Monday, July 31, 2006

More 'Architecture Porn'


I can see the skyscraper: a slender, floating construction on its broad pediment, noble and delicate in its lines, whose white and gray sets itse;f apart from the blue sky. Strong and safe in its assembly, it matches a natural mountain for strength.

Ten thousand people daily flow in and out of it: little office girls, emerging from the tight courtyards of the north of the city, quick tick of heels, black leather handbags swinging, filling elevators, shooting upward like a swarm of swallows.

Men striding out, purpose in their eyes, enterprise in their loose limbs; machine rattle and clatter of conveyances; shouted order of command; the even beat of mechanical perplexity, working towards a common end.

And up above God is disturbed in his everlasting tranquility, compelled to take an interest in our tiny destinites.

Joseph Roth, 'Skyscrapers' (1922)

(Reminds me a little of Craner's Canary Wharf pieces...)

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one of these hangs on the wall of Garbo's flat in Ninotchka. Fewer but better posters!

Mine-Shaft Gap


Astounding pictures of West German nuclear bunkers- if the Federal Republic's one looked this good, imagine what incredible decor the DDR must have had in their fallout shelters...(link courtesy of mms)

Elective Affinities


Of course the link between Ripley and Columbo (crikey, it's like Alien vs Predator) is Wim Wenders. First of all you have (a terribly miscast) Ripley in The American Friend, a terrific film as long as one bears in mind it has no real correlation with Highsmith's Ripley whatsoever. One somehow doesn't see him as Frank Booth, psychotically ranting and raving...oddly though Wenders has note-perfect the more typical Highsmith protagonist played by Bruno Ganz, whose furtiveness, mediocrity and capacity for mundane brutality is captivating...interesting that Wenders couldn't handle Ripley though, as if his humanism couldn't contain such a character. This of course is what ruins all his post-Wings of Desire work- though half of that film is spectacular, and of course features Columbo tucking into currywurst at a Kreuzberg imbiss, confessing his former life as an angel...which begs the question as to why Wenders chose him to have this sem-deified role- surely because of his fundamentally inhuman capacity to always be right?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Zoo Station


I had always imagined London Zoo as a rather dilapidated, forlorn place. Its image in my head was that of a sodden Withnail barking Hamlet at an oblivious cage full of leopards. So I thought this would be a fun place to spend my birthday. Which it was, but not quite in the sense I had imagined.


Naturally, the architecture of the place was part of the reason, as well as the eulogy to it as 'well worth a boggle' in Nairn's London. Also the preposterousness of placing all manner of tropical animals not only in London, but in the traffic blackened, smackhead ridden, portugese goth frequented pit that is Camden. Imagine my surprise then to find what one would suspect to be a rather furtive affair, was in fact enormously upfront with its conservationalist credentials, with swish new enclosures to mask the obvious fact that giraffes are not supposed to live in Camden. Many of the architectural flights of fancy were still impressive- the constructivist aviary (unusually shy birds, though, particularly compared with the surrounding pigeons) and the concrete camel ziggurats. A tent filled with butterflies was nicely surreal. But the fate of the penguin pool was somewhat unexpected.


Presumably for reasons of alliteration it is now a Porcupine Pool, the water replaced by woodchip with a solitary porcupine slumped miserably under Tecton's swooping boards. Apparently the Penguins were not breeding. The Penguin Pool has always been a wonderful modernist archetype, the aquatic gleaming futurism spawning a hundred lidos- so to see it like this was peculiar to say the least. And what this implies of the libidinal economy of modernism is more than a little worrying...

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Presumably as a preamble to his and it's mooted Highsmith book, here's K-Punk on Ripley and Glam.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

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'Bombs for Peace'

At the risk of being accused of a Zizek-like tendency to read any and all current political phenomena through the prism of Stalinism, reading recent apologias for barbarism by Aaronovitch et al and the appalling Standard headline mentioned by IT, one can't help but find a parallel. Namely, with the way a section of the Left, through the purges, the show trials, the Nazi Soviet pact, the Eastern bloc coups, persisted in seeing the USSR as the workers' state that had bravely resisted foreign intervention in 1919, as the torch bearer of socialism, as the good guys. Similarly, for many commentators it's permanently 1947- instead of being by far the most bloated military power in the region, Israel is a plucky little guerilla state fighting for its very existence. Which begs the question- what will be Israel's Budapest 1956, the moment where they can't be publicly excused without it seeming utterly absurd?

he is a nosens

The CoM on BS Johnson and a multitude of other things. I can't help but disagree with his take on BSJ mind you, particularly on his alleged 'unfunniness' and miserablism. Also here on Atari Teenage Riot, who it so happens I've been listening to lately- their ludicrous metal-junglism and magnificent song titles (eg, 'Your Uniform (Does not Impress Me!!!)', or 'Destroy 2000 Years of Culture') do seem awfully apposite right now.

also, this.

History found to be 'Depressing'

Constructivism, designated 'utopian' by everyone from Zhadanov to the V&A, is generally more famous for not constructing stuff. To find out that this is nonsense is a fairly difficult task, as the surviving buildings tend to be in places that haven't done enormously well out of the last 15 years.

Viz- search google for Serafimov & Kravets' Gosprom complex in Kharkov, a vast Constuctivist fantasia of interlocking blocks and Fritz Lang walkways- begun in 1925, thus predating all the canonical modernist buildings, and recognised by Reyner Banham as along with Gropius' bauhaus, the most significant building of the 20s- and you'll find it mentioned as one of Kharkov's attractions in innumerable 'Russian Brides' websites, pictures of submissive looking Ukranian women lining the jpegs of the concrete construction.

Typographie des Terrors

An excellent post by Momus, on the typography of the Bush administration. I do rather wish he'd gone a little further with this, particularly in the discussion of Mies, as more scurrilous bauhaus scholars will know that he was fairly desperate to work in the Third Reich,but was lucky that they wouldn't touch him with a bargepole, leaving his curtain-walled skyscrapers free to become the face of corporate 'transparency''s far too easy to fall back into 'relativism' (a word that needs huge scare quotes if ever one did) but interesting nonetheless...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Almost Medieval


Northam and St Mary's in Southampton were recently the victim of a botched regeneration, in which actually existing book, rag & bone, comic and record shops and cafes were closed down at a rapid rate to be replaced by a designated antiques quarter and (of course) some luxury flats. On my way to my Mum's flat via said quarter, walking past shops which generally open, attempt to sell tat and then close within 2 months, and noting the placards advertising a gigantic Victorian arcade to built on the site, I suddenly spotted, tootling down the road past sundry glowering youths, what was undeniably a horse and cart.

Loudly atop the cart was a man in a vest who yelled at myself, said youth and seemingly anyone else who cared to hear, with a manner mixing that of the 17th century burgher and 21st century lumpenproletarian, 'fuckers! You're all cunts! Fuck you! You cunts!' as his horse dragged him along, seemingly undisturbed.

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The membraneous arches soaring into the sky now fold inwards and merge to produce a thickset truck enclosing a scene of teeming activity. At the centre of the trunk a process of polycrystallisation on a giant scale erects an axis commonly known as the 'backbone', a term which I consider ill-chosen. The mind-bending architecture of this central pillar is held in place by vertical shafts of a gelatinous, almost liquid consistency, constantly gushing upwards out of wide crevasses.
Stanislaw Lem, Solaris

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Plakaty 36

A Parable

In Karl Schlogel's Moscow, an early 80s city-driftwork, there is a wonderful discussion of how the site for the vast 400m Palace of the Soviets eventually held a huge open air swimming pool.

'The idea of swimming in winter in the heart of an icy, snow-covered city, enveloped in clouds of steam that billow across the the street, has something boldly fantastical about it, almost like deciding to pull down the wall street banks to make way for kindergartens'

An afterword outlines how the cathedral that was demolished in the 30s at the palace site was reconstructed piece by glittering piece in the 1990s- a photo shows it, curiously enough, looking much like a typical early 90s pomo confection.

The 20th century society's building of the month illustrates an almost identical scenario currently playing itself out in Berlin.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Fantastic El Lissitzky resource, Monuments to the Future. (Sponsored by the Getty Foundation, naturally)

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More shocking perhaps than anything else associated with Zidane's moment of madness or righteousness (depending whether one believes Materazzi, hmm) was totally unconnected- this sentence in a psuedo-psychoanalytical article on 'your mum' jibes in the Guardian. Someone is described as a 'feminist socio-linguist and Rupert Murdoch professor of Language and Communication, Oxford'

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Walking through the Walking City


New Babylon assumes that as a result of automation non-creative work will disappear
Constant Nieuwenhuys

There’s a sense of regression as you progress round the exhibition Future City. The earliest utopia here (and the source for the layout, if the programme is to be taken seriously) is that of Situationist psychogeography- we begin with Debord and Constant Nieuwenhuys (whose New Babylon models look remarkably mechanoid) then most interestingly we go through Cedric Price and in particular to Archigram, whose work seems astoundingly advanced by today’s standards, let alone the early 60s: a cheaply xeroxed kinetic collision of Constructive fantasist Iakov Chernikov, Sant-Elia and (pre-emptively) Terry Gilliam. Much of the subsequent work, despite fascinating designs by Paul Virilio (of all people), Kenzo Tange and Zaha Hadid, seems totally in the shadow of this.


The house, the whole city and the frozen pea pack are all the same
Peter Cook of Archigram

Archigram and their 60s contemporaries’ forms- the mechanistic organicism, the outlandish curves and Constructivist girders, the tendency to a garish Architectural popism- are aped again and again, yet the innovations in terms of function are all but ignored. Something might look like the plug-in city or Ron Herron’s Walking City, but it doesn’t walk, it isn’t detachable or indeterminate…it might essentially serve the same fuction as a Victorian office block, albeit with more advanced technology, as in Koolhaas’ gorgeous and pointless Chinese tower. What happens around the late 70s to cause this loss of nerve might seem self-explanatory. But even the later projects suggest possibilities and openings through their formal extravagance- designing a Selfridges to look like an extraterrestrial creature might be mere window dressing, but suggests, despite itself, another everyday life.

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The Politics of Boredom (again)

T.R Fyvel’s The Insecure Offenders- Rebellious Youth in the Welfare State (picked up for the princely sum of 2 quid) is a blue pelican paperback in which the Tribune editor worries manfully about disgruntled youth in the early 1960s, and principally on its most dandified and violent form- the prototype of all Brit youth cults, the Teddy boys. This does involve some moments of inadvertent hilarity- the inability of the 21st century reader to not raise an eyebrow when Fyvel describes visiting teds’ caffs with a ‘young companion’. The book though is a fascinating resource both in the pheomena that were just being ushered in at the time (consumerism, violent crime, the breakdown of politicised working class communities) it’s equally interesting in what stops there and goes no further. Without the class warrior axe to grind of say, Richard Hoggart, it provides a rather seductive picture of caff society in the late 50s and early 60s.


The book begins with a view from Fyvel’s flat as he surveys the failure of local councils to sustain the utopianism of architects in favour of shabby asphalt slabs, what Constant Niewhuys and Guy Debord described as ‘cemeteries of reinforced concrete, in which the great mass of the population are condemned to die of boredom’. Their proposal was of course the technoid indeterminacy and communistic urbanism of New Babylon. The Fyvel book suggests another alternate Modern, that of the caff and of style. The caff culture he describes is in deliberate opposition to pubs, with their Victorian frosted glass, beery apathy, dismal sentimentalism, wood and ornament, and based on an obsession with cinema rather than ‘boring’ telly with its adverts and mundanity. Fyvel interviews ‘one precocious little ruffian’ who has this to say- ‘all those advertisments are something horrible. You see a bloke with a gun going to shoot somebody, and next thing you get ‘OMO adds brightness’, and when it starts again you see the police are already in the room.’

The caff would have ultra-modern décor, sell milk and coffee (and presumably if you were lucky, ‘milk plus’) and be the scene for the comparison of vertiginous hairstyles, brothel creepers and so forth. Much is made of the effeminacy of the youth, quoting the reply of ‘well the girls dress up so why shouldn’t we?’ It would be open all night, have a room at the back for dancing- demotic modernist spaces free of the pull of bovine English habits of work and ‘play’. Fyvel, rather sweetly, seems to like the caffs. The formica might offend his sensibilites, but it keeps the kids off the streets.


Obviously the spaces suggested here are impossible to find now, given the choice between pub and ersatz ‘third place.’ Finding remnants of the culture described here is a fun if often rather dispiriting game, best aided by Adrian Maddox’s lists. For one thing everything seems to shut around 4pm, which isn’t conducive to glamour. What intrigues is the futurist pull of all these artificial materials, the vitrolite and fake wood, plastic tiles like Mondrian mosaics, contrasted with the air of torpor- grime, heavy food, stale fag smoke- an aesthetic usually united in the face of the caff proprietor; particularly if female and hovering around 60, with the pinkest of pink lipstick and huge yellow hair. In this sense a place like the Golden Fish on Farringdon Rd (above) evokes nothing other than the Chestnut Tree café in Nineteen Eighty Four, its 20s décor offset by a huge television blaring out Sky News.

That cat's something I can't Explain


Without wanting to join in all the rockist elegies (let’s not forget Syd, when he heard ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’ said it sounded ‘old’) one point is worth making. In many of the obituaries there’s a distinction made between his mental degeneration and the sweet English suburban tone of much of his work. It’s too easy to perceive it all as cute. The interesting point, and what makes Piper at the Gates of Dawn such a remarkable record, is the recognition that England- with its cloying sentimentality, the alternative worlds of the children’s books referenced in his lyrics, the smothering parents, cavernous reverberations and sudden violence- is already benignly, elegantly psychotic…

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

amoral disarmament, baby

more scritti discussion here...

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can't quite remember whether I've put this up already, hmm...

Hell is a City much like London

'a populous and smoky city...'
(pic courtesy of Lydia Thompson. Who now lives in Madrid.)

Formulary for a New Urbanism

Different Maps on fine form at the moment, with enjoyable demolitions of smug anarchists, 'si-mon creetchley' and discussing the preposterously underrated reality TV dystopia Series 7- The Contenders- and interestingly, promising a 'course' on the Barbican's Future City exhibition.

He discusses this in relation to the Situationist International, so a few points on the relation between the Situs and what we could call actually existing modernism (ie people who got stuff built) might be pertinent. The SI often get corraled into arguments over the alleged destruction of community and sterility of zielenbau housing projects, and were usually entertainingly horrified by Le Corbusier (though he is approvingly cited in Debord's Theses on Traffic). See also how Ralph Rumney's version of psychogeography rested on an opposition to the ICA based Independent Group, who he regarded as implicated in town planners' demolition of the twisted streets and hidden corners of the Victorian City.


But the SI's critique is very much within Modernism, and doesn't just propose the reactionary urbanism that pomo (often citing the SI) borrows from Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford- or the hippy anti-modernism of many post-Situs. There was an overlap, via Constant and the (obviously) expelled Dutch wing of the SI between the Situs and the New Brutalists of Team 10, a similar messthetic, cities as essentially irrational, based on hidden places, corners, holes, most potent in Ivan Chtcheglov's writing; 'Certain shifting angles, certain receding perspectives, allow us to glimpse original conceptions of space, but this vision remains fragmentary. The SI's urbanism was partly the addition a measure of the unpredictable to the modernist project (and making the same art-into-life progression)- cf their project title for an 'Imaginist Bauhaus'.

jokes and their relation to the political unconscious

two jokes posted by 'Dave' on the Tomb comments box that I can't help but repeat-

Q: How many Labour MPs does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Reformism never changes anything, comrade.

Q: How many Trotskyists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: A lightbulb can't be changed, it has to be smashed.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Plakaty 32


more Gustav Klutsis- noted other day some of his posters in the background to the 40s scenes in Tarkovsky's Mirror, very unnerving...

Where the words are Vodka Clear

K-Punk and Blissblog fascinating on Scritti Politti, particularly on the links and fissures between White Bread Black Beer and Cupid and Psyche 85. A few points raised and unraised-

While the pleasure and non-interiority of Green’s voice is undeniably part of what makes it such an intriguing object, when listening to the 85 or 06 albums one is struck just as much by its clarity- the mutterings and drawings out of, say, OPEC-Immac are totally absent. There’s pleasure, sure, but also an enormous amount of precision- for someone who called their publishing company Jouissance Inc there’s no loss of control anywhere on either record (even that little ‘hold my fucking hands’ in WBBB is a planned, strategic shock).

The relation of Cupid & Psyche to Thatcherism needs to be investigated somewhat. While there’s never, as Mark (via Oldfield) points out, a critique anywhere on the post-81 Scritti, there is a kind of immanent expression of the grossness and bloatedness of the mid 80s. ‘Absolute’, the overwhelming peak of 80s Scritti, is so close to a neo-liberal anthem- enormous, with those steamrolling, punishing kick drums, the panopoly of tricks and moments- the sudden part where it seems to shift into some kind of gamelan techno R&B just because it can, the rare moment where the voice becomes irrelevant for lyrical delineation, but instead of scat or expression there’s a wordless backwards chorus of gurgling Greens – the song uses a plurality of tricks in the same voracious way as a postmodern architect (why this stylistic anti-purism worked so well in pop and not in architecture is a point to be investigated sometime). The mathematical clatter of sequencers evoking, as Otto Werckmeister writes in Citadel Culture on Kraftwerk, the moving of capital in a stock exchange.


Most crucially in its context, and quite possibility for its mid 80s listeners, ‘Absolute’ seems to be ‘about’ steeling oneself. Becoming impervious. Hard Choices. ‘A principle to make your heart invincible’. And like Prince, whose flitting between the fey and mechanistic C&P85 explicitly debates with, Green slips in and out of characters, and out of roles to mask an essential emptiness, void- the ‘nothing, nothing, nothing’ hymned again and again so rapturously is much like the technoid, inhuman Prince of ‘Hot Thing’, or The Black Album’s letting slip the nihilism of the perpetual seducer. The ‘very wicked things’ of WBBB. Interesting too that the breezeblock pounding of C&P85 gets replaced with tentative, often almost unnoticeable beats on WBBB- a different kind of stealth.

The sinister nature of Green’s ballads. While I won’t try to add to the perfect dissection of ‘A Little Knowledge’, there’s something similarly strange and unnerving about ‘The Word Girl’ with its linkings of textual and physical possession. The way Green prissily enunciates the word ‘abuse’, or the splintering of the song at its end, where it seems to fold in on itself, into piano crashes and fairlight detritus…the difference with the new songs is a reclamation of melancholia. While Green has always played with the melancholy, used the odd minor chord, there is on something like ‘No Fine Lines’ a hint of blank-eyed fatalism that you can hear nearly 30 years before in ‘Confidence’- so much of the record seems like beautifully phrased and optimistic admissions of defeat.

Which brings us to the question of Entryism. Of course C&P85 is entryism of an extreme form (something which rankles a little politically- the absurdity of Green as a kind of pop Dave Nellist, Cupid and Psyche the post-punk Liverpool City Council. You can’t be expelled from Pop, unlike the Labour Party)- most prettily seen in the cover to the 12” of The Word Girl, with its pic of Shirley Maclaine and its pages from the Ecrits. The point where overidentification becomes almost pointless, where the codes and references are almost tacked on. As Simon points out in reference to WBBB this is one of Green’s weaknesses- the smugness of the line about ‘a new hermeneutic, a new paradigm’ on Lover to Fall, the extraneous 'I got a reason girl, it was Immanuel Kant's' on Boom There She Was, which signify nothing other than the ticking of boxes by ‘inside’ listeners. Hence maybe the absence of today’s pop on WBBB. It sidesteps or ignores current pop, aptly back on Rough Trade, a label which has been pushing all manner of revanchist indie bilge these last few years. Games no longer being played with pop, but with himself, to whom as much as anyone else the lines, sung with as much crystalline beauty as he’s sung anything, ‘you know how little this all means’ are intended.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Almost total inactivity here of late, mostly for reasons of climate. Posts to come soon(ish) on Makavajev, the Future City and the delightful city of Southampton, plus some stuff about my presence debating with Mr Stirling Howieson at Marxism this Saturday on the subject of monstrous carbuncles. Meanwhile, read this dissection of another English malaise.

Plakaty 31

'A flag of blood and lipstick will be unfurled'

In this truly ridiculous heat, have found myself listening on a perpetual loop to Scritti's White Bread Black Beer, a little beacon of sanity and reluctant sentimentalism, soothing an increasingly uninhabitable London summer- lush, brittle, both freeze-dried and warm, Green never sounding more androgynous and ageless. Oddly depressing though that this, along with the most recent records by Scott Walker and the Pet Shop Boys, marks a trend of the only new music that has actually interested me this year (save for Burial) being made by people at least twice my age. Whether or not this has any significance or not is a moot point- maybe the conservatism of youth is finally being reflected by interesting pop becoming the domain of the middle aged...

But aside from that- has there ever been a better description of the people's flag than the one quoted above (from the last song on WBBB)?