Tates Modern and Britain: Street & Studio versus The Lure of the East

Typically, despite the fact that a walk down Vyner Street at this time of year reveals that most galleries are closed for the summer or in the hands of private hires, I still manage to miss or near miss the summer blockbusters I've been promising myself to go and see for the last three months.

Orientalism at Tate Britain promises much, largely inspired by the Edward Said connection implied by the title, and sadly doesn't deliver. The revelation for me on coming across a small oil on paper picture of Sarajevo from 1922 by Stanley Spencer in the very last room was that most of the stuff I'd been looking at before didn't have any great artistic merit. Even from an anthropological point of view the show doesn't engage. The imperialist values that seemingly imbue Orientalism have never really express themselves in the purely visual and the show struggles to get to the heart of the matter. The show opens with portraits of Victorian orientalists in arab outfits, the white boy wannabees of their day, moving through architectural studies of Cairo, a very disappointing room showing what the western imagination thought went on in the harem (dull) before petering out in the early twentieth century. The whole thing did make me wonder how things might have played out differently had there been no islamic prohibition on self-representation during the western explorations of the middle-east.

Street and Studio at Tate Modern which you've now officially missed is great because as well as the stuff you'd hope to see like Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans the curatorial team have pulled out some seemingly slight but equally powerful pieces you're less likely to have seen. Coming a few days after my visit to Tate Britain Ed van der Elsken's five pictures of a Hong Kong woman again highlighted what was missing for me from the first show. What had appeared to be a set up sequence of a model in the crowds turns out to be way nastier. As Elsken's is quoted in this extract from the Tate gallery notes:
Ed van der Elsken’s tactics were more aggressively voyeuristic. He followed an anonymous woman around the streets of Hong Kong, creating a sequence of pictures that is reminiscent of a tracking shot from a movie. ‘I followed this babe around for a while. She knew I was doing it, and didn’t like it one bit’, he confessed.

Polish-born (but now based in Germany) Timm Rautert's 1974 sequence 'Germans in Uniforms' made me laugh as did Cindy Sherman's 'Bus Riders' from 1976. Sherman's reconstructed the look and poses of a series of people observed on the bus and taken self-portraits. For half the pictures she's blacked up and here's my drawing of one of these black bus riders. Here's my drawing from a sequence of anonymous street photos from 1960s Berlin where passers by posed with a man in a bear costume. I made a list of photographers/works to find out more about (some I'd never heard of):
Lewis Hine
Arnold Genthe's pictures of San Francisco's Chinatown
Martin Chambi
James van der Zee
Arturo Ghergo
Malick Sidibé (I never followed up last time from the Barbican show)
Laurie Anderson's 'Fully Automated Nikon [object/objection/objectivity], 1973 and the stuff it's inspired that's happening now.

Rght at the end of the show is Rineke Dijkstra's two screen video projection 'The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK/Mystery World, Zaandam, NL' 1996-7 where young club-goers, much the worse for wear in several cases, dance in front of a white screen to a techno soundtrack that seems to be coming from an adjacent room. Larger than life on the wall it's a powerful piece about inhibition, control.

The Real Tuesday Weld at St Pancras Church, last Wednesday

There was a book launch or art show or something and the a band playing called The Real Tuesday Weld. We liked them a lot - they were laid back and looked like mature art students. I liked them because they didn't have to try too hard. They played in a corner of the crypt and it was very dark. There may be none of the band members in this picture but it's a good representation of the gig.


If you look hard you can see...

Me and Yol took Leon and Betty to the Grant Museum of Zoology which, as I tell anyone who'll listen, is one of my favourite places in London. We also managed to see the Skeletons show at the Wellcome Collection and visit Ultimate Burger, Maplins, Paperchase and Robert Dyas (aka Bobby D's). The picture above is of one of the squid specimens from the Grant. If you look at it carefully you can see it looks like an old Chinese man in traditional gear.

More pics from the Grant here.


Great Yarmouth: The Camel Race

Great Yarmouth
Originally uploaded by Catfunt
We spent the day in Great Yarmouth with the outlaws. While waiting on the pier I was watching the camel racing arcade. Basically you pay some money and you get a bet on a mechanical camel that races (albeit quite slowly) along the tracks and the winner gets something. Then I realised that the names for each of the camels were meant to be reflective of the desert setting for the game but in piece of latterday Orientalism they came out as:
Mohamed, Abdul, Bogieman, Kismet, Gobi, Sultan, Yasmin and Bagdad.

The world is a very strange place.

Black Power Salute: BBC4

There's another chance to see on iPlayer the BBC documentary about the Mexico '68 Olympics and the events around the black power salutes delivered by Olympic medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos and the anger and reaction it provoked.


Publish and Be Damned, 2008

I hadn't been to P&BD for three years - I hadn't realised that it was so long but it moved to Rochelle School a while ago and I'd never been to the new venue. Inside it was hot and very very crowded. What I love about the event is the lack of explanation and any kind of conventional sales material: most people just lay their wares out of a folding table and that's all the explanation you need. At one end of the market there are publications that ape various commercial magazine conventions like a fixed format and logo but usually with unrelentingly non-commercial content (the copy of Mono-Kultur that Yol bought me on the Wu Tang and chess) and at the other the one off artist books, like the map of Hackney with a CD of Ridley Road market traders talking about property prices. In between you get the very fanzine ones that vary from Harry Pye's The Rebel to plain B&W photocopies that look most like Sniffing Glue but with lower production values.

More pics here

My first thoughts on leaving the show were that although it's not that well known an event it is very inclusive and very participatory which has remained pretty much the case since the first fair. The other thing I've been thinking about since then is to wonder what effect the internet has had on self-publishing and in particular the low-end fanzine part of the market. While you'd believe blogging, free webspace and free software to manage your blog would have killed off publishing as a mode of self-expression Publish and Be Damned seems to demonstrate the opposite is actually true. Pushing through the crowds with the their carrier bags full of dead trees and ink or waiting 15 minutes to get to the front of a particularly busy stall you realise that there is something quite special about stuff written, montaged, scrawled, copied and printed on bits of paper that are then (in many cases) lovingly folded in half by hand and stapled especially when it's as good as Calvin Holbrook's Hate Magazine.