinth if someone doesn’t turn up and those hours don’t appear on the website).

After the forms, there was a safety briefing (no glass, no naked flames) and an interview. As part of the project, Artichoke have been asked by the Wellcome Trust to collect the testimonies of all of the plinthers to create an aural history archive so that the twenty-four hundred of us taking the stand/plinth, aren’t simply anonymous faces and that our contribution isn’t just visual. I’m not entirely sure how useful my contributions will be. After some general queries (name, date of birth, job) and what I’d be doing on the plinth (and so why I write this blog), the focus careened to who I am as a person, what experiences I think made me who I am today. It was eight o’clock in the morning. I went for a ramble. I explained that I didn’t think there was just one thing, or a couple. I said that probably we inherit some things from our parents, behaviourally and genetically, but that I was sure that there wasn’t a single turning point, but suggested that One & Other could turn out to be it.

Then, after having my photograph taken (a moment which as ever featured me trying to solve the puzzle of which is my left and which my right), being fitted with a microphone, it was time to go to the plinth. As you may have seen from the video, you travel across the square on the cherry picker, before being lifted aloft, which could make you feel like a may queen or you’re on your way to an execution depending upon your emotional history. The picker lifts up and over the protective safety net and then after sharing a few words with the previous incumbent (a lady called Jane who’d worked on a sketch of London’s brilliant parade), a wait for a requested safety pole to be added (because I didn’t have a chair), I’d stepped off onto the stone top. Ian Jones was already there and you can see me saying hello on the video and everything else.

With a microphone on, the first impulse was to talk. I notice that not all plinthers have them, or take them off, but knowing that I would be reading out those blog entries I kept it were it was and just started wittering on, mostly nonsense but very much on the understanding that I was broadcasting rather than talking to myself, presumably friends who’d tuned in and as I said “the twitter hecklers” though checking back I notice I didn’t have many of those. I’ve gone back and checked. Beforehand @davegorman was watching to see what I might do (which is a surprise – how does he know who I am?), @damonquerry was nice enough to post a screen grab and noticed my shameless plugging of Behind The Sofa, @mumsrgreat luckily (for her) couldn’t get sound and wondered what I was reading out (here and here) and @neilperryman later said he hoped I was going to do more than put on sunscreen (a highlight I’m sure you’ll agree).

My second impulse was to pace, the third to wave and then make value judgements on people who didn’t wave back, the fourth to take some photos, the fifth ... you get the idea. I had my photo taken a few times and some people visited and unwittingly became part of the action, either because Sky filmed them or because I mentioned them in my blog post. Looking back, I’m surprised by how coherent that was even if the handwriting, punctuation and spelling is atrocious. I sadly don’t have any further “insights” other than what I said in my interview, that I’ve always had this horrible, possibly crippling, tendency not to do things, look for excuses and reasons not to do them, when that’s no way to go through life. Though I’ve been blessed with plenty of experiences, I’ve also denied myself a range of others, of the One & Other variety, which is something that has to stop. Just do them. It doesn’t matter and it also doesn’t matter what people think of you, should it be archived online.

You’ll hear me register some surprise at the forty-five minute mark should you get that far. Time slipped by. Before too long the cherry picker was heading in my direction and I’d stepped off again, to be replaced by Rachel who did some origami which she threw into the square. Back to the cabin via cherry picker and once I’d signed to visitors book (lots of uses of the words “wow” and “excellent” and “thank you”) it was all over, albeit with me retaining a certain sense of bewilderedness. My friend Leonie (who’s in the video) met me and we went sight seeing. Thank goodness. I expect that if I’d simply walked away alone, it would have been with a deep sense of anti-climax and the whole day would have been about that, but exciting events were to come, if not more so. But that’s a story, for, well, another time …

Plinth Camera

for symetry sake

Life Originally written Monday 10th August at about nine thirty in the morning ...

(click to read) (should you need to) (yes, I know it has two m's)

Spoilers ahead.

Film Almost as soon as Stage Fright opens with Jane Wyman and Richard Todd fleeing from somewhere by car, it cuts to an extended flashback with explains exactly how Wyman and Todd got themselves into this mess. For much of the film, our knowledge of the characters is tempered by the information we’re given, about how Marlene Dietrich’s actress asked Todd to cover for the accidental murder of her husband. Then in the final moments, the rug is pulled from under us when its revealed that everything Todd has said is a lie, that his narration was unreliable. It’s a revelation, not just to Wyman’s character who’s trusted him through much of the film, and to us too because it seems so unlike Hitchcock to employ an unreliable narrator.

Reflecting on the decision later, he thought he’d cheated the audience by creating surprise rather than suspense and some critics agreed with him, but with respect to the Master, he’s wrong (and should have more courage in his conviction) and they’re wrong too. We’ve come to expect this kind of unreliable narration in recent years – The Usual Suspects being the most prominent example. But to do it in this kind of setting is perhaps one of his greatest twists, and shows what could have been a different sort of director – the confidence trickster. Instead he became the suspense director – we find out about the switcheroo in Vertigo half way through the film so that it then becomes about Jimmy Stewart’s reaction. Psycho’s an interesting case, but I’ll talk about that when I get there.

my plinth debut

Elsewhere All being well, you should now be able to watch my plinth debut at my One & Other profile, assuming I didn't bottle it, wasn't late to sign in or that there wasn't some technical failure. Since I'm still away, I don't even know if this autopost has been published...