Party Skills for the End of the World 

7 July 2017, an abandoned building in Salford, part of Manchester International Festival.  

Wearing a party hat and handmade tissue paper flower, I’m rushed down corridors amoung a stream of people being told to ‘move faster’, and ‘go now’. All around the sounds of planes and bombs blare out, while red flashing lights guide us down abandoned passageways. It’s not a real emergency, but it might be an apocalypse: it’s Party Skills for the End of the World. 

Surreal starts

Having received the tickets for free from my work and going along on somewhat of a wim, it’s safe to say I had no idea what to expect.

Upon arrival, I was ushered across an empty car park and into an abandoned building, down more empty corridors and finally into a room full of fellow participants trying out their martini making skills. We then had to evacuate into another part of the building for a disaster themed sing-along and orange stitching session to prepare us for having to stitch wounds together. ‘Word of advice…don’t get injured..’ a cast member advised my partner after seeing my stitching attempt – I was truly awful at this part (as you would expect from someone who flunked textiles classes at school). 

Suddenly, music started up as a homemade bar sprung up, and from that moment we were free to roam and learn.

Picking up the party skills

Unless you were the world’s fastest  learner there’s no way that you could have visited all the learning spaces available to explore. So instead of trying to catalogue everything from knife throwing to gas mask making on offer, here’s a run down of what I tried:

  • Magic tricks – not the most practical of end of the world skills, but a good laugh. I have to admit I have insuccessfully tried the trick learnt on a couple of friends now I’ve returned to civilisation…
  • Knot tying – If you have an ex-Boy Scout partner like myself, steer clear! I got shown up in style, but at least I know what a wreath knot is now…
  • Pepper spray making – presented in such a fun, bubbly tone. Baby oil is what it’s all about to make the good stuff apparently. 
  • Vegetable animal making – look at this little guy! I’d be able to build on army of bird companions in the apocalypse!

  • Flower making – the calmest, most relaxing apocalypse experience. Despite the screams and helicopter noises, we were all very chill and chatty in the flower zone. 

Into the belly of the beast

The screams, helicopter noises and bomb sounds all ramped up as tension become palpable – then, the evacuation began. We were ushered down flights of stairs and through corridors, all the time told to go faster by stewards and disorientated by coloured strobe lights. Occaisionally a figure appeared in the darkness of rooms we were passing in a gas mask or waving, as we fast walked/jogged towards a seemingly distant rumble.

As we hurried along more corridors, it became apparent that we were moving towards drums before emerging into what looked like an abandoned office met by a band playing and people starting to dance. ‘I can’t believe it’, whispered my partner, ‘this is my old uni library’. 

What followed next was in keeping with the surreal tone of the night, that skipped between serious and silly. A singular figure emerged on stage to list off every possible regret one could have about their life in a doom-ridden poem before PowerPoint slides exclaimed ‘How to Dance’ and the whole room erupted into silly routines. As weird as it sounds, the juxtaposition of contemplating your own worst fears and then bursting into the most-cringeworthy dance moves you’ve ever performed in your life was actually very life affirming! Like dancing off the list that precided it.

Afterwards we were ushered into another room with a DJ, board games, tea and coffee that was decorated with fairy lights, strewn about lamps and paper party emphemera. Now it was time to put those party skills into practice a let our hair down! I’m not sure exactly how much time I spent dancing, playing bowling or relaxing with a drink, but if it weren’t for the thinning crowd I would have happily stayed there for even longer.


On our way out we were given a goody bag and spent the whole of the walk home dissecting the crazy and fun-filled experience we had just had. And I’ve been annoying my friends by not shutting up about this event ever since. 

Arcade Fire

Thursday 6 July, Castlefield Bowl (part of Manchester International Festival) 


It’s 10.30pm on a Thursday night, normally you’d find me catching up on my to-do list or sweating it out at the at the gym, but on this Thursday, I was belting out the words to Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ as it’s covered in a hypnotic, ethereal way by Arcade Fire. And all the time I was thinking – in live music terms, for me, it doesn’t get much better than this!

In case you haven’t heard of Arcade Fire, they’re a Canadian indie-rock band consisting of artists who can turn their hand to multiple instruments including the hurdy-gurdy, omnichord and gadulka. They’re currently touring in advance of the release of their album Everything Now. 

Castlefield Bowl, a concrete amphitheatre was a rather intimate venue for a sweeping and expansive performance, both in terms of the staging which consisted on ambient projections, huge clouds of smoke and colourful lighting, and the music that was in true Arcade Fire fashion was full of soaring choruses, synthesised beats and vocals that fluctuated between catchy and atmospheric.

I’m usually very skeptical about bands saying how much they love the current city they’re performing in. After all you’re hardly going to say you’re not fond of a place in front of a crowd of locals. However Win Butler’s between-song assertions that Manchester was an inspiring city did seem to give off a palpable love for this place, that only increased the positive energy bouncing round Castlefield’s concrete arena. 

I quickly found myself swept along with the music and the dancing of the rest of the crowd in what was  joyous gig, featuring songs like ‘Sprawl II’, ‘Everything Now’ and ‘Rebellion’ that are favourites of mine and that I’ve been enjoying listening to for the following week after the gig. 

In my opinion, the sign of a good live musical performance is when you can’t wait to hear the artists’ music again and I’ve certainly been eager to revisit their albums at every opportunity over the last few days, especially because it’s given me a chance to reminisce over what was an enjoyable gig featuring impressive, skillful and completely entertaining performances. 

What I’ve Been Reading: The Path by Professor Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh

the path

As a 25 year old millennial, I’m at the prime point in my life to experience the dreaded Quarter Life crisis. Although, I’ve not found myself in the midst of one yet, I have found myself increasingly pulled towards self-help books and even have even looked on enviously as my peers post pictures of themselves on ‘profound’ trips to find themselves. 

Personally, the idea running away from everything to find some authentic version of the self – although it might work for others – has never sat completely well with me as an idea. I adore travel, but this approach doesn’t seem for me. Likewise, the advice in many self-help books to pin down who you are and want you want has never stuck for me. So when The Path was recommended to me as a book which offers a different perspective on development and life, I was immediately interested. 

The Path, written by Professor of Chinese History at Harvard Professor Michael Puett and writer Christine Gross-Loh, presents the teaching of several Chinese philosophers from the Axial Period (3rd-8th Century), in an attempt to relate

The Fetishisation of Eastern Philosophies 

When I first picked up The Path and read the blurb I was initially rather hesitant to delve into it’s pages. References to itself as ‘a profound guide to living well’ drawing on ‘the timeless wisdom of ancient Chinese philosophers’ on the back cover made me dread that I might be about to indulge in a text that fetishises Eastern philosophy or displays Orientalist tendencies.

However, I was relived to find that this book is not guilty of any of the above. In fact Puett and Gross-Loh, address misrepresentations of philosophies that have become prominent in Western society. They argue that there exists an assumption that ancient China was a tradition-based society that was inherently more in tune with nature and peaceful. As someone, who admittedly hasn’t studied or read much Chinese philosophy  it was refreshing to read a text that took such a pragmatic and tone and approach to the focal material.

Starting small

Big questions can be absolutely paralysing to approach. The thought of sitting a contemplating what you want to do with your life, what the point of existence is and who you truly are, might fill people who are philosophy majors with unease.

Luckily, Puett and Gross-Loh choose to focus on the small actions of everyday life rather than the tackling the big questions, from Confucian rituals of the mundane to Zhuangzi’s preposition that training is the way to spontaneity, whether it be through learning how to cook, play piano or approach your career. I found this a very accessible way to approach an unfamiliar philosophy, as everyday examples made it very easy to relate to my own life and having a go at applying some of the principles didn’t seem too intimidating.

An antidote to “finding yourself”

Unpack your bags, people! For the philosophers Puett and Gross-Loh discuss there is no ‘you’ to find, as everything is always changing.

In fact, creating a unified idea of who ‘you’ are and attempting to build up this one view, is described as been limiting to chance and transformation. For instance, if you’re a painter and that’s how you define yourself, you might be reluctant to try other artistic  disciplines that could lead to growth. The Path covers ideas for growth and transformation in much more detail, providing ideas from various sources on how to cultivate passions and skills, along with the dangers of devising unnecessary assumptions and divisions.

For me, many of the techniques and approaches outlined my these ancient philosophers, seem a lot more grounded than trying to get your life to fit some grand narrative or chasing an allusive truth. Great for someone like myself, who isn’t seeking a radical life overhaul.

The takeaway 

While The Path is a very interesting text and is accessible for those that don’t know much about Chinese philosophy, it certainly isn’t holiday reading, especially when Puett and Gross-Loh discuss concepts such as ‘qi’- something that I hadn’t heard about until picking up this book, and found it tricky to wrap my head around some of the nuances about.

Additionally, I would have very much liked more translated passages from the discussed texts in the booked. As it would have been interesting to see how elements were framed and presented by the philosophers, before Puett and Gross-Loh discuss them.

Overall, The Path is fascinating and contains useful perspectives for living life that I will certainly take-away from it. I am glad that it has a recommended reading section at the back, as it has sparked an interest in philosophy from ancient China and I look forward to indulging further.

 

WIBR: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman


With the work of influential British fantasy writer Neil Gaiman springing onto our screens with the TV series American Gods, I’ve decided to revisit one of his works that was also previously appeared on television, albeit in 1996. For this instalment of What I’ve Been Reading, I’ve been visiting London Below with Neverwhere.

Published in 1996, Neverwhere follows finance worker Richard Mayhew into the subterranean, fantastical world of London Below and his subsequent quest to help Door, a young woman who he first encounters injured on the streets of the more familiar London Above. Much like his other works, Neverwhere is full of colourful characters who aren’t always what they seem, fantasy locations that make you wish you could jump into the pages of the book and explore (I was particularly taken by the descriptions of the bustling Floating Market), and an interweaving of the familiar and the extraordinary.

*From here on I will be discussing elements of the plot that will include spoilers*

Mayhew and the monomyth

If you are a fan of Gaiman’s use of a mixture of mythologies in American Gods, I would strongly recommend Neverwhere. Although you won’t find an Egyptian god of the underworld or Norse warrior god in this novel, you will find an abundance of medieval fantasy elements and mythologies worked into the world of London Below. In fact, various plot points within the narrative can be seen to reflect and respond to the monomyth or ‘The Hero’s Journey’ as described by Joseph Campbell in his comparative analysis of myths and legends The Hero with A Thousand Faces.

 In some cases the plot responds in the expected way to these plot points, such as Lamia’s attempted and almost successful seduction and destruction of the novel’s protagonist Richard. In doing so, ‘The Women as Temptress’ aspect of the hero’s journey appears to be present, where a hero is tempted away from his quest and towards his downfall by a woman. I also found that the black velvet-glad and dangerous Lamia, was a dead ringer for the character of Duessa, who appeared in the Elizabethan work The Faerie Queene (Edmund Spenser), a key text in the canon of fantasy traditions. Richard’s eventual return to the normal world of London above and then rejection of it to a freer life in London Below, also almost perfectly seems to perfectly match the conclusion of the monomyth, which has worked towards the hero achieving a Freedom to Live.

Alternatively, Gaiman also subverts the monomyth by displacing elements that should be within the journey of the protagonist to other characters, for instance although Richard as several near death experiences, it is the Marquis de Carabas who encounters the ‘abyss’ of death and return described by Campbell. Another example of where Gaiman subverts monomythical expectations is by introducing a guide, helper and angel in the form of Islington – in medieval fantasy angels, gods and goddesses are usually protective characters who aid the hero and act as helpers – only to reveal towards the end of the novel that this character is the main plotting villain.

When looking at Gaiman’s other works like his adaptation of the Beowulf myth and twists on gods in American Gods, it’s no surprise that such a knowledgeable writer as Gaiman utilises and plays with the structure and tropes of the monomyth in his heroes journey, and as I was reading, I found that it helped to build my expectations and give twists extra impact when they came by playing to something so familiar then introducing something so new.

My London and their London

As somebody that has lived in London, the portrayals of London Above and London Below really appealed to me. From Richard mistaking the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, which I’m convinced is a right-of-passage for Londoners since it’s a mistake that been made so often – to the enjoyable miniature realms created from puns on place names, such as the train bound semi-medieval Earl’s Court and subterranean Down Street.

Also, London Below seemed to indicate something very true about England’s capital city to me. Like, Richard’s life in London Above, when first experiencing the city as a tourist or visitor, it often seems extremely well-ordered, full of galleries and museums alongside their overpriced canteens, and is somewhat sanitised. However, after spending a longer time there you discover the murkier undersides of the city, the troubles of it, but also the colourful, wonderful grass roots events and creativity that exists if one looks between the cracks, much like London Below.

Personally, as well as providing an excellent world for Richard to enter into in the manner of a portal fantasy, I found the conflicts between London Above and London Below also translated the conflict between the financial centre, gentrified and touristy aspects of London and the sub-cultural ‘underground’ and different diverse clans that are two worlds that exist within one city. Saying this though, there is absolutely no need to have a working knowledge of London to appreciate the Above or Below, it’s at the same it accessible, but also full of reference for those who are a bit more familiar with the city.

One to read?

If you’e been watching and loving American Gods, or want a fantastic fantasy read, Neverwhere is certainly for you. It’s a read full of mystery, exploration, escapism and a wonderful host of characters that I enjoyed spending more than a few hours with (even the murder-loving ones).

Although, I think Neverwhere would appeals to most readers, if you’re one of those people that is alienated by unrealistic world-building and like your novels to mirror the real-world, this isn’t the novel for you. Although if you’re a hardcore fan of realistic narratives, I couldn’t imagine that you would be wandering into the fantasy section of the book/e-book store to find it anyway.

 

Everyday Creativity Lent

Day 5

Everyday what? 

Every year I, like many people, try and give something up for the period of lent. However, this year I wanted to challenge myself in a different way. So along with giving something up (this year it’s cereal – my breakfast and snack food of choice), I’ve decided to create something every single day which I’ll then be sharing on my Instagram account.

This will mainly take the form of visual art pieces and drawings, since I’m a visual thinkers and find work like this easiest and most relaxing to produce. However, I’m also planning on dedicating some days to writing.

Day 9

Why?

There’s three main reasons why I’ve chosen to produce something everyday:

  • I want to enhance my skills – I love drawing and illustration, but have never had any formal art training beyond my GCSEs and AS-Levels, and as it takes around 10,000 hours to master a skill, it’s the perfect opportunity to rack up those hours of practice. Also, by producing something everyday, I hope i’ll be more likely to experiment with different techniques and aesthetics.
  • It’s time to stop been such a perfectionist – Done is better than perfect. With visual art in particular, it is so easy to start a piece and never finish because it doesn’t feel good enough. By giving myself a 24 time limit every day there’s no opportunity to worry about whether something is perfect or not, I simply have to get in done.
  • Working out those creative muscles – It’s very easy to get in a routine of doing similar activities at work everyday, then not finding time for creative projects. So by forcing myself to spend a bit of time creatively everyday, I hope to make a headway on creative projects that I’ve shelved and come up with lots of new ideas to shake off those mental cobwebs.
Day 16

How’s it going so far?

Producing something everyday was really challenging for the the first week or so. However, now I’ve begun to get into a habit of coming up with ideas and creating something regularly.

I’ve also noticed that through practice I’m not only improving my artistic ability, but my ability to come up with fresh ideas or developments on a theme, At the beginning, it was harder to com up with concepts and think how to lay them out, but as I’ve gone on I’m starting to develop faster ideas-generation techniques and find working within the restricted time period easier. I always find the time that I send creating relaxing, and look forward to been able to spend a period of my day producing something, and taking time to unwind on a daily basis can’t be a bad thing.

If you’re interested in seeing what I produce through the rest of my lent challenge, check out my Instagram profile.

Stanley Chow, David Hockney and new spaces for art

On Friday 3rd February, the opportunity to purchase an authentic Hockey was available to everyone who could head to a newsagent, or supermarket and get their hands on a copy of The Sun newspaper, while large screens in public spaces featuring the artist’s name have been installed across Britain to promote his exhibition at the Tate Britain Gallery in London.

The Sun, a tabloid newspaper that publicly took the side of the conservative party, the government that subsequentially reduced funding to the arts by 36% according to Arts Council England, and is commonly known for celebrity gossip columns alongside topless Page 3 pictures, is a world apart from the Tate Britain, arguably one of the most well-known galleries across Europe, if not the world. Nevertheless, Hockney has chosen to unite the two by exhibiting his work in both. In the Tate it is a collection of his works spanning his career, while he redesigned The Sun logo for a one-off edition.

Various commentators, including Tess Thakara from Artsy, saw David Hockney’s contribution as an expression of support for the controversial publication that was particularly guilty of describing migrants in terms such as ‘swarms’. Although I am not a fan of the paper myself and feel that there are a lot of problems with its content, I do find the featuring to Hockey’s work on the front cover to be symptomatic of a promising trend in art, the showcasing of it in public spheres outside traditional spaces such as galleries.

Although galleries such as the Tate are open to the public, I’m sure that most people reading this can think of a few examples of people they know who would avoid a gallery because they don’t think it’s their sort of place. As one of the UK’s most popular papers, there is also a good chance that some of these people also read the publication.

In this case, Hockney’s contribution is an example of bringing art into a public space that those who would not consider themselves art fans (and those who do) consume.

With the boom in pop-ups and collaborations of illustrators and artists with clothing companies, there appears to be more opportunities for people to take in art in non-typical spaces.

Overall, I feel that this is a good things and may introduce people to artists that they then track down in traditional spaces (I’ve certainly done this with illustrators who have worked with the clothing brand Monki whose items I’ve bought). However, there is a fine line to be drawn between making art available in non-traditional settings and art been consumed only by those who can afford it, if co-opted into more commercial settings. This does not seem to be the risk the David Hockney’s work with The Sun, as a wide variety of the public can afford the price of a paper, but could be deemed to be so with a pop-up exhibition of Stanley Chow’s work that I saw over the Lunar New Year festive period.

Stanley Chow’s work is perfect for a pop-up, especially in Manchester where it was exhibited. It’s bright, graphic and incorporates much loved city references and landmarks like Beetham Tower, and a modernist building known to locals as The Toast Rack. His pieces are very appealing and reminded me of vintage postcards, and I am always a fan of his eye-catching portraits.

However, this pop-up took place in Harvey Nichols, and as I was there with my free glass of Prosecco, I couldn’t help wondering if this art could have been bought to more people.

Targeting shoppers is indeed a good tactic for reaching a more general audience, who may stumble across the gallery while browsing the store and enjoy looking at the art (maybe joining me in becoming a fan of it). But, Harvey Nichols is an exclusive store, drawing in a more wealthy clientele than other shops, meaning that many may not even enter the store let alone find out about the exhibition inside, making it more reminiscent of traditional gallery spaces that some may assume are ‘not for them’.

By briefly comparing the differing placements of Hockney’s and Chow’s work it’s easy to see some of the problems that arise when looking for non-traditional spaces to exhibit work.

Issues such as finding a place where a cross-section of people can experience the art, how closely art should be tied to commercialism, and if companies that are aligned with new spaces for art are seen as problematic by traditional art crowds and the general public.

Saying this, I do hope that more art makes in into our day-to-day lives, as I don’t feel that taking in great pieces should just be reserved for special trips to famous galleries and sometimes art can have an even greater impact when stumbled across unexpectedly.

 

The role of a buyer: ‘Temporary Custodians’ by Maurice Carlin

If you have been anywhere near a news website recently, you may have noticed a lot of noise transpiring from the arts and entertainment world, regarding Ivanka Trump; in particular her art collection.

Ivanka is a prolific contemporary art collector, posing in front of her purchases on social media posts, including while promoting her father’s presidential campaign and transition. Due to being concerned about her role in the transition team, and her father’s policies, artists are reaching out to ask her to remove their art off her walls, with Richard Price going so far as to declare his piece as fake.

So what does this news story have to do with Maurice Carlin’s temporary exhibition at HOME Manchester?

carlin blog 1.jpg

It raises questions about the role of the art buyer. Should their behaviours align with the artist’s own values? I don’t think many artists would have intended for their work to be part of pro-Trump messaging. And what responsibilities do those who own art have? Should their purchase mean more than just decoration?

Carlin’s work, which is a series of a hundred unique relief prints of the floor of Manchester art and entertainment space Islington Mill, puts the role of the buyer in the spotlight, as anyone who purchases a print also becomes a ‘Temporary Custodian’. As much as I would have loved to have joined their ranks by purchasing one of these colourful prints, with added bursts of vibrancy in between floor tile reliefs, at £1000 each, a piece was well beyond my price range!

carlin-blog-2

As well as receiving a piece of the mill frozen in time, the Temporary Custodians become part of a community that will decide what happens to the complete artwork in the future, where it will go and who it will be shown to. Each choice will no doubt be laden with implications for the work’s meaning, explicitly giving the buyers the responsibility for a work that artists responding to Ivanka Trump through their action suggest she has.

Whether an artist, a buyer or a viewer has responsibility for forming a work’s meaning is a debate that has raged for centuries across disciplines of visual art, literature, theatre and many other forms of expression. However, I find Carlin’s overt addressing of the issue by deliberately giving meaning-forging powers to his buyers to be refreshing. It probes assumptions about what makes an art piece interactive, and although the exhibition of these pieces was temporary, it has the lasting effect of making me consider the meanings that I may be adding to the (much cheaper) art in my own home.