Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Playlist: James Blake

James Blake | Photo: press/promotional

At the beginning of this month, James Blake released the keenly awaited follow-up to his genre-defying debut album. The classically trained producer carved out his niche two years ago with an album of minimalist syncopated electronic music that incorporates his own stunningly refined vocals. And with the release of ‘Overgrown’ the spine-tingling adventure in electronic sound continued.

At the moment I am particularly enjoying I Am Sold – for its heart-wrenching fragility (Blake’s voice feels on the edge of cracking) and duel layers of emotive sound – and Retrograde for its raw emotion. Digital Lion is incredible too. If you’re looking for alternative, broken-down, and clever electronic music, trust me, give it a listen.

The sun is becoming increasingly confident by each day, and this music will carry me through the more reflective moments of 2013’s summer, I think. Sometimes you need to find the space and atmosphere appropriate for stopping and thinking, and James Blake is perfect for that. He’ll join me through headphones sitting against the trunk of a large tree, the whole space hazy and dappled with sunlight falling softly through the leaves above.

'Overgrown' (Deluxe Version) album cover

Visit: jamesblakemusic.com

Monday, 29 April 2013

Art: Joot – The Forgotten Language of the Cold

Finnish artist Joot showed some of her lovely paintings at Philadelphia Street Gallery in Bristol over the weekend. Walking through Quakers Friars on Sunday, I chanced across the small exhibition of her works and was warmly invited in.

In The Forgotten Language of the Cold refined prints sits boldly on small canvasses of sustainable plywood. Each picture makes use of strong red and black colour blocks carved intimately around detailed dream-like images. Her's is a folk-like style and with this series she explores humans in nature, from the point of view of them being very much a part of nature. Looking at the paintings I felt isolation. And I felt a certain calm; a sense of peace.

The collection comes directly from the artist's Nordic roots and she is clearly inspired by our increased disconnection from nature. She brings that in with the nostalgic quality of her paintings and also with the starting point of this quote from Aristotle: 'It is not in deprived beings, but in those who act in accordance with nature that we must seek what is natural.'

The Forgotten Language of the Cold from Joot on Vimeo.

Joot – The Forgotten Language of the Cold | Photo: Joot
Marjastajat (Berry Pickers) | Photo: Joot
Minun Armeijani (My Army) | Photo: Joot

The Red Bear | Photo: Joot

Joot studied BA Illustration at Arts University Bournemouth and is currently living and working in Brighton. For more information about her evocative works visit: jootdraws.com.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The English Seaside Chronicles, Part I

At the end of last week, when the promise of a weekend was looming bright on the horizon, discussion invariably moved in the delightfully inevitable 'what-are-you-going-to-get-up-to-this-weekend?' direction. "I am going to go to the seaside!" was my gleeful answer. My lovely colleagues proceeded to tell me the delights and dooms that lay in wake at Weston-Super-Mare, the nearest bit of beach for us (honourary) Bristolians. Mr Weather Man promised a generous downpour of rain. And I was warned not to sink in the vast expanse of mud on the quest to reach the sea.

Saturday came and between the heavy showers (which we mostly left behind us in Bristol anyway) my friends and I were able to enjoy a lovely day at the seaside, complete with games on the pier, a breezy ferris wheel, sitings of donkey rides and the odd damp sandcastle. We sat and ate ice creams under ominous clouds and later enjoyed fish and chips in the warm evening sun.  It was the quintessential English day out where sunglasses and umbrellas held an equal status. True, the sea did lie miles away, accessible only over the perilous sinking mud. And it was certainly too cold to lounge on the sand. But it was very beautiful and I felt happy to be at the coast again. Here is an English seaside chronicle in pictures.

Welcome to Weston-Super-Mare | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The Ferris Wheel | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Shining | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Where's the horizon? | Photo: Rosie Pentreath 
The mud | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The Birds | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

The English seafront | Photo: Rosie Pentreath 
The pier | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

We lost ourselves in the maze of mirrors | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Cheap thrills | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Orange | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Carrousel | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Goes together like a horse and carriage | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

A-pound-a-ride | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

DANGER | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Young Galaxy: Ultramarine

Young Galaxy | Photo: promotional

"Meet me by the river, let’s go for a ride / with the windows down and the stereo loud"

I recently discovered the ultimate summer track – New Summer by Young Galaxy. It is brilliantly bright and sharp – to me, it sounds like a sunny day looks.  The song was a taste of their latest album, 'Ultramarine', which was released on 23rd April. 

The Montreal band stand out for their melodic synth-pop and uplifting electronic vibes. This album is breezy and light – just what is needed for passing happy days in June. Total Escapism. 

The album begins with momentum and on an emotional high with Pretty Boy, a tribute to the young love and commitment to art shared by Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe documented in Smith's lyrical autobiography Just Kids. Fall For You and New Summer match it for impact, the latter standing out with its sharp electronic riff in the intro. I like What We Want for its energetic feel and Sleepwalk With Me has the perfect sentiment to close a beautiful album like this.

If it’s summer-loving and endless days spent behind Wayfarers sitting on picnic blankets that you are in search of, listen to this album; it will take you some of the way there.

Visit: younggalaxy.com

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Playlist: Wild Belle

Has anybody noticed how beautifully, wonderfully sunny it has been outside today? (Of course you all have..). In honour of the current rays gracing us with their bright presence, I have been listening to 'Isles', the summery debut from Wild Belle.

Theirs is a fresh and original sound. Despite coming straight out of Chicago, it comes out a bit like Oh Land on reggae, thanks to the voice of lead singer Natalie Bergman. She is joined in the band by her brother Elliot, who adds his own soft vocals (in the track When It's Over) and occasional growly tenor sax riffs. With the fluid reggae vibe these sax riffs evoke The Specials and Madness even (listen to It's Too Late). This is sunny-festival-style slow motion skanking music – a very happy listen.

Keep You is brilliant. As is the moving June and (my personal favourite) Twisted, for great lyrics and wonderfully flippant rhythms. Listen and watch below.

Natalie Bergman, Wild Belle | Photo: Caleb Condit

Wild Belle | Photo: Jennifer Tzar

Visit: wildbelle.com

Monday, 22 April 2013

Film: De Jueves a Domingo (Thursday Till Sunday)

Although you will hear music providing a soundtrack in the trailer (below), there is no music at all throughout this entire feature. To me, that was the most strikingly bold thing about De Jueves a Domingo (Thursday Till Sunday), which I watched last Sunday at Watershed.

This incredibly moving and stunningly atmospheric picture is less about the narrative progression than it is about feeling it all – visceral textures and scenes that are vivid enough to taste. The stark desert-scapes of Chile dried the air of the auditorium and the fracturing relationships between adult characters made the space almost restrictively tense (but in the best way).

The relationship between those adult characters is viewed through the prism of the experiences of the children in the film – the girl, old enough to start picking up on the loss-of-love between her parents, and the boy, blissfully unaware in his seven years. 

But as the loneliness of the landscape steadily engulfs the viewer, the psychological plains can only be guessed at. Inferred. But probably accurately interpreted. It's an extremely powerful watch and I recommend it to any fan of the art house film. Stunning.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Interview: Sacha Waldron, Curator

After attending a talk at Arnolfini on the work of Don Celender and the importance of artist's books in the dissemination of works, I caught up with the curator of Surveyed Sacha Waldron. We discussed Celender, psychology and reading between the lines...

So, how did you discover the work of Don Celender?

I was on a curatorial placement here [at Arnolfini] for two years, from 2010 to 12, and one of the exhibitions that was just finishing when I arrived was The Cover Of A Book Is The Beginning of A Journey – an exhibition that had lots of things from the Arnolfini artist's book collection. It was all about books that had some sort of action or promotion of activity as an impetus. Two of the books were Don Celender’s books. Whilst I was re-cataloguing them we were quiet [at the gallery] so I could take some time to have a look through everything. I just came across those two projects and I remember asking if there were any more, and it turned there were.

And what is it that you particularly like about his work?

It was an instant thing; I just really really liked his work. There was a survey called ‘Destiny of a Name’ where he asked people with names that matched their profession – for example Mr Fish who was a fishmonger – if their choice of career had anything to do with the name they were born with. And the replies were so varied. Some people were like “no, of course not – you stupid idiot!” whereas others described how they chose their career, which was really interesting. And some people looked on it as an opportunity to really think about the question and decisions they had taken in life. It’s just the sheer variety of responses. And often what is most interesting is what is not said; the spaces in between. There are so many clues! Also the fact that it was so different to the art I had come across in my experience studying art history – a lot of the conceptual art from the 70s was very dry and political with little or no colour, and no sense of humour – and I really like Don’s sense of humour. I think it was one of the reasons he was ignored by the establishment or books about the conceptual art movement at that time. I think the fact that it was so hard to find information on him was what spurred me on to keep discovering more. 

What were Celender’s main objectives with the surveys?

I think there were no clear objectives to his projects. Apart things like from ‘What The Critics Said’, which is a collection of quotes. In general he just wanted to see what happened if he asked those questions. There was no expected outcome other than communication. 

From looking at the work, he seems really confident and we have already talked about how humourous Don was. How far do you think his choice of questions and the presentation of the survey’s themselves reveal the artist’s personality? 

I think they are really reflective of his own personality, and also of his personal experiences. I mean, he was showing in 1970s New York at a time when all the big art stars were coming to the fore – like Andy Warhol and his Factory – and there was an obsession with celebrity culture, so that had an impact. Also, there are autobiographical elements, for example, in the Military Officer’s survey. Don was actually in the military himself and ended up as the squad’s artist to get out of doing training because he hated the army. He started thinking a about the kind of art that was put in those institutions because of his own experience. 

How was he received by his contemporaries and the industry as a whole? He isn’t so well known today...

He did show very regularly and in New York during the 70s and 80s he would have definitely been known. He was written about. And he had 35 shows every year at his gallery OK Harris. He wrote to many artists and celebrities for the surveys, and we can see from the number of responses, that people were very aware of his work. It was just that he was never featured in any major shows along with well-known artists of that period.

Are there any artists working today who you would identify as working in the Celender legacy?

There is somebody at the moment who's actually got books on show at Arnolfini – Michael Crowe who I mentioned in the talk. I came across his book because he had reprinted sections of one of Don Celender's works. Like Celender he uses correspondence and potentials from alternative sources to create art. For example, in this book he uses Ed Ruscha's 'The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire' [see image below] and starts a correspondence with the museum asking them 'if the fire actually happened as shown in the painting, which paintings would have been lost in the fire?'. He's using a hypothetical scenario invented by another artist as the impetus. And I think that that approach is certainly in the legacy of Don Celender.

And finally – whilst I was looking around the exhibition I found myself wondering what challenges you as curator faced in presenting Celender’s work. In terms of filling a space it strays from displaying more conventional forms such as canvasses or sculptures because of its basis in written communication.

The work actually going in the space was fairly straight forward. It was getting hold of the surveys that was difficult and also the practical considerations like making copies to back the whole thing up, and considering the difference between American and British paper sizes with the affect that has on the presentation. You have to go through a lot of practical things! I wanted the copies displayed to be as close to the originals as possible. I also had consider that the space in the gallery is very white and how it would work on a visual level. And it was, of course, important to consider how much reading I was demanding from the viewer. I have to expect some parts to be skimmed over and wanted to make it so that the surveys could still stand as whole representations when dipped in and out of. I wanted to show a lot more, but for a visitor it would be too much to take in.


Surveyed, the two-part exhibition of the work of Don Celender is showing at Arnolfini, Bristol on 20th-28th April and at Crate, Margate from 15th June to 15th July.

Arnolfini, Bristol | Photo: 101Prints

The Los Angeles County Museum On Fire, oil on canvas  | Ed Ruscha, 1965-68

Don Celender | Photo: press/Arnolfini

Arnolfini March – May Brochure

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Art: Don Celender Surveyed, Arnolfini

Don Celender | Photo: press/Arnolfini

Whilst the sun was shining down on Bristol's harbourside this afternoon I headed to Arnolfini for Surveyed, an exhibition of the works of conceptual artist Don Celender. Curated expertly by Sacha Waldron, it is a concise presentation of the surveys Celender conducted in the name of art. Producing thought-provoking and eccentrically abstract requests in mass-mailed surveys, Celender made studies of every day life, personalities and motivations.

As I took in the words from the white walls I was struck by the confidence and humour in Celender's approach. Many of the questions were fairly simple – from tombstone epitaphs, to dining with deceased artists – but what emerged from the variety in the answers was the artform's incredible ability to reveal so much of a persons character (both from what the say and from what they leave unsaid). 

Art Movements (1969-70) was Celender's first mail survey project and with it he aimed to 'make a CEO or a fireman into an instant artist'. By sending heads of industry, social organisations and businesses abstract tasks for which he demanded a solution he revealed a huge variety of responses. CEO's of oil companies treated his suggestions of replacing whole piping systems with new materials with the words 'juvenile' and 'pathetic'; artists performed their prescribed tasks 'mentally' for Celender; modern art museums agreed to have the Statue of Liberty relocated to their premises. Responses were anything from bullet-pointed to poetic, and when collected into a body of work are a rare and beautiful art.

My favourite part of the exhibition was Celender's 1990 project What Critics Said, a revealing and somewhat omniscient collection of quotes on new developments in art taken from contemporaneous reviews. What Celender shows us is amusing and rather prophetic.

Don Celender realised the potential of informal mass communication and retaining humour in art, and Surveyed is a perfect reflection of the power of the written word to convey infinite worlds.

Don Celender | Photo: press/Arnolfini

Affluent Art Survey, 1971 | Photo: press/Arnolfini

Surveyed is being shown at Arnolfini, Bristol until Sunday 28th April.

Visit: www.arnolfini.org.uk

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Knife: Shaking The Habitual

The Knife's brand new album Shaking The Habitual is a welcome edition to my electronic listening (I featured The Knife on my playlist in December). It is the duo's first studio album since Silent Shout was released in 2006 and moves in a distinctly new direction. The album contains earthy textures; tribal elements, even, with rustic drum sounds and repetitive chant-like phrases. It's motive is LUST.

The first track, A Tooth For An Eye, opens with a light and sparsely-produced samba-esque beat, above which the familier voice of Karin soon enters. The bass builds and a characteristically catchy electronic riff stabilises the song.  Full Of Fire stands out for its central passage that contains a frenzy of beats encasing trapped voices and (what sounds like) other-worldy sounds. One of my favourites from the album is Without You My Life Would Be Boring: the use of rough wooden flute sounds (including with overblown air sounds and flutter tonguing) keeps it appropriately eccentric. And Wrap Your Arms Around Me is intensely and powerfully passionate.

Many of the tracks are nearly ten minutes in length (with the longest being just over nineteen minutes long) and the album in its entirety is a masterpiece. With it the duo have gone into unchartered territory, and are being much more experimental than with the previous records. It is certainly radical. It taps into an avant garde use of sound and a trust in stillness that is rare in electronic music.

According to the artist's themselves, they have taken much of their inspiration from 1970s protest songs and with the album are asking 'what can a protest song be today?'. And like in any genre the right side of 'cool' the album is available in all formats, including 12" LP.

Photo: promotional/Bang On PR

Photo: promotional/Bang On PR

Take some time out to watch the video. With attention to small details, it is brilliant cinematic art.

The Knife on SOUNDCLOUD.

Visit: theknife.net

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Playlist: Taylor Swift

Ok – readers of this blog will know that I don’t usually feature mainstream (country) pop princesses on my playlist. But I have relished hearing the odd track from Taylor Swift’s album Red of late. She is, after all, the Queen-and-unchallenged-champion of ‘The Break Up Song’. And I enjoyed meeting her in the 'Outspoken' Summer '13 issue of Wonderland Magazine. To me, she is totally fun and integral to any eclectic playlist, however cool you wish to stay. And her catchy riffs and punchy lyrics are just right to accompany the summer rolling in.

'We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time / It’s miserable and magical, oh, yeah.'

The brilliantly contradictory lyrics for 22, the latest single from Red, resonate particularly strongly right now, having turned 22 very recently and (let’s face it) probably feeling that inconsistent mix of ‘happy, free, confused and lonely’. But definitely having fun. Aren’t we all?

Wonderland: The Outspoken Issue – April/May 2013 | Photo: Wonderland