Wednesday, 2 July 2014

I am beautiful, orange

On a bus
Straight to town
A little girl
Her grandmother, grandiose
Asks her: What’s your favourite colour, Blue?
Answers her own question with: Oh I do not like yellow
-each word juddering like the bus
And: I hate orange – as if she could spit the colour out

Still on the bus
Now straight in the town
To a shoe shop bus-stopped
In front, a woman waits in a dress
Pithy, its colour a bright orange zest
An orange that grates
Now that grandmother has infected my sense of taste
Its orange, impossibly so
Reflecting no cellulite texture
Orange and tasteless with the pips spat out

But grandma cries out loudly
“Oh, but what a beautiful dress!
Look, dear, see! She has a beautiful dress on!
Oh my, can you see dear, what a beautiful dress, look!”
It’s so orange, it is hardly a dress
Surely anyone can see that?
But she really can’t stop herself now
Pulping her fictive interest

For a granddaughter who I am not sure
Likes orange, or yellow, shoe shops or dresses
Or even her grandmother come to think of it
With her fatuous opinions designed to squash and remove her
But you hate this colour, I want to say
I feel angry, betrayed
For the granddaughter behind me squeezed out and mute
with the grandmother who spits colour all over the shop

The bus drives on, the orange walks away
Both leaving the town centre
A girl’s expectations pared down
Sits patiently as colour slowly exits the bus
Exhausted fumes of orange, yellow and blue
It’s not colours she likes, no, it is catching her own reflection
In shoe shop windows,
But now there are just houses,
‘So I must no longer be here’, a vague idea
The bus journey now interrupted by traffic lights green, orange,

Monday, 16 June 2014

The enthusiast's museum

I was visiting Olso on a recce for relocation plans at the beginning of the month, when I took this photograph of an exhibit in the Oslo Tramway Museum. The design and aesthetics of trams from yesteryear are crucial to any decisions about upping sticks and moving to a new country, obviously!

What I like about such museums is that they are run by enthusiasts or amateur collectors. This museum, which we just stumbled across, is run by a non profit organisation of 450 members.

You can't imagine a gallery or prominent museum presenting a documentary film in the makeshift frame in the photograph above. Enthusiasm has ripped a hole into the past, there is nothing slick or superficial here, interaction is analogue and raw. Touch the surface, you will feel something.

For lack of either money or time, artifacts, many papers and objects have not yet found a 'home' in this museum. One driving compartment was stuffed with rolled up maps and objects, while other objects were out of bounds, in areas cordened off by tickertape and red road cones. I like coming across such back spaces in other public buildings, where things are stored. In the tram museum they are as much a part of the experience as the trams themselves.

Having said that, I am not really interested in when this or that tram was decommissioned. I just like the colours and look of the old trams, the way the destination signs have been hung vertically over one another on the wall and the slightly ramshackle atmosphere of the museum and someone else's interest in yesteryear. I am not a tram enthusiast myself. An interloper?

These kind of museums bring back memories of my childhood. I remember one holiday setting up my own 'museum' with a friend, collecting rocks, objects found by the wayside, even old bones as I remember. We were in a hot place and the museum was in a cave. I think we waited a long time for people to visit our carefully arranged exhibits; nobody came.

The image of the tram compartment in the above photo appeals to me for a different reason. The name of this blog was inspired by the painting Compartment C, Car 293 (1938) by Edward Hopper, which shows a woman sitting alone in a train carriage, moving through landscape. Alain de Botton includes a reproduction of this painting in his book, The Art of Travel, and writes:

"Hopper was drawn to trains. He was drawn to the atmosphere inside half-empty carriages making their way across a landscape: the silence that reigns inside while the wheels beat in rhythm against the rails outside, the dreaminess fostered by the noise and the views from the windows, a dreaminess in which we seem to stand outside our normal selves and have access to thoughts and memories that may not arise in other circumstances. The woman in Compartment C, Car 293 (1938) seems to be in such a frame of mind, reading her book and shifting her gaze between the carriage and the view."

Having a blog has felt like having a 'room of ones own' in whatever space you may feel the internet may actually be. I would go so far as to say it is a physical space for me in that can help my mind travel.  Having said that I would admit that my blog has also the feel of an enthusiast's museum: It needs tidying up, gets carried away by certain details and I don't have the technical knowhow to refine its look.

But I am always grateful when people take the time to stop by.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


I am visiting Oslo and this is one of my first, but possibly most important lessons in Norwegian: ICE LOLLIES YUM! Sometimes nothing gets lost in translation

University Library Oslo, otherwise known to insiders as the "Black Temple"with its imposing facade and giant columns clad in black granite:  once inside though, you will discover the interior is oddly tilted at a 45 degree angle. How do those academics get any work done?

Oslo is surprisingly hilly, here an unexpected view across allotments to a corn silo converted into housing 

Cafe Kasbar is an oasis in this expensive city. Their motto is, "Make Hummus, not Walls." You can't move for motivational messages stuck up around the place, but its shabby and slightly cluttered chic and home made ice tea is as refreshing as its prices.

I don't think I have ever seen such an unfair distribution of balconies. On the expat website I read that people may not judge you by your income or job, but they do judge you on the area you live in. 

Grunnform: primary form  Vekst: Growth  Hastighet: Velocity, speed.  Norwegian is a Germanic language, so luckily I already can decipher a few words on these blocks seen in an architects/artists studio.

Thinking about that expat site again and how will I be judged for living in a wooden house in this part of town.
Not to worry, as I probably won't be able to afford it anyway.

I visited  the FRAM museum which documents Polar exploration. On these fridge magnets available in the shop is a photo of polar explorer Roald Amundsen planting the Norwegian flat at the South Pole in 1911. The museum stresses how the Innuit people helped him to learn the arctic survival skills he needed. He lived with the Innuit people for a year, learning their language, respected their culture and built a relationship with them that was mutually beneficial, whereas before that time explorers had regarded the Innuit as inferior. Their ignorance would cost them their lives.

 Oslo holocaust Memorial. Cast iron empty chairs by British artist Anthony Gormley. They are located on the South side of the Oslo Fjord in front of the old fort near where the ships carrying 750 of Norway's Jews to Stettin and then Auschwitz departed from.

The Oslofjord  with sailing boats, motor boats and ferries going to Kiel and Copenhagen. Here though,  I was trying to make the l in Oslo. 

Patience. Trying to watch an outdoor screening when it doesn't get dark until midnight

If you move the decimal point one place to the left then you will see the price of wine per glass and per bottle, and weep

Oslo's Patron Saint, St Hallvard with his attributes, the millstone and arrows, oh and a naked woman at his feet.

Sunday, 1 June 2014


This is a guest post for WhiteWallYellowDoor, an artist run initiative set up by Ashley Amery and Sophy Rickett to provide museums, galleries, theatres and other cultural establishments with resources for families and children. They specialise in creating fun, creative and educational worksheets to help younger visitors engage with what is on show, be it an artificial artifact, a performance, temporary exhibition, or some other type of permanent display.

Their most recent project is a series of activity sheets for the newly refurbished Anna Freud Room at the Freud Museum in London. 

In a dusty room, in the basement corridor of Summerhall in Edinburgh, my son and I are playing a game of table tennis. Ten minutes before, I had been cajoling him to come to the centre at all, as he didn't want to see 'art you like' which, he said, was 'boring'. But here we are now engrossed in a game, not even sure if we were supposed to be using this room at all.

By all accounts, it was a storage space: empty plinths, stacked chairs covered with dust, a glass of red wine abandoned on the floor. We had paused and peered into the darkness of the room, seen the table tennis table and cheekily flicked on the switch, bathing the room in fluorescent light. Accompanied by Donna Summer on an infernal loop blasting from a film installation next door, our performance had begun. Members of the public walked past, peered in for an instant, then moved on. All that we lacked was a title for our show.

Nothing happened much in our performance, my son's school uniform got covered in dust as he wriggled under the chairs to retrieve a ping-pong ball. No, nothing really happened, just a victory on both sides and a lot of fun. No lasting impressions from our under-the-radar performance then, just a permanent synesthetic association between table tennis and Donna Summer for the performers themselves.

After this discovery, it was not hard anymore to persuade my son to come to the arts centre.

When we returned at a later date for a rematch, we found the room had been cleared. But just beyond the corridor in an exhibition space there was, luckily for us, a new table tennis table. This time it was not near collapse like the other one, but brand new and covered with an intriguing laminated design. Three brand new bats sat in their holder and there was a bowl full of new ping-pong balls.

This table tennis table, however, formed the basis of a sound piece, and it had a title, Noisy Table, a collaboration between artist Will Nash and the Build Brighton Hack Space. When the ball hits the table the vibrations creates sounds that are broadcast back into the game. In one of its soundscapes, the ball's touch on the table filled the room with words spoken by Ivor Cutler: 'Creamy Pumpkins', 'Kiss', 'How do I get out of here?' My younger son aged 4, not yet old enough to play, but able to operate the buttons switching soundscapes, was heaped over the corner of the table in fits of giggles, connecting as children naturally do, with the absurd.

The artist has said of the piece:
'People can feel intimidated when they are asked to join in by an artist but they don't even think about that with table tennis. They just pick up the bat and start playing'.

When it was first exhibited, the ping-pong table simply amplified the sound of the ping-pong hitting the table, a nice idea in itself. Now it has apparently endless possibilities as it can work with open patch software for customisation.

May I suggest for its next incarnation, a soundscape of top volume disco hits of Donna Summer, filtered through a dusty room and an eight-year old boy shouting, 'best out of 10, no 11, no 12!' 'Just one more game!' and 'Stop taking pictures Mum, just play!'

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Poet's Pub

This post is a speculative application to the current Falskkiosk Information Service of the BorĂ¥s International Sculpture Biennial 2014 as an unpaid and absent intern.

This is a portrait of the famous Scottish Modernist Poet, Edwina Nacht, which hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. You may be forgiven for asking, well, where is she? I can't even see her?

Alexandra Tuffat, the artist, says she deliberately painted Nacht as a seemingly insignificant background figure:

‘You can hardly see her at first. I instinctively felt she belonged in the doorway on the right hand side of the picture. She is rather small in the frame, its true. I did this because in her poetry she always put marginal figures, such as male prostitutes, in the foreground of her work, just as I have done in this painting.’

The nine figures in the foreground of the painting are based on Nacht's prose portraits of well-known male prostitutes who frequented her favourite pub, which was in fact an amalgamation of all the pubs in Edinburgh.

As Tuffat recounts: ‘I remember evenings would end with a dog-fight breaking out amongst the men. I felt though I wanted to capture the dignity of the prostitutes in my painting, just like Nacht did in her poems. We both become personally affected by their stories; they were obviously past it.’

Alexandra Tuffat also wanted to capture Nacht’s working process:
‘To help her get into the zone of writing poetry, Nacht liked to slide down slopes in black patent leather heels. Hers is an intense watchful gaze, here she is clearly fascinated by the colourful clothes and colourful language of the male prostitutes. I remember it as if it was yesterday’
Sliding down slopes helped creative process    Detail 

This painting has serious implications for Edinburgh society of the '80s. Men, it seems, were often forced to socialise together in groups, drinking together, and had to discuss things intensely for hours. Women, however, could be on their own, were not forced to form any groups and didn’t have to discuss anything at all. This was one of the themes elaborated on time and again in Nacht’s work.

Alexandra Tuffat: ‘She was an amazing creative force, always encouraging men to isolate themselves, although it was not at all fashionable or acceptable at the time. Such outspoken views meant total inclusion for Nacht into artistic society; she would be included in absolutely everything, which just makes me feel so sad now to think of it, how much she suffered for her art, for her beliefs.’

A key to the 'Gents of the night', numbered from 1 to 9

More information about the painting is available here on the Scottish National Portrait Gallery website.