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Taking things to their illogical conclusions

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22/7/14 23:06 - Octodad: Dadliest Catch

Octodad: Dadliest Catch is about a regular dad, his regular family, and his attempt to live a regular life while keeping a terrible secret. (For the sake of trying to preserve narrative tension I will try to avoid revealing his secret, but if you must know [click here] he's an octopus). Like a lot of things talking about normalcy the setting is very 1950s, not the lonely gloomy 50s of Edward Hopper, or the dark twisted suburbia of David Lynch, it’s a wholesome suburban 50s with the bright aesthetic style of a Saturday morning cartoon.
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Octodad: Dadliest Catch is a game about serious things but it deals with them lightly and at an angle. It's about the fear of people knowing who you really are and the fear of being abandoned, and the life cycle of kelp. Its conclusions are the same corny Hollywood platitudes you've heard a million times before (if you really look at horrors in the deep sea then you'll realise they aren't really so bad). But if it weren't so boundlessly optimistic and open-hearted I don't think that I could love it half as much.

24/4/12 14:22 - Some impressions of Lucian Freud - Portrait

Note: For want of better terms in the following if I talk about something being painted flatly, I mean something like being painted with invisible brushstrokes, and by something being painted roughly I mean using visible brushstrokes, or impasto effects - something like painterliness.

A short while ago I saw Lucian Freud Portraits with Tanya at the National Portrait gallery. It's one of those blockbuster shows, busy even during the middle of a week day. I don't want to think about what it would be like during a weekend. Obviously it was brilliant, but I found it cold, and left feeling like I didn't remotely understand it.

[Some thoughts]

I was reminded of Edward Hopper, because of the way the subjects don't meet your eyes, and when there is more than one subject they don't look at each other. Sad is the first word you reach for when describing these people, but that's simplistic, they're the faces of people too full of thought to have their social masks on. But even if sad is simplistic, the detachment, the pensiveness feels unavoidably melancholy.

At first I found myself feeling that I preferred Hopper. Part of that is how his obessesions are similar to mine, how his pictures influenced cinema, and they way his paintings look exactly like how Raymond Chandler stories feel. But more than that, pictures like Nighthawks and Automat seem immediately intriguing, and hint at a world and stories you'd want to explore. Initially Freud's pictures seem like closed doors.

As I moved through the exhibition I began to appreciate that he cared as much for drama as Hopper; in the accompanying booklet it says "He believed that if a painting did not have drama, it did not work. It was just paint out of a tube". But still at first the paintings did just seem like studies of flesh and hair to me.

Unlike Hopper the backgrounds are usually sparse, and that makes it harder to find a way into the story, but occasionaly comments from the booklet gave me the sense that stories were there, if you understood the code, or looked hard enough. So I, and I guess Tanya, did the only thing I know to do when art seems impossibly mysterious: accept its reality, and try to unravel its internal logic, by picking out details and thinking what they have to do with the whole, or just appreciating the details.

Doing this, whilst looking at a picture with a characteristically strange composition, Tanya asked why there was a picture of one of the earlier subjects in the background, then laughed and said I guess the more obvious question is why are the childen in the front holding ducks. While I don't understand why the picture of Leigh Bowery is there, or what the fuck the ducks doing are there, I trust they are there for a reason, and the single detail of webbed feet held in a small child's hand makes the whole picture feel worthwhile.

Part of what's interesting about Lucian Freud's pictures is the contrast between parts of the picture that are very detailed and flat in affect, and the parts that that are rough and expressive. It's easy to reach for the word "realistic" to describe the parts that are flat and detailed, and perhaps something approaching "photo-realistic" would be accurate. But to say "realistic" is to accept the reality that photographs show us, and it seems that one of the major points of painting after the invention of the photograph is to undermine that idea.

This is a side point, but while there is good work at the BP Portrait Prize, there's a formula I see repeated there that I find depressingly tedious. The painting has astonishing photorealistic detail, down to the level of reproducing photographic blur, the subject gazes soulfully out from a blank background. There are so many of these paintings. The soulful look conveys nothing, it's just fake-authenticity. There is no personality in the picture, it feels like the artist spent 5-minutes taking snaps of the subject in the artist's studio, never got to know them and never saw them again, then spent days reproducing this photo. I can't help but feel that these pictures only technically qualify as portraits, and their only artistic statement is: look at my mad skillz.

Anyway the point I wanted to note down had nothing to do with the question of which is a more accurate vision of reality the flat or the rough style. What I wanted to note down was the way he uses both to manipulate your gaze.

In a picture of his mother lying in a bed the pattern of the bed cover and her dress are painted flatly, and your eyes glide over them and focus in on her flesh. It's as if your eyes quickly understand the simple repeating patterns, and then screen them out, but can never quite take in the range of colours and textures of flesh, and so they demand your continued attention.

While flesh is always painted roughly (except in his early paintings) it's not simply that the rest of the picture is painted flatly so the flesh pops, sometimes the background swirls and blends into the subject. To what effect? I don't know. Perhaps he lets the boundaries between the subject and background blur when they are less emotionally contained, less stable. Perhaps, but I note that my first attempts to explain grasp at synonyms of "blurry", and I suspect more is going on than simple visual punning.

As you move away from some of the pictures, parts that seem rough resolve into smoothness, just like the dots of a pointillist resolve into a coherent whole when you view it from a distance. The rougher the painting the further away you need to move for it to resolve into apparent smoothness. One of the impressive things is that he uses that fact, varying the roughness in different parts of the painting and combines it with the technique of guiding your eye to the rougher parts of the painting, so that at different distances your eye focuses on slightly different parts of the painting. This effect somewhat counters the way you'd normally view the painting differently as you view it on a different scale - though I can't seem to articulate how right now.

In case I gave the wrong impression by going on about Freud so much: I don't particularly like him or his work and I don't agree with the view he gives of humanity, but he gives me a lot worth thinking about and I couldn't understand someone who argued he isn't great.


It's been 3 weeks since I saw the exhibition and starting to write this post, and it's worth noting that his pictures are still affecting me. When I see random people on the tube I find myself looking at their flesh and noticing the networks of blue veins, and blossoms of red beneath the skin, beautiful but completely different creatures to photoshopped models.

12/9/09 02:58 - clearing my phone

humid evening
i read by lamplight
on the pages
a shadow flutters
the lone moth

not noticed:
my carefully casual attempts
to ignore you

6/9/09 22:50 - A love poem in 15 words or less

in the corner of my eye
at the centre of my attention
words which make me fail at this memeCollapse )
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30/6/09 21:51 - So now I'm back from outer space

For the first time in 5 years I don't live in Southampton.

Days like this I can't begin to explain, or even work out how I feel. I've been too busy to process anything, and there are so many things to think through. I am glad to back in London, a city I love which not-coincidentally happens to contain many people I love, even if I'm not so thrilled about moving back in with my parents.

I should blog or write about the events of the last few days or they'll evaporate from my mind.

19/5/09 22:55 - Dreamwidth

I've got a code going spare, anyone want it, or know anyone who does?

I've not done anything other than sign up, because I don't want to spend time setting it up properly yet.

11/4/09 04:59 - Prague!

The lovely wildeabandon took me to Prague! This was 27th-30th March, but I've been busy doing nothing.

Mostly I played the dazzled innocent, as Sebastian guided me through streets filled with buildings all in exquisite pastel colours like cakes in a patisserie. He bought me a single red rose: the first time anyone's ever thought to buy me flowers. When wandering aimlessly we found a building that looked like a fairytale castle in one of the squares.
"Are you the prince that does the saving, or the prince that needs saving?" he asked me. After some consideration I decided I was the dragon, and the prince who needed saving.

Happy just to be with each other we didn't try to rush around filling each moment with something touristy. Unfortunately this meant we failed to get to the Town Hall, the site of The First Defenestration of Prague and so I guess the birthplace of the awesome word defenestration (which is so not made up) as the OED says:

defenestration: The action of throwing out of a window

Defenestration of Prague, the action of the Bohemian insurgents who, on the 21st of May 1618, broke up a meeting of Imperial commissioners and deputies of the States, held in the castle of the Hradshin, and threw two of the commissioners and their secretary out of the window; this formed the prelude to the Thirty Years' War.

We did make it to the Sex Toy Museum. The exhibits were interesting, but outside of the context of flesh they seemed cold, uninviting, and occasionally scary.

After that we had a bit of a wait till the showing of Aspects of Alice started at the Black Light Theatre. I was tired and frankly would have rather just gone back to hotel with Sebastian. So while we waited I think I got a touch cranky, despite the fact the bar we were at playing an brilliant live The Clash album, with this performance of The Guns of Brixton a song which I'd previously felt was a dull point in an otherwise brilliant album.

But Aspects of Alice really was worth the wait. Before it started I sat nibbling a rose petal into the shape of a heart and offered it to Sebastian. He carefully put it away, and my silly gesture became suddenly serious.
I'd never been to a Black Light Theatre before (apparently it's a speciality of Prague so, robert_jones, we did do something typical of Prague). It combines the kind of puppetry where the background is black and the puppeteers dress in black (they did a good job with the light so there was only one or two disappointingly visible puppeteers), black light (UV), and some gimmick I didn't understand which let Alice fly and twirl in the air seemingly without effort.
I'm sort of wary of physical theatre because I'm worried it'll all be nonsense I won't understand, or be able to get anything from. But the images felt genuinely surreal and compelling: there always seemed to be some kind of hard to articulate meaning lurking beneath the bizarre images.
It was a (rather loose) adaptation of Alice in Wonderland; I think I wouldn't have noticed many of the connections without Sebastian. During the first half of the performance I drifted in and out of sleep (I'm blaming the wonderfully dream-like music), but I think it didn't matter too much because the narrative was pretty fractured already.
In the second half, before Alice came on stage, two of the women were on stage, arranged so their legs seemed to be flowers. It seemed odd, but since I thought it was a children's play I assumed it was innocent. I find what happened next quite difficult to describe, it was erotic, sexy, and had lesbians in the Garden of Eden, and yet somehow also quite innocent, and was quite sweet and really rather moving.
The whole performance was magical, in both senses, and I'd definitely recommend going to a Black Light Theatre if you're ever in Prague. This video of a slightly different production doesn't do the show justice, but then neither do my words.

mirrored elevator
an infinity of you
kissing me

We didn't get to sleep till quite late, and so on Sunday we woke up really quite late. So we had to rush around the Kafka Museum. Despite being essentially linear, the curators clearly made an effort to make it feel labyrinthine, and the music they played wouldn't have been out of place in a David Lynch film. So the experience did feel somewhat Kafkaesque but, and I feel like a horrible philistine for writing this, but I don't really understand what I'm supposed to get from Museums like that that I can't get from books. We ended up leaving before we'd made it all the way round, because the place was closing. Possibly if we ate before we could have rather than after, then we could have made it all the way round.
But I didn't mind at all, because the restuarant we went to before was really quite divine. I'm not going to try to describe the food (hopefully wildeabandon will do that - hint hint), but sitting there with the view of the bridge and the lovely buildings, and of Sebastian is one my best memories of Prague.

10/4/09 20:53 - What superpower would you choose?

Someone was talking about driving through fog, and either I misheard them or they misspoke, but I heard them talk about "invisibility of one metre". At first it sounded like a superuseless superpower. But after a while it seemed that being able to hide yourself from those you're closest to would be quite useful.

12/3/09 23:22 - Anti-trans politics from Oxfordshire PCT - request for action

Cut and pasted from the lovely wildeabandon:

So Oxfordshire PCT have a policy that being diagnosed with gender identity disorder isn't sufficient to qualify for a funding for treatment - there have to be "extreme circumstances", like, say, being suicidally depressed. Unfortunately, being suicidally depressed is a state of mental health which renders one ineligable for treatment. You can see why this might be a problem.

There's a report here which talks about it in more detail. The policy is shortly coming up for review, and there's a petition here asking the PCT to change it so that it is no longer an effective blanket ban on treatment. I'd appreciate it if those of you who agree that it's an unfair and discriminatory policy could go and sign the petition, and if possible propogate in your own journals.

11/2/09 04:02 - Revolutionary Road

Fight Club, The Matrix, American Beauty; I watched those films back in '99, and fell in love with cinema. I feel somewhat shamed by inclusion of The Matrix being in that list of formative films. Any pleasure I get from watching scenes I loved in The Matrix is now tainted by the knowledge that what I thought was great in them, grew into something so, so terribly awful in the sequels. Revolutionary Road isn't Sam Mendes’ first film since American Beauty, but the themes seem so close, and its reviews have been decidedly mixed. So going to see it I was dreading not only being disappointed, but finding myself having to be ashamed of American Beauty meaning so much to me.

Revolutionary Road review under cutCollapse )

But like American Beauty the cinematography is superb. The scenes of beautifully composed domesticity that would look completely wrong if April stepped just an inch out of place, convey her situation simply and clearly. They're pure cinema, things that only cinema does, and they remind me why Mendes is responsible for making me love cinema.

Revolutionary Road isn’t new in any respect, but it’s damn fine art.
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