Sunday, February 22, 2009



If you, like me, fancy a having a go at Art Appreciation 101, I can think of few better places to start than John Berger's fantastic Ways of Seeing.

In a week when the view of Britain from here has tested my powers of disbelief (I'll let respected media outlet Yahoo! News' "Hot Topics" sum this one up: "Jade Goody, Recession, Royal Family, Crime, Knife Crime"), the soothing, Reithian vigour and properness of this landmark BBC television series has been most heartening.

Watch out for British experimental author Eva Figes making an appearance in a truly 1970s roundtable discussion about the female nude in episode two.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


File under: Shameless self-promotion

When I'm not griping about the state of the novel in Britain or poking my camera lens into places it shouldn't be, I'm a freelance writer, researcher and editor, believe it or not. What's more I'm currently (ta-da!) available for commission! In a multitude of guises I've done lots of web development, web consultancy work and specialist research for business, alongside the usual copy writing, web writing and editing.

You can look at my CV here, or get in touch here.


P.S. Edit, link fixed!

Monday, February 16, 2009


...Before our buildings went up with vectors shamphered, plate glass smoothed, lighting recessed.

For a time in the early nineties new corporate and civic architecture had Duplo-bright exoskeletons and superplastic panelling coloured through in a palette of crayons. There are still remnants of this kind knocking around the UK in suburban business parks and less affluent parts of the town centre, though they look pretty bashful at being overdressed next to their mausoleum-in-smoked-glass counterparts.

Budapest's Lehel Csarnok, which I gather is locally thought of as something of an abomination (which well, it pretty marvellously is), is this stuff in excelsis:

ALPINE PURSUITS/ Life from the pages of a Modern Languages Textbook

If I'm ever reincarnated as a person less wrapped up in books and more bent on commerce, I'd happily return, after a day's pen-pushing, to one of District II's neoclassical mansions. As it is, I just have to waft precariously past them as I'm hoiked up Janoshegy on a chairlift.

As a UKer more familiar with spending weekends going "up town" (despite being far away, I'm always keen to perserve the linguistic anomalies of Hullish), down the pub and perhaps for a quick redemptive sortie around the local park, I'm dead keen on Euro-style leisure habits. Weekends are much more wholesome here, some shops close after lunch on a Saturday and many head for the hills for outdoor pursuits. Though in downtown Pest its just a bit parky, at the top of the hill there were four inches of snow and Budapestis togged up in ski suits jogging, kids toting wooden sledges and (as it was Valentine's Day) a fair few bashful teenage couples grabbing at oneanother's be-mittened hands.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

ART AND RELATABILITY/ Dóra Maurer at the Ludwig Museum Budapest

Relative Swings, 1973

I have a dreadful confession to make: I still don't get visual art. This admission has been a long time coming, I think I first realised this whilst levitating past an advertisement for, you know, Caravaggio or something at the Haywood Gallery on an escalator in the London Underground some time in 2003.

Despite this I'm a regular gallery visitor; I find they provide good grist to the drift; the pacing, the silence and the squeak-squeak of rubber-soled shoes are unmatchable in encouraging thoughts to wonder. Although, perhaps in this sense none have matched the Toledo Museum of Modern Art: marked on maps and street signs, we arrived at an apartment block en el centro de la ciudad to find all the usual signs of an art museum – entrance, corridors, ticket office – but no galleries or exhibitions.

Anyway, frustrated and somewhat shamed by this I'm trying to find a way in. I'm as far as posturing as naif at this point; after all, about the sum total of my understanding currently rests on Hogarth and a long streak of the grotesque. Art Appreciation 101 stipulates it's okay to laugh at the mischievous dog in the corner of the canvas, permits one to speculate on the knowing look in the sitter's eye, fine to snigger at the aristo's get-up to grasp towards a grasp that might be superficial, but at least it's proper.

With all this in mind I took myself off to the Ludwig Museum, which relocated from its Buda Castle home to a industrial no man's land turned cultural regeneration centre just north of Csepel some years ago. Though I'm pleased to note that their permanent collection of fairly tautological twentieth-century big hitters now includes selected Hungarian works, I was more interested in Limited Oeuvre, a retrospective of Budapest-born graphic artist Dóra Maurer.

Etude 3

Modest conceptualist Maurer is into the the stuff of things. Her abstract geometries trust form's own logic. Instead of privileging the action, she's content to make her early intervention then allow forms to play.

Once we had departed

Maurer's graphics, photographs and films eschew representation in favour of the pleasures of form. She dirties graphic design and sullies mathematics to make neurotic investigations of proportion and seriality that not only emphasise the physical but also expand the remit of graphics to include traces and residues:

The craft of reproducible graphics, on the other hand, has an aura about it. Its materials have a fragrant smell, the work is a precise one that requires attention. It breaks down into phases, and the concentrated anticipation of what is not yet visible is a good feeling.

Overlappings, no. 16

Her recent Overlappings force geometry to dance. Maurer's brightly coloured forms unfurl and overlap like washing in the wind or juggled hankerchiefs. These are forms that aspire towards non-materiality. They reflect, or perhaps parody, changes in the grammar of contemporary graphics, whose forms deny their nature, appear lighter-than-air or quasi-organic. Like the difference between the cover of Esquire magazine in 1972 and the Microsoft Vista operating system, say.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Poking fun at earnest Brooklynite rockists for being, well, earnest Brooklynite rockists is a bit like taking a flaming spear to a straw target.

Their Paul Celan song cycle made me wince, though their salad bowl, saxophone n' theramin circus chaos was much, much better.

See what you think:

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Growing up in British cities, where the geography of a night out at the cinema is most likely to take you to an out-of-town Retail and Leisure Development and post-film drinks to a nearby franchised theme bar housed in a car park, seeing Frost/Nixon at Terez körút's Muvesz Mozi felt like a most metropolitan night out.

The film is one of a recent crop that approaches its historical moment through broadcasting history, opening out a televisual event to give us a second look at the twentieth century. In a time where we're more conscious than ever of media machinations and subterfuge, it's both refreshing and heartening to watch these paeans to the power of television. Frost/Nixon is a love letter to the vigour and thrust of TV's liberal, righteous origins. Though its plot eeks out the suspense of Frost's team snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, what's most significant isn't Frost's unexpected political nous or grilling technique, nor Nixon's slippery evasions, but television itself. As screenwriter Peter Morgan admits in his Front Row interview on Radio Four, the real triumph is in the editing process, zooming and cropping Nixon's derelict close-up.

In the end, however, the film is hoist by its own petard. After the first day of filming, where Frank Langella's fantastically prunish and perspirant Nixon has derailed the interview with 23-minute homilies, Frost's team warn him against the perils of humanising the former president. Via the screenwriters extra-factual additions (like Nixon's drunk, self-pitying telephone call to Frost's hotel suite), the film does just that.

Less vigourously and angrily political than Goodnight and Good Luck by far, then, but still an evocative period piece.