Monday, 31 March 2008

Love in the Yellow Mountains

I have always wanted to visit Huangshan in China as I thought it was the most beautiful place in the world - the strange rounded mountains with pines clinging like tinsle in a swirling soup of mist. But the hopeless romantic in me loves this story as much as the landscape's beauty. Couples come to this place and lock a padlock engraved with their names on this chain, before throwing the key into the valley far below. In this way they can never break up - they are locked together in love forever...

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Recipe for Siberian Punch

Three bottles of champagne, one bottle of vodka, half a bottle of brandy, four glasses of curacao, sugar, sliced apple, grated nutmeg, the zest of a lemon: soda water (if desired). Stir well and set alight!

Friday, 21 March 2008

The building cried glitter...

Demolition by fireworks - sometimes we should learn something from Las Vegas...

My secret garden 2004

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Dream Tbilisi

Tbilisi appeared last night ringed with water. And as I arrived the city wove itself around me more beautiful than any I had seen before – the buildings grew out of the ground in pastel shades as if so old they were part of the earth they rested on. Waited. I got on the monorail that led around my head, dripped down to the water and threaded together the parts that made this place. The areas were scrunched up like discarded handfuls of paper – squashed into corners or left on the ground as an afterthought. Old and accidental this place had grown to look more natural than any I had ever seen. My eyes shivered.

Poem when I was 25...

You had a kite.
And it blew
in the wind ‘til pulled out
the sky in ribbons frayed
around the edges I thought I saw things try and struggle out.
They were in different colours and
fell gently.

I lay down by your feet.
Tried to catch the sounds they made
marked around you in spilled shudders.

I’d circled you in grass by the time you moved away.
Left the objects fallen
on the ground.

We looked after you.
Made noises too quiet.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

An alphabet of ivy

Found photo and imaginary alphabet. Story. 2008.

Monday, 10 March 2008

The future of nostalgia.

"I realised that nostalgia goes beyond individual psychology. At first glance, nostalgia is a longing for place, but actually it is a yearning for a different time - the time of our childhood, the slower rhythms of our dreams. In a broader sense, nostalgia is a rebellion against a modern idea of time, the time of history and progress. The nostalgic desires to obliterate history and turn it into private or collective mythology, to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition." Svetlana Boym in "The Future of Nostalgia".

I've been rereading the beautiful book this quote is taken from recently and thinking more about whether it is a true original almost medical definition of nostalgia that influences my work as much as a sense of memory. Can dealing with memory in relation to place actually be detached from nostalgia when the two are nearly etymologically linked (it literally translates as longing for home). I have always been interested in the crossover between dreams and reality - echoes that act almost as ghosts of our past swimming around us as we go about the everyday - and in the 17th century when the term nostalgia was first coined, sufferers were said to confuse the real and the imaginary, the past with the present and were even more likely to see ghosts, as if nostalgia was what opened up this inner layer of human history and consciousness. Could nostlagia be the key to unlocking the poetic quality of making sense of our memories and the past - these days nostalgia is seen as something quaint and often kitsch (especially in relation to communism - something I am particularly interested in), but perhaps by restoring it to its original status as serious condition we can begin to unravel the layers of history that confuse us - the personal rather than collective memory that is reflective and Romantic as opposed to restorative with a claim to historical authority. I am often interested in souvenirs and personal mementos - esoteric collections and cabinets of curiosity. It is hard to make concrete sense of such objects as they are inherently caught up in a personal reflective life we cannot ever empirically prove, but I think these objects can still hold history - perhaps even create an atmosphere that in itself is relevant for what it hints at - the everyday life which is how we all experience history when it is the present, and is how we remember the grander historical events when we look back through our own memories - how the world was falling to pieces on the TV whilst we held our favourite mug or glanced at a broken toy in the corner of the room. It is the stories behind these things I seek to bring back in my work.

From Dorset to Berlin...

Torn up story and found graffitti 2008. Part of a series (some to be mounted on embroidered newspaper).

Memory notes...

I put a verison of this piece up when I first started this blog, but I just realised it was a cropped photo - here is the better original version...

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Friday, 7 March 2008

Twirling treehouses...

Pattern by the wonderful illustrator Alice Stevenson based on my novel "We lay here slowly sinking." A version of which is soon available to buy as upholstery fabric (the company wanted a version without faces as apparently that is too creepy for chairs)!

Here is the version suitable for chairs...

Story tree for Port Eliot...

This told the story of a boy who lived and loved in a tree somewhat larger than this one - fragments of an imaginary journey all the more magnificent for how he gazed out above the real world, each moment held in an old paper luggage tag that had travelled to these places as if they had been smeared around his head till the thoughts left smudges like inked words for others to read once he'd left for somewhere more distant...

I miss Tbilisi...

The Mnemosyne Atlas

I've been thinking a lot about personal archives and how people connect images and ideas in their heads - how we make personal maps through our lives everyday. Thanks to the lovely Andy for this one...

By Brian Dillon copied from

"In 1879 the 13-year-old Aby Warburg, the eldest son of a wealthy Hamburg banking family, is said to have traded his birthright for a more lasting inheritance. Already convinced (despite parental objections) of his future as an art historian, he struck a deal with his younger brother Max, who would inherit the family business on condition that he agreed to supply the elder Warburg with as many books as he required. (Max later wrote: ‘I gave him what I must now admit was a very large blank cheque.’) When Warburg died in 1929, his library contained 60,000 volumes and had been transformed by his colleague Fritz Saxl from a private collection into a research institution. Four years later it was transplanted to London and became the Warburg Institute, now part of London University.

If his library was already the most eccentric of collections - organized not alphabetically or according to subject but by ‘elective affinities’, the secret intimacies that Warburg himself intuited between its volumes - its oddest offshoot is surely the massive and fragmentary constellation of images that Warburg, in the last five years of his life, obsessively tended and reorganized: the Mnemosyne Atlas. It is the strangest of art-historical artefacts: the kaleidoscopic image of the scholar’s enigmatic reordering of a lifetime’s meditation on the image. The Atlas, wrote Warburg, was ‘a ghost story for adults’: it invents a kind of phantomic science of the image, a ghost dance in which the most resonant gestures and expressions its creator had discovered in the course of his career return with a spooky insistence, suddenly cast into wholly new relationships.

In a sense, the Mnemosyne Atlas has never really existed, at least not in the form Warburg envisaged. At the time of his death it comprised 79 wooden panels, covered with black fabric, on which were pinned some 2,000 photographs from Warburg’s collection. The project was never completed, and only ever constituted a provisional version of its eventual incarnation in book form. 1 The panels themselves were lost when Warburg’s colleagues, fleeing Nazi Germany, relocated to London, and the images are now dispersed in the archives of the institute. Warburg’s final arrangement of the Atlas survives, however, as a series of 79 photographs. In reproductions these are often cropped to show only the black background and the luminous images, but the original photographs include the edges of the panels, beyond which can be glimpsed the shelves of Warburg’s library, so that you cannot fail to imagine the scholar himself at the centre of his grand photographic planetarium, setting the whole thing in fantastic motion as he searches for the proper arrangement of his fragmentary universe.

Warburg conceived of the art historian as a ‘necromancer’ who conjures up the art of the past to give it an enigmatic new life, a ‘strange figural floating’. 2 He was intrigued by the representation of movement, by the way in which the gestures of Classical bodies in motion survive into the art of the Renaissance and beyond, each image possessed by a particular ‘pathos formula’ which gives it a specific allure and is resurrected centuries later in similar attitudes and expressions. Obscurely linked by the ‘conductive medium’ of the black ground, human bodies flex and falter in an array of gestures that stretches from Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (c. 1485) to the contemporary physique of a woman golfer, from medieval zodiacal figures to a 1920s advertisement for 4711 cologne. Zeppelins float in the darkness beneath ancient cosmological maps; the entire anachronistic discordia concors is dedicated to finding the most startling relationships between images that are worlds apart. The Atlas proposes an art of the in-between, what Warburg called the ‘iconology of the interval’. God, he famously declared, resides in the details; the inhuman presence that hovers in the darkness between these images is, says the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, ‘the dark demon of an unnamed science whose contours we are only today beginning to glimpse’. 3

It is perhaps fitting that the sturdy panels of Warburg’s unfinished project have vanished somewhere between Hamburg and London, evanesced into the dark drawers of the institute’s present archive. The notion of its essential immateriality, its existence as a pure phantasmagoria in the imagination of its author, is given a faint outline on the pages of the large hardback notebooks in which Warburg ceaselessly planned and revised its shape. The pencilled ghosts of absent images haunt these volumes’ notional arrangements of the actual material. With their blank squares and scrawled captions, they are the perverse mirror images of the textless patterns on the photographic plates, hastily sketched storyboards for a movie that only ever played in the mind of the scholar/director. Warburg, who was obsessed by the figure of Laocoön, the dying Trojan prince, seems to have conceived of art history according to an image from G. E. Lessing’s Laocoön (1766), in which the German writer describes the poetic and painterly depiction of mist: ‘it is used to render both the visible invisible and the invisible visible’. Gaze long enough at the dark screen of Mnemosyne and it is like looking at a ‘black’ cinema screen; as your eyes grow used to the dark, something comes to light: the screen itself, the empty but meaningful interval between images.

If there is a ghostly quality to the Mnemosyne Atlas, perhaps it resides in the odd amalgam of science and superstition that it shares with other works on the image and memory. It looks back to the taxonomic efforts of Charles Darwin to photograph the essences of human emotions, and forward to the memorial extravagance of Gerhard Richter’s Atlas (1962-ongoing). But it also brushes up against Walter Benjamin’s ‘aura’ and Siegfried Kracauer’s ‘monogram’: the memory-image that adheres to the last photograph of a loved one. Despite Warburg’s intense effort to bring the past into focus in the present, it appears to suggest that an anatomy of the image is only ever a science of spectres: an impression heightened by its sudden demise in 1929, as if Warburg had succeeded in freeze-framing European culture in a paradoxical pose of frenzied immobility, just before the continent was plunged into the terrible mass-mobilization that sent his colleagues into exile in 1933. Warburg turned the scholarly archive into a mobile (and moving) artwork, transforming, as Karl Kraus wrote of the true artist, a solution into an enigma.

1. Eventually published as Der Bilderatlas Mnemosyne, ed. Martin Warnke and Claudia Brink, Akademie Verlag, Berlin, 2000.
2. Philippe-Alain Michaud, Aby Warburg and the Image in Motion, trans. Sophie Hawkes, Zone Books, New York, 2004, p. 261.
3. Giorgio Agamben, ‘Aby Warburg and the Nameless Science’, in Potentialities, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1999, p. 90. "

Music City stories...

The dried trees got deep and dense, crackled where the water flowed. I thought the river would continue as a trickle, but it widened, grew faster, skipped round displaced bricks and large tin cans, made noises that grew louder. Made me realise that though I was in an unfamiliar place this could only be Nashville. Even the river was singing.
You see this city sucked in music. Like LA with actors, every waiter in Nashville was a musician. The city brought people here just to throw them all back out again, spilling failed songs from their fingertips. I think the trees caught these songs sometimes – snagged notes on their branches as they tried to get blown out of here, singing their way on the breeze to some bigger town with a bit more going on. They were too much part of Nashville though – the most recent layer of its history. The branches kept them still – humming softly like a wish tied there, always wondering if it would be fulfilled as I penetrated further through the city’s layers. I heard these notes tingling as I moved down the river – tremor as I passed in case I reached out and grabbed them, took them with me to its past or future. I trailed a stream of music through the water like a sodden peacock’s tail.