7.4.14

word of the day: scripturient


yes. currently at level 10.


thanks sam 'sanga' nelson!

1.4.14

a half thought about art and praise




on the weekend, i had an occasion to do a live drawing. as part of a thing i'm about to embark on. it doesn't matter what, really, but it involves drawing. live. listening. and people seeing it evolve. it's used as a tool for recording, really.

during the course of the afternoon, there were a range of reactions to the artwork being produced. and to us as artists working on it. apart from the initially patronising 'are you art students?', it was primarily praise.

'oh, it's amazing!', 'it's so beautiful', 'oh, i could never do that, it's so great!' - pointedly. i could hear the extra effort made to voice the praise. just in case.

most of it was genuine - i really believe that people got a lot of enjoyment from seeing the colours and the artwork as a whole, but the sheer amount of it and the sameness of its tone and timbre made me feel quite uncomfortable.

it was as if the only way to express value about art is through praise. endorsement. along the lines of 'exposure'. that if people 'like' it, it's good.

despite its first appearance, this is not a humblebrag, or some kind of dysfunction desire for hatred. it's an acknowledgment that art is rarely seen as a tool. even when it is being explicitly used as one - as illustration. there was no similar praise for the facilitators of the afternoon, or the chairs/tables one was sat around. there was no fauning (really, some people were fauning over us) over the emcee, or the event organisers.

yet all were equal to the task of conveying what had been happening during the day. to the various ways of discussion and knowledge and understanding.

again, in this reaction to art is its undoing, i think. where the link between art's value is its enjoyment, and that its means of exchange is an expression of it. rather than something else which makes it worthy or valuable, something outside taste, or awe.

perhaps i just need to go to bed and stop thinking about it.

27.3.14

i always cry when i hear a poem read. (1)


Damilola Odelola, 2014

as some of you will remember, I made some work with boni caincross over the last few years, which focus on voice and the spoken word.

since being in london, i have delved into the amazing spoken word/performance poetry scene here - managing to see a stack of really amazing poets that i now stalk online/call friends.

speaking of which, last night, kareem parkins-brown (no obvious relation) invited me to the showcase for this year's barbican young poets programme.

it was phenomenal.

25 poets, all under 25, all crazy skillful and electric.

i'm not versed in writing about poetry (geddit?!) - yeah, that's why - Ed. so i'm not going to do the night justice at all, because i can't write about each and every poet, nor even describe the night very well.

but i will say that it got me. i clicked and cried a lot.

i'd never seen group poetry before and some of them were phenomenal. one in particular - speaking about families and homes and using the form of the group to highlight the range of disparity in a family as in the group itself. holy shit, astounding.

some individual stand-outs included emily harrison, who spoke of falling in love with strangers in t-cut; shonshana anderson's cool american delivery that reminded me of a young patti smith mixed with a young lily tomlin; greer dewdney and her work meant to be - a cutting work a social situation, using a form invented by one of the other poets ankita saxena; kareem (yeah, so what if i'm biased - he was amazing and had people standing up for him! deservedly so) with his work about his mother and the way he described her sighs and posture of sadness; antosh wojcik with his well-crafted gonzo/surrealism and cameron brady-turner's living along: an experiment, a crushing story of OCD that had us all gasping on a bus.

 (cue envelope opening)
and dami odelola, who had the line of the night in her work and the stuff that comes before a fall. seriously, all the ladies in the house were clicking and showing appreciation like mad, and probably a stack of men too. i can't quite remember because i was hit.

it was a line that hasn't left me. i couldn't really hear the three poets after that line, because my mind had  hit a glitch and was just skipping back and forth over that line.

aside from the lyricism itself, it was a line that struck me squre. and i knew from then on, for the first time in my life, that being used by men was not my fault. but it wasn't entirely theirs either - i was a solution to a gnawing hurt.

it still makes me cry.

and i'm sorry you all couldn't hear that line. because although i've posted the image of it up there, taken from the bodacious anthology that they produced, it's not the same. it's not even close to sitting in a room, hearing the energy, the timbre, rhythm; seeing the gestures and the fire inside, and being in a group of people for whom 16 words hit them behind their eyes at the same time.

11.3.14

Martin Creed: Pointing




A few weeks' ago, my regular art date, sitdowncomedian, and I went to the Martin Creed show at the Hayward gallery. We were both struggling a little, heavy hearts for different reasons, but found it the perfect antidote.



It was the first time I've seen the breadth and the depth of Martin Creed's practice*.

Until this point, it's only ever been catalogues, a few displays in group exhibitions/biennales/etc and a ramshackle live performance at Goldsmiths.

I think the man is pretty great, I just didn't realise how much until this show.

The thing about this show is that you just have to see it. You don't even need to know anything more about it than that.  

Which renders this post a little superfluous, really. However, i will do my best to write something about it, but still, just save up your £11and see the show.


Succinctly, it's a show about ascendence (and descendence).

In as many ways you can possibly think of.

The curators at the hayward have done a shit-hot job of taking you on a journey along that simple-but-profound-idea and it's immensely satisfying.

It is the busiet show i've seen in a while, because of the frenetic and prolific nature of his work.
Yet  because of the size and the purity of it, it's not cluttered or overstated. Which feels an odd thing to say about a show that repeatedly speaks about the same thing over and over and over again.
But because he comes at it from a variety of facets, it's clear and pure and crystalline in form.

A diamond says the same thing about carbon over and over again and is brilliant and dazzling, without being bloated or overstated.

This show is like that.

Yes, I know, I just compared Martin Creed's show to a diamond.
Perhaps I am guilty of overstating.


Anyway, without giving too much of the show away, you can look forward to highs and lows, ups and downs in a gorgeous cascade of variety, including:

Colour spectrums (ascending light/colour)
Musical scales (ascending and descending) on the piano - played by the security staff
Towers of boxes (ascending space)
Towers of other objects (ascending form and line)
Phallic cacti getting bigger/smaller (natural order)
Cocks doing the same 
A newly erected wall (it's all about getting it up)
Even the ramp was blocked off (for clear reasons to do with safety) and you had to climb up and down those stairs.

Up and down, up and down, again and again and again.


It sounds like a Doctor Seuss book in visual form.

Perhaps it's exactly like that - filled with direct poetry, profound ideas and joy joy joy for the hell of it.


A couple of nice and fitting diversions from the theme include the massive swinging MOTHERS sign. It didn't wow me that much the second time around, but it is a crowd-pleaser.

The funny film of a dog and a couple of people tracking back and forth across the screen. It could be arbitrary, but it seemed to be triggered by people crossing the space, which I liked.

And a cool trick with a car doing something similar;

The wall of tape - which was sort of like a colour spectrum, but more linear. And ridiculous. And reminded me of friends who have tape obsessions (Hi Julia, Phiroze and Gemma!);


Nipples and arseholes/ nautical installations and objects, which were lovely (although not quite as lovely as Sue Webster and Tim Noble's similar things);

The balloon room. Although I was in no state to really plunge into that fit of joy on that day, by all accounts it was pretty exciting, if not a bit claustrophobic (like the Gormley White Light room);

And, the great wall of broccoli prints, which lead me to fantasising about being Martin Creed's Broccoli Assistant:


"oh, nice to meet you, what do you do"
"I work for Martin Creed, I'm his Broccoli Assistant"

with the business card:


Lauren Brown

Broccoli Assistant
Martin Creed Studios
London, UK


See? the exhibition takes you to some absurd places, without being obtusely, or disrespectfully ironic (everyone knows how much I fucking hate irony as the core of an artwork). And because it is so generous, it also leaves plenty of room to dislike works without feeling left out or hating the whole show.


Like all good art shows should.


If you want to round out the well-rounded experience at the Hayward, pop across the way and head into the Royal Festival Hall, to the Singing Lift. It features his ascending/descending sound work, which overlooks a different perspectve of the balloon room.

In fact, this added exterior perspective of the show was great and not something I had seen in many shows at the Hayward. It was a reflection of an exhibition which concerned itself with entirety.


From the outside 'car park', you could see the image of the dogs on the side of the opposite building, and from the section with the wall, you looked towards the towers of The Shed and the Tate Modern - similar to structures seen instide. (I did have a little wish that the tower of the Tate Modern had been painted in a colour spectrum by him, so it would tie all in nicely across that southern bank.)


Anyway, you should go and see the show.  I'm going back for seconds soon.




*I always call him by his full name Martin Creed. Just Creed or just Martin seems weird to me.


image: pinched from the martin creed site itself.

19.2.14

work and experience, part 2: school work experience




I was recently looking for work, and I obviously had to reflect on the experiences I bring to prospective workplaces. It was an opportunity to look back at the history of my relationship with work.

Unsurprisingly, I also had to avoid considering internship positions, which is a bit of a shame, because there are a stack of things I'd love to try out, if i had the chance (read: money).

Especially because I feel like I wasted my chances with that whole idea of gaining 'work experience' - especially when I was in school.

I have never had enough money to take a gap year, or even to do internships - I've always had to wrangle my money - so the school-based scheme was really my only chance at connecting my skills with all the possibilities of earning.

I don't know what it's like here in the UK (or anywhere else in the road), but in Melbourne, we get two weeks - one each year at 15 and 16 -  to spend in a workplace relevant to our careers.


My two weeks

At 15, I was studying Italian, German and Japanese. My mother (and probably my school) suggested that, with those language skills, perhaps I should be an interpreter or translator.

If i could advise my former self, I would suggest other things. However, time has passed.

So I spent a week in June at an interpreter's office, which turned me off the idea forever. The staff were all bored, spoke turkish to each other - a language I couldn't understand - and no-one really guided me through the process. I read a book for most of the week. Perfect experience.

I remember being really disappointed after that experience at the the interpreter's office;
I was completely lost as to how to use the obvious skills I had with languages and no-one in my family, (or seemingly in school), had any kind of understanding as to how to apply them either. I was also at an age where I was having a lot of difficulty expressing how I was feeling. So couldn't really talk about it with anyone.

So I did the best thing I knew how to do: scrapped it and changed tack. I picked up science, headed towards something that I knew I could 'use' and that has some prestige to it.
Except i'm not a scientist and I knew it.
But i didn't talk to anyone about that disappointment or lack of direction.
Not really. So i hid those skills (including my A+ skills at English) and wobbled off into the world alone.

At 16, I was working for a crook in a fucked up situation. I was getting paid and I was on a path of self-destruction. I manipulated the week so that I did 'work experience' with him and spent half the week with my boyfriend.


So those two weeks were my 'introduction to the workforce'.

I don't regret too much about the past, but in the middle of job-hunting and reconsiderations about the nature of my 'work' those lost chances are a tiny sore spot.



Lessons learned

So when David McQueen recently asked his twitter's suggestions for young students about work experience, I remembered that I had a lot of them.

So, here they are:

1. Do as much work experience as you can. We only had to do one week each. At one firm each week. We got paid $5 per day (which was more I'd ever earned before), but it's not really that much of a tester - considering how different high school or even university is from working life.


I would have spent time in a fashion house, at a funeral home, in a school, at a newspaper's office, in a factory, working for a builder or an architect, - in all kinds of places.
Give yourself some real room for real discovery and experience.

And write about it. Or blog. Tweet. Make videos, or songs or whatever it is that you do to express the deeper parts of yourself. Do that whilst you're on that journey. It will help in years to come to look back at that raw reflection and see some truth in it.


2. Play to your strengths.  Go to places not so obviously connected to what you 'want' to do, but that use your skills.

Because it's much easier to love what you do when you do it well, rather than just doing what you love. don't worry about getting it straight away - the happy accidents or the conscious changes we make as adults are invaluable. But it would be nice if you can get a bit of a head start.

3. Think laterally. Search websites for those skills from #2. And then some based on your school reports - even the bad ones will highlight the areas you are skilled at. Even if you're a pain-in-the-arse-class clown, you still hold the skills of holding people's attention, managing a room full of people, being vulnerable, witty and manipulative - skills that are great for management, public speaking, loads of areas of showbiz, teaching, etc. 

4. Actually speak with someone about it before and after. Really - do your best to get some support for it. It will stand you in good stead for speaking with recruiters, careers coaches, counsellors and other people there to help and support your growth.

Our careers counsellor at school was a little bit useless, so I got away with how shit it all was and deserved the lost chance.

But, if you can grasp the great opportunity you have, bookend it with a few different people. Especially with someone who challenges you on your shit. It should be your Mum. or your Dad. But it's also just as likely to be your older brother, or aunty, uncle, favourite teacher.

Try to properly analyse it. Don't just fill in the form (any kid can do that, jeez) - but speak to them. Tell them your expectations, hopes and fears about the job/role/experience beforehand. And then again afterwards.

And use that to create a bit of a plan of attack for the next time you do it. Because you'll do it again.

5. Be strategic. Have a plan of attack. Really think through what you're looking to understand about a workplace. Use the chats from #3.

It's not always easy or appropriate to ask questions, so be as observant as you can about things like time, goals, visions, accomplishments and relationships:

How do people organise their time? How do they treat each other? What are the ways in which they celebrate success? How do they speak about expectations.


6. Don't do the work experience where you already work. Even if my 'job' wasn't shady-as-fuck, I would suggest this. You already know how that job works. For all the reasons above - this is a chance to really research and uncover the good, teh bad and the ugly about a role.

It's better than speed dating, even.






17.2.14

why are black boys' ears not the same?

Last Saturday, two things happened on the same day that prompted me to write (again) about the intersection of listening and race, and sound in public.


Firstly, the Florida jury judging the murder case against Michael Dunn were unable to decide that he was guilty against jordan davis. 

They were unable to believe, without reasonable doubt, that a middle-aged white man armed with a gun did not commit murder by shooting an unarmed teenager because he felt his life threatened by the boy's loud music and defensive manner.

Jordan Davis' death is, among other things, linked to listening in public to loud music. Black music. Music that black boys listen to in cars. Loudly.

In terms of sound in public space, this is a case which sets dangerous precedent. In terms of my interest in the rise of headphones and the changing ways we listen in contemporary times, it's full of important things: It connects to the rights of the listener, who has privilege over those rights and even the racial difference between the ways of listening.

In this case, the ears of the white man are privileged over the black boys'.


Michael Dunn's ears were offended in public. So his life was threatened in public. 
His defensive actions were found, in the public realm of the law, to be justified.

The ears of Jordan Davis were ignored in public. So his life was ignored in public.
His death was found, in the public realm of the law, to be justified.

For obvious reasons this bothers me greatly.
It is racism, white privilege in the eyes of the law and the ears of the listener.
It pushes the relationship to sound into the area of law.


It is also an example of something that i'm coming to see as the dangers, the real consequences of the racial differences between listening. ie: the fact that white people don't listen*.  or actually, the way in which white people colonise listening (connected to the way in which white people colonise everything else.**)



This realisation was driven home that same day at the Pharaohe Monch gig.


I'm a hip hop fan. I've made artwork about hip-hop and I have to acknowledge the privilege and problematic aspects that puts me in. So I am not above my own criticism at all - I am part of this colonial white listening crew too.


And back to the hip-hop gig: 

The main support band were four white dudes wearing masks, with great beats (a great producer/DJ) and the same old boring shouty rhymes over the top. 

At first they seemed OK - like i said - killer soulful beats, and full of energy and crowd-pumping. But after the first 2 songs, once I realised that all the songs essentially sounded the same, I was bored, started to see a bit of a pattern, and applied it.

These four white boys took the parts of hip hop culture that they learned/borrowed/shared with their black brothers and sisters, mashed with it, applied their 'i have something to say and people need to hear it' agenda that is (we have to admit) part of the typical white-with-a-mic pattern.

They took the form of rapping/preaching over bass-heavy, soul-heavy music, without an experience of these things, or an understanding of the more subtle aspects to hip-hop. 

These guys, all four, wrote a verse, all sung four choruses together, found some phat beats and sticky taped them together - interwoven with occasional 'when i say X, you say Y: X, Y, X, Y' blah blah, and a bit of a stand against the legalisation of marijuana (because you know, white kids are crowding the UK prison system on pot charges.) just shouted at us.

Seriously, the whole set sounded exactly the same. It was cut and paste.
There was no real connection between their lyrics and the music. Just an approximation to rhythm, but no actual marriage, no understanding. No years-of-it aspect that is present in so much other music.

It was like these four white guys have never really listened to music, hip hop,  or even to the soul music they were riffing on.
Or preachers. Or performance poets. Or maybe even people in general.  Not with their hearts. Or souls.
It has never truly kept them alive.



Perhaps, as white folk, the desire to manipulate and use the material is too strong.

And the privilege is to high - like we've never really had to hold onto music, because we know that at least the jury will believe us, we'll eventually get work we qualified for, the bank will probably loan us the money eventually or we can always 'go home'.



Because the difference between their set and the Pharoahe Monch set was huge. Monche and DJ had an actual connection with the music being played, with each other, with the audience.

He has a deep connection with listening. An identification with the sounds of music, of people, of rhythm and therefore and understanding and connection.

Of course Pharoahe Monch is a high-grade professional. He's crafted and worked hard. He has been doing this a long time. But his whole community have been doing this a long time. The four boys are still just along for the ride.

it is the difference and the privilege of taking up sound space in this kind of gig, which particularly sparked the link to the jordan case. The link between the rights of the listener and the rights of the body are linked through music and a reminder that listening is a political act. 


--

postscript: i was also a bit sad to realise that nobody did a shout out to jordan davis that night.  nobody acknowledged the public death of a young black man in the hip-hop community and that rap, hip-hop and black music is still a site of much contest that we must all be alert to.




*which may or may not be the title of a much longer essay/book/PhD, etc.

**I would like to spend more time unpacking this case, in relation to listening as an act. It won't be in this post, but it may end up in a more academic-style of essay.


*** btw, angela corey, you have a lot to answer for at the moment.

12.2.14

a new/old/young sizwe banzi





It was my birthday on Saturday, so I took myself to the theatre because I love going to the theatre on my own. It was a last-minute decision after a difficult day, so I was very grateful that, when I rushed in, (late, puffed) and only had enough for a £10 ticket, the Young Vic staff were able to accommodate me. They also forgave me calling the play Banzi Sizwe is Dead. Typical wadjela.

As I was waiting for my late-comers' entrance time, I had a quick run-down: a bit of the section I'd missed - a monologue from Styles about his time at the Ford factory, but nothing I couldn't catch up on. 

And, it was explained to me, the crowd and entrances were segregated. I wasn't shocked. Perhaps I already knew from something I'd heard about last year's season. Perhaps it just made sense, being that the play was portraying South African Apartheid.



The play

Sizwe Bansi is Dead was written by South Africans Athol Furgard, Winston Ntshona and John Kani, deep into Apartheid/National Party in the 1970s. First premiering in 1972, Cape Town, its first season in London (1974) won accolades and connected English audiences to the nature of apartheid (and its UK complicity - noting the presence of Barclays in the South African City skyline at Styles' studio). It has since been performed here in 1977, 2007, 2013 and now 2014. 


The official blurb: 

It’s 1972 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and Sizwe Banzi’s passbook gives him just three days to find work. No work and he’ll be deported. That was four days ago.
So when Sizwe stumbles across a dead body with a passbook, he asks himself – does his identity card really define who he is? Could he give up his family and his name in order to survive?



Typically and misleadingly, Furgard is often touted as *the* writer of the play, however Ntshona and Kani are deeply entrenched in its dialogue - they played Styles and Bansi (Banzi) in the 1972/74 and 2007 seasons, and their names appearing as cameos in the play. Ntshona is the name of a friend of Buntu and (presumably) the "answering to 'John!'" as a subordinate term was not just about the de-nomination of Afrikans/Bantus, but also a reference to Kani.  (Who also played Happy Bapetsi's 'Dubious Daddy' in the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series. Geez, Lauren, what's with that reference? - Ed. )




Background info
Port Elizabeth, the setting for the play, is a White Area on the Eastern Cape outside the sanctioned African Reserve Areas of the Ciskei/Transkei. Highly regulated. And not to be confused with even-more regulated Port St. Johns.

Africans/Bantus require a permit to be in an area outside of their 'Homeland', or another Bantu designated work area, requiring the kind of visa the Home Office dreams about.

I have a little bit more of an knowledge of Townships, Homelands and the business of the book* thanks to some reading I had done last year1, which including the restrictions for working in towns like Port Elizabeth and the legalities of why he would HAVE to go back to King William's Town. 

Of course, I have zero understanding of the system portrayed in the play, but I got a little closer with this play.

The Court Theatre study guide to the play is also an interesting accompanyment.

1. Bantustans - The Fragmentation of South Africa was a disturbing but enlightening publication from 1964 by Christopher R Hill and the Institute for Race Relations, London. I learned a lot about the specific policy of apartheid and the gross financial and econonomic destruction that was behind the ideology, sold as 'solutions' every couple of years. 


This production
Sibusiso Mamba, who plays Sizwe Banzi/Robert Zwelinzima is actually adorable. He brings to the role a solid combination of solemn, awkward and honest - pathos. And this is crucial to playing a man struggling with being turned into someone he isn't: not just his name, but someone who is twisted into dishonesty and manipulation - to fit within the white supremacist system of Apartheid - in order to continue to be something he used to be.

Although I have one disappointment. There is a section in the second half of play -  the crux of the work -  at the point in which Sizwe Bansi becomes Dead. It is where the desperation of being cut into a corner, dehumanised and bureaucratised has built to a point of such frustration, that he is willing to go to any lengths to prove that he is actually who he believes himself to be: a man.

The dialogue is full of tension. 

And, unfortunately, in the performance I saw, it lacked the conviction of that situation.
There is like a very good reason for this (see the next section), probably nothing to do with Sibusiso's acting, but it was still a little disappointing.

Tonderai Munyevu - who I had seen recently in Zhe at the Soho Theatre - is fantastic. He's such a bright light on the stage and brings that cheeky Southern African (specifically Zimbabwean) humour whilst balancing the gravitas of oppression under white supremacy and poverty. I could be making this up, but I felt like he is more Styles than Buntu - more "dapper, alert, thriving', than 'strong, compassionate, willing'  but that's just me projecting it onto him.

The Styles section of the play was exactly what I needed on my birthday: Lots of laughter, lots of humanity, lots of cheerfulness in the face of adversity, and lots of determination.

He also happened to remind me of an ex-boyfriend (also Zimbabwean, also more Styles than Buntu), so sometimes during the performance I may have been smiling when it was slightly inappropriate to be doing so. I hope it wasn't deemed as disrespectful.


Speaking of disrespectful..

The blankes/whites
Throughout the last 30 minutes of the performance, every 10 minutes or so four white, drunk, fairly-young members of the audience tramped and sloshed their way across the bench seats and out the door. Stumbling, making noise, disregarding the action on the stage and being arses. One woman falling up the stairs and clearly unable to manage anything quieter than a stage whisper when talking to the ushers.

When the first two left, I was confused. I thought the preview I was in must have been a rehearsal. And that they were crew making changes. Then when the next person left I realised that they were just being rude. And by the time the last woman left - making the most noise, I was ropable.

Of course, the disturbance was not just that of individuals or the performance itself. 

But it highlighted the disregard us blankes still have for Africans and Black British people and stories. It reminded us that, despite being at a great performance of contemporary theatre, in one of the most diverse cities in the world, racism still exists. 
Overtly. Subtly. Structurally.
Truly, Madly, Deeply.

Theatre-goers aren't some special breed, inocculated against ignorance and bad behaviour. And, in true privileged style, most of us theatre-going white folk like to think we are separate from it, so we also didn't like it when they showed us up. Me included.


And this is problematic, but it was somewhat satisfying to spy one of the girls in the foyer and express my displeasure. Not in an English, passive agressive way, but it in an overt way. As overt as her racist behaviour was. Although I didn't use the word 'racist' - because I'm still slow.  I was also slightly relieved and pleased to hear others telling her and her friends off, expressing their dissatisfaction.  It felt like maybe a step towards a desire for whiteness to not include such disgustingness. Clearly I'm still in denial.


Set for racism
The white supremacy that the characters in the play are railing against is continued in the structure of the performing of the play itself. Possibly intentionally, although given the behaviour of my four ignorant friends, here, I would suggest that it's destructive, rather than enlightening.

The fact that Furgard is still touted as THE writer of the play (especially in London), rather than as one of three equal contributors is a reflection of the way in which whites are still privileged over Africans. And that's not in South Africa, kids.

In fact, the 2013 season of Sizwe Banzi and The Island was often touted in the London press - Time Out, The Guardian, as an Athol Furgard season. Not a Furgard, Kani and Ntshona season. All three writers wrote both these books, by the way. Need I remind you that it would have been the lived experience of Ntshona and Kani that enabled Furgard to even speak of many of these actions.

And of course, with this production, teh segregation is the action of white supremacy. It may not be the intention, but the thing about racism is that it's not about intention. It's about action or effect.  


Back to our drunk mzungus, did it charge the conditions for racist behaviour? White supremacy as a system, causes racism. If the crowd has been mixed, or our differences not highlighted or enacted in such a way - if the system was not replicated, would these people have still done this? 

Probably - because they were disrespectful, drunk and consequently self-absorbed and ignorant (the breeding ground of acting out internalised racism) but I'm asking the question anyway. 

Because I think it's quite important for me to remember - especially as an intelligent, politically and racially-aware white woman - that oppression and racism (see also patriarchy/misogyny, ablism, hetero/cis-normative/homophobia) it is not about individuals and their own actions. It's the awareness that we are a group of people who contribute and that there are systems (designed) that create and perpetuate these destructive actions and beliefs.


It reminded me that it's only the privileged who get to really fuck around with paying homage to oppressive systems in art or theatre or design. It's only really those who have no clue who can cherry pick symbolism, 'reincarnate' or try to bring it to life - because we can all go home, tralalala and write a blog post about it instead of committing suicide or stealing a dead man's passport to stay alive.

image: promo shot pinched from the Young Vic website.

27.1.14

work and experience, part 1




Currently all roads are leading to ideas about work. probably because i'm spending all my days looking for it.

As a treat, I started writing a post about all the interconnecting ideas I was having about work and earning and experience. Then it became a bit of a thesis.  So, in the interest of public safety, I've broken it into a few separate posts about work and mothering, earning, work experience and about the concept of 'hard work'.

Work and mothering

Until the point I left it on a bus, I was reading Lynne Segal's first book 'is the future female?' and within it, revisiting the journey of feminist ideas about work:
- mothering-as-work,
- sexual harrassment at work,
- the disproportionate amount of women in the areas of work that are unstable and underpaid
(especially women of colour)
- and the focus of parity in the workplace
(which i have decided needs to be reworded as parity in the workforce - a difference i'll cover).

That book was published 30 years ago and it reminded me that even though many things have improved for women (especially white western women like me) - there are some more women in better jobs, we are more present in parliament and policy-making, in higher management and still rattling at the parity cage. However, many things are still unenequal, oppressive and unjust for so many.

One of the ongoing areas of change and challenge is the link between women's role as mothers, as primary child-raisers and the unpaid, unacknowledged and assumptions about that role - a role that cuts across all the sections of women's experience.

Not to mention the public's expectations of certain mothers (like I mentioned here), it is still largely assumed women will be the primary care-givers, rather than it being a considered choice between the two people responsible for raising children.

Many of my friends and family are having children at the moment and I only know one couple for whom the man is the conscious primary care giver. And another couple for whom it has turned out that way, but wasn't necessarily discussed in those terms. Those woman have gone back to work or to running their businesses, but are still expected to keep the foot on the gas. None of the male partners  have been given parental leave longer than the first three weeks of intense newborn time - some haven't even thought about it, others have, but structurally it's like… what?

I overheard a conversation on the tube the other day that highlighted how we still have a long way to go about the relationship between work and child raising and expectations of who does that. There were three (white) lawyers - two men and a women. Both the men have young children and they 'do their best' to get up, get to work early, so they can leave at 5pm and be home in time to spend an hour with their children before they go to bed, another couple of hours with their partner before starting all over again.

The sound of melancholy and sense of 'stuckness' in those stories was awful. We're continuing to go with the idea that a man being entitled to just an hour a day in the rearing of new people as enough - it's just not right. How can the men be OK with that too? Part of it is because the rest of their good lives are enabled by this imbalance and that 'good life' is based on the old role of 'provider', etc.


I am not a mother. Or even a potential one. So I have a slightly biased and theoretical view about this issue, but it did remind me that it's still something that is very much a problem. We are still raising people to have particular gender skews towards who needs to be raising those people.

And it means that women's 'choices' about mothering - using their skills to raise children, etc, are still in response to expectation. This is not to judge the role of women in mothering. It's just to point out that having a choice about it adds value and agency to it (something i'll cover more in the next post)


As an aside, in looking for that image above, here's what came up. not even stock photography is helping us here:





Interestingly, in looking for work at the moment, I have had my first interaction with this assumption about women's roles with my own parental status.

There are probably loads of other reasons why I'm not being interviewed, but in some situations, I have became aware that, due to my particular age and gender - that winning combination -  it puts me into 'mother' or 'potential mother' range and can influence decisions about hiring. Especially in relation to my perceived commitment to a role vs my other perceived 'priorities', not to mention an expectation about working with youth.

That had never occurred to me before.

That's how much privilege I have. I've just hit my first thought of real discrimation towards work - something that is outside of my control and an assumption made without even meeting me.



Naturally, it's an opportunity for me to clarify these things in my applications but damn I've never had to include my youthful appearance, attitude and empty uterus in a cover letter before. 

9.1.14

90 in 90 days




Instead of running a marathon, giving up smoking, or losing a stone, I'm beginning the new year with another 90 drawings in 90 days stint.

Primarily because, as uncool as it is for commercial value, drawing connects me.

It forces me to pay attention to the world AS IT REALLY IS, I have to observe, be present, consider myself in it and it also gives a sense of accomplishment when you've done one. Even if it's left undone.

I embarked on a stint in 2012 and completed 30 drawings, including a series that helped me deal with the stress of an HIV scare and moving to the UK. i still quite like some of these drawings. 

A few weeks' ago, I discovered one I did of the V&A Museum when I first arrived in London in 2012 (above), and thought 'Hey, it's not so bad'. That feeling's quite a nice gift to give yourself.

Having decided to let go of all assumptions and misconceptions about myself and art, the desire to write and draw have bubbled up to the surface like basic needs from yesteryear. I guess they are my core methods for processing information.

Despite my raunchy love affair with web things, I still have to work out the difficult and complex things -  like feelings, perception and deep longing - with a pen and paper.

So i'm going to do one of these sessions again. 90 drawings in 90 days. This time the focus will be largely drawing from life - because of the required attention, it's a bit meditative. And I can explore how sound and writing comes into that practice.

Back to basics, kids.

7.1.14

hannah arendt (the movie)




Last week, as I was revisiting* the discussion between Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks at the New School, I remembered my academic crush on The New School as a school in which a lot of my favourite thinkers, writers and artists have taught/teach and whose research I admire (a bit like my London LSE fantasy).

Which, in turn, reminded me about the Hannah Arendt film released here last year, directed by Margarethe von Trotta, and centred around her time at the New School.

Now, I think Hannah Arendt is amazing.
Her books The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition are crucial, her take on Rosa Luxembourg is heartwarming and my copy of The Portable Hannah Arendt is tattered with love and much use. The reports she made about the extraordinary trials in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann were so sensational and provoked vital critical thinking about genocide, sovereignty, international law and crimes against humanity.

She has problematic views too. Her take on the Little Rock Nine and desegregation of education the US is one I categorically reject, and her complicity in the occupation of Palestine through her work with Youth Aliya disturbs me.

Yet her complexity and her writing (as a whole) is a formidable influence on my work, thinking and inevitably on the work of people I admire, too.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I approached the film. 

Much in the same way films about Frida Kahlo, Sylvia Plath and Truman Capote have been unsatisfying**, I didn't want to witness a degrading, thin or limiting rendition of someone who is complex, who I admire and who I think the world needs to pay attention to.

There is always the threat that, in attempting to funnel their life down into a story of 100 minutes within the genre of contemporary filmmaking , it will reduce them to an afterthought and undermine the work they've done, as opposed to laude and celebrate their place in the world. Especially as the history of mainstream cinema banks on that kind of entertaining reduction and revisionism: palatable, easily distributable and marketable.

Sadly, i think that's what has happened to the character of Hannah Arendt in this film.



Given that Arendt is a writer and theortician, i imagine not easy to depict this kind of life in film.  
So the obvious way through is to focus on the fracas that she caused with her New Yorker report from 1961 Eichmann in Jersualem (still available on the New Yorker website!).  So the film centred around her trip to Israel for the trials, her discussions about the trials and theories of evil, justice and humanity, the writing of those articles and the aftermath of the publishing.

It was the beginning of discussion about the role of law, who gets to punish, about the role of media/journalism in such a massive undertaking.

And given that, really, i think the title should have been Hannah Arendt: A Reporter At Large or The Eichmann trials, or something along those lines - something that was in line with the story and trajectory of the film.

By its broad title, it suggests a story about her entirety, or the whole of her career at least.

The film focused a little on her relationships with students, her work with Karl Jaspers and Youth Aliya and other writers/acedemics at the time, but it primarily focused on her relationship with her bloody husband!
Just like every other biopic about women in the arts and letters.

Frida was about Diego, Sylvia was about Ted and Hannah was about Heinrich and/or Martin. In fact, the only recent film I have seen about an influencial woman that wasn't about her husband, was The Iron Lady about Margaret Thatcher. Which was about her debilitating illness instead. Not to degrade that, mind, but for god's sake can we have a film about the breadth of an intelligent woman's life!

Yet with those criticisms out of the way, I was still chuffed to see a political theorist in film, a female academic on film: her strong and opinionate character, the smoking (lordy - she didn't stop!), her friendship with author Mary McCarthy and a bit of her connection with Martin Heidegger. To see on-screen discussion of the theories of Heidegger and the difficulty in divorcing his excellent theory work from his decision to stay in the nazi party - that was welcome. And perpetuated in similar grey areas about Arendt (although not necessarily teased out).





And, as I mentioned, I appreciated seeing the New School as a kind of character, too  - the subplot of their flip-flopping sycophancy and rejection of their controversial 'prized lecturer'.  Reminiscent of the character of Harvard University in The Social Network, the university and its influence on those who influence is an interesting side-note.


I am not sure how good a film this is if you didn't know who Hannah Arendt is. This is a shame, because film is oftentimes an opportunity to also educate or intrigue people who may be otherwise none-the-wiser.
But if you do know about Arendt and her work, it is still worthwhile seeing for a kind of curiosity, fondness or revisiting her written work. And perhaps for generating resolve towards better scriptwriting about intelligent women of influence.






*when i say revisiting, i mean clapping my hands gleefully and yahooing around the house like a madwoman.

** geez - why are all these films just their names? how about 'zapatista in surrealism' or 'in the blue hours' or 'the love of in cold blood'. OK, iIm terrible with titles, but c'mon - single word names?