30 April 2010

Atomic Bohm

Earlier today, I managed to swing by Manchester Art Gallery for a wander around their latest exhibition, A World Observed 1940-2010: Photographs by Dorothy Bohm.

Admittedly, it took me a while to get down there. This, in fact, was my third attempt. I went to the preview last week, but I didn't get to pre-view a lot due to the distraction of free Peroni and some rather in-depth discussions about the architectural practicalities of the glass structure linking the old art gallery building to its modern sister. (I noticed some shattered high-up panes today, actually.) Next, I promised to go on the show's first day open to the public, then found myself sidetracked by a nice new pair of pumps.

Anyway, better late than never, I say, and I'm actually glad I went under my own steam. Less crowds harping on about depth of field (I imagine), plus it's big. HUGE! There's so much to see, it's almost overwhelming. I'm so pleased it's running until 30 August as it gives me plenty of time to revisit and perhaps concentrate on the bits I liked best, namely the street photography Bohm took up in the late 1950s, firstly on black and white film and later using Kodak colour. While I agree with Bohm's own assertion that she prefers B&W because of "the abstraction of tones", her early Kodak prints prove that saturated colour holds its own subtleties.

Various themes run through the show (curated, incidentally, by Dorothy's daughter, Monica Bohm-Duchen), with definite categorisation: from the lovely "human interest" shots (mostly unposed, in direct contrast to Bohm's original portraiture business on Market Street; more about that on the Dorothy Bohm in Manchester blog) to the rather less intriguing still lives and snaps of billboard models. The final section is a study of modern-day Manchester, but I think it might well be the collection of reflections, shadow play and trompe l'oeil murals that I give more attention to on my next visit.

Image: St-Jean-de-Luz, France, by Dorothy Bohm © Dorothy Bohm Archive

27 April 2010

Waltzing Tilda

Last week, I went to the flicks to see Italian offering I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton. I noticed in the bookshop while I was waiting for the screening to start that she was gracing the front of various May magazines, including two separate (and very disparate) covers for Dazed & Confused. And I can't recommend the film highly enough, with its glamorous Milan setting, 1950s/60s-style panning shots, and obsessive almost to the point of hilarious sexual focus on food and nature. It did, however, have a fine ability to make me sob uncontrollably while trying to cycle home, and, despite the low probability of being spotted in a state of disarray (it was fairly early on a Sunday), I was unfortunate enough to find myself bumbling past a colleague and then bumping into a friend. Oh well.

I like Tilda Swinton; she seems to pick some great movies to be in. The last thing I saw was Jim Jarmusch's weird but wonderful The Limits Of Control, and she's great in The Beach (on telly this week, I believe), Thumbsucker and as the ice queen White Witch in The Chronicles Of Narnia. I'm a wee bit behind and have only just got Burn After Reading on DVD, so don't go spoiling it for me now.

Tilda also has to be commended for her brilliant schemes at bringing first-class film to rural remote Scotland, where she lives. In 2008, she collaborated with director Mark Cousins on The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema Of Dreams, a cheap-seats cinema brought back to life for a couple of weeks. In 2009, the pair hauled a mobile movie house, the Screen Machine, around the Highlands for A Pilgrimage film festival. Gives "road movie" a new slant, eh?

"It [is] a genuine experiment," said Swinton, in The Guardian. "I thought – you know what, we don't know what we're doing. We mightn't be able to move this an inch, and when we did, I couldn't be more amazed. What's it going to be next year? Airborne or in freefall?"
Cannae wait!

21 April 2010

Neuromantic gesture

Last night I popped along to the monthly Sci-fi Book Club at Manchester's Madlab. Under the microscope was William Gibson's first novel, Neuromancer, heralded as being the most famous early "cyperpunk" works. Everyone had been really excited about reading this one, but I have to admit that it eventually mainly left me cold, with too many significant moments that were tricky to follow, didn't tie up properly or were plain discarded almost as soon as they had been typed. Some became clearer after returning to sections and going through them again and others made a bit more sense after reading round the subject (which I did once I'd finished the book, so as not to spoil the fun); it could be that it was the language that I found confusing rather than the concepts.

Neuromancer isn't all bad, and has more than a few nods to Philip K Dick, who I like. Here are some: 1). The controlling AI Wintermute takes its name from Dick's novel VALIS. 2). The opening sequences in the future noir underworld of Chiba City, Japan, have resonance with Deckard's dystopian dirty downtown LA in Bladerunner, which we all know is adapted from Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 3). The Panther Moderns' hi-tech camouflage suits are similar to the scramble suit in Dick's A Scanner Darkly, as is the paranoia, and the drug addiction, plus...

Next up for the reading group is Ursula K Le Guin's The Left Hand Of Darkness , apparently one of the first works of feminist science fiction. (The next meeting is on Tuesday 18 May at 7pm.)

We've also decided on the second batch of books for the reading list; Term 2, if you like. There will be more about this in my upcoming guest blog spot on The Manchester Lit List, which I'll crack on with now if you'll just give me half a chance.

ADDENDUM 28/04/10: I'm busily squirrelling away at the aforementioned Lit List piece and have been having a shufty round t'internet, where I found fellow Madlabber Dave Hartley's new post on the last meet.

18 April 2010

War and pieces

I swung by the private view of the new Contemporary Art Iraq exhibition on Thursday evening not really knowing what to expect. Sometimes I like to do that: bob along to see something I know nothing about in advance, just so I don't have any preconceptions. The last thing I expected was to be met by the smell of incense as I climbed the steep Cornerhouse stairs; the next last thing I expected was that the Iraqi government would start following me on Twitter after I mentioned the preview in passing. (They've since stopped following me, for which I'm quite relieved.)

The blurb informs me that this is "the first comprehensive UK exhibition of new and recent contemporary art from Iraq since the first Gulf War" and features 19 Iraq-based artists. The galleries are categorised into "Of Time And Tradition", "The Changing City" and "Protest", and the works range from soundscape and video through scuplture and installation to painting and photography.

It was the photographic work that struck me the most. In Gallery 1, Bhrhm Taib H Ameen's highly saturated but almost soft focus full-length portraits of the same man adopting various positions while wearing different ethnic dress highlight the various cultures attempting to live side by side in the fragmented country.

In Gallery 2, I very much enjoyed Qalat by Bitwen Ali Hamad, which documents a man as he traverses a town with a leaking bucket, watched with curiosity by children, soldiers and other people just wandering down the street behind him. It reminded me of the Rosemarie Castoro work at the Whitworth's Subversive Spaces show last year and the first frame is really powerful, overexposed and distorting in the heat and bright light so the man with the bucket is like an alien silhouette.

On the top floor, in Gallery 3, Jamal Penjweny has captured people of all ages and backgrounds mid-jump, in a series called Iraq Is Flying (pictured). Everyone looks happy and carefree, perhaps not jumping for joy, but at least rising above the difficulties of life in modern-day Iraq.

16 April 2010

20th-century pin-up stars

Last night was jampacked with exhibition previews and launch parties, but one not mentioned by our eye on the art scene Creative Tourist was the Polish Film Poster show, part of this year's Kinofilm. The festival of short European films has been on hiatus for a couple of years, but it's back and officially launches next week, so more on the movie side of things here then.

Kinofilm 11 teams up with Polska! Year for a special focus on new Polish cinema, which is where this poster art exhibition comes in. Running from today until 16 May (Wed-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm) in Manchester's favourite underachiever The Triangle, the free show gives a rare insight into the unique characteristics of Polish poster art in the second half of the 20th century.

Featuring films by directors as diverse as Jim Jarmusch, Roman Polanski, Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese, the works vary immensely, but common themes are that they are all highly stylised and hand drawn rather than photographic or computerised, and each is very much of its time. The collection, largely owned by Kinofilm director John Wojowski, spans five decades from the 50s, and is an informative introduction to the Cold War era Polish Poster School.

14 April 2010

A moment of friction

(See what I just did there? The addition of one small letter from the last post I wrote. Cunning.)

That last post of which I speak was all about literary zines and groups who accept contributions. This one is about a "collaborative storytelling venture" of the graphic variety, Fractal Friction. I'll keep it brief, so you can go off and check it out for yourselves. FF currently has a merry band of six artists on board and each week publishes a page to a "comic book" artworked by one of the six. This week will see page 17 uploaded, so you can safely assume that the project has been running for 17 weeks. Anyway, submissions are invited - "we want to open it up to others, and there will be guest slots available", says the blog - just bung them an email to fractal.friction@googlemail.com if you're up for the challenge.

The page here (quite Howl's Moving Castle, I don't mind saying) is by Conor Boyle, through whom I found out about this Staedtler pen foray. Conor once had the loathsome task of being my next-door neighbour, adept at being polite at my pathetic attempts to see straight enough to manoeuvre a PlayStation handset. Poor Conor was also the mild-mannered janitor to a stinking fat cat and the lucky recipient of my prized pianoforte, which took a whole half a day and four grown people to push across the hall from one flat to the other. Mr B has quite a penchant for les bandes desinees, so if you check out his blogging profile at Pencilmonkeymagic, you'll find a ripe collection of links to other illustrators of both similar and also rather different works.

13 April 2010

A moment of fiction

Manchester really is a hotbed of literary musings at the moment, so I thought I'd do a quick round-up of what I have gleaned lately on the zine/chapbook/workshop front. This is by no means comprehensive, just a little wee listy I've been keeping for the very purpose of sharing it with you good people, whether you want to try and get in print yourselves or just fancy something to read on the bus. If you are privy to any other groups and publications encouraging the advancement of putting pen to paper, do let me know and I can do an update in weeks to come.

First off, The Knives Forks And Spoons Press (sans punctuation, which I'll allow as I can only assume that they're being ironic or referencing iambic pentameters or some such) are tomorrow gathering at the Crescent pub in Salford from 7pm for a book launch and readings by the likes of Matt Dalby and Alec Newman. Recent imprints include Michael Blackburn's Big On The Hawkesbury, Ryan Ormonde's Y Chromosomes and my blogging pal Adrian Slatcher's Extracts From Levona. You can also follow the poetry publishers on Facebook, which makes them quite modern.

Adrian Slatcher also pops up as the current contributor to the fabulous Rainy City Stories, which, via the magic of Google Maps, sticks a virtual pin in a place and links to a poem or story set there. Adrian's work is called The Ikea In Ashton Can Be Seen From Space; I have a piece on there called Hawthorn Lane. Rainy City Stories is affiliated with the annual Manchester Literature Festival and, as the brainchild of local social media maestro Kate "Manchizzle" Feld, not surprisingly it will keep you up to date with new postings via Facebook and Twitter (@rainycity).

Very timely for this Manchester literature compilation is the appearance last week of issue 8 - a public transport special - of lit zine The Shrieking Violet. As well as publishing a paper version (which you can pick up in Good Grief! - worth a trip anyway for all your comic and graphic needs - plus Cornerhouse, Nexus Art Cafe, Piccadilly Records, Oklahoma and the Craft & Design Centre), the Violets can be found beavering away at their blog and on Facebook.

If you fancy practising your black arts as part of a group, writing, reading and chatting about your work, Bad Language are a friendly-sounding bunch organised by Dan Carpenter (dan@badlanguagemcr.co.uk) and meeting the third Tuesday of the month at Nexus Art Cafe on Dale Street. While you wait for the flash new website to get properly up and running, keep up to speed with what's going on via the blog or Twitter (@BadLanguageMcr). Submissions for their first anthology closed last week, so expect a fab new pamphlet (with the Northern Quarter as its theme) soon; but for future reference email prose of 200 words max and poems of 40 lines max to submissions@badlanguagemcr.co.uk

Another imminent publication is the new Puppywolf collection of "the best of the Manchester poetry scene", which is due out in June. Keep up to date with various spoken word events around town via their website diary and Facebook page.

Quarterly poetry and prose publication Bewilderbliss (available in Cornerhouse and Blackwells on Oxford Road) is currently accepting submissions on the theme of revolution for issue 4. The deadline for stories of up to 2,500 words or up to three poems is 21 May - email bewilderbliss@hotmail.com, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter (@Bewilderbliss).

The Blank Media Collective (whose Neck Of The Woods show just finished at Nexus) produce a monthly online magazine called blankpages and are looking for contributors. Stories should be between 1,500 and 2,500 words, flash fiction or short shorts 100-500 words and poems 60 lines or less - check out the website for full submission guidelines and uploading possibilities or email editor@blankmediacollective.org, addressing it to either Phil Craggs, Fiction Editor, or Baiba Auria, Poetry Editor. They're also on Facebook and Twitter (@BlankMedia).

Their blog hasn't been updated for a while, but I hear that Unsung are still squirrelling away at their free Manchester-based monthly literature magazine that promotes "unsung, underrated, underground, unheard voices... prose, poetry, essays, pretty much anything", so email them via unsung.manchester@gmail.com or get in touch through their Facebook page to see what's going down.

More lit zines desirous of readers and writers in the rainy city are Geeek (also on Facebook and Twitter @geeekmagazine), Transmission and Belle Vue. This latter has no online presence at all from what I can tell, but there were copies on sale in Cornerhouse bookshop when I popped in last week. I hear it's also available in Piccadilly Records and The Britons Protection.

Britons has also been known to hold Succour Salons, a reading event by the journal of new fiction, poetry and art. According to their website, Succour has been described by Time Out as “a Granta for the Facebook generation”. Lucky they're also on Facebook, then. Issue 11, the Spring/Summer 2010 edition will be available to buy at Cornerhouse next month for the princely sum of £5.95 or thereabouts, and will be entitled February 6th, 2010 as all content was created on that day. As you may have guessed, the deadline for that particular issue has been and gone, but email Max Dunbar, the Regional Editor Manchester, with your begging letters in future: maxdunbar@succour.org.

Not really Manchester based, but run by a group of individuals scattered up and down this island nation, Open Wide Magazine is currently seeking submissions of fiction, poetry and also reviews for issue 23 - the deadline is 1 June, so email connect@openwidemagazine.co.uk or lay in a search for Open Wide Magazine on Facebook.

Last but not least is The Manchester Review, which publishes new and unpublished fiction, although their inclusions do seem to be signed writers largely linked to the Centre For New Writing at Manchester Uni (where the team is based), and have in past issues included the likes of Martin Amis, MJ Hyland, Chris Killen, Jenn Ashworth and Nicholas Royle. Still, if you think you're in with a chance, the next issue is out in October so email simon.richardson@manchester.ac.uk pronto. If, like me, you'd prefer to just sit quietly and watch, follow the account @mancreview on Twitter.

06 April 2010

Exchanging glances

If you have never before wandered the ringing marbled halls of Manchester's Royal Exchange theatre, it is worth going merely to peruse the building. Watching a play here is even better: until 8 May, I can recommend The Comedy Of Errors by some bloke called William Shakespeare. The usual high standard of costumes and props (although the Perspex box is still perplexing me) is combined with some fantastic acting; so much so the olde worlde language and those darn rhyming couplets really don't detract after the first scene is out of the way.

But back to the structure, which has a fascinating past. Starting life as a bustling commodities exchange at the height of Manchester's industrial prowess, the Levitt Bernstein-designed seven-sided in-the-round internal auditorium you see today was completed in 1976, after the shell had lain empty between 1968 and 1973, when a bunch of thespians took up residence. At this juncture I'd very much like to utter the word "juxtaposition", but I'm guilty of using it too much, so I'll let this picture do the talking.

My dad tells me he saw old happy-clappy campaign singer'n'banjo player Pete Seeger in concert here back in the day; I can't stand Little Boxes, it affected me deeply as a child, but his final gig was apparently played with Arlo Guthrie, who I love (I was introduced to him by a Frenchman with a glass eye via The Story of Reuben Clamzo & His Strange Daughter in the Key of A, and I absolutely dig the ditty Alice's Restaurant Massacree), so I guess I have to let him off.

Anyway, that's by the by, and I don't even know if my dad is remembering the right place as I can't find no reference to it on the interweb and he's [whisper] getting on a bit, y'know? (You sure it weren't the Free Trade Hall there now, Paw?) Back to the building, and I learnt recently, while researching a bit of work I did for an upcoming online tourist attraction, that it took a direct hit in the Blitz, with further damage being inflicted when the IRA bomb thankfully took the hideous whirlwind that was Shambles Square out of our lives forever in 1996. Following renovation to the beautiful glass and ironwork dome (one of a few round these parts), which actually moved as well as shattered, the theatre flung open its doors once again in 1998. Phew!

Wall-to-wall hotties

Thinking I was running out of time, I finally got round to seeing Walls Are Talking at the Whitworth Art Gallery - but, happily, it seems to have been extended to the end of August, allowing me the chance to make a return visit if I so desire. It may be necessary - there are various parts to the show, exploring topics varying from imprisonment to sexuality, with some overspilling the usual temporary rooms, and I'm not sure I absorbed them all fully first time round.

The Whitworth is the ideal place for such a project. The university-affiliated institution has an international reputation for its large collection of decorative arts, including wallcoverings and textiles, and this temporary exhibition gives it a chance to show some of these off while also borrowing a selection (thanks, partly, to the V&A in that there London) and commissioning a few more.

There's a diverse range of works, including pieces by artists such as Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst and patterns by designers such as William Morris and Timorous Beasties (who have been mentioned before on this fair site, and whose London Toile, pictured, I subsequently noticed adorning the peeling walls of The Deaf Institute, where I went for a post-art lunch). I was particularly taken by a monochrome strip of repeating pairs of eyes (rolls for sale in the shop for £29), Thomas Demand's Ivy wallpaper (now dramatically choking the entire South Gallery) and David Shrigley's Industrial Estate, with its modern architecture critique (the juxtaposition of the identical buildings but differently labelled warehouse and whorehouse made me laugh).

Our relationship with wallpaper has often been uneasy; it has always been ambiguous. By the late 20th Century, wallpaper had become a bit of a joke in artistic circles, a cliche with connotations of kitsch. But during the last 20 years, artists exploring themes of home, memory and identity have created installations with backdrops of specially designed wallpaper.
This introduction at the entrance held sway with me and made me think of my new friend David Wightman's Behemoth series at the Cornerhouse back in November. I'm going to tell him to come to this; I think he'll like it.

01 April 2010


Last night, I went to my first ever Blogmeet. It was organised by the unstoppable Kate Feld, held in the all-new Kestrel Suite of (A Place Called) Common and sponsored by Skiddle, whoever the hell they may be (although the free drinks were welcome, so we thank you). I had absolutely no idea what to expect in terms of how proceedings would pan out, but it was a bit like a coffee morning only in the evening and with more booze and less structure. That's no bad thing, although I felt something of a spare part until everyone started getting into the swing of things. Maybe that's why our hostess-with-the-mostest entices organisations in to pick up the bar tab in exchange for a quick plug. Damn fine idea.

Anyhooo, now I know what the score is, I might be more inclined to put my mingling head on next time. Still, I didn't do too bad and met quite a few new folks. I'm now happy to know who the fudge the not-so-cynical Ben is, rubbed shoulders with proper published author Elizabeth 'Fiction Bitch' Baines, provided paper and pen (I am pretty old-fashioned and still carry such tools with me) to the boys from Now Then Manc and had a chortle with Fat Roland (who, I notice, forgot me in his round-up of the great and the gathered - can I ever forgive him?). I also gladly caught up with Parklover, who I haven't seen in a while, and had a good chat with Totmac about his new blogging project, on which you can expect more here shortly. I got an update on the soon-to-be-launched Inside The M60, shared a quick hello with the newly-defunct-but-pondering-rebooting My Shitty 20s and sniffed Technical Fault's cider (no, that's not a euphemism). I was sad to miss a few people who'd said they were/might be going but then didn't, and I was sorry not to check in with some Twitter friends who I didn't talk to because I don't know what they look like in Real Life. Oh well, next meet-up!