Friday, November 29, 2013

train(s) of thought

We left early for Birmingham, meaning we met at the lobby at 9 am, to go to Marylebone Station to catch the 10:15 train. What a nice train, probably the nicest I've been in a long time. The seats were huge and they had outlets for your devices and free wifi. I was able to write my last blogue in the train, buy a coffee, and enjoy the scenery, which unfortunately did not photograph well because the windows were picking up the interior reflection.

The ride was a bit over two hours, and we waited for Edu to meet us at the station. We followed him to the Birmingham City University campus, which was brand new. I rarely get to see other cities when I travel abroad; In England I only know Bath besides London (can't believe I've never made it to Brighton yet).

To come to Birmingham was a total treat; to get to visit a foreign university was pretty awesome. I think Edu is doing his research in their Radio department (and I think we were in the communications/design/media college), all in the same conjoined buildings with 4 floors (3 stories plus ground floor). Rosana had been invited to come to this symposium with TV director Heenan Bhatti, who has worked on reality/documentary projects for channel 4 and the BBC, among other projects. I tagged along, and it was a pretty cool experience.

After watching 10 minutes of the second episode of "Make Bradford British" (it is a two-part series, two hours total), the group talked about related matters. I found it fascinating that the director kept referring to himself as a film-maker, even though he has never done what most people consider film; he also kept referring to his work as documentary, even though it was really reality TV (albeit one that seemed to be very complex and socially-conscious, and not gratuitous). He also kept talking about the cast as "characters" and the project development as a "story", in addition to using terms as pop-documentary, factual documentary, feature (referring to documentaries, and not narrative films, and from what I understood it had nothing to do with the length), and traditional documentaries. The accents in the symposium were varied, as students came from all over the globe (a very diverse environment), and the local accent was hard to understand at times. All of this made me think of the different types of languages, from a national or regional one, to an institutional one, to a disciplinary one, etc, all fascinating. It also made me wonder if the assumptions we all actually speak the same language (when in reality we do not), makes up some of the crises the example program aims to explore. "Make Bradford British" is a social experiment television program that tackles race/ethnic divides in British society, and observe what happens when people are displaced from their immediate, insular communities. I also found it interesting from the perspective of someone living in the U.S. who view Great Britain as a very well integrated society to see how that is not the case (afterwards, while talking with the director, he told me his views of America was that it was a very well integrated society). What I really respected him for was his treatment of the subject and the integrity with which he dealt with the people/cast/characters (he said he never shows footage that can ruin someone's life, unlike American reality TV, which seems to ONLY show such).

Here is a link to the show's description on the Channel 4 website. I am not sure people outside the UK will be able to watch it online.

We spent the entire afternoon at that, finishing past 5 pm, and then we tracked down Edu's office (I took some pictures of the campus, their classrooms were just amaazing, although a bit personality-less). I could dream of teaching in such facilities (teeming with students, everywhere, with very exciting and energetic faculty, the few I met); better, I can see this experience as a goal to where my department and university can head towards. Below are some pictures of their facilities.

We left to go walk around Birmingham, by then it was already dark. The city is so much larger than I expected, with a lot of paved walking boulevards in the city center, with tons of business (old and new), people (old and young), and interesting architecture (old and contemporary/tacky), so different from London in a way. The city center felt very hilly, and London at times seems so flat, it was a contrast. After getting a bit lost and redirected by a lovely young lady, who walked with us for about 15 minutes), we found ourselves back in the city center by the Christmas Market, which was modeled after the ones in Germany (I guess they are popular in the UK). It was such a contrast from the one in London, perhaps because the Birmingham was filled with locals (not tourists), and everyone seemed to be drunk. It reminded me a bit of Savannah during St. Patrick's, but as far as I knew there was no holiday there, just another thursday night. We walked around a bit the market and then stopped for some yummy mulled cider, and later to grab a dinner during a "curry night, which was also yummy.

Eventually we found our ways back to the train station (the city has more than one), and boarded out plane a bit after 9 pm. This train was smaller than the other one, still with outlets and wifi, but the seats were more cramped. We got to London late but managed to find all the underground trains needed to get home. The walk from the Oval station was quite lovely, as the night felt crisp in a good way. I was dead upon arrival and fell asleep right away, but unfortunately woke up very early.

- posted via iPad

Location:Halsmere Road,Lambeth,United Kingdom

Thursday, November 28, 2013

missed opportunities

I am writing this entry in a train, on my way to Birmingham to go to a workshop/symposium/screening. Today is Thanksgiving Day in the US, so I feel thankful for being where I am right now in my life and in this world. If you read this today, I hope you have a good one.

After going to King's College in the late morning (the main/Temple campus), I had planned on meeting Anthony at Enclave to chat about London-Detroit stuff. Unfortunately he thought I'd show up at 1 pm, and I had understood I should come sometime in the afternoon after 1 pm, so by the time I was ready to go, he had told me it would work out better if I came on Friday for the opening. I was sad it had not worked out, as I have been dying to see this place, but tomorrow is the day =-)

My plan was then to go to the Whitechapel gallery, and afterwards meet Kelly, who was on her way from Cambridge to France, and maybe meet Adam at his shop. This is where not having wifi access made the whole situation complicated. I never heard from Kelly and by the time I heard from Adam, they were already closed. I tried going to as many Starbucks for free wifi as I could, but they are not as ubiquitous once you leave the city center.

So after grabbing a lovely lunch at the cafeteria (lamb), so yummy and affordable, I got on my way to white chapel. I tracked down to Charing Cross through the Strand, and assumed I knew where I was going. I took the District line, which skipped the Aldgate East station for some reason, so I got off at Whitechapel station, which in all honesty I thought it was where the gallery was. When I got off the station, I looked at the map and saw nothing, but assumed the place was right above it, like last time I was there. I was in a completely different world, an area of London that did not look like London much, which was scary and fascinating at the same time.

I decided to walk one direction and went quite a ways until I actually hit a map, and by when I was quite some ways off the gallery (it was then I realized the station skipped is the one I needed to go to). I walked back what seemed like an eternity and feared I was going the wrong way again. Fortunately I saw a starbucks, which was at first an indication of being near "civilization" and also a hotspot. By then I was completely disheveled, my shirt untucked, the coat off, sweating like a pig. The bathroom was gross (how sad, made me think of how McDonald's used to be international safe havens), but I got a bit organized and bought myself a huge latte, and sat down to rest my feet, get the wifi and catch up. I found that the gallery was 500 feet away, but decided to listen to the american tourist for a while. So much for being a flaneur, I think one needs to be young and have the proper shoes, with only cigarettes in their pockets and not a heavy bag.

Eventually I made it to the Whitechapel, and the receptionist, who weighed 5 lbs and did not seem to have the ability to sweat, told me that I could not walk in with my drink, so I asked her if she could hold it for me. She was surprised but said yes. They have a Sarah Lucas retrospective, which I thought was, at best, overwhelming. There were some interesting pieces, many of my favorites of hers, but overall there was so much around with so little labeling (specially in the upper floors), that the whole thing lost its impact on me. I actually began taking pictures (she had a self portrait), but the attendant ran to me telling me I was not allowed and that I could buy a book. She looked at me like I was from out of space, and I looked at her like she had just landed. I apologized and put the camera away, but here are a few of my illegal shots.

Overall I'd say that the first floor was superb, and the second floor was good, but not great. They had three other small exhibitions that seemed somewhat predictable or not well thought out, so I parked my arse in their coffee shop for their free wifi, and organized my next move. By then it was close to 5 pm and I thought I'd not see Kelly or Adam, so I decided to head to Bermondsey to follow Marcelo's suggestion, and send Rosana a couple messages (we arranged to meet after 9 at Liberty). I tracked my way down there and got off London Bridge station, which was near the strip of shops and galleries. The station exited at the Shard, a well-known new building (coincidentally I read something really interesting about it in the free underground paper, which I picked up on my way home, saying that in 100 years it would most likely be torn down, as it will not accrue value).

There was tons of construction around the Shard, so what seemed like a straight line to Bermondsey turned out to be a labyrinthine path that was very dark but quintessentially English, or at least very London (it was very easy to see how Jack the Ripper got away with murder, these tiny streets and alleyways can be so dark and deserted one can easily disappear). I eventually found Bermondsey and walked towards White Cube, which is a private gallery, very much like the super-sized ones in NYC's Chelsea. White Cube actually has galleries in other cities, including São Paulo. The structure was impressive, and the art work was pretty good too, though a bit dry. I do not know the name of the artist because I forgot my notes in my room, but it was a Los Angeles artists, that works with bilboards and posters (I want to say Mark Bradford, and I wonder if he was the guy Joe DeLappe and I had dinner with when he was visiting us in Detroit, the guy was a bit of a loudmouth, kind of annoying), and he showed with another artist, Larry something, and there was a collaborative video piece I believe. Work was interesting but soul-less to me, very international style, as far as how widely consumed it can be (and not the architecture reference, but in a way the grids may support that terminology as well), space was superb, I am glad I got to go, and will add to my repertoire.

I walked around the area for a bit, picked at some galleries which seemed like very much commercial ones without the edge, as you see all over the world, and saw some interesting restaurants, shops, and stuff like that. If I had someone with me I'd walk there for more time, but alone it was cold and boring, so I eventually headed back home. It was then that I realized Adam was available after all, but by then he had already gone home.

Today, as the train sways, I think of my next/last three days in the UK, and hope I get to see everyone I want to.

- posted via iPad

Location:Boston Place,Paddington,United Kingdom

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

search and research

I write this blogue entry a bit later than usual, in a coffee shop at King's College. I just briefly met the director of their Brazil Institute, a very nice chap, where my cousin is based for her research. This trip has been a good balance of having fun, seeing familiar faces, meeting new ones, and doing some studying.

Since I have been having issues sleeping again (need to lay off the caffeine earlier), I have been reading a book on New Media Art here and there. I have also been making some concerted effort of going to exhibitions that may somehow be informative for what I have been doing in the studio and classrom.

Yesterday was an atypical day, as a lot of unplanned stuff happened. In many ways London has been quite an erotic city to me, meaning it has stimulated me in so many unexpected directions that it was quite fitting, or doomed to happen, that I got laid yesterday around noon. I happened to meet someone who lived a few blocks over and one thing did lead to another, even though it was sort of anonymous sex, not a first for me in this town anyway. I'd normally not write about stuff like this on the blogue (specially since I rarely get laid while I travel), but I imagine no one is reading it anyway, so why the hell not? Of course my encounter at the Gwen Morris House put me way off schedule (as I had to eat lunch and re-shower again), so by the time I left it was close to three o'clock.

I had plans on meeting my childhood friend Marcia, whom I had not seen in almost 30 years, in Wimbledon, at 6:30 pm, for dinner, so I decided to go to a central location in London and see some of the usual suspects. After some trial and error with the tube (the northern line splits in a weird way), I found my way out of Charing Cross at Trafalgar Square (a place where I had a pretty hot sexual encounter at 4 am back in 1998, coincidentally), and the place was packed. In addition to the phallic Nelson Column, there was a sculpture of a very large blue rooster to its northwest end, which I immediately photographed and thought of it as an allegorical self-portrait (Vagner as a blue cock).

I fought my way through the crowd (how impressive how many people are still touristing London in late November), and made my way to the National Portrait Gallery, as I wanted to see what they had in terms of self-portraiture (as I was thinking of my selfie article).

The whole place made me think that there are way too many portraits out there in the world and that we could all really stop making them from here on. But I did manage to find a self portrait, in fact it was the first sign I saw, the Van Dyck Self-Portrait, which was truly beautiful.

The entire institution made me think about why there is or where the shame in self-portraiture comes from. Is it something aligned with the rise of psychotherapy in the West, where narcissism has been pathologized, or is it even earlier, with the original/inspirational mythology? I did not find any answers there, as unfortunately there were no galleries dedicated to that (the closest was a room with artists depicting artists, where some selfies were included, along with random pieces everywhere). But I did think that there is a lot of vanity in straight forward portraiture, so why is that kind of vanity acceptable but the other not (If we think of the vernacular understanding of nascissism)? Below is a collection of self-portraits with some brief annotations.

Michael Dahl
Oil on canvas
- beautiful face and beautiful garments, why depict oneself otherwise?

Derek Boshier
"Imaginary Portraits"
Ink on paper
- These are very intricate and funny, small in scale, where the artist depicts himself as a variety of others.

The first picture is a self-portrait, by Charles Haslewood Shannon, from 1897, oil on canvas, which is a companion piece to the picture below is Charles Ricketts, who was referred to as his partner, and I imagine they were romantically involved, but the labels on the walls were quite tempered, very British. Shannon had a tragic ending, and the thought of these two being separated by death and canvas made the pair (also displayed with a doorway in between), beautifully melancholic in my mind.

I actually ran into some royalty portraits that were stunning, like the reticular print of the Queen, a painting of Dame Judy Densch, and the two lovely heirs of the throne (Harry and William in uniform, quite lovely).

Celia Paul

Frank Auerbach
Pencil and charcoal

Michael Landy

Stephen Conroy

Marc Quinn
Blood (artist's own), liquid silicone, stainless steel, glass, perspex and refrigeration equipment.
- This piece was pretty impressive, it was a 3D rendition of the artist made with congealed blood, which he redoes every 5 years with new materials and likeness (the first one was done in 1991, all use eight pints of his own blood).

I ended up going to their cafe to see if I could get a second wind and get wifi.

This was one of the best lattes I have had in a while, and weirdly enough, one of the guys that worked there openly and heavily flirted with me, at one point getting himself a cup of coffee, walking by me, winking at me, and sitting nearby. I have no idea what he expected, that I'd rush to sit with him and make an indecent proposal (that is probably exactly what he was expecting), but I had plans already so I bid him adieu, broke his heart until the next tourist came through that he found hot, and found my way to a Starbucks (as they had no wifi, if they did maybe the night might have ended differently). I literally ran into a very handsome museum attendant on my way out of the cloak room (who also winked at me, what the hell?), and got in touch with Marcia to confirm the plans.

I managed to make my way by train to Wimbledon, arrived early and waited until Marcia arrived, which was late, but it was fine. I was extremely tired (standing and walking for hours is hard), but she immediately energized me. We ended up going to a pan-asian restaurant that was pretty good and talked for hours about the good ol' times. Unfortunately their lighting was not the most flattering

She actually brought along a friend called Marcelo, a very nice guy, whom she was obviously trying to hook me up with (I really need to read the horoscope to know that the hell happened yesterday, as I am sure today will be dry as hell). In a way this is so typically Brazilian, I was actually flattered (as I saw it her way of saying she accepts me and she wants me around her). I do this all the time as well, in fact I have to hold myself all the time from contacting stranger and match-making (sometimes BiMWM from Clawson seems to be the perfect fit for the lonely students in Macomb, separated by craigslists entries and categories, but maybe if I just intervened, they could find happiness). Marcelo lives by Vauxhall, so we took the train back together, made lose plans to maybe meet on saturday night (which I am not certain will happen), and I walked all the way to the Oval, and back to my "home". Rosana was there, so we talked about almost 1 in the morning and had an early start this morning. Today I have some interesting appointments, more professional in nature, but I hope to see some old friends as well.

- posted via iPad

Location:Victoria Embankment,London,United Kingdom