Gaia not big on hoovering

Or at least that was Aristotle’s view, more normally phrased as “nature abhors a vacuum”.  This post was commissioned by readers of GofaDM, or at least one of them suggested the topic to me – so, in this case, the buck doesn’t even slow down here!

The Hayward Gallery at London’s Southbank Centre is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Invisible: Art about the unseen 1957-2012.  This exhibition has generated plenty of controversy with such delights as plinths without sculpture and empty picture frames on offer to the attendee.  I believe this helps the viewer to use their imagination as they engage with the art.  Disappointingly, I have seen no mention of a textile exhibit – even in a purely republican context.

I had thought of presenting an entirely empty blog post as my response, but decided that this was rather a cheap joke (not that this fact would usually stop me) and could be confusing as it would not be clear to what the absence of words referred (or didn’t refer).

The art cognoscenti who have been to the exhibition have given very positive reviews, or so it seems from a cursory skimming of the internet.  My own review will be written having not seen the exhibition, and so for me the art is truly unseen (though will only cover the period 1966 to 2012 as I feel ill-qualified to review items I haven’t seen by dint of my non-existence) which seems to be in the spirit of the endeavour.

It strikes me that the very presence of frames and plinths will tend to confine the invisible art and constrain the imagination of the viewer – and it places an imposed curatorial structure on any encounter.  I’m also concerned about the cultural baggage that the extensive use of the colour white brings – when the art is invisible, the risk is that the walls, floor and ceiling will dominate the experience and I am not convinced that white is sufficiently self-effacing or neutral a colour.  It surely cannot be right that the pure white emulsion generates a greater emotional (emulsional?) response than the unseen art itself?  I find myself wondering: what is the colour of the void?  I presume if there is nothing there, then there can be no photons and so it must be black (or at least perceived as such by our feeble senses) – though this does run into trouble if one considers the quantum foam with the instantaneous creation and annihilation of particles (and anti-particles) that perturb even the best kept vacuum (a phrase which suggests, to me at least, a new source of competition between British villages).

Even the building housing the exhibition is an issue, its form will impose itself unwanted into the viewer’s consciousness.  No, the only venue suitable would be the depths of interstellar space – preferably surrounded by an opaque and unreflective dust cloud – where the viewer can experience the art unaffected by the petty irrelevances of quotidian reality.  I realise this will be hard to achieve with our current technology – unless some invisible art hitched a ride on the Voyager probes – but it is worth the wait.  The delay will also enable the works from the 20th and early 21st century to be viewed as part of a broader cultural perspective of the art of the invisible.

Now I come to write this, I am forced to wonder whether dark matter is not made of WIMPs or MACHOs as so often supposed.  Maybe the universe is actually gravitationally bound together by the invisible art of much older civilisations being displayed to its best effect?  Perhaps by encasing our modest output in planet-bound concrete we are denying future galaxies the chance of life and are accelerating the much anticipated heat death of the universe.  Not something I’d want on my conscience…

The Art of Review

It seems increasingly difficult to carry out any sort of transaction on-line without then being asked to proffer a review.  I am now expected to review at least one of the product or service, its delivery or the website itself.  Recently my energy supplier (gas and electric, rather than carbohydrates) asked me to review a recent telephone conversation – sadly, I couldn’t even remember the conversation (obviously I made a bigger impression on them than vice versa – perhaps my dream of celebrity is being realised).

As regular readers will be aware, this blog does make somewhat desultory attempts to review the arts.  I would be the first to admit that this is probably not one of my strengths but practise, as they say, makes perfect – though I would note that they don’t say how long you may have to wait.  Still, patience is supposed to be a virtue (as well as a G&S Operetta and a card game for one) so that would seem to suggest a win-win. Nevertheless, I am always on the look-out for ways to improve my reviewing…

Prior to going to the flicks this afternoon, I popped into the Central library in search of new reading matter.  In this endeavour I was successful, but as I strolled through the Quick Picks section my eye was drawn to one of the offerings displayed therein.  I seem to recall it was entitled Nudge, though whether the meat of the book went on to discuss fruit machines or winks I am uncertain (I suppose nudge may occur in other contexts – but none spring to mind).   Talking of winks, and my frequent battles with insomnia, I wonder if 40 nudges before bedtime would act as a suitable soporific?  Still, let us leave that brief excursus and return to our theme.  On its cover, this tome boasted brief extracts from two reviews – or perhaps the full extent of two very brief reviews.  One of these reviews I have consigned to the Lethe, but the other I can recall: it was from The Guardian and simply said “hugely influential”.  I think we, the viewers of the book cover, were supposed to take this as a recommendation and rush to purchase (or in my case, borrow) the book there and then.  However, it struck me that this word-pairing does not in fact form a recommendation – it is merely a statement about the impact of the book on some wider sphere.  I am sure The Guardian would be forced to admit that Adolf Hitler and the Black Death were both “hugely influential” – though I doubt it would recommend either.  A book may be complete bobbins and yet still have substantial influence.

I think there may be two lessons to be learned here:  (i) be very careful what you write in a review as a brief extract can lead people to infer almost anything, and (ii) with clever use of words you can build a review from apparently wholly positive sentiments, whilst never actually approving of or recommending the object of your regard.  (Yes, I was a sore loss to the Jesuits.)

You will, no doubt, expect me to apply this new learning to an evaluation of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”.  I fear that I will disappoint – though I can say that after the first 15 minutes, I did finally stop being reminded of “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” (which says more about me than it does about the film).  OK, I’ll admit that the film is very good – though not a date movie or for those either of a nervous disposition or in search of a bright colour palette – and does provide an opportunity to see much of the UK’s finest acting talent in one place (the 1970s).

Unanswered Ad Questions: One

As I cycle about my business, I often pass (and am in turn passed by) buses – sometimes as many as 5 times by the same bus as I trundle along the Hills Road.  For some reason, today I found that a couple of the advertisements, that adorn the sides of these monarchs of the road, raised questions that they failed to answer.

One was drawing our attention to a film named “Paul” – I presume a biopic about the French boulanger whose outlets now garnish some of our larger rail termini.  The main “pull” for this flick is the fact that it shared producers with the earlier comic masterwork “Hot Fuzz”.  Now, I am no Barry Norman as we have previously established, but I’m not sure why a shared production team would encourage me to haul myself to a cinema. I would certainly be willing to take a view on the script and acting of a previous movie, I might at a push admire the direction and editing and I could possibly even say something cogent about costume or props.  However, in my limited understanding of the movie business I thought that producer was basically a management role – and from seeing a film I have little idea how well managed it was as a project.  Was SSADM or PRINCE followed?  Did it come in on time and budget?  Equally, even if “Paul” was produced by a team with a history of using established project management systems and delivering to time and budget, I’m not sure that this acts as any sort of recommendation to me as fan of bread-maker themed cinema (though, if I were financing the movie I might well be reassured).  Surely, they could just have successfully used a strap-line like, “Catered by the same team that fed Pride and Prejudice” for all the clues that it would give as to the film’s desirability as a night out.

The other advertisement drew attention to a video game (I think it may have been what is known as a first person shooter – probably set in some sort of dystopian future as that is de rigeur for the genre, though I will admit such a game would be a little out of place in a utopian one) and the draw here was a summary of a review.  The review précis came in two parts – a numeric score and a compound adjective.  The score was a creditable 9 out of 10 which equated to the adjective “mind-blowing”.  This left me wondering what adjective would have been used had it scored the full 10 – how could blowing of the mind be bettered?  Or would we be looking to blow something better than a mere mind?  (It might help if I knew whether the reviewer was a dualist or not – dualism is very much a minority view among neuroscientists, but I have no idea how pervasive it is in the video game reviewing community).  Perhaps a standard scale could be published so that we know what adjective should be married to each score, otherwise confusion will surely reign.

Or is it just that I’m over-thinking these things?