Monday, February 26, 2007

Kino Efficency

The Kino Brecht Fist was (yet another!) resounding success, with NO technicals, a CD playing 14 versions of 'Mack the Knife' and crisps as entertainment. Next up is a Genet themed extravaganza of boys and brutality, with Fassbinder's last film, and candidate for 'greatest cinematography in film history' Querelle, which I have written a fair few things about, plus his own Un Chant d'Amour. Usual place, one pound, with free zine.
Incidentally, a plea to my readers: yes, all 117 of you. In the sleevenote to Patti Smith's Wave is an unattributed Genet quote- 'my sleepers will flee toward another America'. If anyone knows the provenance of this line, could they please please let me know? Thanks!

Plakaty 124

The Ridiculous Position

In Notes from a Scandal there is a scene where a fag smoking Judi Dench, half a century of decomposition from her sharply neurotic charms in Talking to a Stranger, reclines in the bath, giving a disquisition on physical degeneration and loneliness so acute that 'the brush of a bus conductor's arm sends a rush of excitement straight to your groin.' Now although I am still very much young and firm (and my e-mail address is in the top right hand corner), a singularly unsavoury condition usually affecting an orifice (not that one, thank the lord) means that I tend to sympathise with this sort of erotics of the physically afflicted; and an inability to really drink, smoke or eat interesting food without soon-arriving painful and potentially messy consequences makes it particuarly lurid, as the brain tries to find some sort of release in some murky places (suddenly I think this post may be a terrible mistake...)

A tremendous piece by Brian Sewell in last Friday's Evening Standard (which I didn't actually buy, don't worry), the sort of article that you could only get away with if at such an advanced age that no-one would dare refuse your copy, captured this perfectly. Ostensibly a discussion of the Hanif Kureishi scripted Venus, it seems really a cover for a lurid lament for a condition in which 'not even sudden death has seemed as wretched a malfunction as a leaking bladder and the abrupt reduction of one's organ of reproduction and pleasure to, as Eric Gill put it, a mere 'organ of drainage''. It goes on, unrelenting, to plead for any sort of contact with the curvature and functionality of young female flesh, pausing only for surreal itemised lists like 'shrunken shanks and shuffling pace, of grasp too feeble on the lid of marmalade, of eyes that do not see so well, of ears that do not hear, of padded underpants (not yet) and of a heart that from time to time palpitates like the single-cylinder diesel engine of a Turkish fishing boat'.

The easy response to this bizarre and brilliant performance - which ends with a description of being asked by 'a boy of my acquaintance (not loutish in the least)' to watch him fuck his girlfriend - is to dismiss and ignore it as the vaguely misogynistic sexual fantasies of the ageing and unpleasant. We're all going in that direction, irrespective of any amount of gym visits or botox. As someone who has experienced the fun of Proctoscopy, it almost gives me a mild sense of schandenfreude that everyone is awaiting what Sewell calls 'the dreaded finger of the urologist probing my prostate gland'. Now, if you'll excuse me...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Let's beat those Fascist Clowns!

Being a leftist of occasionally sentimental tendencies, I have quite a thing for the voice of Ernst Busch (that link featuring a clip of his 'Solidarity Song' from Kuhle Wampe). A fighter in the Spanish Civil War, occasionally dubbed 'Der Rote Orpheus'- Busch was a Brecht-trained actor and singer of stirring proletarian balladry and the peculiarly swinging Mass Songs of Hanns Eisler. So it's nice to know that not one but two video settings of his 'Der Heimlische Aufmarsch' are on You Tube (and are unlikely to be taken off because of legal action unlike the Kraftwerk and Fischinger clips, humph). I shan't put them up here directly, as they're rather better for musical than aesthetic reasons. But the second is funnier, and includes a translation...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gemeindebauen fur Alle!

This excellent pamphlet from the Defend Council Housing campaign excoriates the corruption and mendacity of the housing selloffs, and advocates a new wave of municipal building. Here's hoping such a thing would have some of the force and fantasy of some of this lot, an archive of the peculiar Modernist-Eclectic style of 1920s Red Vienna.

UPDATE: Here's some more on the utterly disgraceful sell-off of Park Hill. Oh for the days when architects weren't always handmaidens to the gentrifiers...

Herr K's Thought for the Day

Mr Keuner ran into Mr Muddle, a great fighter against newspapers. ‘I am a great opponent of newspapers. I don’t want any newspapers’, said Mr Muddle. Mr Keuner said ‘I am a greater opponent of newspapers. I want better newspapers.’
‘Write down for me on a piece of paper’, Mr Keuner said to Mr Muddle, ‘what you demand so that newspapers can appear. Because newspapers will appear. But demand the minimum. Because I would prefer, for instance, if you permitted corruptible men to produce them, rather than incorruptible men, because then I would simply bribe them to improve the newspapers. But even if you demanded incorruptible men, then we should start looking for them, and then if we didn’t find them, we should start making some. Write down on a piece of paper what newspapers should be like, and if we find an ant that approves of what is on that piece of paper, then we should start right away. The ant will be of greater help to us in improving newspapers than a general clamour that newspapers cannot be made better. Because a mountain is more likely to be moved by a single ant than by the rumour that it is impossible to move.
If newspapers are a means to disorder, then they are also a means to achieving order. It is precisely people like Mr Muddle who through their dissatisfaction demonstrate the value of newspapers. Mr Muddle thinks he is concerned with the worthlessness of today’s newspapers. In fact he is concerned with their worth tomorrow.
Mr Muddle thought highly of man and did not believe that newspapers could be made better, whereas Mr Keuner did not think very highly of man but did think that newspapers could be made better. ‘Everything can be made better’, said Mr Keuner, ‘except man.’

Brecht, 'Stories of Herr Keuner'

Plakaty 123

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mozg Mechanik

Courtesy of Savonarola, here's a link to some clips of Vsevelod Pudovkin's Mechanics of the Brain. While Pudovkin is best known for the slapstick grid of Chess Fever and the quintessential Soviet heroic montage of Mother, this is a documentary discussing the techniques of Pavlov, and the experiments being carried out in his Psychological Laboratory: an especially intense instance of the Constructivist obsession with precision and control, the Taylorist scientific management that fixated them all being employed at the level of the Brain itself. As such it looks like somewhat unnerving stuff, especially where it coexists with a depiction of jolly everyday byt.

The dance of Ornaments

Without necessarily wanting to start a weekly animation corner, someone has put up Oskar Fischinger's Komposition in Blau up on YouTube, so a disquisition might be in order. We screened the film along with an earlier short by Hans Richter at the second Kino Fist, as an exemplar in part of what might have happened if Malevich and his UNOVIS Group Comrades had ever gotten together the money or the technology to set their squares, circles and polygons in motion, to have made the non-objective objects dance. The Suprematist space of flat conflicts between shapes was perfect for the new apparatus, and in Fischinger's films, as my supervisor (so I'm an inveterate namedropper, what of it eh) claims, you can see the intersections and arguments between mass culture and the avantgarde, a dialogue that we are still supposed to occlude in favour of a strict demarcation between the autonomous and the commodified. The Non-Objective film was in itself amenable to all manner of deployments in the mass maeket, and Fischinger's story essentially involves an unrelentingly avantgarde abstractionist putting himself in the service of first the film industry, then advertising, until finally being defeated by the Guggenheims and Disney.

The Knife's video for the title track of Silent Shout features some very overt tributes to Fischinger, but by aligning it with their peculiarly feral Europop Gothicism they hit on the essentially Romantic (in the interesting sense) nature of Fischinger's experiments: they evoke Goethe's work on Colour Theory or someone like Shelley tinkering with some kinaesthetic apparatus in a garret in the hills over Zurich as much as they do the Constructivist new world. In this they share a quality with Kraftwerk, where Romanticism and Rationalism can be aligned with each other rather than be irreconcilable polarities: the fantastical qualities of the new apparatus can be aligned with a sobriety about the usage and workings of that apparatus: an essentially utopian demand in a society where the means of production are jealously guarded. Perhaps the most poignant instance of this is in Richard X's forced marriage of Whitney Houston and Kraftwerk, 'I wanna dance with Numbers' (the cover for which is above), wherein a voice both reified and warmly pleading begs for human contact over a mathematically precise factory funk and a melody line that evokes an earlier, paleotechnical world.

Plakaty 122

Brecht Fist

“There are only two directors in the world. And the other one is Charlie Chaplin.”

The third Fist will be featuring what may, perhaps, be my favourite film, ever in the history of film ever Kuhle Wampe, and as ever a programme with essays by myself and the other two shall be included in the utterly paltry price. This Canadian Brecht season suggests ths sort of thing we might do if we had lots of money or resources (prospective sponsors to the usual address), except I bet they don't serve tea and biscuits or let you smoke in the auditorium.

Also, another very worthwhile film club has been set up in London, Testimonies, who have been showing films of a more postwar agitprop nature for the last couple of months: from Pasolini's Gospel according to St Matthew, to Costa-Gavras' Z this Friday.

Friday, February 16, 2007

We have a Technical

During last weekend's Kino Fist we had some problems with a somewhat shoddy DVD of 'Trans Europe Express': those who were annoyed by the whole experience can enjoy it again below- plus the video to 'Showroom Dummies'. See them dance!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

End of the Line

The glories of the Piccadilly Line, mostly coutesy of Charles Holden, including some images by Rut Blees Luxemburg.

Plakaty 121

'We talk about the Weather'

As a Valentine's gift to you, my public (holds rostrum, looks nobly at the crowd) here are some Love Poems by someone with a decidedly sachliche approach to the issue (that this collection was edited by Elisabeth Hauptmann is a delightful irony), Bertolt Brecht.

The best Valentine's Day present I have ever received (admittedly from someone I had broken up with the month before) was this.

Stop your Sericulture

Apparently, this blog is an 'amalgam of Stalinism and Surrealism'. Not quite sure what I think of that description. 'Deutscherite Aesthete', which I was accused of being the other day was perhaps more appropriate, but somehow similar in content...
Moving swiftly on, some addenda to the scans of 1960s peopleoids: no2self seems to have uploaded lots of this sort of thing, including most memorably some 1966 Letraset figures, which appropriately fits the sketchy links between synthpop and brutalism that I've been attempting: note the figures from the cover of The Human League's Being Boiled striding about above.

After a shameful lack of a building of the month for the whole of January, top nostalgists for the future The 20th Century Society have rather topically picked a Casino for their new entry, rather prettily designed in the Moderne style that pleasure and picture palaces were made in circa 1938. That this was extended to cinemas and department stores implies a curious lack in current capitalist aesthetics: that it no longer seems able to maintain a seductive commercial style, and with the odd signature exception (Koolhaas' Prada, or Future Systems' Selfridges and similar frippery) the shops, retail parks and cinemas of late 21st century capital are almost the nearest thing to a contemporary functionalism in the worst possible sense: obliterating any sense of dream or seduction in favour of a grim consumer utilitarianism.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

'Don't Stare so Romantically!'

Despite several Technicals, Kino Fist 2 left us, in the words of the General Secretary, 'dizzy with success'; despite some Trotskyite saboteurs claiming that Vertov's Three Songs about Lenin did not, in fact exhibit the radical ambiguity of Stalinism and was actually rather silly (revanchists!) The next one shall be a Brecht-Fest featuring two of the three films he worked on: Pabst's murky, Dickensian take on The Threepenny Opera, and the collectively made and utterly glorious Kuhle Wampe (the absent third being Fritz Lang's Hangmen also Die). Once again it shall be at 90 Wallis Road, Hackney Wick, London E9, at 3pm for a quid; any contributions to the programme to the usual address.

Plakaty 120

Drilling through the Spiritus Sanctus Tonight

The recent discussion of the normalising of torture via the increasingly interminable TV series 24 by Tomb (via an earlier piece by Zizek) couldn't help but remind me of this tremendous piece from a few years ago by David Thomson, which very early on noticed how the entire premise of the show revolved around torture, and more interestingly on the combinations of torture with the show's various affairs and love interests ('If you haven't seen much of 24, or even if you have, you may think this surmising is disgusting'), and how this could be expanded into the show's commercials, into news pieces, creating a horrifying Debordian integrated spectacle of amoral, propagandist media. Also the show's look- copied by the vastly inferior Brit ventriloquism Spooks- is one of the few concessions to 21st century modernity in current television: all white/grey iPod surfaces, chattering machinery, sinister gadgets: all the more to facilitate the return to the medievalist methods of the Inquisition.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Zuckendes Fleischer

By clicking on the video links on IT's musings on Betty Boop cartoons and Chess, you can find an entirely other conception of mass produced surrealism, shaming the Parisian bourgeois bohemians by combining a technology way beyond their subverted oil paintings and collages with an equally jarring sense of psychotic disruption of everyday reality. This evokes a passage in Dialectic of Enlightenment which is generally given less attention than it deserves: in the apparently total indictment of mass culture as 'Mass Deception' there is an opposition set up between the possibility of a disruptive, dissonant strain in the culture industry, one which is occluded as often as possible:

The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities. It is stronger even than the rigorism of the Hays Office, just as in certain great times in history it has inflamed greater forces that were turned against it, namely, the terror of the tribunals. It calls for Mickey Rooney in preference to the tragic Garbo, for Donald Duck instead of Betty Boop.

The significance of this only really becomes clear after a viewing of a few of the Fleischer cartoons of the early 30s. The sheer onslaught of Modernist techniques here is frankly bracing to anyone brought up with the mimeticism of CGI or 80s cartoons. Here, as Benjamin writes of Mickey Mouse, was a way of adapting oneself for 20th century life by adapting one's own form, by morphing constantly, by being able to survive all manner of absurd privations. As he wrote in 'Experience and Poverty', 'Mickey Mouse's existence is full of miracles, which not only outdo technical wonders, but make fun of them too: a redemptive existence appears'. The early Mickey of the Silly Symphonies (eg, the one above) is a ratty slum creature, and one which would inevitably be posited by the Nazis as an exemplar of Jewish decadence: this being before Disney's turn to realism and the European fairytale in the later 1930s. The bashings given to Donald Duck would symbolise for Adorno the culture industry's latent sadism and acceptance of extreme violence. Fleischer though is Disney's id: a malevolent, overtly sexualised and violently disjunctive response to Disney's underlying cutesiness. Constantly drawing attention to their own flatness, their own means of production, the Fleischer cartoons even encompassed a practical demonstration of synch-sound technology.

Betty Boop is perhaps the best exemplar of this. Fleischer, as Esther Leslie points out in Hollywood Flatlands, didn't have a story department until the mid 1930s, so the form would follow the whims of the animators, could twist itself into anything it wished without having to keep some notion of reality as a referent. Betty Boop starts out as only partly human (with dog ears, curiously enough) and maintains a spatial being that draws attention both to an all-too-human sexuality and an ability to orchestrate technologised chaos. So she is both participant in the events, being ogled and chased, and central point of the cartoon's assault on spatial realities. Frequently she seems to have a role of ringleader, of master of ceremonies, presiding over it as well as being a protagonist: able to step in and out of it at will. Naturally the Hays Code puts paid to all this, as a newly sensibly dressed Betty helps animals and dispenses moral advice. Nonetheless there's an abiding sense of the not right about Fleischer cartoons which fits in perfectly with Brechtian alienation techniques, proving they don't have to be a programme for grimness and aridity, and can instead provide disruptive pleasures that realism can't approach.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Drawings for a Future Yet to Come

I know it's been really quite a while, but there is finally one of the posts I promised around the New Year, and finally an update to The Measures Taken: get thee to a Picture Post on architectural drawings (mostly) of the 1960s, taken from my extensive collection of technocratic literature. See: tiny little people in concrete squares! Hungarian transport publications! Utopian projects by Buckminster Fuller and (of all people) Norman Foster! It's all Here.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Kino Fist, teil Zwei

Which will be starting at 3pm! And will involve conviviality and comestibles along with the Constructivism.

In sum-
Sunday 11th February
90 Wallis Road, Hackney Wick

Vsevelod Pudovkin's Chess Fever
Oscar Fischinger's Komposition in Blau
Hans Richter's Rhythmus 23
Dziga Vertov's Three Songs of Lenin

+ a magazine

+ tea, coffee, beer, wine and food.

Mural Re-armament

Although it may not be limited in scope purely to Greater London in the 1980s, there is a thing that one sometimes spots on walls, usually in the vicinity of 'social centres' of one sort or another, that can only be described as the GLC Mural. A genre pioneered by the municipal socialism of 'Red' Ken Livingstone (ah, the irony), whereby a given area of street would be 'improved' by having a mural painted on it: a typical one in New Cross features Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and one of the short-stay geriatric Soviets (Andropov or Chernenko) riding atop nuclear missiles, in a painted analogue to the 'Two Tribes' video and a hundred Ben Elton jokes. They're really rather sweet, and in their way give the effect of London as a garrison town of antiwar, anticapitalist sanity in a sea of militarism and rapacious capital, which seems faintly preposterous in retrospect.

This sprang to mind on reading of how a favela in Rio has turned itself into a temporary art gallery (more here), essentially by painting onto the walls of the various shacks. This could easily be dismissed as an ultimate example of window-dressing poverty via 'creativity'- that the favelas might be less poor and violent if Freize send a few people over to review the hut facades- and the involvement of a Dutchman called 'Koolhaas' (not the same one mind you) in the planning of the painting programme would reinforce this proposition. Nonetheless, there is something quite promising here. The siedlungen of Red Vienna grew out of the shanty towns on the city's outskirts, and yet the equivalents today of an Adolf Loos who would play architect to the favela tend to spend more time awed at the 'vibrancy' and 'diversity' of the 'community' to actually do anything that might involve making the environment less horrible for its inhabitants. Any intervention in the alltagsleben of the 21st century proletariat for transformative purposes would seem to have some at least symbolic value, even if involving patronising but well-meaning Koolhaases.

It's always as an imposition of some sort however- note the difference between this and the actual environment creation of many of the locals- ie, painting your own personal Logo around the place (I did see the spray paint-covered Camden tube station around Christmas that caused so much controversy- my reaction being a combination of 'how incredibly pointless' and 'er, well done'). None of this has any of the peculiar charm of the murals in the Sicilian town of Orgosolo, where from the 70s, pseudo-Picasso depictions of Gramsci or Lenin appeared on the sides and corners of the picturesquely dilapidated dwellings, and where libellous commentary on Italian politics and admonitions to be nice to the elderly are the manner of urban decoration, rather than the endless wildstyle variants on 'I was here'.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Wohnzimmer Musik

Sometimes there'll be a record or film that although it has no vanguardism about it, although you would never try and make great claims for it as an earth shattering masterpiece, is nonetheless something you find yourself living with, which quietly insinuates itself, until you realise you've listened to the thing hundreds of times. This was how I might explain away an obsession with Barbara Morgenstern's Nichts Muss a few years ago, which was essentially just a singer-songwriter record with some clicks & cuts trimmings, yet moved me like nothing else at the time, save for more Modernistically acceptable records by the Junior Boys and Dizzee Rascal.

Nichts Muss is a collection of a kind of miniature chanson, evoking the elegant miserablism of Francoise Hardy, only shifted from the left bank to a colder, more bereft central Europe. In a kind of less rapacious, less replicant manner to something like Cassie's 'Me and U' it was so much more affecting for its restraint, the measure and precision of Morgenstern's voice eliciting all sorts of stereotypes of the Teutonic, only without any of the gruff, staccato element- sentences full of bafflingly long and intricate Germanic phrases sung as mellifulously as Robert Wyatt or Hardy herself. The song on there that was always particularly quietly devastating was 'Kleiner Auschnitt', about which I once asked her in an enormously gauche manner, 'so what is a kleiner auschnitt?' ''s like a small part of you...'

As one of the more enjoyable parts of writing a zine with a circulation of 27, as I did some time ago, was being able to use it to interview interesting people, something that is rather more difficult to do on a blog: the word itself still sounds somewhat sordid. So in Stockholm, after seeing Morgenstern play a set of icily precise liebeslieder in a decidedly unrestrained manner, myself and my colleagues asked for an interview. It wasn't particularly successful in the end, but one upshot of it was her admitting the influence of ABBA, and singing the praises of 'Super Trouper'- 'the one where she's on stage- she's so alone, it's so sad...'

So while this led to brief fantasies of her having some sort of 'Dragostea Din Tei' style transeuropean Europop hit to warm the cockles of Robin Carmody's heart ('The suppression of driven by an aggressive denial of any further possibilities for pop and life'), there's little sign of this on the new(ish) The Grass is Always Greener, where her songs become, for the most part, yet more hermetic: full of peculiar industrial hissing and clattering in the background, with jagged and decidedly Weimar song structures. She's cited Joni Mitchell here and there, and the record sounds sometimes like a Germanic version of the decentred electronics and anti-hipster stance of The Hissing of Summer Lawns, determinedly ploughing its own undemonstrative furrow with a wit and invention seemingly in direct opposition to the bluster and pomposity of its contemporaries.

Simulacra and Stalinisation

The always rather peculiar, if occasionally fascinating English Russia has a few rather picturesque photos of Socialist Realist monuments in an advanced state of decay, or in one memorable case, having been dismantled: the 'Worker and Kolkhoz Woman' by Vera Mukhina (via Barista) In a sense one should be pleased about monuments to Stalinism being demolished, only it seems to involve the actual monuments being demolished and fundamentally identical ones taking their place. A little known fact: the tallest building in Europe right now is the Triumph Palace, an almost exact replica of the Stalinist skyscrapers of the late 1940s, which houses flats for the oligarchy.

One of the interesting elements of current Russian building policy is a tendency to take listed landmarks, (i.e places where they can't build luxury flats), let them rot, and then knock them down and reconstruct them (as is being done with the 1920s Constructivist planetarium), usually adding a few extra bits here and there. Hence the future looks like the past, while the remnants of the past themselves are effaced as quickly as possible. This rather Baudrillardian attitude to conservation is an intriguing one, and I look forward to its importation into London.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Plakaty 119

In the unlikely event my thesis ever gets published (or written), this is going to be the cover.

Everybody Hears a Hum at 3am...

The second part of the K-Punk Fall Investigation has been completed! Hooray, hooray...

A thought on other forms of 'Pulp Modernism'- the combination of mess, detritus, grimy industrial technics and broiling class anger in The Fall has as some antecedent in Berlin Dada (not, note, in the more easily assimilated Swiss and French variants- Grosz and Heartfield, not Duchamp), especially in their cheap xeroxed political tracts of 1919: full of malformed proletarians coming back to haunt the Wilhelmine bourgeoisie: even their titles have a hint of MES about them: Jeder Mann sein eigner Fussball, Der Blutige Ernst...

'Ornate coffee machines, still bearing their labels, sit, still shining, in a troglodytic cafe'

Another strangely Fall-like post, on the metropolitan elite hiding out in Wiltshire in the event of a nuclear war: reminds me of something one of Asian Dub Foundation (of all people) once said about the Fall being post-apocalypse music- you can imagine the strange forms illustrated in Mark's post, grotesque peasants malformed by nuclear mutations descending upon the bunker...the locals have come for their due...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fantasies in Fibreglass

Nothing to See here visits Blackgang Chine, a theme park on a cliff in the Isle of Wight which has been gradually falling into the sea since the 1840s. It is a place I visited on an annual basis between the ages of 3 and 18, and as is generally the case with familiarity, didn't regard as remotely strange, although it was generally the highlight of my existence. But reading this one realises how completely odd and antiquated it is- fibreglass dinosaurs, a tiny frontier town, the crooked house that presumably still has a 1970s copy of the Daily Mail half-read therein, and most unnerving of all, the Mouth of Hell, a fibreglass Dantean maw, into which children were eoncouraged to squeeze themselves.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Who Paid the Planner?

Fascinating article on how a peculiarly 'whitebread' version of CIAM ideology (the 'Ekistics' of Constantinos Doxiadis) was applied, with the help of the Ford foundation, onto new towns and seidlungen across the Middle East, Africa, Yugoslavia: well worth a read if you want to know who designed the concrete shells of Sadr City...see also, The New Town, where these and other projects are exhumed and visited.

Death and the Penguin

I have, in various places, garnered perhaps more theoretical mileage from the replacement of the Penguins in London zoo from their Lubetkin-designed Constructivist environment (wherein they are being chased above by none other than Walt Disney) than would perhaps be considered advisable. So it's wonderful to find confirmation that in the sphere of Penguins as in that of the Proletariat, it's bureaucratic negligence rather than an innate reactionary nature that leads to dissatisfaction with a Modernist environment. Viz, from The Guardian:

Steve Rose includes in his selection of "unloved award winners" my father's penguin pool at London Zoo. I was astonished to read that "nobody thought to ask the penguins" about the design. My father steeped himself in literature about penguins; he consulted the specialists at the zoo itself, as well as Julian Huxley, Solly Zuckerman and other authorities.
If the current zoo authorities had time to consult the archives that I hope are still in their possession, they would see that when the first penguins were moved into their new home, they settled and bred successfully - a sure sign that they were happy with their surroundings. Indeed, when the penguin pool was refurbished in 1988, and the penguins were temporarily moved, they stopped breeding, only to resume when moved back into their pool. Now, alas, there are no penguins in the pool, because the zoo put burrowing penguins in the enclosure - and found, unsurprisingly, that they were unhappy there
Sasha Lubetkin

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Plakaty 118

Not a plakat, but it will be soon, depending on my photocopying skills...

Aestheticised Politics, Politicised

The Kino Fist Riefenstahl kritik fest is now well and truly up and running: contributions from Herr Miller and Fraulein IT present and correct, as is a piece by me which is a bit of a cut and paste job which should be familiar to more assiduous readers. Nonetheless the other two pieces are excellent, particularly IT's icily precise dissection of the Riefenstahlian sublime. A shame none of us got round to mentioning the Riefenstahl references in Bruce Weber's Calvin Klein ads, which the picture above slyly conflates.

The Day Brutalism turned Dayglo

While planning semi-imminent opus Jarvis Cocker is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (am hoping at least one Brel fan spots the reference), it struck me that I really ought to actually go to bloody Sheffield, particularly as most of the piece would centre around the notion of 'Sheffield: Sex City'- the mimetising of carnal desire in the ferroconcrete form of the postwar city; and not least to make a pilgrimage to Park Hill, Yorkshire's answer to Karl-Marx-Hof and early adaptation of Alison and Peter Smithson's streets in the sky idea. I have, mind you, been a couple of times to Robin Hood Gardens- the nearest London equivalent and a rather ambiguous place (and unlike Park Hill, not likely to be up for a Grade 2* listing any time soon). So I was intrigued to find via Kosmograd and BrandAvenue that the place has been bought up by the grotesquely named Urban Splash, gentrifiers by appointment to New Labour councils everywhere, for a PPP backdoor privatisation initiative to sink the hearts of unrepentant Modernists. I must admit to being much less sanguine about this than the aforementioned: the recent turning of the Brunswick Centre (round the corner from where I'm writing this) into a smugger, more middlebrow (if architecturally rather more distinguished) micro-Bluewater makes this all seem an extremely bad idea. Kosmograd writes:

It will no longer be the domain of sink social housing for the dispossessed, the rootless and the shiftless, low-income families, teenage mothers and other benefit dependants. Such as monoculture was always a recipe for disaster.
The regenerated Park Hill, like previous Urban Splash projects, will undoutedly see an influx of yuppies, trendies, middle income families, and the chattering, Guardian reading middle-classes. But, as the renaissance of the Barbican proves, and the recent renovation of the Brunswick Centre, people love a bit of brutalism, as long as they can get a cappuccino nearby. Brutalism doesn't really need to be 'softened up', all it needs is a Starbucks and a Waitrose. It certainly doesn't need to dressed up with electric pink parasitic appendages or white metallic rose covered multi-storey car park facades. Actually, the facade proposals from Hawkins Brown, featuring bleached wooden decking and some pot plants in a kind of everytown Homebase-does-Scandi style are worse. Going too far down this route runs the risk of losing the essence, the frisson of the strange, Brutalism's dark promise, that makes Park Hill intriguing in the first place.

Exactly, the frisson of the strange. Leaving for the moment the curious idea that the poor shouldn't be entitled to decent architecture, as they'll automatically turn it into a 'social disaster', this is on the mark. Aside from the obvious question of whether you're even allowed to paint listed buildings day-glo- (a concept I'm not entirely against, and when the Palace of Westminister is Jamie Reid pink we can talk) it all misses a fundamental point, i.e of truth to materials: Park Hill was actually already multicoloured, but this was the colour of the concrete itself, and of the gradated brick infill: to then paste lime green all over it is mere garishness. There's a whole other argument on the slapping of colour in modern architecture, and something like the siedlugen of Bruno Taut did this very prettily in the 1920s, for one, but this seems a very curious place to do it. So it's very interesting to find that the whole Urban Splash proposal seems to be based on the alignment of Park Hill with Pop: the (usually brilliant) makers of record sleeves the Designers Republic are involved, The Human League are quoted, and of course Pulp themselves are cited...pop being used in its traditional role to brighten up a place, make it less strange, while the real point of that music- whether Pulp's Intro, Cabaret Voltaire, Dare even- is precisely to, (in the modernist manner of Shklovsky or Brecht) make strange.