Archive for the 'art' Category

First-Person Flaneur

November 1, 2015

 

(c) 2015 Laurence Lek

 

Bonus Levels is a series of beautifully realised recreations of London locations, re-imagined as Ballardian dreamscapes, elements of an impossible city. In After Us, creator Lawrence Lek describes his work as ‘architecture as site-specific simulation’, in which existing parts of the cityscape and its institutions are ‘reconfigured and subverted’ by some apocalyptic or economic shock. I think this can help us think about real-world urban change too. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

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In ‘Dalston, Mon Amour’, some familiar landmarks of the Kingsland Road – the Rio Cinema, Gillett Square and once on-trend Efes Bar are rendered empty and open to the elements after a biblical weather event. Terraformed by desert and water, Renais’ film plays in the background as the sky darkens.

 

(c) 2015 Laurence Lek

 

You can certainly treat this work as satirical – hipster touchstones crumbled into dust – and Lek is clear that this is part of the point. The use of video game aesthetics is also nice, although as Lek points out, ‘the player begins when the game is already over’: it’s first-person flaneur. The game framing also exacerbates the dreamlike quality of each episode – background sounds pan around, and there are sudden changes in perspective or time of day.

There’s also a deeper, uncanny power to it. Places we knew and hold dear, transformed into dreamspaces. As Adam points out, Vermilion Sands, The Sprawl or De Chirico are never far away. But also – for some viewers – their own memories are reconfigured. As Lek argues, the more time you spend in each episode, the more meaning your own mind layers over it.

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I experienced a real-world retelling of my own world a few months back, in farcical form, as a group of us were taken on a guided tour of ’Silicon Roundabout and Tech City’. The tour had felt like a good idea as part of a new paper we’ve been writing on the East London tech scene: in practice it involved much psychodrama.

As the tour went on, for example, I was alarmed to find that the guide’s spiel included numerous factoids taken from my own research, fed back in slightly distorted form. Even worse, as we left Old St roundabout we were taken to the Foundry, a now-deceased bar and venue my friends and I spent much time in during years gone by, and which was shut down amid much protest. The guide described it as an ‘important cultural institution throughout the 90s and some of the 00s’: opening up a chasm of lost time in the process. The site now houses the Hoxton Pastry Union, an almost comically resonant symbol of the changes the neighbourhood has since gone through.

Sharing this moment with friends afterwards, it became clear what a powerful charge it packed.

 

 

A more formal way to think about Lek’s project is a series of spatial imaginaries, Bob Jessop’s term for the mental maps we all use to get purchase on everyday life. More formally, Jessop means imaginaries to act as mapping systems or ‘fixes’ that allow agents to navigate otherwise impossibly complex late capitalism.

Imaginaries – like Silicon Roundabout / Tech City itself – are necessarily partial, pushing some elements to the fore and ignoring others. They are thus ripe for the kind of reconfiguring and questioning Lek engages in.

Part of the paper I’m working on looks at Here East, the vast Olympic Broadcast and Media Centre which is being rapidly transformed into a new, maker-focused neighbourhood. On a recent visit the site was still under construction, but we got a clear sense of the developers’ vision.

 

(c) 2015 Max Nathan

 

Notice how the rebrand involves both a new name, a new industrial niche, and a spatial repositioning of the site, away from Stratford and into Hackney, specifically the artist-centric milieu of Hackney Wick which sits just over the canal.

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I was happy to see that Bonus Levels has also engaged with this territory. ‘Delirious New Wick’ is a hysterical rebuild of E9 and the Olympic Park, in which the Games’ iconic structures float above the park and are accessed through teleporters. A gorgeous Burial soundtrack runs in the background as we float high above the city, before descending onto the ruins of the Westfield mall, now partially submerged in an Arthurian Lake. It is heady, brilliant stuff.

Minor fame

September 2, 2012

The Guardian‘s Weekend Magazine have chosen this photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge as one of their pictures of the week. Marvellous!

Sadly we didn’t get out of bed quick enough to buy the paper, but the moment lives forever on their website.

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The picture was originally used to illustrate ‘A Hidden Geography’, written in the Bay Area in late 2009.

The Terminal Beach

January 5, 2012

Orford Ness is one of the most extraordinary places in England. A spit of land on the Suffolk Coast near Aldeburgh, it was used as an experimental weapons testing site in both world wars and during the Cold War.

It’s now a National Trust nature reserve and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. However, it still holds traces of its mysterious former life.

Old military bunkers and pagoda-like blast chambers dot the landscape. From viewing towers, vast diagrams are visible on the ground, purpose unknown. Parts of the spit are still off-limits.

Reuben and I visited the site in October with our cameras. You can see some of the photographs on Flickr. The full set of pictures are in this lovely microsite.

Lie down and be counted

January 10, 2011

A new year’s present for you all. I’ve got a new (old) mix out on the Broken20 label, a spin-off from the all-conquering Numbers empire. The mix is part of Broken20’s series of podcasts (here’s the iTunes feed) which is well worth signing up to.

Click here to download the mix. Blurb and tracklisting below.

Thanks again to Broken20 and to Rauridh for putting this out.

Happy listening!

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I put this mix together in summer 2005. It was originally designed for playing on Sunday afternoons at the Foundry, East London, where slow sound system ran sporadic listening sessions from 2003 to 2009.

I took a fairly loose-limbed approach in assembling the thing. There’s a lot of the new weird america and free-folk / psyche stuff my friends and I were listening to at the time, alongside some field recordings, lo-fi stuff, electronics, outish rock, John Fahey and Can. Heroically, I included pretty much the full 18 minutes of ‘Augmn’ which seemed like a good idea at the time. You’ll have to judge for yourselves.

The mix was recorded on three portable cd players to minidisc. One take, no edits or post-production.

http://www.slowsoundsystem.net

Chris Watson – The Crossroads (Touch)
Growing – Primitive Associations / Great Mass Above (Kranky)
Rafael Toral – We Are Getting Closer (Touch)
Masaki Batoh – Benthos (Drag City)
Janek Schaeffer – Love Song (Room40)
Black Dice – Skeleton (Fat Cat)
Can – Augmn (Spoon / Mute)
Kammerflimmer Kollektief – Unstet (für Jeffrey Lee Pierce) (Staubgold)
Beta Band – The Monolith (Regal Recording)
Jackie-O-Motherfucker – Lost Stone (ATP / Ecstatic Peace)
John Fahey – Untitled With Rain (Revenant)
Saya, Takashi Ueno, Koji Shibuya & John Chantler – Mizumitaida (Fat Cat demo)
Motion – Dispersal Patterns (Motion)
Motion – Outlev (Motion)
So – j (Thrill Jockey)
Chris Watson – The Crossroads (reprise) (Touch)

Fortresses of Insanity

November 14, 2010

Der Spiegel, one of Germany’s biggest papers, has published some of my sea forts pictures, and run a fascinating backstory (in German) about life on board. Enough said. See it here.

You can also find out more about the forts, including how to visit, at the Project Redsand website.

The secret life of Shepperton

September 29, 2010

Some new art stuff.

First up, Mat and I have finally completed our photo essay on Shepperton, where JG Ballard spent most of his adult life. We’ve combined our pictures with text from Ballard’s own novels, autobiography, interviews and other text about the town and its history. In the process we’ve shamelessly taken inspiration from Patrick Keiller, Chris Marker, Iain Sinclair and many others. We hope they, and you, like it.

A shorter version of the essay appeared in Shadows Have Shadows, a limited-run newspaper published earlier this year by the mysterious SFHAA. It’s a nice collection of pieces on street-level urbanism – spanning London, San Francisco, Caracas, fictional cities and cities of the future. The paper itself is an A4 object of beauty, produced with the help of Newspaper Club. Sadly there’s only 100 copies, but you can also read it online here.

Finally, here are my pictures of the astonishing Red Sand sea forts, which I visited with Reuben a few weeks back. More about the forts and how to reach them at the Project RedSand website.

Now, back to the PhD …

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