Monthly Archives: October 2012

House of leaves

Buying a book because it is big, has weird looking pages and the slightly bored Saturday assistant in the 2nd hand bookshop is easily persuaded to sell it to me for very little money, is perhaps not the most effective way of selectng books, but sometimes it just pays off.

Which is how I came upon House of Leaves and then found out, of course, that in annals of contemporary experimental writing, it’s up there and I should know about it, but I didn’t.

House of Leaves might be a ghost/horror story, a love story, a critique of writing analysis or even a exercise in typography…’s big, it’s complicated and oddly enthraling.

Wikipedia says……

House of Leaves is the debut novel by the American author Mark Z. Danielewski, published by Pantheon Books. The novel quickly became a bestseller following its release on March 7, 2000. It was followed by a companion piece, The Whalestoe Letters. The novel has since been translated into a number of languages.
The format and structure of the novel is unconventional, with unusual page layout and style, making it ergodic literature. It contains copious footnotes, many of which contain footnotes themselves, and some of which reference books that do not exist.[1] Some pages contain only a few words or lines of text, arranged in strange ways to mirror the events in the story, often creating both an agoraphobic and a claustrophobic effect. The novel is also distinctive for its multiple narrators, who interact with each other throughout the story in disorienting and elaborate ways.
While some have attempted to describe the book as a horror story, many readers as well as the author would define the book as a love story. Danielewski expands on this point in an interview: “I had one woman come up to me in a bookstore and say, ‘You know, everyone told me it was a horror book, but when I finished it, I realized that it was a love story.’ And she’s absolutely right. In some ways, genre is a marketing tool.”[2]
House of Leaves has been described as a “satire of academic criticism.”[3]

You might have to pay more for your copy than I did, but you may consider it money well spent.




“What’s in your lunch then ?”
His voice is just this side of bullying, but his outstretched hand is insistent,cannot be ignored. It’s lunchtime at St Williams Way primary school, circa 1970 and we, the packed Lunch kids are embarking on our frenzied food trading session. We’re a mixed bunch, not so poor that we qualify for free school meals, but slight misfits all the same, kept separate from those enjoying cornflake tart, chocolate splodge and Irish stew.
My brother, sister and I, another new school in the middle of a term, have managed, by engaging in deep stealth eating, to hide the true enormity of our misfitness, but all that is about to end.
Neville Smedley upends my bread bag onto the table and out falls my mothers latest attempt at wholemeal bread, it makes a definite thud as it hits the Formica, two fresh dates and small pot of natural yogurt bought from the only whole food shop in town.
There is a pause whilst the other Upper Juniors regard this alien fare.
“Nah” say Neville and returns to his own lunch.
I stare with complete envy at his neat white triangular ham sandwich, his crisps and most of all his bright red penguin biscuit.

We move again 6 months later.



It’s nearly here……


Jafar Panahi – another Iranian film maker the Iranian Government want to silence..

The Iranian government, as most people know, is repressive, fundamentalist and it seems, unconcerned even when the international film community is horrified by its attempts to silence its own film makers.

Iranian cinema has had to operate under a strict Islamic code and all films have to be approved by the ministry of culture before they can be made. This has meant that filmmakers have adopted unusual approaches to narrative cinema, giving a specific feel that may be unique to Iranian films.

There are many within the Iranian film community who have had to leave the country, others are currently imprisoned, many are simply not given permission to make any films and some have draconian lengthy bans enforced upon them.

The best known of these is Jafar Panahi, he is currently banned from film making, screenplay writing, meeting with foreign journalists or even leaving the country for 20 years and is waiting to see if the appeal court uphold his 6 year prison sentence.

His most recent film “This is not a film” was smuggled out of Iran in a cake and attempts to follow the letter of the law of his many bans whilst creating something true and real.

His films are extra-ordinary, often using real people to re-enact events from their lives.

Wikipedia says

Jafar Panahi (Persian: جعفر پناهی ‎; born 11 July 1960) is an Iranian film director, screenwriter and film editor most commonly associated with the Iranian New Wave film movement. After several years of making short films and working as an assistant director for fellow Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, Panahi first achieved international recognition with his feature film debut The White Balloon in 1995. The film won the Caméra d’Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, which was the first major award won by an Iranian film at Cannes. Panahi was quickly recognized as one of the most influential filmmakers in Iran. Although his films were often banned in his own country, he continued to receive international acclaim from film theorists and critics and has won numerous awards, including the Golden Leopard at the 1997 Locarno International Film Festival for The Mirror, the Golden Lion at the 2000 Venice Film Festival for The Circle and the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival for Offside.[1] His films are known for their humanistic perspective on life in Iran, often focusing on the hardships of children, the impoverished and women. Author Hamid Dabashi has said that “Panahi does not do as he is told — in fact he has made a successful career in not doing as he is told.”[2]
After several years of conflict with the Iranian government over the content of his films (including several short-term arrests), Panahi was arrested in March 2010 along with his wife, daughter and 15 friends and was later charged with committing propaganda against the Iranian government. Despite support from filmmakers, film organizations and human rights organizations from around the world, in December 2010 Panahi was sentenced to a six-year jail sentence and a 20-year ban on directing any movies, writing screenplays, giving any form of interview with Iranian or foreign media and from leaving the country.[3] This led to Panahi’s last film to date: This Is Not a Film, a documentary feature in the form of a video diary that was made despite of the legal ramifications of Panahi’s arrest. It was smuggled out of Iran in a Flash-Drive hidden inside a cake and was screened at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

He is currently one of Amnesty Internationals’ high profile prisoners of conscience

Filmmaker Sentenced to Six Years in Prison

Jafar Panahi is an internationally celebrated film director who won the coveted “Golden Lion” prize at the Venice Film Festival for his 2000 film Dayareh (“Circle”).

Panahi has been sentenced to six years in prison plus a twenty-year ban on all his artistic activities—including film making, writing scripts, traveling abroad and speaking with media.
Panahi was convicted of “propaganda against the state” for having exercised his right to peaceful freedom of expression through his film-making and political activism. He was specifically accused of making an anti-government film without permission and inciting opposition protests after the disputed 2009 presidential election. Panahi’s artistic collaborator, Mohammad Rasoulof, was also sentenced to six years in prison. Panahi is not currently in detention but could be forced to report to prison at any time.
Jafar Panahi was detained in Evin Prison in Tehran for nearly three months following his arrest at his home on March 1, 2010.
While in prison he carried out a hunger strike to protest his degrading treatment, including being forced to stand outside in the cold with no clothing. He was invited to be a judge at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2010 but was in detention during the entire festival. His absence was recognized by the presence of an empty chair meant for him in prominent view on the stage throughout the festival.

In the interests of freedom of expression and to try and convince you that this is an important and talented film maker, here are some clips and full length movies.

Jafar Panahi has just won the European Parliaments’ Sakharov Prize for human rights and freedom of thought.

If, like me, you oppose the Iranian governments’ stance on artistic freedoms, please get involved:

You can re-blog/share this article
Get involved in the Amnesty International campaign
Buy the mans’ films, most are available on Amazon
Contact him with messages of support, madly, he has a Facebook page.



Hansel and Gretel.

There are times when I really hate this job, the things you have to see, the stories you hear, the dark places it takes you to.
Most of the time, I know not to engage, not to listen too carefully, not to buy into the sob stories that come as part of the territory.
But sometimes, just sometimes, even when you think you’ve been careful, kept the boundaries, observed the rules, a bit of someone else’s shabby little life worms its way into your dreams, your nightmares.

I knew this was going to be a bad one, right from when we got the call, 2 minors, reported missing, maybe abducted months ago, dead old lady and of course the parents claiming innocence.

You think you’ve seen everything in this job, but I tell you straight, this one, this one was weird.

For a start off, there’s the house, barley sugar railings, toffee roof, gingerbread walls or at least painted to look that way, but really convincing. I could see my colleague do a double take, he stretched out his hand when he thought I wasn’t looking, touched the railings, casually licks his finger, the fool.

What kind of weirdo decorates their house to look like some kind of cake?

Answer, the kind of weirdo who wants children to knock on their door of course.

For a few seconds I wondered if the Childcatcher had changed his MO, stopped being mobile, but then I remembered that he was still banged up after the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang caper.

So, this was a new perp, another sicko on our patch of the enchanted forest. I sighed, took out my notebook, went off to interview the kids, the innocent victims in all of this.

And that’s where it started getting a really dark and let’s face it, I know dark.
The kids, boy and a girl were siting on a rock, just staring at all the uniforms and the officials, but blank faced, typical victims, or so I thought and then they both turned and looked at me and I tell you,I felt my soul go cold.

But, I’m an experienced investigator, so I ignored the hairs on the back of my neck and I started the questions.
The kids were plain, almost ugly, the girl was thin, stringy, mousey hair scraped back, she had that wirey strength you see sometimes. She reminded me of one of those worker ants, the ones that can carry 10 times their own weight.
The boy was completely different, soft, doughy, his eyes hidden in folds of fat. He was so pale that I could almost imagine him actually made of uncooked bread.

I tried to hide my prejudices, fat kids, plain kids, they could be victims too. My job was to get the story down, reunite them with their family, set up a happy ever after.

So, the kids told their story, it was all the usual stuff;
Lost in the forest
House made of cake
Slave labour
Possible cannibalism

Like I said, same old, same old , although this one had a few twists, seemed this perp was a feeder too and unlike most of the victims we rescued, these two had taken things into their own hands, didn’t feel like they needed rescuing at all.

In fact, by the time we rolled up, well lets just say that their perp was quite literally toast. Forensics were creaming themselves, nothing they like more than a really complicated stiff.

So, I kept on with my questions and for a while it seemed that the kids didn’t want to say why they were wandering in the unfashionable end of the magic woods, but part of me could feel the manipulation, the double bluff.
They wanted, needed me to know the whole saga, but they also wanted to be good little boys and girls, not the sort who rat on their parents soon as look at them.

So, I got the sorry story….the starving family, the wicked stepmother, the abandonment , not once but twice, the piteous trail of stones and finally the tragic waifs falling asleep in the forest.

But, I could feel another story, not as straightforward, not the one the children wanted me to hear, I guessed it went something like this;

A remarried husband
A starving family, all stories have some truth in them
Stepchildren, quick to judge, to complain
A second marriage faltering
Desperate measures

I never got to hear her version, the wicked stepmother.
The father appeared at the crime scene, very much alone, very much the grieving parent.
Scooped up his children, headed back to the lonely woodcutters’ cottage.

Both of them stared at me from over his shoulder, faces blank, careful, considering.

I walked back to the station, handed in my badge, lost my taste for gingerbread.


Kafou at Nottingham Contemporary

It’s grey, late October and my 50th birthday, so clearly a perfect day to visit the largest ever exhibition of art from Haiti ever held in the UK.

The exhibition is huge, over 200 pieces over 4 rooms, far too much to take in on one visit, but even on first impressions, there are some fantastic things here. outsider, naive, untrained art, the labels are contentious and can smack of a western colonialism, but it is the energy and emotions evoked that stay with me and will mean at least one more return visit before the exhibition closes.

Haiti is especially known for the art of its urban and rural poor. The label “naive” has often been applied to it, but doesn’t do it justice. The imaginative power and visual intricacy of these artworks reflect the richness of Haitian history and culture. They are in sharp contrast to the country’s familiar reputation for extreme poverty, natural disaster and political violence.

Haitian art is often at its most extraordinary when inspired by Vodou – a spiritual belief system followed by an estimated 90% of Haitians. With its roots in West African religions, Vodou includes aspects of Catholicism (most of Vodou gods are linked to Catholic saints), Islam, European folklore and freemasonry, as well as the religion of the island’s Taino people, who were almost wiped out by the first Spanish settlers. This fusion reflects the history of a small nation at the centre of the Atlantic World.

Vodou’s host of spirits who interact with everyday life inform much of Haiti’s culture. The exhibition’s title, Kafou, means “crossroads” in the Haitian Creole language. Crossroads have great significance for Vodou, since they are the place where the world of the living and the world of the spirits meet. Kafou is himself one of the lwas, as the Vodou spirits are called.

Vodou is never simply escapist. Its gods came into being in Saint-Dominque, as Haiti was known under French rule, during slavery. Saint-Dominque was France’s richest colony. Its wealth was the consequence of a massive and brutal slave system – there were half a million slaves in Haiti by the late 18th century. Some of the Vodou lwa are connected to Haiti’s extraordinary revolution of 1791-1804, when slaves and former slaves eventually defeated the world’s most powerful army, led by Napoleon Bonaparte. This event sent shock waves around the world and inspired anti-colonial liberation struggles over the next two centuries. After the revolution Haiti was economically and politically isolated by the Western powers, which feared the spread of slave revolt. Its complex religion was misportrayed as black magic – propaganda that has influenced perceptions of Haiti to this day.

Haiti’s extraordinary history is evoked in its extraordinary art, often through Vodou symbolism. Vodou remains a powerful imaginative resource for art that continues to reflect on more recent events, as well as its history. Although the terrifying Duvalier regime fell in 1986, Haiti continues to suffer from gross economic injustice – the richest 1% of the population own half the nation’s wealth. The country is also still suffering the consequences of the catastrophic earthquake of 2010.

Many of Haiti’s most celebrated artists over successive generations are well represented in the exhibition. They include Hector Hyppolite, Philomé Obin, Rigaud Benoit, Préfète Duffaut, Jacques-Enguerrand
Gourgue, André Pierre, Georges Liautaud, Célestin Faustin, Prosper Pierre-Louis, Antoine Oleyant, Frantz Zéphirin, Atis Rezistans and Edouard Duval-Carrié, all of whom developed distinct visual languages
to represent the gods, rituals and atmosphere of Vodou.

Surrealists including André Breton, Maya Deren and Wilfredo Lam were particularly drawn to Vodou in Haitian art – the dream worlds of Surrealism and Vodou appear similar. However Surrealism relates to an individual’s unconscious and Vodou to the shared consciousness of a people. It has been said by the writer Réne Depestre that “the whole of Haitian culture is imbued with a popular surrealism, manifested in the Vodou religion, in the plastic arts and in the different forms of being among the People of Haiti. In Haiti even the political history is marked by Surrealism.” It is this collective aspect of Vodou that gives Haitian culture its
inspirational social significance, in the face of severe hardship and injustice, past and present.

Kafou is curated by Alex Farquharson and Leah Gordon.

There are free Spot Talks focusing on artworks in the Haiti exhibition every Tue 3pm, Wed 5.30pm, Thu 1pm and Fri 11am. Just ask at Reception to join us.




August Sanders at New Walk Museum, Leicester


German photographer. After seven years as a miner and a period of national service, he studied painting in Dresden from 1901 to 1902, which allowed him to approach photography artistically. He had developed an interest in photography through work in photographic firms in Berlin, Magdeburg, Halle and Dresden from 1898 to 1899. In 1901 he went to Linz, where he first worked in the Greif Studio, which he ran from 1902 with his partner Franz Stukenberg as the Studio Sander & Stukenberg, until he founded the Studio August Sander für Kunstphotographie und Malerei in 1904. He sold the studio in 1909 and returned to Cologne, where he ran the Studio Blumberg & Hermann, and in 1910 he founded his own studio in Lindenthal.
At this point Sander started his major project, Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts, with which he was involved until the 1950s. The theme for the project grew out of the portraits he made of Westerwald farmers, in whom he saw the archetypal contemporary man. Building on this, Sander developed a philosophy that placed man within a cyclic model of society. In these terms, the peasant class constituted the basis of society, hence his title for the series of 12 peasant portraits, Stamm-Mappe (see G. Sander, 1980, nos 1–12). The next group, of skilled workers, is the foundation of civic life, from lawyer to member of parliament, from soldier to banker. These are followed by intellectuals: artists, musicians and poets. The cycle closes with the Letzte Menschen, the insane, gypsies and beggars.
Although this cyclic model of society was anything but progressive, Sander came into conflict with the Nazis. The political activities of his son Erich were also held against him, and he had to interrupt work on this project between 1933 and 1939, when he devoted himself mainly to the themes of the Rhine countryside and the city of Cologne. The unusual quality of his portraiture is, above all, its systematic manner; this made the work a well-designed unity, not only in a sociological and philosophical sense, but also in photographic terms.
Sander’s portraits, whether half- or full-length, are always set in a simple environment. He gave a controlled and intentional hint at the origin and profession of the sitter through the background or through clothes, hairstyle and gesture. There is no doubt of the peasant origin of the Three Young Farmers in Sunday Dress, Westerwald (1913; Cologne, Mus. Ludwig) on their way to a dance, for example, despite their clothing. They are given away by the landscape background, their physiognomy, their clumsy shoes and the rough walking-sticks they are carrying. In contrast, Three Generations of a Farming Family (1912; see G. Sander, 1980, no. 12) shows clearly that the group had sat on their chairs especially for the photograph. In the same way, the Master Cobbler (c. 1924; see G. Sander, 1980, no. 97) is sitting almost demonstratively at his work table, looking into the camera. In the picture of the Publisher (c. 1923–4; see G. Sander, 1980, no. 280), posing nonchalantly with stick and newspaper, it is apparent that the subject’s relationship with the countryside behind him is not that of a farmer but of a walker.
Sander tried in all his works to incorporate this relationship of sitter to setting up to the last detail, with great confidence but at the same time with caution. Unfortunately he did not manage to publish his cycle during his lifetime. Through publication of Antlitz der Zeit and Deutschenspiegel in 1929, he could at least exhibit excerpts of his idea in book form. His son Gunther worked on Sander’s archive of more than 540 portraits and published them under the title that August had originally planned, Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts, in Munich in 1980.
After the demolition of his studio by bombing in 1944, when 40,000 negatives were destroyed, Sander retired to Kuchhausen in the Westerwald, where he carried on working under primitive conditions. His name was almost forgotten in Cologne, when L. Fritz Gruber, the organizer of the Photokina photographic exhibitions there, brought his photographs back to public attention by showing them at Photokina in 1951. He also convinced the city of Cologne to purchase for the Stadtmuseum the whole archive of views of the city, taken between 1935 and 1945, including the negatives. A publication titled Das alte Köln was to commemorate this purchase but was only completed posthumously in 1984. This part of Sander’s work also shows a systematic approach, giving proof on the one hand of his closeness to his home town and, on the other hand, of a very specific and unusual mode of perception. His series of landscape photographs of the Rhine area, taken between 1934 and 1939, is an analogous case, forgotten for a long time and only published in book form in 1975.
The reason for Sander’s international reputation as one of the most important German post-war photographers lies in his strict documentation of his view of Man. Although his selection of people was mainly influenced by personal meetings and was thus hardly representative in a demographic sense, his portraits remain highly accurate reflections of their time. His individual approach determined the nature of his work and guaranteed him an outstanding position in international documentary photography. In 1964 he received the culture prize of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie, of which he had already been an honorary member since 1961. The great breakthrough in his public reputation, attested to by the retrospective mounted in 1969 by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, occurred only after his death.
Reinhold Misselbeck
From Grove Art Online