030219 – Christian Dior – V&A London
As one enters the Dior show at the V&A it is tempting to immediately begin comparisons between this and that of the V&A Alexander McQueen exhibition of 2015 but it is important first to establish the many differences between the two shows and the design houses that they represent. Alexander McQueen was very much a lone star that shone very brightly and briefly for two decades who had direct control over a tight and talented team that had grown their reputation from their student days into the beginnings of what was to become the fashion empire that we know today. McQueen’s fashion sits neatly within the Postmodern. Postmodern fashion as Postmodern Art was re-exploring the decorative, it was historically referential, thematic and heavily influenced by TV culture and the reproduced image. The Postmodern developed in a world saturated by visual media, where juxtaposition is an everyday event incurred simply by changing channels or turning a page. Art becomes culturally collagist, a mix of narratives, fictive or otherwise, directed into a persuasive thesis. The results are strong, dynamic, hyper-real and full of instant impact. The work of Alexander McQueen capitalised on all that is Postmodern and the work was slickly package and choreographed with Hollywood panache.
In contrast, the work from the Dior studio spans from the 1940’s through to the present day, almost eight decades. The exhibition includes the work of Dior and the subsequent six Creative Directors. The Dior atelier has its roots in the world of Beaux Arts, (La Belle Époque) Parisian Couture, it’s team is an army of highly skilled artisans accomplished in the esoteric crafts of appliqués, tulle, perlage, bolducs, moulage, plissés and many more exotic verbs. The work is subtle and sophisticated. Its impact is not always immediate but instead grows slowly as the piece reveals layer upon layer of work that has gone into crafting the final form. The McQueen and Dior shows both have a similar feel, the plan and procession, with compartmenting of collections into themed chapters to help explain an overview. Both shows had a very good pace with wonderful transitions between each spatial chapter but the Dior show is a slower walk.
There has been a move of late away from showing only final pieces, the famous profiles and the celebrity centred ensembles. The Dior show of course includes these but there is also an importance given to the making process, the development from initial sketch through to toile, the elaborate exercises in detail and applique through to the eventual marketing of the final piece. The white room with walls lined with samples, test pieces, calico toiles, exploring possible future conclusions is a delight. One can imagine how a sketch is translated through a toile via wrapping and working with the fabric on the mannequin, with heavy stitching and pinning holding each fold or pleat in place. Certain pieces still had chalk and pen lines marking areas for further alterations. This is work in progress and wonderfully raw, one can carefully observe the hand stitched structure that is the foundation of haute couture.
Dior’s ‘New Look’ caused much outrage upon its release, this was at first due to the amount of fabric used to create his full to the floor dresses (in many countries fabrics were still rationed post war). However the styles, with their full bust, pinched waist and voluminous hips were equally criticised as being too feminine, with concerns that women would be re-shackled as pre-war decorative and immobile ornaments. The Wars out of necessity had created a great independence and liberation for women and it is understandable that they were not keen to be ‘kept’ once more. The Wars had been brutal, leaving little of beauty or even the memory of beauty to remain; a counterpoint reaction was long overdue and well needed. The resultant Dior silhouette was to define fashion throughout the 50’s and in the process it would help establish France and Paris in particular as the fashion avant-garde. The French fashion industry grew and quickly diversified into accessories, perfumes and cosmetics helping to pull the nation out of the economic abyss left by the Wars.
The continuity of the Dior House is emphasised as an on going directive. The works under Dior’s six Creative Directors, Yves Saint Laurent 1957-60, Marc Bohan 1960-89, Gianfranco Ferré 1989-97, John Galliano 1997-2011, Raf Simons 2012-15 and Maria Grazia Chiuri 2016 - present, stand alongside those of Dior. The continued inspiration from such a vast archive of works, with many contemporary re-iterations or past pieces, ensures an echo of the Dior brand through the decades. This has been to the benefit of the house and to the organisation of the show.
When one is presented with the concept sketch alongside the finished piece it is immediately apparent that there is a long journey of interpretation between the two. The sketches of any of the consecutive Creative Directors from Dior (1947) to Maria Grazia Chiuri (2019) are all very loose. The sketches capture the essence, feel or volume of a piece but little more. On examination, pockets, collars, folds, cuffs are all developed post sketch in the anonymous Ateliers of the Dior Couture house. This development from sketch to toile is not only where the bulk of the work of any garment is but also the most skilled work. Pattern cutter’s that turn an outline two-dimensional sketch into a three dimensional object are highly skilled and highly creative themselves, re-interpreting lines to actual forms that hold three-dimensional space. The people that do this work stay sadly, as unknowns in the shadows, and there are many further teams of these people each with their own speciality skill. In the workrooms the “Petites Mains” or seamstresses turn ideas into exquisite haute couture garments. The tradition of haute couture demands that the garments are almost entirely made by hand. Many complex pieces take hundreds of hours to complete. Within the “Arts et Métiers” of Paris there are artisans that work only on embroidery, pleating or bead work.
One also needs to contextualise the early work of Dior against contemporary culture of the time. Dior is presenting his collections at the same time as William de Kooning and Jackson Pollack are exploring abstract expressionism. Le Corbusier is designing Chandigarh and Ronchamp and Miles Davis and John Coltrane are beginning their experiments in improvised jazz. Dior’s “New Look” wasn’t really so new. Following the War, where women dressed more like men, the newness was really a return to an earlier time where women dressed as ‘women’. Dior said “ I design clothes for flower-like women”. The “New Look” revived Edwardian techniques and silhouettes but ultimately the craft of making was revived.
The early Dior collections were named after a cut with the focus on making, the A Line, the Y Line, the Natural Line, the Oblique Line’. St Laurent continues with this emphasis on the craft of making with his tailoring of the silhouette. Marc Bohan’s early collections follow suit but by the mid 60’s collections titles are cultural, the Mysterious Orient, Mexican Mood, African Style, but none of these collections really diverge from the main stream 60’s fashion, they are safe and conservative within the styles of the times. This continues through the 70’s and 80’s with works being refined mainstream. There are some more eclectic pieces like the 84 collection inspired by Klimt and Pollock, but these still fall within the large shouldered power dressing of the times. The Ferré collections of the early 90’s explore volume and asymmetrics, bold prints and juxtapositions, each collection is named but the name is not the driving inspirational force. It is corporate power dressing but there is a clear niche market being targeted. By the 90’s there are clearly collections with historic referencing such as the 93 Images In The Mirror Collection. The final collections of Ferré are mature, sophisticated and safe, all working well within the confines of Dior.
What is interesting when looking sequentially through all of the Dior collections under the six Creative Directors is as we move through the photographs chronologically from show to show, from Dior through St Laurent to Marc Bohan one notices how the background changes. The audience keeps getting younger and by the time we reach the mid 60’s there is truly a youth explosion. Markets have changed, youth is gaining independence and earning it's own capital earlier and the fashion markets follow this lead. Job opportunities begin to favour those that are able over those that are connected. Old systems once ruled by inherited wealth and the established hierarchies are at last breaking down. We can also witness how markets then realised that there is a premium within a brand and that this should be protected and developed. The Dior House was still fairly conservative, Dior became a corporate force when Bernard Arnault took control and brought in Ferré. Arnault built his fortune in real estate, by buying companies he was able to position himself into the high margin world of fashion. The fashion world is now run as a multinational conglomerate, this in turn brings capital into the industry, R&D budgets increase along with the quality and quantity of output. The 1980’s begins this cultural shift of commodification and globalisation. The 80’s experienced the ‘Big Bang’ here we truly begin to become global, everything becomes corporate, processed and mass market. Processed fashion, art, music – culture commoditised. The Dior 80’s collections are international, culturally neutral although still with a western world bias due to world capital allocations.
In the late 1990’s there is a massive cultural change under the directorship of Galliano. The work is revolutionary, inspirational, brave, it pushes the Dior House to expand its horizons. With Galliano Dior becomes an inventive fashion world leader. Galliano’s approach differs greatly from that of Dior, each live within their own times. By the 90’s his world has become thematic, a TV culture reference source. How does one reinforce the power of the Dior brand and avoid repetition. Galliano does this through the thematic. For his couture collections he would often (nearly always) take a team on a three-week cultural field trip, Mongolia, China, Peru, Russia, where they would immerse themselves in the culture visiting museums, theatres ballets and collecting material samples, beading, fans, photographs and cut-outs. This would then form the basis of the couture collection for each year. All of the Ready to Wear collections were then derivative of the annual couture collections. They took the essence and made it more wearable and commercially viable, the couture collections always working as the flagship for the brand. There is both design efficiency and marketing logic in this. This cultural scavenging, as one only ever gets the postcard version of a culture in a three-week trip, is totally of our media saturated times. From a trip to East Asia, Chinese, Japanese and Mongolian can all be freely intermixed they are merely reference material for the thematic. In this mix one creates the hyper-real Asian stereotype, the hi-tech, kung-fu calligraphic geisha. The stereotype we are used to seeing on TV, the representation of Asian culture that we now all understand, a copy, of a copy, of a copy. This is now a stereotype so powerful that even the Asian’s copy it. As the English now copy their Englishness, the French their Frenchness etc. It’s how we understand our world and fashion exploits what is current, making material the ephemeral. It could be suggested that it is fashions role to translate the ephemeral into the material, expressing the aspirations of the time and ignoring fashions of the recent past.
Our first visit to the Dior show was a push through the crowds, it is always difficult to fully appreciate a show when the exhibition spaces are crammed full of people. Luckily memberships and experience has allowed us the chance to visit these shows in blissful solitude. We managed to visit both the McQueen show and the Dior show when the galleries were completely empty, this has been such a luxury. But the answers I was looking for from our second visit to the Dior show failed to materialise. I was hoping to get a greater understanding of the making process. At the V&A 2017 Balenciaga show there were x-rays of the garments that exposed many of the hidden structures that helped hold a soft two-dimensional material into a complex three-dimensional form. The x-rays also revealed the many layers that build up the composite structures of layered fabrics. Stiffening webbing and felts, laid at cross grain with darts and cuts, sometimes with additional stiffeners, bone or wire, all of which make up the structure of these fashion composites. The techniques used offer transferable skills to many other fields of design. At the Dior show this level of understanding was still inaccessible. Perhaps the frustration came partly from my own lack of craft skill, I am not a tailor so I cannot pretend to think or understand like one but I understand materials and was still unable to gain full access to process.
In many ways fashion design is so different to many other design disciplines where the drawing is absolute and finite before the making process begins. In fashion a designer’s initial sketch can reveal so little, often only the essence of a piece. After there is a long creative process of further development left unrevealed, the process of wrapping, draping and falling; working hands-on with the mannequin, cutting, stitching, glueing, adding, subtracting and dressing. Although the media loves the idea of the maestro, the best design work is always a team effort with many skills working together towards a conclusion. The process is additive with each member of the team bringing their own specific skill. This difficult and lengthy procedure from sketch to conclusion is the very substance of design and the public need greater appreciation of this.
The most interesting conclusions gained from this show have been cultural, the transition from a director driven by the language of making to directors driven by the assemblage of image. The assemblage of image still feeds back into the language of making due to the established method of couture but there has been a slow drift, a detachment, between the creative process to the making process. Equally interesting has been the demographics of the target market that over the eight decades of the Dior House have become forever more youthful. This is partly due to youth empowerment and access to disposable income but is also very much a transition dictated through the incorporation of ready to wear collections. Large conglomerates require huge turnover and by definition these are popular culture markets.
Across the work of all of the Creative Directors presented at the Dior show, the delights are in the details and in the way detail compliments form, always part of the same sensitive dialogue, the same conversation, the same objective.
Seven images from seven directors. From left to right in choreographic order. Dior-1947, St Laurent-1959, Marc Bohan-1961, Gianfranco Ferré-1989, Galliano-2009, Raf Simonds-2013, Grazia Churi-2017.
The Surrogate Twin
230119 – The iconic 1967 Pontiac ‘Goat’
The 1960’s were a time when the two super powers, the USA and the USSR, went globally head to head, with the Cold War battle grounds of the Middle East, Cuba, China and Vietnam. The Cold War had already begun post World Wars and as early as 1951-53 Iran became the pawn in a battle of power. Iran sat on huge reserves of oil and was unable to realise these without outside help. It was also strategically located in the heart of the Middle East, a gateway to Asia. Following the lessons learnt from the two World Wars, oil was the new black gold and no country could do without it. Britain, America and the Soviet Union all at first tried for control of this region, once known as Persia, but this soon became a two horse race as the Soviet and the US each saw Iran as a crucial stepping-stone on the road to world domination. The Soviets were wanting to expand south and move into the Middle East spreading the Communist word and the US wanted to contain Soviet power. A head to head developed, fought over a small and poor country, in the land of that country.
The Middle East had become the new frontier, a bulwark to stop Soviet expansion. This was both a battle of ideologies, Communist versus Democratic Capitalism, as well as a control of economic and energy infrastructure. The Baghdad Pact of 1955 was indirectly a means of US control over an area of strategic and economic importance. On a global stage the US had stepped in to adjudicate where historically the British Empire had once set the law. Military bases, spy stations and communications networks, both Soviet and American, sprung up across the Middle East and North Asia. The Cold War between the new two world Super Powers was well underway. But Superpower conflict was not only centred on the Middle East and Oil, global strategic positions also came to a head, with further Soviet and US conflicts erupting in Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. Every Super Power conflict quickly became a propaganda exercise of opposed world ideologies. When the Cold War reached a stale mate The Space Race became the arena for one-upmanship. By the early 1960’s, the two Super Power’s were each taking pot shots at the moon just to prove that they could hit it, sending their latest missiles at the ball in the sky to keep score of their so-called impact landings. Several of the rockets missed their lunar target and flew forever onwards into space; they are probably still travelling.
In 1900 the US was still a wild frontier and the British Empire still had considerable standing on the world stage but by the 1950’s, Europe, the Old World leaders, had been crippled by The Wars and the ensuing dept. The UK went from governing the world’s largest empire to begging the IMF for a loan in one generation, a mere fifty years. Britain had lost its global political seat and the US would now take its place as a new world superpower with its role in international politics. Oil was the new gold and control of energy was the basis of infrastructure for any new world power. As the US flexes it’s political muscles, it’s car industry introduces the muscle car. Sheer brute force, the fastest in a straight line across the shortest route, expedient, efficient, conclusive, a total political beast. Here the industrial lion that once represented The British Empire is devoured in one great petrol guzzling bite. In the US there is a new confidence, a new wealth and a growing middle class. For this market the US motor industry builds the Pontiac GTO, the first muscle car, a symbol of the US’s new place in the world, representative of it’s control and abuse over oil, a symbol of it’s newfound wealth. Size is everything, big houses, big fridges and big cars, a world of excess, what better way to express the dominance of the new world over the old.
The 1967 Pontiac GTO has always been a favourite car. Not just because it’s a beautiful flat slab of 60’s American culture, but also as an icon of an era, symbolic of a rapidly changing world, the expression of the countries growing confidence. It’s a sports car that wants to be a saloon, that wants to grow up, at the same time it’s a saloon that wants to be a sports car. The Pontiac Motor Division made the first generation Pontiac GTO’s from 1964 to 1967. Personal preference may dictate the best first generation car but it is hard to beat the 1967 360 bhp 400 cubic inch V8. The car was optioned with a 3 speed Turbo Hydramatic TH-400 automatic transmission equipped with a Hurst performance dual gate shifter, called the ‘his and her’ shifter allowing either automatic or manual selection through the gears. Although it could be argued that the ’66 car was slightly better looking due to the front grill and rear lights, the ’67 was the car to have. There were three models, the Sport Coupe, the Hardtop and the Convertible. The Hardtop car without ‘b pillars’ was preferred. Rally 2 wheels allowed for the fitting of the recently introduced all round disc brakes and the ’67 cars had a whole load of other safety equipment fitted as standard, padded dash, energy absorbing steering wheel, shoulder seat belts and dual reservoir brakes as examples.
During 1963 a ban on auto racing advertising had shifted Pontiac Motors marketing focus onto the youth orientated street performance market. The name GTO was used in reference only to the 1960’s ‘Gran Tourismo Omologato’ cars that were officially certified for racing, but the Pontiac GTO was never built to race and it soon picked up the nickname as the ‘Goat’. The car was straight line fast with a 0-60 time of around 6 seconds and a standing quarter time just under 15 seconds with the car passing through the gates at 98mph.
Bigger and Better was not only to be seen throughout the propaganda of The Cold Wars between the US and the USSR it was also to be seen on the US highway between the rival US motor companies. Other US Muscle Car icons of this time should include:
1970 Dodge Charger RT 440 Magnum Six Pack.
1970 Dodge Challenger RT 440 Magnum Six Pack.
1970 Plymouth Barracuda 440 Six Pack
1968 Ford Mustang 428 ci, GT500 Shelby Cobra, Twin four Choke Holleys.
Muscle cars dominated youth culture from the mid 1960’s through to the early 1970’s. With the event of the 1973 oil crisis came speed restrictions and pollution controls, the reign of the US Muscle Car was over.
There were 65,176 1967 hardtop cars made so they are not rare but as an iconic reference of American motor memorabilia its hard to beat a 1967 Pontiac Goat Triple Black, 400 ci, Four Pack, Hurst Shifter, Mean.
The Surrogate Twin
090119 – Teatro Del Mondo – London
“The Modern Movement originated as a great pluralistic program attempting to rectify the spirit of the time, the Zeitgeist, catching in its initial stages in the different cultural realities of the European and American horizons. After thirty years of free experimentation, (Art Nouveau, Protorationalism, Expressionism, the modern classicism of Behrens, the creative eclecticism of Sullivan and Wright) the Modern Movement beginning in the twenties, tended to translate into a set of constraining rules, into a real orthodoxy, three fundamental dogmas: the functionalist analysis - as a starting point for architectural research; the annihilation of the traditional grammar of architecture – with all its differences corresponding to places and civilisations; the identification between architectural progress and the use of new technologies – understood as potential generators of language.
The above quote from Paolo Portoghesi’s “The Fear of Heresy”, best surmises the convergence of the Modern Movement from the many reactions to the consequences of the Industrial Revolution. The three fundamental dogmas outlined above in turn become the basis for Post Modern reactions at the beginning of the Electronic Revolution. These reactions have in themselves been pluralistic, evoking eclectic exercises in classicism, semiotics, structuralism, de-constructivism, formalism and sensorialism, manifesting in a resurgence of the figurative, the fable and the myth. The Post Modern as a generic all encapsulating term used across many disciplines from literature through art, fashion, music, film, dance, design and architecture has been a period of reappraisal. The poetic, the narrative, the tactile, the referential and the metaphysical have all been explored to escape the formulaic and the authoritarian. Many of these reactions have been explored by individuals practicing in artisan studios or have been tested in the Universities around the world. Much of the work is collagist with the Electronic Revolution aiding easy access to other disciplines and cross-pollination of influences where working methods have proved a very progressive experimental environment for all disciplines. Out of this petri dish come exercises in the unimaginable, breaking the shackles of science and production to venture into the minds where fictive possibilities blend seamlessly into the real.
It is impossible to be Italian without also being nostalgic. The memories of past great civilizations whisper along the streets and cobbles of every major Italian city. Typological icons invented by The Roman Empire, The Powers of the Papacy and The Renaissance adorn many Italian city center’s and are echoed across the world as copies of copies reiterated throughout time. From this the Italian architect sees the city as a great vessel, a carrier of history and memory. Nostalgia is metaphysical, a pathway to romantic interpretations of happier and simpler times, times of clarity and order, of truth and virtue, where the sublime and the theatrical are emphasized over the pragmatic or syntactic. The great typological icons, the temple, the coliseum, the galleria, the arcade, all back drop the piazza with its on-going theatre of life. Memory, the psychic vapor that oozes from every faded fresco, eroded stucco and crumbling frieze fills the streets with an invisible but perceived memory mist. The picturesque is the Italian city, it physically exists, it is no longer the painting, it is a physical living, working, reality. The Italian courtyard, the balcony house, washing lines hanging over narrow streets, the loggia curtain flapping in the wind, the silent figurines, all bear witness. The statues, histories spectators, have watched and recorded all that has walked before them, hundreds of years of monumental events, Iconic moments that shaped the narrative that in turn became the country and its people. The echo never stops, every street whispers to the next - I was this, I did this, I am this - a relentless schizophrenic, multi faceted ghost upon a ghost.
The Italian city can be seen as a receptacle, an accumulation of collective and individual memory. The city derived from the analysis of political, social and economic systems drawn upon by the ruling class at each relevant time, a perpetual re-concluding product. But the city can also be seen as a spatial construct, with individual responses that are an additive to an on going ‘histoire’. In each interpretation the narrative dominates, leaving its traces, its reveres, layer upon layer. The onward fight against the inevitable conclusion that all invariably returns to dust. The crumbling, the exfoliation, peeled and scrubbed, returned to its former glory only to slowly return back into the ground to be carried as dust in the wind. The empty piazza, this negative volume is a forum for reflection, a time traveller’s portal to previous worlds. This void, walled perhaps with a Fifteenth Century Town Hall, a Sixteenth Century Church, a Nineteenth Century Galleria, all punctuated with statues from every century and from many lands. At the piazza’s center a fountain what better way to represent ongoing life, here water cascades timeless and continuous through every century over dropped lover’s coins carrying their wishes and dreams of better things to come. This is the living tapestry of the Italian city.
As Venice sinks slowly back into the sea where better to explore memory and nostalgia by emphasizing the ephemeral, that even the monumental is ephemeral. The Theatre, an iconic symbol of every city, a typological giant among a cities many monuments, the Theatre that confirms a cities success, its solidity, security and culture. Rossi takes the typologically monumental and to set it adrift on a barge to visit the sinking city. The theatre here is a player that plays its part with its exits, entrances and scenes. During its short life the “Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” The passing of an event captured by photography in the same way that every empty coliseum and outdoor amphitheater echo with the silent sounds of gladiatorial battles, chariot races and the great crescendo of historic oratory.
Aldo Rossi’s Teatro del Mondo of 1979, no small title for a small timber clad temporary building, offers the power of typological referencing, a form, the signifier, pregnant with the genetic heritage of its typological brothers and sisters, a reinforced collective, an authority. The Teatro here instead of solid and eternal is delicately floating and vulnerable, its height too tall to have stability, a wooden sail on a barge, timber the colour of sandstone. This is an exercise in how to take the monumental and to make it a shell of timber and paint, the inflammable, floating unstable over a murky sea, an ephemeral reminder of the transience and fragility of everything, including Venice.
Rossi wanted to recall the tradition of the sixteenth century theatrical floats from the period when Venice was the playground of Europe. The dialogue for Rossi’s Teatro would not be prioritized for actor and audience but instead with the City of Venice itself. From the outset the Teatro was to be a tower, a voluminous space and not simply a floating stage. It would speak with the city, the domes and the cupolas, the piazzas and the arcades, an architectural conversation of form and typology, of history and fragility. A tower hunched between two shoulders that would conceal two staircases, the central volume terminated with an octagon and an octagonal roof, as often in Rossi’s work tinted blue that brings the sky into the form. Just below the roof a blue band representing the classical cornice, the beginnings of a grand architecture skinned in paint and wood over a structure of scaffold tubes. Rossi’s architecture is associative, its forms are read via intellect to references of the past. It is not sensorial and it is not to be experienced sequentially as a modernist building may be. It is in itself, meditative, reflective and nostalgic. There is a need in Rossi’s work for human absence, as there is in the work of De Chirico. Human absence leaves us, the viewer, alone with the work, solitude, isolation and silence and only within these conditions can we drift through time back to spaces as yet unoccupied by the seething masses, by the here and now.
To Rossi architectural design was an extension of theoretical analysis. The architecture moves between the real city and the imaginary city, the Teatro Del Mondo sits somewhere in between, it is a gateway, a metaphorical link. With its towers and cupola it references the traditional city in which everything is solid and stationary but in the Teatro de Mondo solidity floats from location to location, event to event, a stage set that creates the stage set. The Teatro draws upon Elizabethan theatres, lighthouse structures and the architecture of Venice. A floating fragment of the city, a place where architecture ends and the world of imagination begins. It creates an architecture through action, the insertion, the intervention, forces reinterpretations of the historical fabric, an interloper that temporarily alters the landscape of a city. It invades on-going centuries old discussions and intrudes upon the comfortable fellowship of existing volumetric connections. It interrupts Venice and its scenic space, politely gate-crashing the old boys club by wearing an old school tie.
Aldo Rossi (1931-1997)
The Surrogate Twin
130318 - Chit Chat - Sarabande Foundation, London
Over the course of 45 minutes, Thom Browne the NY Fashion Designer gave nothing away. Unusually, Tim Blanks referred to a set of notes because he wanted to make sure that everything was ‘precise’, but his teasing questions did not seem to bring forth the answers one would expect to hear from a Designer whose work has always been based around theatrical uniformity, the conversation produced no further information than that already found in previous interviews and articles.
Maybe my expectations were too high as I was hoping that the conversation might have been biased to the recent FW18 Women’s show in Paris, 10 days ago.With a strong reference to Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, 16 April 1755—30 March 1842, the female Neo Classical portraitist of Marie Antoinette, the Collection was seen through the eyes of her take on the 21st Century. The show itself was staged in the Hotel de Ville within la Salle des Fêtes, in the style of La Galerie des Glaces at Versailles, and also one of the main buildings at the forefront of the French Revolution. Models wore couture tailoring, the exaggeration of body proportions, boned and hooped garments reminiscent of the court fashions during the reign of Louis 16th and his Queen Marie Antoinette, with their gold hair matching that of the Neo Renaissance interior space.I would have been intrigued to find out if this was an intentional part of the story, or just coincidental?
I have had the opportunity to attend several talks/presentations across various subjects, but I find that my bias and enjoyment has been those given by Architects & Historians, with Fashion trailing behind, as the preparation, information and audience engagement on the prior rather than the latter are exemplary. The so called chat presentation becomes just that, an informal conversation which could easily be held in the front room, meandering across a series of questions with no clear direction or answers.
Perhaps the Fashion related ‘In Conversation’ pieces would benefit from taking a different angle. Rather than the informal chat around a coffee table, the Designer presents a selection of Design pieces and describes the process of how the end result was achieved. How did the pieces originate? Who and what determined the changes? How the fabric was chosen? How did this piece affect other pieces within the same Collection? How are the Show pieces then refined and adapted for production, made commercially viable and wearable? And more importantly how does the team work together throughout the process?
Surely the audience would feel more engaged with learning about this process and gain a better understanding how each Designer works, as the majority will have some connection with the topic of discussion, either as a student or worker in the industry.
At the end of these conversations, the bland chat puts a greater pressure on the audience to ask lengthy, irrelevant and more intellectualised questions as counterpoint. Where the questioner no longer continues the initial dialogue this leaves the conversation as it started, undirected and without conclusion.
021217 – Modigliani – Tate Modern, SE1 London
It is difficult to look at any work of art without understanding the context from which it is derived. This context is often a combination of personal, regional and global influences related to the period of their development. The bias to the mix of stimuli is determined by circumstance. Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) had a lucky / unlucky childhood but a tragic life. The lucky part was that his parents were both well-educated multi lingual relatively affluent Jewish Italian merchants. He had a highly intelligent and devoted mother who was also his early tutor. His unlucky childhood was that his birth was preceded by the financial ruin of the family business and that he suffered from persistent illness throughout his youth and the rest of his life. At the age of fourteen while sick with Typhoid fever he rambled through his delirium of his desire to see the paintings of the Italian Renaissance Masters and to visit Florence to view the great museums of the Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti. When Amedeo had recovered his mother not only took him to Florence to see the works in the museums she also enrolled him as an art student to Guglielmo Micheli. As a student he was introduced to the styles and themes of 19th Century Italian Art. With this his life as an artist begins, however his studies were cut short by illness, this time tuberculosis a recurring illness that would eventually take his life. Modigliani worked for a short time in Venice, between 1903-6 but he arrives in Paris in 1906 and is immediately surrounded by the contemporary artists of the day.
In Paris, in the early 1900’s, the bohemian avant-garde, the fauvists, the surrealists and the cubists were laying the foundations for Modern Art. Modigliani’s early work was influenced by the work of Toulouse-Lautrec and Cézanne but one can also see the influence of Gauguin and Matisse. When in Paris he would have known and mixed with his contemporaries Picasso, Braque, Severini, Gris, Epstein and Brancusi. Modigliani also embraced the hedonistic bohemian Paris lifestyle of hashish and absinthe, in part to combat, disguise and endure his recurring tuberculosis. Poverty and squalor was sadly very much part of that lifestyle to which he soon became a prince of vagabonds, the educated pauper.
In 1909 Modigliani was introduced to Brancusi. Encouraged by this introduction he briefly, during the years of 1911-12 Modigliani worked only in sculpture. This work is really quite sublime and is a clear turning point for Modigliani. The sculptural work has both the influence of the modern and the primitive. In it we can see both the hand of Brancusi and Modigliani’s own studies of African sculptures. The sculptural works helped Modigliani make the transition from figurative representation to effigy or figurine representation. The sculptural heads are no longer of people but the masks of people. When Modigliani returned to painting, this form of representation and the desire for primitive purity stays with him and the mask as a representative condition dominates.
Modigliani’s female nudes both sculpted and painted are sensual pieces, with elongated torsos and voluptuous curves. These female nudes are equally objects of idolatry with the figures reduced to a stylised primitive representation, fertility figurines. They are Earth mothers offering protection, love security and safety, objects of worship and of longing. This depiction of beauty offered a strong directional counterpoint to the classical imagery that precedes it. In the painted works strong use of colour throughout creates a powerful emotive response especially within the backgrounds where it is almost violent. This is juxtaposed by the soft curves of the female figure and the delicacy created through elongation of the face, torso and neck. Eyes without pupils often darkened are as empty as a De Chirico piazza, void or either life or expectation.
There is a melancholy in the work of Modigliani that reflects both the time and his own personal circumstance, a melancholy that sets the canvas as if Gauguin’s Areois has stepped into the frame of De Chirico’s The Red Tower. It is a melancholy that could only be expected from an Italian Socialist Jew brought up in a growing Fascist Italy at a time just prior to the First World War. The melancholy would be further enhanced by personal circumstance both physical and financial. Artists, as artists should be, were reflective upon their times, often critical and reactionary. The art world of the early twentieth century had a passion for African primitivism, the search for the primal, that raw emotion of the intuitive that had been lost to the efficiencies of industry and industrialisation. The artists sought solace through the primal as an emotive reaction to a world fast being consumed through endless mechanisation, the mechanisation of life, of art and of war.
Modigliani’s nudes collectively form the strongest and most coherent block of work. Within the figure the simplification of line and form are lessons learnt from working in stone and the influence of Brancusi. Fauvist influences enrich the backgrounds and the juxtaposition of the idyllic form to the restless background creates the dissociation between existential ‘being’ and the irrational universe. This dissociation of ‘being’ versus universe generates the void in which melancholy permeates. The serene figures float calmly above this environmental noise on a higher plane from the day to day. The figures portray an idealist escape, a gateway to a better world; they offer the solace of an effigy in a world that is about to tear itself apart.
The Surrogate Twin
281017 – Terracotta – The Natural History Museum, London SW7
Terracotta figurines have been found that date back to 3000 BC, making it one of the oldest moulded materials used by man for utilitarian and decorative purposes. It has been used for the prosaic, roof tiles, drain pipes and flower pots but also used in the high arts for sculpture and religious buildings. In the 1800’s its use for architectural adornment was promoted through the work of Alfred Waterhouse. Waterhouse was a well-connected, well-educated architect; he had already completed numerous high profile commissions including Manchester Town Hall when appointed to undertake The Natural History Museum. Following in the tradition of the ceramic covered buildings of Louis Sullivan and Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Waterhouse was known to work in a wide range of architectural styles but his Gothic Byzantine style became the face of his public buildings in the late 1800’s.
The Natural History Museum (1873-81) was to be an exemplar of the use of architectural terracotta and in turn this became the best-known work of Alfred Waterhouse and the original study drawings can be found on the NHM website/archives. The London firm of Farmer & Brindley were the collaborating sculptors providing the three dimensional realisation of the Waterhouse drawings. Farmer & Brindley worked with Waterhouse on over one hundred buildings, the most significant being The Natural History Museum. For the NHM project, Farmer & Brindley employed a little know French sculptor named Dujardin who made one-twelfth oversize clay models of each piece (to allow for shrinkage when fired). Gibbs & Canning then made plaster moulds of these from which the final terracotta blocks were cast.
One hundred years on and the museum is still one of the most popular in London, its architecture full of humour and eloquence. Beasts peer down from the parapets, foliage adorns the windows and columns and monkeys, lizards and birds cling to every available crevice.
071017 – Space Port Venice – London
Venice is a surreal island, a level plateau built on mud enshrouded by its lagoon. The Grand Canal, a truncated ‘river’ that starts and finishes as if cut from the mid section of another river from a distant land. The lagoon shelters the island. Venice is an island protected by spits and shallow mudflats and throughout its history these have foiled many a sea-based invasion, leaving antagonistic armies stranded in the shallows. Venice was originally little more than a swamp, a site chosen by the dispossessed and victimised, a marshland where its residents could reside in safety and start anew.
Early Venetian dwellings were little more than wooden huts on stilts clinging to the highest silt banks, an environment with poor natural resources, no farmland, few trees just marshes, reeds and bogs. Locally the residents could fish for crab, shrimp and silt dwelling fish. With stifling hot summers and brutally cold winters the original occupants were survivors, there to avoid persecution but also there to search out a better life, to start afresh without landlord or feudal lord. Soon they would learn to navigate their lagoon and become fishermen trading the surplus for what they needed. As their confidence grew they would venture further out into the Adriatic Sea trading along the coast of what is now Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. A natural progression to trading fish for goods or money was then to trade on the goods bought, so up and down the coasts they would travel buying and selling. With this the Venetians found wealth, their wooden huts soon replaced by large wooden buildings. Larger ships were built to carry more goods and to travel greater distances. As their success grew new inhabitants were attracted to their island home and soon it was full on its way to becoming a city.
The larger ships carried the Venetians south down the Adriatic hugging the Albanian coast to Greece, here they would turn east eventually to reach Constantinople to trade with the Turkish traders at one end of the Silk Road. When Marco Polo returned to Venice after 24 years of travels to the East, his stories told of the huge wealth of the orient merchants who were keen for this new trade. The Silk Road travelled from China to Constantinople and the Venetians controlled all water born trade from Constantinople to the West via Venice. The areas around the Rialto developed into a market where all types of exotic goods could be bought and sold. Ships from Constantinople would harbour in the mouth of the Grand Canal and unload here at sea. Narrow boats took the goods from the ships along the network of canals and into the merchant’s houses. Venice was a port, a distribution and logistics centre but a centre like no others. The Venetian merchants houses developed into a unique type of wholesalers. Water gates at the base of the buildings open onto the canals allowing boats to access, unload and sell their wares. Floors immediately above this were storage and sales spaces. Floors above the sales spaces were domestic living accommodation. These were family businesses and the families grew very wealthy expressing their wealth in forever finer buildings. Early banking and insurance began here to aid the merchants and the infrastructure of trade developed. The Venetians were wise enough to appreciate that although their interests were personal their strength was as a collective so their ‘port’ was soon adorned with large pubic squares, churches, bridges, sculptures and monuments.
The trade routes along the Silk Road picked up ‘travellers, adventurers, explorers, rogues and vagabonds’. Service industries sprung up along route, food stalls, bars, theatres, gambling dens, dancers, faith healers, barbers, costumers, mercenaries, body guards, assassins, prostitutes, and at its terminus Venice soaked up this huge influx of cross cultural immigration that supplied these services. Intercontinental trade needs liberal conditions, in Venice, Christians, Moors, Asians and Jews all added to the mix. Their streets and their buildings an endless collage of cross pollination, an exquisite assemblage of adoption and adaption.
When travelling considerable distances and when trade is exposed to substantial risk the best goods to ply have high value, low baulk. So trades in spices, gold, precious jewels, silks, perfumes and porcelain dominate. These suit the caravans of the land route, the rowed and square sailed ships of the sea route, the souks, bazaars and markets and the merchants houses of Venice.
The first privateers to venture into space will be looking for goods to trade. Asteroid mining will probably be one of the early businesses to be established. Small towns, space shanties, will settle on the asteroids they are mining and with time these settlements will grow attracting the many subsidiary industries that feed upon a primary industry. Not unlike the growth of Venice the asteroid towns will soon attract ‘travellers, adventurers, explorers, rogues and vagabonds’ all looking to get rich quick, to escape the established regime, to seek out a new life.
Billions of years ago asteroids and planets were accreted from the same starting materials. The stronger gravitational force generated by a planet pulled all siderophilic (iron-loving) elements into their cores during the stages of their molten youths, leaving the surface crusts depleted of such materials. On earth asteroid impacts have re-infused the surface crust with these valuable elements. Typically these include metals such as gold, cobalt, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium and tungsten all with considerable economic and technological value. On asteroids due to their lack of sufficient mass and gravitational pull these elements may often be found lying on or near the surface, easing their discovery and recovery. Of these asteroids there are several Easily Recoverable Objects (ERO’s) and Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) that could feasibly be reached and mined.
Asteroids are categorized by their spectra into Types. C-Type asteroids have a high abundance in ice and therefore these asteroids would have a significant infrastructure role in space. C-Type asteroids would be logical bases on which to set up space depots to provide, water, fuels (splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen) and ingredients for fertilizers (organic carbon and phosphorus). In time Ceres would be a logical C-Type asteroid (now classified as a dwarf planet) for such an infrastructure base. Space fuels, water and food from the C-type asteroids would support the mining outposts on the S and M-Type asteroids.
S-Type and M-Type asteroids contain numerous metals including rare metals. As soon as trade between asteroids and between asteroids and earth commences subsidiary industries would grow along and around the new trade routes opening a new frontier. At present economic rather than technological conditions have prevented space initiatives, development and progress. However, as of September 2016, there were 711 known asteroids with a market value exceeding US$100 trillion and it is only a matter of time before the equation tips towards the economically feasible. The vastness of space contains an economic vastness of resources, although the total mass of the asteroid belt is only 4% that of the moon, asteroids are resource rich.
Early asteroid mining may well resemble the Privateers of the Fifteenth Century. Pirates on the high seas backed by National Governments. In a world that had yet to be claimed and with all eligible parties fighting for their share, this was a very grey area for any form of legislation. Earth has drafted The Outer Space Treaty and The Moon Agreement that outline laws and procedures with regard to space and space mining but only a few countries have signed these and as the prospects become more feasible the rules will change. It will be corporations backed by investors and not governments that will fund early space exploration. The East India Company immediately comes to mind, controlling key ports and Trade Routes, the gateways, will be the desired path of most corporations, to encourage anyone with a bucket, a spade and spaceship to ride out, stake a claim and strike gold.
The early days of space mining may well be Gung Ho but just as Venice was the initiator of this essay, by establishing trade and controlling the gateway to the Silk Road, out of the swamp grew an amazing rich and diverse city. There will be space cities equally magical, their stories told by Marco Polo astronauts. But just as Venice had its day, its day also passed. Wars with Turkey lost the Venetians control over Constantinople and with it control of the Silk Road land route to the East. Soon Columbus would discover the New World and Vasco Da Gama would round the Cape of Good Hope establishing a sea route to India. Venice’s monopoly on Eastern trade would be broken and its oared galleys were now outdated and of little use on the open seas. I see no reason why the rise and fall of future space cities should be any different. According to CNEOS, "It has been estimated that the mineral wealth resident in the belt of asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter would be equivalent to about 100 billion dollars for every person on Earth today." It is difficult to imagine the asteroids belt being left untouched forever, dwindling terrestrial resources may well force our hand. To fully explore space we would need resources beyond those that could be supplied by Earth.
An important test bed for mankind’s ambitions for space would be with our own moon. The moon’s surface is believed to be rich in cobalt, iron, gold, palladium, platinum, titanium, tungsten, uranium and the gas helium3. Water has been discovered at the poles which would be used either to sustain life or split and be used as a fuel. The moon could also function as the earth’s lifeboat housing data stores of information including genetic, technical and historic should an asteroid ever fatally hit the earth. How many more years will we wait for the first moon base?
The Surrogate Twin
230917 - Basquiat – London Barbican EC2
Collage has been used in Art since the invention of paper around 200BC. Collage however gained little recognition as a stand alone medium until the beginning of the twentieth century when the Cubists and Dadaists explored its potentials. Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction” of 1935 puts this into context. Collage in music ‘Sampling’ first came to be used by experimental minimalist musicians in the 1960s. Jazz and Reggie musicians of the late 1960s and early 1970s quickly began to explore its use but it was in the 1980s and through the development of Hip Hop that sampling became its own art form. Having the ability to cut and paste, rewind, loop, reverse, mirror, pitch, attack, decay, slow mo and interpolate, are today the everyday components of any artist’s toolkit.
Re-application, re-use, juxtaposition and re-context, reinvents and reinterprets the original as a new compositional component. This re-applied component can be either wholly new or with trace elements, references or shadows from the original. When a sampled sound can be altered in pitch, speed, frequency or direction it invents a new artistic vocabulary that opens further dialogues and directions. Aspects of collage spill slowly into the medium of music, which in turn feeds other art forms including Dance and Art. Basquiat lived within this musical environment of the 1980’s, surrounded by the streets of New York where every surface is an art space in waiting. Advertisements, the juxtaposition of a re-contextualised image with text form the environmental enclosure of the street. To this, further overlays of adverts and graffiti constantly re-vitalise this nebular boundary maintaining a constant state of impermanent flux. This fluidity is further enhanced by subjective interpretations and idiosyncratic sequential experience. The environment does not control the sequence and therefore the ‘text’ (pictorial and physical) is a scattering of phonetics and referencing, a semantic menagerie of shouts and meanings. Into this world SAMO© was created. Onto this world, its very surface, the street, SAMO© would add his own aphorisms, personalised interpretations of a world in constant flux.
Modern reality is captured and represented by the camera. Photographs and film are multiple fragments that re-assemble as a new representation of an event. Traditionally a picture by a painter would offer a total view, even if that view were fictional, it would always be a complete overview. Mechanical reproduction followed by edited representation offers a different world, scale less, distant less, directionless and timeless. In a world represented through film no represented sequence need happen simultaneously within an instant of time but instead can be assembled from numerous positions, places and times, often overlaid with further semantic or acoustic directives. If our understanding of real space is the understanding of this assemblage of space then an artist’s role would mirror this. One of the important aspects of film is that it is non hierarchical. It reproduces the insignificant with the same precision as it would represent the significant. It has no bias to colour or context. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics it makes seen what we would not normally see as it presents the insignificant. In this way today’s normal reality representation is a Dadaist space a ‘word salad’ of every imaginable waste product of language.
In the late 1970’s New York was on the brink of financial collapse, crime had escalated, landlords torched their buildings as the insurance value far exceeded the let-able value of property, no go zones proliferated, the streets were awash with disquiet, the expression of which adorned every surface, an endless process of coloured scarring. New York is a city in constant transition, demolition and reconstruction. SAMO© is now an archived fragment, a tiny part of that transition.
Graffiti is often the conclusion of a desperate need to establish an individual’s self-expression from within an all-consuming mass culture. Graffiti Art’s method of referencing and technique of production made it a natural partner to Hip Hop. Basquiat occupied the zone where Punk meets Hip Hop. Hip Hop through sampling re-collaged many music genres, their roots in Bebop and Beatnik jazz and Beatnik poetry whilst others had roots in Afro Cuban and Break Beat. American music had previously been regional, each area had its own art, music and culture. With the phenomenon of TV and Radio and the concentration of populations by industry and business, culture became condensed and began its ascent to globalization. The city consolidated the creative types, often refugees from their locales, into the large bustling metropolis. In the 1970’s New York soaked up waves of these refugees each looking for their own voice from among the collective dispossessed. Waking up every day in a world of bits and pieces we each spend the rest of the day reconfiguring some type of order.
Basquiat would compose his compositions from this noise of everyday life. He would often draw in his studio, sat on the floor, with books open, the TV on, records playing, an information overload and from this the magpie sifts. He would draw direct from the TV, creating an image of an image. Often the TV image has already been caricatured. The multiple replication of the real copied to image, then to sign, to signifier, to simulacra, establishes a child’s worldview where representation is reality. The world that is now, the reality that we all inhabit is attained through bombardment of third person knowledge from print or analogue and digital recordings. A world pre edited, reconfigured and then subjectively skimmed for personal (p)reference. This forms the basis for contemporary understanding of our multi complex society, it is a graphic designers logic of mix, match and juxtapose. Hierarchy is personalised, a word balanced against a colour in turn, balanced against a political movement, balanced against a scientific equation. It is a non-sense of juxtaposition, a cranial bombardment from an undecipherable information soup. (Ref. Self Portrait 1985 p243)
Basquiat was a receptive conduit at a very particular moment in time in which one could respond by intuitive, impulsive reactions to a sequence of inconsequential and arbitrary events. Picking from the flux, that was the environ of New York and reassembling through composition a pictorial snapshot of that moment. Basqiat’s work is haunting, like overlapping memories from a dream, disjointed, scale less, re-sequenced. The work is fragmentary and yet it has compositional order and structure, it has direction and orientation. Basquiat’s command of colour and intuitive eye for composition tie each painting into a complete assemblage. The technical process of making mirrors that of the evolving city. During construction the painting often requires constant overlay, over painting, re-working and editing, adding and subtracting. The final conclusion being the subjective interpretation of a frozen moment of the nebular, the contemporary environment in which we are all submerged. Where a city is no longer solid but merely a condition imposed by surface mediums both graphic and audio.
The period has huge significance in relation to our current world condition as an early precursor of the nebular state. Today with the additions of seamless CGI, augmented and VR our nebular boundary has had an infinite extension. Our concept of reality is further distorted where enclosure has become permeable and its boundary vaporised. Our concept of society and association is an online ‘like’. Our world has become a film space, scripted and edited, photo shopped and recorded, but most importantly represented through a medium that is constantly being RE-recorded.
The Surrogate Twin
170817 - Space Drifter - London
When it is time to leave our planet to explore the unknowns of the Solar systems what form of craft will enable such exploration. To cross the huge distances of space humans require either some form of stasis in which we sleep throughout the journey or a multi generational ship. The idea of the tin can spaceship loaded with sufficient supplies to cross these vast expanses would seem naïve. In space there are no drive thru’s or convenience stores (as yet) from which to resupply. (Ref. Diary 271216 - Distance) To put Space distance into perspective the recent discoveries of the Kepler potentially habitable planets, 2011-2015, range from 500-2700 light years away. A light year is almost 6 trillion (6,000,000,000,000) miles. The space shuttle orbits the earth at 18,000mph at this speed it would need 37,200 years to travel one light year. The scale and breadth of space is still, to the human mind, incomprehensible. Spaceship Earth, a phrase coined by Buckminster Fuller, is the spaceship we need to replicate to traverse the above distances. Huge sail boats, drifting farms, acres on a wing.
In the Arizona Desert in the early 1990’s The Biosphere 2 experiment in which eight people were kept within a sealed enclosure for a period of two years. This experiment tried to create a fully self sustaining closed environment, producing its own air, water, food whilst recycling all of its waste. The Biosphere 2 was a three-acre by nine-story volume maintained as an independent controlled circular system in which all that was required by the eight inhabitants was provided from within its own ecosystem. This supposedly balanced system was supposed to completely support its eight inhabitants, a tall order and one that was doomed to fail. Ecosystems are multi complex elaborate symbiotic systems; they do not travel well in part. Biosphere 2 consisted of five biomes that replicated terrestrial biomes each working as an interconnected vivarium. The biomes were a rainforest, a grassland savannah, a mangrove wetland and an ocean and coral reef all enclosed via space frames and glass. The name Biosphere 2 was chosen as it was to be the second self-sufficient biosphere after that of Earth. There has been no valid follow up to the Biosphere 2 project and any hope of traversing the endless expanse of space requires a self-sustaining system. The Biosphere projects need to be reinstated and be of international concern and collaboration. The knowledge required to maintain a self regulatory sustainable Biosphere would not only be useful for space travel but of obvious use to the management of planet earth.
So space travellers are faced with immense distances and slow speeds. To cross the vast stretches of space, ships would need to be vast self-contained multi generational enclosed ecosystems. Flying farms designed by horticulturalists as well as by engineers. Sail boats that drift, as early plant life first propagated earth, randomly drifting, following the solar winds, clinging to outcrops of inhabitable surface wherever found. These would be delicate fragile structures that maximise surface areas to catch energy and produce food. The nearest prototype to a future Space Drifting craft would be the plankton clouds of the oceans. Plankton are simple intelligent life forms that work collectively as producers, consumers and recyclers, a collaborative team of ocean farmers. There is much to be learnt from plankton’s photosynthetic creators, they have the ability to use the energy of light and to soak up carbon dioxide whilst producing sugar and releasing oxygen. Around half of the world's oxygen is produced via phytoplankton photosynthesis. The need to fully understand and be able to replicate photosynthesis will be a key component is long distance space travel and future space colonisation. To be able to build and maintain algae farms and understand and control cyanobacteria films may be an early prerequisite to both earth’s maintenance and space terraforming. It will be impossible to terraform any future planet without some form of panspermia. Controlling this seeding, monitoring and modifying its outcomes over millennia, will be an essential component of space conquest.
Mankind is a long way from being able to cross the distances required to reach any potential habitable extra terrestrial world. In the first instance there is a need to create fully autonomous circular systems/environs on earth. Then these would need to be tested by creating orbital habitats that can capture and store the suns energy. The most obvious orbital habitat would be the moon and it is here that the early experiments in space habitation should commence but only after we have achieved a fully self-contained biosphere on earth. At the same time autonomous robotic drifters could be sent out to initiate colonisation of planets and asteroids by seeding cyanobacteria. Simultaneously these autonomous robots could set up staging posts throughout space that would enable and assist future colonists on their long crossings through time. Autonomous robotic drifters could collect and assemble space debris, small asteroids and meteorites, using these as the building blocks of perhaps future habitable stations. This in turn would be a test bed for building planets or moving planets to within our own habitable zone (Goldilocks Zone) as this may also be key to maximising the few future habitable zones that exist throughout the many solar systems.
One can only speculate on what these space ships of the distant future may look like but they will probably look more like farms than space ships. So images below.
The Surrogate Twin
Images. 1-7 Space Drifters for the Infinite Abyss.
210717 – Canton Concept – London
China, once a great empire has spent many centuries in stagnation watching the rest of the world progress whilst playing a supporting role as the factory of the world. In a China where anything can be made and labour supply was cheap, Made in China became synonymous with both poor quality and copyright infringement. The recent decades have witnessed a reversal of this role with China becoming a dominant player in world markets and she will soon be a world leader of future markets. I would be very surprised if in the near term China does not dominate space exploration, robotics, bioengineering, green energy and world infrastructure. This new found wealth created from business and engineering will build a confidence in traditional Chinese Heritage and Culture and these in turn will be reinterpreted into new products designs and brands.
As the Chinese take on a leading role their aesthetic will gain in value and no longer need to follow Western styles and this Cultural confidence will influence everything including retail and fashion. I recently had the chance to discuss this opinion with an inspirational retail company. Here there is a huge creative potential for developing online and in store direction within this Chinese aesthetic. An established brand may slowly introduce concepts for packaging, spatial organisation and online animation. These initial conceptual proposals are heavy handed and crude but the aesthetic direction is clear. It would need a lot of work from all members of any creative team to turn these loose concepts into a feasible and deliverable direction. However, by slowly morphing and fine-tuning the existing brand identity, it would be possible to firmly establish a more unique brand identity as the company expands into the Western market. Sadly this is not to be as by being too early it is the same as being wrong, market timing is everything and this was too much too soon. Upon reflection, I have saved for the diary some loose concept images of what could have been. The links between online and in store will still be the main focus of my work for forthcoming projects. It is interesting to note that the role of animator will in the future become an influential position within any retail creative team, a role that at present does not exist.
So now back in the UK I am working again with my partner on the SHFD project - space colonies, terraforming and other such reveries.
Images left to right 1-3 Concept Direction Images
The Surrogate Twin
170708 – Canton – Guangzhou
North West of Hong Kong in the south of China where the Pearl River spreads its fingers into The South China sea lays a level land of canals, estuaries, deltas and silt banks. These rich soils connected by a labyrinth of waterways would eventually grow into the great trading port of Canton. Since the 16th century Canton had been connected to the west through trading with the British, French and Portuguese and in the process inheriting a tapestry of cross-cultural influences.
Sheltered and fed by the Baiyun mountains to the north, the Pearl River Delta is formed by the convergence of three major rivers, the Xi Jiang (West River), Bei Jiang (North River), and Dong Jiang (East River). The flat lands of these alluvial deltas are crisscrossed by a network of tributaries and distributaries forming a natural network of communication conducive to trade. Inevitably a people at one with the navigation of these terrains thrived, a boat people that were as happy on land as they were on water. To live, work, eat, sleep, sail and sell, a composite synergy of activities on one floating platform. Floating villages formed, together moored to the banks of trading towns. The transition from land to floating communities lost within the density of it all.
These romanticized images perhaps could only be formed from a European perspective, where history and culture are so intrinsically intertwined they are read as one without differentiation. Canton, now Guangzhou is today an economic powerhouse, much of its former history has been erased, first by the Communist Party and of late by the onslaught of Capitalism. The Guangzhou International Finance Centre, an exquisite 21st century tower at the heart of a thriving metropolis could not be further removed from trading dry fish under a bamboo canopy off the deck of a sampan. Yet each generation stands on the shoulders of those that preceded it, upon the accomplishments of others, knowledge is passed down reappraised and assimilated.
I am soon off to Guangzhou, perhaps to collaborate with a truly 21st century company with an expanding commercial empire, a logistics machine that opens a new shop every four days, an impressive trajectory even in these heady days of online globalization. But when in Guangzhou as I walk among its four lane highways, dwarfed by its 400m towers and lost within its multi million population I will be searching for the scent of Canton, searching as only a romantic can for the essence of what makes something unique. Only by identifying the ‘what and why’ that makes a product special can one hope to enthuse others to enjoy and share in that same experience. My romantic walk may well be just a day dream on the plane as the reality of the 21st century dynamism of this Chinese economic hub will hit next week and my schedule leaves little time to muse a thousand years of history. Idealised and naively romantic this may be, but to extract the essence of what is Chinese is the objective of my visit. Only by selling what is Chinese to the West will a Chinese company be successful, neither undercutting nor imitation will have longevity in a crowded market. So somewhere under the layers of what now is the metropolis of Guangzhou the cultural riches of a hidden Canton are waiting to be rediscovered.
The Surrogate Twin
Images left to right, 1 Canton River, 2 Canton Style, 3 Flower Boats, 4-6 Busy Waterways, 8 A Wedding Bride.
210617 – The Story Teller – London WC1
The American comics of the 1940’s and 50’s have much to answer for as we now live in a world dominated by superheroes all vying to don their lycra underpants ready to save the planet whilst briskly thumping evil into submission. Cinematic superheroes have become the comparative of the popular press. The everyday and the mundane can now be quickly promoted to superhero status with the readymade C.V. of mythical achievements appended by ghost-writers and others of the marketing machine. Fortunately my superheroes are boringly normal, few of them can fly, none can morph into another form, none can burn through sheet-steel with a focused stare and most (but not all), dress fairly conservatively. I have been lucky enough to have met or worked with many of my superheroes and those that practice outside my network I have been able to see in lectures. Simon Schama is one such superhero, a professional academic that always ensures quality of research, content and presentation. So I was very much looking forward to this lecture by Simon Schama at The National Gallery, The Spur of Influence: Rubens and Rembrandt
Simon Schama calmly walks onto the stage and the presentation begins with a polite introduction but within minutes of commencing, several encyclopaedias have been simultaneously unleashed. The audience becomes lost within a torrent of flying words selected from Schama's vast vocabulary together with references picked, compared, rotated and discarded from thousands of years of global history. The audience have little option than to sit blank faced, drowned by a tsunami of intellect, catching fragments and phrases as they pass. In full flow Simon is a pansophical tornado that echoes throughout the hall. For us mere mortals Simon’s lectures are almost wonderfully incomprehensible. At the age of 72 he has spent most of his life in the world’s best universities and libraries conversing with the brightest in his field. Unfortunately most of our educations are far less rich often self-taught, solitary and web based. To enjoy Mr. Schama at his best he has to be read or as in his documentaries, edited and paced. There is a discipline required to writing and film production that are imposed by the economics of delivery, emphasis, embellishments and pace. A symphony is not just a crescendo of notes but equally and simultaneously an organisation of silence.
The historian’s dilemma is that non-fiction books do not necessarily have to be linear. Interrelated events happen concurrently in different parts of the world. When we pick up a non-fiction book we read around time zones, movements or consequences, we cross relate and build a full four dimensional understanding of history. Television is linear, it is story telling and a good storyteller requires well considered editing. The craft of the narrator is to set the pace and tempo and to burn into the imagination what has been augmented by reason. Televisions role is to slow everything down, to simplify and explain, to anchor our perceptions in time and space. It is impossible to ever soak up enough history to prepare oneself for whatever comes next, the future. However, in times of danger, and these are dangerous times, we desperately need to capture and record memory and this is one of The Story Teller’s roles.
I have recently watched Simon Schama’s 2000-2 A History of Britain, yes, all three series, fifteen episodes almost back to back. Binge History if there is such a phrase, but what a story, I could not stop watching, everything else was put on hold. Traditionally history often reads as little more than a lengthy chronological listing often in an incomprehensible text by the academic elite. These old-school tomes line our shelves; they sit thick and dusty. To read these texts grinds much like watching old British thespians play the classics with regulated gestures and rolled tongue English.
It is difficult to make interesting a history that has been explained and covered so many times before but for a masterful example of how this can be done the last chapter of A History of Britain, The Two Winston's is a narrative gem. The Two Winston's explains the fall of The British Empire, the end of The Industrial Revolution and The World Wars through the eyes of two Eton boys, Winston Churchill and Eric Blair (Winston Smith being the protagonist of Eric Blair’s aka George Orwell’s novel 1984). The glory of Empire championed by Winston Churchill of Blenheim verses the disillusion of Empire portrayed by the rebellious Winston Smith head of ‘The Ministry Of Truth’. Here both sides of the same coin are used to tell the account of the passage of time and the conclusions of its outcome. This is clever narration indeed from one of the best Story Tellers of our time.
As for the Simon Schama’s lecture The Spur of Influence: Rubens and Rembrandt, it was enjoyable to be within the eye of the storm but I think it best for someone else to be left to try to explain it.
The Surrogate Twin
Images Left to Right, 1-7 Marvel Characters, (With 3 as a character to marvel).
230517 – My New Shoes – London
Nestled amongst the surrounding white tissue paper are a pair of brightly coloured fabric clogs. Square toed, studded with a frayed ribbon reminiscent of the styles worn in the 17th Century. But these are a modern interpretation designed by Vivienne Westwood and to be worn today. They are not fashion but iconic wearable shoes with their DNA deeply rooted in historical reference and context.
At the end of the 16th Century into the early 17th Century shoe design began to change. The more fashionable began to wear a different type of show as the introduction of more snugly fitted styles mainly with a ribbon tie or buckle along with a square toe became more popular. This square toes design was mostly associated with Men, with Women preferring a more pointed or elongated style, but both with the high heel common within the more wealthier sect. Elaborate designs and richly woven fabrics in bright colours sat atop a plain sole and heel, often matching the same fabrics of the persons clothes, whereas the working and lower classes designs were of a plain leather or fabric.
My new shoes are genderless and timeless if their historical references are to be put in context to their design, the square toe typical of mens styles, the richly coloured fabric as worn by women, the sturdy last and rivet trim of early clog designs and I will enjoy wearing them.
Images left to right 1-2 Vivienne Westwood Titania Clog SS17, 3-7 Seventeenth Century Fabric Shoes.
200517 – Giacometti – Tate Modern, London SE1
The work of Giacometti is well known and every art or design student has been educated to like him. He is one of the staples of Post War sculpture along with Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Giacometti’s work has further credence through the essays of Jean Paul Sartre and for once the text and subject spoke with one clear voice.
I have seen Giacometti’s work on numerous occasions throughout my life and have always liked and enjoyed it. His paintings and sculpture, frenetically worked, often reworked and revisited. When looking at the work one looks through the eyes of what one has been taught. So we search for and expect the essence of man, the existential man, we expect work that expresses captured distance, the distance of artist from the model and the distance of the viewer from the sculpture. Giacometti’s work is ethereal, delicate, fragile, vulnerable and within his sculpture and drawings all of this can be read. This creates an intimacy between the viewer and the piece, a knowing, recognition of something, or someone, once known but now just out of view. This may take the blurred form of the memory of someone or the silhouette of figures in the distance walking by lamp light in the rain. This blurred form could represent a conversation with your best friend that is thrown out of focus by an unexpected comment or unknown value. That instance when, for a second it crossed your mind, that the person you thought you knew becomes a blur with undefined proximity and then, as you stare, they slowly come back into focus and all remains solid. The distance to the people we know best, our closest friends, is more than a physical entity, it is an understanding of who they are and of what one is and their inter-dependent relationships.
So why was this exhibition any different from those I have seen previously. It is partly because Giacometti’s works are usually viewed in isolation or as small groups. This personalizes them and the viewer’s relationship with them. When searching for the essence of man one assumes that essence to be his character or the very things that define him. This is a personal search and provokes a first person subjective interpretation. The artist’s process of reduction, the scraping back of the clay or plaster leaves the marks, the record of this search, for character, for essence. Essence described as such is a noble quality, the spirit, the soul, the personality, what it is to be human. In this exhibition, when a room is full of standing Giacometti’s the essence takes on a far more brutal truth, it is haunting, a collective murmur, a ghostly memory. It is impossible to not recall that Giacometti lived in Europe through two World Wars. However distanced he may have been personally from these wars (he lived in neutral Switzerland during these years), the walking dead that were the queue’s of the returning troops would have lined many a street in every village, town and city. A shocking reminder of men stripped to the core. The queues formed by lines of ghosts in the carapace of a patriotic uniform, the standing dead, skeletons without emotion, hope or belief. Flesh haunted merely by the memories of the men they once were. Essence here has a far more sordid truth, the existence of the survivor, those that cling to life through primordial instinct rather than desire. Together Giacometti’s sculptures recall European man caught within the trauma of the immediate post war aftermath.
The bringing together of all these pieces, to be able to view a whole life’s work within a short walk through several rooms reveals something equally disturbing about Giacometti’s methodology. The work portrays an obsessive, compulsive disorder of a repetitious returning to a recurring theme. We are told that Giacometti sculpted relatives, friends, wives and mistresses but when the work is grouped as it is now, the feeling is that he sculpted one aspect of one person every day for 50 years. A continuous and never ending search for himself and his alignment to what it is to be human. Following the years of atrocities that man inflicted on man the essence of what it is to be human would be the most difficult question of all to answer.
The Surrogate Twin
Images left to right 1-6 Giacometti, 7 Giacometti working in his Paris studio
030517 – Ecdysis – London
Life never quite goes as planned, sometimes events happen, often many at once that completely throw ones direction. Foundations that one believed were positive, stable and progressive, at another’s whim simply vanish. When hit by such events there are no options but to re-evaluate and adjust, set a new course and navigate the new conditions. This is life. Some are able to control and maintain ones pace and path but most of us are just so much flotsam and jetsum bounced around in the storm. Some events can take months to recover from, others may take many years. Such an event occurred in March and these essays have been put on pause whilst we respond to the new conditions. This recoiling, reassessment and reorganisation recalls an exhibition viewed back on 070317 but never reviewed. Whilst viewing this exhibition I considered how one orders and collates aspects of time to influence decisions so it would seem apt to now add this text as we begin to catch up and carry on.
All animals, including humans, shed their skin. With mammals it is an unnoticed continuous process but with reptiles skin is shed periodically. A reptile’s skin, its colour and pattern are intrinsic identifiers to the reptile. Snakes often shed all of their skin in one piece. Skin is shed as part of the rejuvenation, cleansing and growing process. Unlike mammals snakeskin does not grow but instead stretches to accommodate the growing body. When the limit of the snakeskin has been reached by stretching the snake grows a new skin below the old. When the new skin is ready the old skin is discarded, it will break at the nose and the snake moves forward through it. The skin rolls back like a discarded sock. The discarded skin leaves a trace of what the reptile was, a period of its life left as an etched veil, a record of its size, its health, its scars, its species and itself. The skin is a memory that has been solidified for all to see, a testament to a period of development, a fragment of a lifetime logged and chronicled. The snake has no use for its old skin so it is discarded. The snake has no need for a personal photo album to aid its memory, to help it recall what it is and where it has come from. The snake has no necessity to collect these sheaths of its former self and has no need to use these to direct its future self or quantify and justify its past. The snake is a snake its persona is not modified by continued self-assessment or configured by external forces.
Humans continually rejuvenate their skin as old skin cells die and are replaced by new, but what today is the skin of a human. Man lost his body hair around 1 million years ago but he did not start wearing clothes until 170,000 years ago. At first the function of clothes was simple, to retain heat, to stay warm and dry but with time clothes became a means of identity. Clothes also became chameleonic, changed daily, seasonally, according to activity or festivity. Clothes at the same time became a means of collective identity, the uniform, the tribe, the social signifier. Man magnifies his capabilities with clothes and tools, they are prosthetics that add leverage to his abilities. A man is clothed as much by his home or his city as these are extended prosthetics that enable habitation. The enclosing environ does more than simply shelter us from the elements it is a record of our values, our achievements, our beliefs and our technological prowess. Historically each manifestation or built work is eventually discarded, shed as a snake’s skin, that records who we were and what we did within a particular period of time.
The work Passages of Do Ho Suh at the Victoria Miro continues this analogy. “I see life as a passageway, with no fixed beginning or destination” a journey through our environs recorded and discarded. An anthology of memory and modifier, the cause and effect that becomes us, here shed as a snakes skin, encoded and documented, fragments, surfaces and spaces. The solidification of past time and its use as a modifier of present time is unique to humans, a self selected memetic evolving. Our memory is never strictly chronological, it is bias and loaded, we rearrange and re-collate aspects of memory to put emphasis into message and meaning. Here the rooms from many cities, from different times are re-sequenced to form a seamless walkthrough. These are the porous boundaries of identity, chronicled and reassembled into a placeless fragmentary walkthrough of intimate memories. The discarded skin reused to establish identity and yet each is transient, ghostly, vulnerable both to interpretation and to the elements, fragile in its structure and its relevance, a mortal passing through a micron of evolutionary time. When we reach the limits of each skin we discard it and move on and create another.
Images left to right 1 Ecdysis, 2-7 Do Ho Suh
The Surrogate Twin
020517 – les petits rats - London
It is 1881. The Belle Époque is at its peak, midway between the Prussian War that ended in 1871 and the First World War that was yet to commence in 1914. The peace and optimism of the intervening years produced a flourish of engineering and artistic achievements with Paris at the epicenter. Café society, opera, fashion, cabaret, philosophy and art attracts the talented and this invigorates Paris with energy and productivity.
Two centuries prior in the Royal Courts at Versailles the only way to get ahead was to get noticed and then to slowly work ones way up through the ranks via friend, family and favour. The gardens, the courtyards, the corridors and the bedrooms were where the business of promotion and patronage were discussed. The principal destination and ultimate objective, was the kings bedroom, where all matters of importance or of State were decided. Lifetimes could be consumed waiting for your chance to be presented. If you were female, life at Court was considerably more difficult. The female courtesan was expected to be a woman educated in the arts of dance and singing. Her role was to provide entertainment and companionship to the rich and powerful, from this she could gain independence, wealth and access to education and the affluent Court society. Options for females during the Renaissance were few. Women of nobility with a rich dowry may have been able to achieve a political marriage to a powerful partner but a woman without lineage, dowry or independent means had few opportunities and the Courtesan route was often the chosen career path. There have been many famous courtesans but inevitably considerably more not so famous ones.
Two hundred years and two Republican Revolutions had passed between the Royal Courts and the Belle Époque. An aristocracy and the upper middle class have now replaced the Royals, a Nouveau riche of industrialists and financiers that now hold political and fiscal power. However, The Belle Époque was only Belle for a small percentage of the population. In Paris two thirds of the people still lived in poverty.
In 1881 Degas unveils La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans to the shock of the critics. The wax model of a fourteen year old would be ballerina defied the classical laws of beauty expected by the Academies of the day. Wax as a medium was also an issue of contention, sculpture should be made in marble or bronze, lesser pieces perhaps in terracotta, but wax was the medium of the medical profession or the arcade. The Little Dancer was a peculiar thing, created from a steel frame, covered in clay then covered in wax, dressed in real clothes. The sculpture of a young girl posed in the fourth position right leg forward, hands behind her back. She wears a real tutu and ballet shoes. She has a wig of real hair and a fabric bodice both overlaid with wax, half real and half sculpture. Wax emulates reality with wax stockings complete with wrinkles. The whole figure two-thirds life size was to be shown on a plinth in a glass case. Offered as a specimen, reality captured and encased, a pose, an expression, hermetically sealed, straight from the dance class and into the art gallery. Degas was 45 when he began work on the Little Dancer and he rarely left Paris with the city as his inspiration, he was a painter of modern life. Degas came from a wealthy banking family, had no wife, no known mistress, no children, he was a loner, the voyeur that would paint some of the harsh realities of the Belle Époque.
Dance was one of the few opportunities available for young poor women. Girls as young as ten were apprenticed to the ballet school, they were known as the ‘little rats’, as if ‘little rats’ could ever be a term of endearment. This Little Dancer was a real person. Her name was MarieVan Gœthen from Boulevard de Clichyin Montmartre. She was the middle of three sisters who all became dancers. Marie turned fourteen in 1879 and Degas drew Marie numerous times before he decided on the position of the sculpture. Degas was an artist trained in the classical tradition, to draw the body naked and to clothe it later, to draw with line and to clothe with colour and he drew Marie naked and clothed. One can imagine the naked wax sculpture before it was dressed. Not quite a pet, or a doll or a sculpture.
The Little Dancer was first to be shown at the 1880 Impressionist show but was unfinished, famously leaving an empty glass case in the midst of a gallery for a month. It eventually premiered in the 1881 Impressionist show. When unveiled the shocked audience did not see a dancer but instead a prostitute, ‘une fleur de la gouttière’. The sculpture was compared to a monkey, a primate, a criminal, a medical curiosity. It was accepted that teenage working class ballet dancers were expected to pay their way through school with patronage or favours. Their clients were the wealthy season ticket holders, the men in black with top hats that haunt many of Degas’ pictures. These were the privileged few that had access to Le Foyer de La Danse at the heart of the Opera House. Le Foyer de la Danse was a kind of gentleman’s club that only men and ballet girls could enter. After two hundred years of progress the clandestine and illicit workings of a Versailles plan have simply been rotated 90 degrees and can be clearly seen in the Opera House section.
Charles Garnier built the Paris Opera House between 1861-75. The Opera house is of an opulent Beaux-Arts Second Empire style with extravagant Neo-Baroque details. The commission was won by open competition from 170 entrants. A commission Garnier won at the age of thirty-five. Built at the time of the Emperor Napoleon III the Paris Opera was to be an extravagant national symbol and monument. The Opera was always to be a meeting place of the rich and powerful, housing ample foyers, corridors and alcoves for private meetings. Yet the Paris Opera House has an unusual plan and section and these reveal a lot about the society that created it. In the heart of the plan and section, located directly behind the stage is a huge ornate room that serves as a mirror to the society that created it. The Foyer de la Danse was a space designed specifically for the meetings between the dancers and the wealthy patrons of the Opera. A space where a young dancer may find a patron or finance for favours that would help pay her way through training. This was not a space for a discrete casual meeting, the meeting that may have taken place in the bar or restaurant. Here it has been formalised, monumentalised at the heart of the building. This gentleman’s club is very much part of the internal mechanism that is the Ballet and also very much part of the society that supports it.
From a twenty-first century perspective this formalisation of exploitation is beyond belief, especially when the space has such scale and ornate embellishment. In the Paris Opera house Le Foyer de la Danse sits within the upper hierarchy of all its spatial types. In the city the Opera House is typologically within the upper echelons of public buildings. In Paris in this post revolution, post republic building we see revived the age of the Courtesan. Except here, in this public building, unlike the respected Courtesans of the Royal Courts the women are replaced with desperate fourteen year old girls that have little option outside of dance to make any life for themselves. Here the established relationship between the vulnerable and the powerful is formalised and adorned in Baroque splendour, built into the heart of a public building, vetted through councils and competition. The space of the Foyer de la Danse sits unashamedly, architecturally, central to both the plan and the mechanism that financed the ballet. In the pictures of the Foyer by Degas the dancer is the point of focus, the opulent space recedes and the men in top hats hover and haunt. The drawings are the reality sketched over the grand illusion proposed by the architecture. An architecture that is representative of a system that had changed little since the Royal Courts of Versailles.
Things did not go well for Marie Van Gœthen after the Little Dancer was unveiled. She first began missing classes that in turn incurred fines. Eventually in July 1882 she was sacked. Marie had been known to frequent Le Chat Noir, a notorious bar where her elder sister had been charged with theft and was now in prison. Marie’s younger sister Charlotte, would continue in dance at the Opera for the next fifty years eventually becoming Professeur de Danse. Nothing is known of Marie Van Gœthen after 1882.
Images from left to right 1-4 Degas, Little Dancer, 5-7 Palais Garnier
The Surrogate Twin
190417 - Fitness - London
As a child I was always active, doing something, up against some new challenge. Outside of school my focus was on physical activities, dance, gymnastics, athletics, swimming and horse riding.
It was partly about competition, gaining high exam grades, winning medals and being the best at what I did, but also about enjoyment and learning.
In later years I gained more badges, motor cars, motor bikes, RYA Sailing, RYA Windsurfing, PADI Diving, Skiing, all intense courses with written exams. Holidays were no longer about relaxing, but practicing and learning new skills.
Dance still played a large part throughout my life, performing in clubs, at festivals and events, working on choreography, endless practice sessions, inventing new routines and sequences that mixed gymnastics and dance. It was all a lesson in coordination, working the physical with the intellectual to focus on sequenced time and event.
Now at the age of 48, I focus more on maintaining range and endurance as opposed to power sports. These include meditative training, yoga, pilates, distance running, whilst also maintaining strength and stamina fitness through weight training, cycling and swimming. I am extremely lucky to have the body I have at my age but to achieve this there has been a huge amount of time and work put in that has continued since childhood. I will continue to maintain my health and physique as best I can throughout the rest of my life, as I firmly believe in a healthy and active body, a healthy and active mind.
210217 – Burberry – London
Burberry a PLC since 2002, has been on a remarketing and growth trend for the last decade. The brand had suffered as counterfeits flooded the market and its signature check became synonymous with the wide boy and football hooligan. In 2006 Angela Ahrendts was appointed as CEO and in 2009 Christopher Bailey became Chief Creative Officer, together they focused on losing the hooligan association, instigating online sales and diversifying the product range. To implement this, emphasis on the signature check brand was reduced to less than 10% of its product range. Simultaneously legal actions were enforced against the counterfeiters protecting Burberrys IP. In 2006 a Spanish franchise was bought out and the group began online market expansion. The next seven years saw sales increase threefold helped greatly by increased revenues from the Asian markets. Angela Ahrendts left to join Apple in 2013 and in 2014 Christopher Bailey took the joint role of CEO and CCO.
Fashion in a commercial machine like this is not an art, its about professional packaging and its difficult not to be cynical when a large corporate tries so hard to tick all the right boxes. With its social media presence created through the support of up and coming musicians and its art referencing that is really art backdrop. Commercial packaging is about associative context and through this associative context one directs. Fashion buyers are a fickle crowd and have no concerns for deeper conceptual meaning and fashion is not the medium for this. A large corporate PLC is judged by the measure that all PLCs are judged, growth and profit and on this Burberry has been a national success story.
Post war art was left traumatized; it saw the wars as a sad scientific conclusion to the Enlightenment, where technology tears mankind apart. Arts reaction was to return to the primitive, with African, Polynesian and Inca art being the inspiration. The dreamscapes of Freud and the Surrealists fueled a sensual escapist art devoid of the holocaust of the recent social/political context. The late works of Matisse, Corbusier, Picasso, Hepworth and Moore all fall within the category of the primitive sensual. As Henry Moore left Hampstead for Hertfordshire, the solitude and peace of the English landscape would be a needed counterpoint to the gas poisoning he endured during WW1. A war in which he entered searching for the inner righteous hero and left only to despise Khaki and all it stood for.
The Henry Moore works alongside the Burberry SS17 collection at the Makers House offer sensual reprieve. The Burberry made-to-order capes inspired by the works of Moore need a further filter to elude to the Freudian dreamscapes. Luckily this filter was provided via a phantom silhouette that turned the capes into soft Rorschach images suitable for interpretations, where the dream cape ventures into the world of the dreamscape.
For Rorschach see text 250216.
Images left to right. 1 Henry Moore detail. 2-7 Burberry, Capes through a screen.
The Surrogate Twin
200217 – Murano – London
It was fear of the spread of fire that 13th Century Venice moved its glassmakers and glass foundries to the island of Murano. Venice at that time consisted of mainly wooden buildings and Murano, that had been a commercial port since the 8th century, was well suited to what would be its future industry. By the 14th century glassmakers were the most populous people on the island. As the reputation and commercial importance of Venetian glass grew the glassmakers of Murano were the recipients of favourable circumstance. The glassmakers of Murano were allowed a leniency of Venetian law with regards to carrying arms and their new found status found them mixing and marrying into the nobility and aristocracy.
17th and 18th century Murano glass is unique in its compositional eccentricity. It is neither classical, Baroque or Rococo, its craft history and the skills established after centuries of working with secretive techniques allowed each artisan license to explore these techniques. The Rococo supplied the market place but the work was very idiosyncratic with established artisans composing using the techniques of their studio. Milk glass (lattimo), multicoloured glass (millefiori), enameled glass (smalto), gold threaded (aventurine) crystalline glass, large bead and small bead glass, were all used along with the skills of the ciocca (flowers) and glass figurine makers. The final compositions were part vessel, part sculpture, part bricolage. The pieces were heavily decorative, rich in ornamentation and colour, each an excessive exuberance of skills, technique and confidence.
In 1988 Dale Chuhily made a trip to Venice to view the artisan glassmakers studios and this trip was to become the inspiration for a collection of pieces produced as a homage to Venice. Dale Chihuly’s The Venetians consist of 70 pieces some with Putti (cherubs) others inferred with the characteristics and techniques of the old Venetian masters but all of the pieces are new in both composition and aesthetic. Historical referencing recomposed for the 21st century, simultaneously beautiful and haunting.
Images - 1-7 Dale Chihuly The Venetians. 8-14 17th & 18th Century Murano glass.
The Surrogate Twin
060217 – Electric 2 – London
In 1934 Adolf Hitler asked Ferdinand Porsche to design a peoples car. The car had to be economical to run, cheap to build, seat two adults and three children, easily maintained, air cooled, and was to be sold for 990 Reichsmarks (ten months average salary). The Volkswagen ‘Beetle’ Type 1 was the conclusion and it was to become the most successful mass manufactured car ever. Production ran from 1938-2003 in which over 21.5 million were made all using the same platform. Hitler introduced the car as the Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen (KDF-Strength Through Joy Car); Kraft-durch-Freude being the official leisure organisation of Nazi Germany but it would soon become the KDF car for everyone. The car was produced in small numbers until post World Wars, when the bombed out Volkswagen factory was saved by the English army. In 1949 Heinz Nordhoff was appointed director and production increased dramatically. The car was particularly successful in the 1960’s as the post War baby boom took off and it is synonymous with the hippy and beach boy music culture of the period. Cost, efficiency and ease of maintenance all aided to the cars longevity and endurance but the versatility of its platform base not only kept the cars forever on the road but often gave them a second life; a life incognito.
The VW Beetle platform proved so popular and versatile that it soon became the basis for several replica cars. Many small companies set up business using the VW Type 1 platform for their products e.g. Chesil, Karmen, Nova, Puma, Meyers-Manx, R.A.T. between them producing replicas such as Porsche Speedster, Piper P2, McLaren M6GT, Beach Buggy, Ferrari Dino, Bugatti T35. The flat platform with the bolt on body, although popular, was not the direction that the car industry would take as it developed ever more sophisticated monocoque designs. The monocoque with its bolt on sub-frames provides a level of passenger safety unobtainable with the early flat platform designs. The modern mass produced car body is made from a lightweight sophisticated origami of folded steel, pattern cut and welded into a strong protective carapace exoskeleton; a beautiful object in itself. Contemporary car design would seem to have changed direction once again and the flat ‘skateboard’ platform has returned with the development of the electric car.
The electric car is a battery deck with wheels; its components and assembly resemble that of a simple electric toy car. Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi share an electric car platform, others will follow suit. Open source platforms have already appeared although most of these are crude and little better than the Beetle Type 1 chassis of 1938. The battery has determined the design of the electric car skateboard platform. Batteries are heavy, still have relatively low energy density and are therefore required in considerable numbers. The desire for as low a centre of gravity as possible, easy access for complete battery swaps, electric motor maintenance and quick recharging also contribute to the flat platform design. If electric cars continue along this design path to its logical conclusion, even when battery energy density is greatly increased, all platforms will be very similar if not identical and interchangeable. The electric car platform would consist of a battery deck with whole interchangeable battery packs accessible from below, four small electric motors, one per wheel, set inboard with floating drive shafts, inboard brakes and four wheel steering. With this combination and computer controlled independent wheel speeds, direction and steering, the platform would be at its most versatile. Only a unique or unforeseeable battery innovation or alternative fuel source would disrupt this outcome. Computer controlled wheel speed, direction and steering would allow the car to turn 360 degrees on the spot by reversing opposite wheel direction. Four wheel steering would allow side drift parking as well as performance options at speed. Vans, cars and cabs would all share the same platform, whether autonomous or manual.
So will the electric car become a milestone within the continued evolution of the petrol car or will it become a completely new product. The autonomous vehicle with a greatly simplified, computer-controlled interface, will affect transport evolution both on the road and in the air (see text 191016 - A.I.viation). Is the destiny of the electric car to be a range of accommodation shells set upon a utilitarian shared platform? Possibly for example in the form of - the dispenser, the bedroom, the boardroom, the short commute, the prestige, or will other design dynamics influence development direction. The indeterminate criterion of present electric vehicle design is hinged around range. This is both the weakness of the electric car and yet the greatest potential for informing future designs. In the ideal, everyone has two cars, a city car and a rarely used distance car, though this is obviously impractical. These issues change from country to country and are dependent on other infrastructure developments. Dense European cities have different needs to sprawling LA suburbs. Improved public transport would negate the need for a city car just as shared car-pooling of long-range cars negates the need for a Grand Tourer. To resolve both issues with one product is a probable interesting design challenge. The small compact city car that morphs to a Grand Tourer is not necessarily science fiction. A compact car that extends its wheelbase to increase stability at speed is not a new concept. Buckminster Fullers D-45 of 1942 would be an early example and other designs have followed. The cars shell remains the same and the wheelbase extends to increase luggage and battery storage space. The second battery unit could well be the home storage battery interchangeable with the cars.
Either development of the electric car, the platform with a range of bodies, sleep pods and the like, or the extendable transformer car creates a new product type. The electric car has already greatly reduced the number of components and moving parts compared to its carbon fuelled alternative. This simplification of the base platform combined with increases in software sophistication, including autonomous driving, shifts the emphasis and purpose of this product. The car may no longer be solely a utility for transportation but instead a multi purpose extension of the home complete with shared IT and energy storage facilities. It was noted in the text of 290716- Electric 1 that the horse and carriage was never intended to be an owned utility but instead a shared resource hired when required and the contemporary electric car may well revert to this role. It should also be noted from the same text, that just as the first petrol cars adopted the typology of the horse and carriage, vis-à-vis, with driver sitting outside and on top, the electric car adopts the form of the petrol car. The petrol car was a new product and not a horse and carriage and the electric vehicle is again a new product.
Images from left to right. 1-2 VW Beetle, 3 Tesla, 4 Tesla & Nova, 5 Tesla & Disco 6 Tesla & Sleep Pod, 7 Tesla & Carriage.
The Surrogate Twin