Tag Archives: art

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Defending offensive and erotic literature in The Bookseller

Last week The Bookseller reported on a furore in the world of e-Book publishing. Erotic self-published novels appeared next to children’s literature in the WH Smith online store, which is powered by Kobo.

This looks to me like a technical mistake, but the occurence provoked outrage. The store was taken offline for a while and many books were removed from sale. I spoke to The Bookseller about the controversy: Continue reading

Soderberg on Creativity, Movies, and Cinema

Something I have always found inspiring is the short acceptance speech made by Steven Soderberg in 2001, when he collected an Oscar for directing Traffic.

What I want to say is, I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating.  I don’t care if its a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theatre, a piece of music… anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us, I think this world would be unlivable without art, and I thank you…

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Video design for the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony

Do you remember the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony? You know, that show directed by Danny Boyle at the start of the sporting fortnight?  You do? Well, in that case, you will be fascinated by this video from Fifty Nine Productions, detailing their role creating the film and video elements of that show. Continue reading

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Why video games will never be 'culture'

Listening to the Overthinkers over-think video game culture (last week) and films (this week), I have begun to worry that video games will never be ‘culture’. More generously, I am concerned that video games will never attain the same cultural currency as other art forms.

This is because people do not absorb the culturally significant video games of the past, as they do with significant literature, film, and music. Continue reading

Courtstagram

Here is a photo of imprisoned Azerbaijani editor Avaz Zeynalli at his verdict hearing yesterday morning in Baku, Azerbaijan.The photo was taken by his wife, Melahet Qisuri Zeynallı (via Rebecca Vincent).Avaz Zeynall court hearing

Photo of imprisoned Azerbaijani editor Avaz Zeynalli at his verdict hearing this morning in Baku (Photo: Melahet Qisuri Zeynalli)

From the PEN International case list, (December 2012):

Zeynalli’s trial has been littered with controversies, including his defence attorney exiting the courtroom mid-trial over a row regarding the order of witnesses; a courtroom altercation with the prosecution’s chief witness, MP Gular Ahmadova; claims from Zeynalli that the evidence collected against him has been illegally obtained; and serious questions about his health while in prison.

I think this image is fasincating for two reasons.  First, a relative (not a journalist) was able to take the image of Zeynalli and broadcast it around the world.  This is a commonplace occurrence, of course, but we should never take it for granted.  In years gone by, Governments would have relied on the slow pace of cimmunication, and the distance between cities and countries, as cover for illiberal manoeverings.

Second, its noteworthy that the image has been ‘Instagrammed’ before upload!  The faded sheen to the image conveys an iconic status.  In the future, I wonder if people will use some kind of filter to make court-room photographs look like court-room sketches.

The diversity of the hijab

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When I was at University and introducing myself to ideas of multiculturalism, orientalism and Samuel Huntington’s (at that time, relatively new) Clash of Civilisations thesis, I distinctly remember being surprised by the attire of a fellow student in the canteen. She wore a black hijab with a huge sequined YSL logo down the back. I remember being surprised that someone who wore such a conservative piece of clothing should also be concerned with such Western concepts as fashion labels.

Of course, that was me just being casually prejudiced on a number of different levels, and I learnt a lot from that short encounter with the back of that woman’s head. No culture or sub-culture has the monopoly on the chic, the fashionable, the well made, the comfortable; Fashion concerns are not the preserve of urban, anti-religious, counter-cultural types. And most importantly, it is possible that the hijab is more than a conservative, patriarchal garb. It can be a means for self-expression just like any other type of clothing.

Artist Sara Shamsavari’s photographs explore this last lesson. Her street photography, exhibited from tomorrow at the Royal Festival Hall, explores the myriad fashion decisions that follow a woman’s choice to wear a hijab or headscarf.

Looking at the photos, I am reminded of an article entitled ‘The Muslim Sartorialist‘ on the MENA focused blog, Aqoul:

Ever heard of the Sartorialist? It’s basically a photo blog done by a guy with a keen eye for fashion. He photographs people in trendy European and North American cities and adds little blurbs about why he thinks the outfits are interesting.

Now, I’ve always taken note of fashionable Muslim girls around me. They are masters of layering, texture and coordination. Whether it’s at the mall, a pretentious cafe or even my gym (where one stylish muhajabat routinely schools me on the treadmill), these ladies are not held back by their headscarves. Unfortunately, most of the photos you find on news sites are of women wearing frumpy hijabs, dowdy overcoats and ominous-looking ninja getups (as Lounsbury likes to call them). Western media is inundated with photos of shapeless baby-blue Afghan burkas and Saudi niqabs, so it’s hardly surprising that most non-Muslims think this style of dress is ubiquitous.

Sara Shamsavari is Iranian, which reminds me of Andrew Sullivan’s ‘Outing Iran‘ series from around the time of the 2009 elections and protests. No, not an assertion that everyone in Iran is gay. Just a recognition of the diversity of opinion and the radical art that is produced inside societies a d cultures we lazily consider to be monolithic.

There has been a lot of this kind of art in the UK in recent years. The London Olympics was a catalyst for this Kind of commissioning. One might even say that in 2013, this exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall is not particularly radical! I wonder whether London is the most appropriate place for this kind of exhibition. Perhaps it should tour to, oh, I don’t know… Bradford? Or Hampshire?

Overthinking Facebook and Instagram

Instagram Photobomb

An Instagrammable photobomb, by theycallmemouse on Flickr.

I have become an avid listener of the Overthinking It podcast. It is a few guys, chatting via Skype from disparate locations in the USA, shooting the breeze about popular culture.

A recent episode (an atypical two-hander between Matthew Wrather and Peter Fenzel) is called ‘Schroedinger’s Instagram’, and discusses in depth the pop-cultural implications of the recent purchase of Instagram by Facebook. In doing so, they cruise by many of the obsessions and diversions of this blog.

Wrather and Fenzel talk a little about party photos and holiday snaps. The way in which people ‘pose’ for ostensibly candid photos has always fascinated me. I know people who make a peace ‘V’ with their fingers, or open their mouths as if the excitement of the moment has overcome them… but then they lapse into a rather glum repose once the flash has fired. They are consciously creating an inaccurate facade for Facebook.
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Two Great Pieces of Collaborative Internet Art

Ever since my intimate involvement with Sweet Fanny Adams in Eden, Internet-only art has been one of my recurring interests. Most recently, I noted the delightful xkcd cartoon that only really works properly online, using features available in computers. Art that is not simply a recording of a performance that took place in some place and time. Art that is not simply a scan or representation of something that exists on a wall or street corner somewhere. Art that you cannot experience anywhere but on a connected device. Art that could not have been created before the twenty-first century.

Here are two more examples, both extremely simple, both aesthetically pleasing on the surface, and both with an added beauty because of the collaboration that is inherent in their creation.

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Do Blogs Harm Literature?

“Books bloggers are harming literature” says Peter Stothard.  He is Chair of the Booker Prize, and editor of the Times Literary Supplement.  I am reminded of the comments of Helen Mirren and Andrew Marr, who have both previously complained about how the Internet is sending culture to the dogs.

From my vantage point, working on the edge of the literary sector, I don’t think Stothard’s analysis is true.  There is indeed a mass of blogged criticism online, just as there is a large amount of self-published literature.  However, authors and publishers of every size still seek reviews and approval from the prestigious literary journals like the London Review of Books and Stothard’s TLS.  An approving quote from a broadsheet critic will find its way onto the cover of the book; a similarly gushing endorsement from an individual blogger will not.  An essay in the established press will provoke a conversation and a public debate.  An piece of writing that is similarly erudite, but published on someone’s personal website will not have the same reach, nor puncture the public consciousness, in the same manner.  This is simply a question of reach and brand.

Of course, a few blogs transcend their medium and become credible sources for literary criticism:  Dovegreyreader springs to mind.  But this rise to credibility and influence is as a result of the quality of the literary criticism.  That is a good thing for literature – The poacher always turns gamekeeper, so-to-speak.  Contrast this to newspapers or some literary magazines, kept afloat as a loss-leader by rich patrons or media groups.  In such cases, their influence has effectively been bought, and their critics are more susceptible to the influence of the market and the quest for commerical readability.  It is this segment of the literary criticism ecosystem that should concern Mr Stothard.

In fact, in the niche of genre-literature, it is the bloggers who catalyse the art-form.  For example, the Pornokitsch website that puts out much more quality literary criticism than the Guardian, which can only muster a single monthly round-up of the latest sci-fi.  Who is doing more for that kind of literature?

Perhaps Stothard is actually conflating bloggers with the reviewers on Amazon and elsewhere, who often write batshit crazy reviews, giving five stars or one star, without having read the book.  This is indeed a problem, as it ruins the Amazon product review system.  However, I doubt that the few people who find such comments credible have much in common with those who read the TLS or the LRB.  More to the point, I can’t believe that the product reviews on e-commerce sites have provoked a single authors into changing the way they write, or what they choose to write about.

 

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xkcd: Native Internet Art

xkcd is an online comic strip that has gained a cult following. Penned by Randall Munroe, it presents naif, stick-like figures doing strange, wonderful and weird things. There is a strong geek element to the cartoons, with physics jokes, science fiction references, and spin-off comic What If? which seeks to answer absurd questions with mathematical precision.

I love the sentiment which imbues the comics. Its wistful, and has an appropriate sense of awe at humanity, the world, and the universe.  However, I can see how others might find it whimsical, precious or twee.

xkcd: Click and drag - opening panels

The latest cartoon in the series, Click and Drag, is really something.  A man clutching a balloon drifts over the landscape.  “From the stories, I expected the world to be sad, and it was. And I expected it to be wonderful.  And it was. I just didn’t expect it to be so big.”

Underneath this is a large panel with a cartoon landscape.  The reader can click and drag to reveal more of the image, and see little vignettes featuring other stick figures, pop-culture references, and rendering of architectural structures and geological features.  Its a huge image in total, approximately 160,000 pixels wide, and so clicking and dragging takes a long time!

Why is this so good?  Commenter Pochacco has a good, simple analysis on the NeoGAF meesage boards:

I have a feeling the author is trying to troll us.
It’s so “big” that you can’t see it all. You will miss some parts and it will haunt you. Just like life.

I suspect this is right.

But there’s more: This is art that is native to the internet, and therefore still relatively rare.  While most art we see online (photography, film, creative writing) can actually be viewed in other media (on a wall, in a book, on TV), this piece of art only works online.  The clicking-and-dragging is inherent to experiencing of the art.  Users on the NeoGAF board are busy trying to download the entire panorama in its entirety, but doing that is a mistake that spoils enjoyment of the cartoon – that you can only see a small part of the image at any one time, and that you may miss something, is precsiely the point.