Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Mango

I was going to submit something for the latest edition of bloc (the theme of which was Art), but it ended up being late and too long. As you can probably guess from the title, it ran into a few difficulties. They haven't been entirely ironed out yet - there are few bits that don't quite flow, the odd paragraph that doesn't smoothly transition to the next - and I'm still not sure about the ending. Or the beginning. Or the bits in between. Still, I'm going to be off-blog for the next week, and the piece seemed long, rambling and nonsensical enough to represent a week's worth of my blogposts, so here it is (in fact, what with rather belated responses to comments as well, it'll be like I haven't even gone away)¬


It was a brief spell in his life, one of which most people were none the wiser, one that passed largely without incident. That is if any period of time in which one lives as a mango can be described as passing largely without incident. In truth, it can't. Not that Kermit Lansbury can be persuaded to share this view.

"No, it passed largely without incident," he told me once, quite firmly. It was September 1977, the first time I'd heard about it - the Mango Period. I tried to argue, but to no avail; each time my mouth opened so did his: "Uh-uh," it would say, as he raised both an eyebrow and a forbidding finger, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. I have tried many times since to get to the bottom of it all, this mango mystery; that time, though, I gave up. Sometimes there's no point arguing with him.

Already Kermit was a highly regarded artist, even back then in 1977 - perhaps you recognised the name? In fact, you probably know some of his more famous works: Untitled #111; Untitled #40; and perhaps his best work yet Untitled #86. Or maybe you would if he'd given them proper titles. Or even created them; at least in the conventional sense. You see, Kermit's reputation has been founded on taking abstract conceptual art to audacious and previously unimagined new levels (new depths, his critics have said): his works exist only in his imagination; only as concepts. As he puts it: "To make the concept concrete is merely to make concrete. And what fun is concrete?"

It goes almost without saying, then, that his works are quite unusually brilliant. No-one has been able to say otherwise. Indeed, Kermit himself has assured me of their brilliance on many occasions.

"Oh, they're brilliant!" he tells me, rolling his eyes in apparent rapture. For my part, I tell him that I wish I could somehow walk around that internal gallery of his; that everyone could. "But that's just it, there is no need," he enthuses, all expansive hand gestures and wide animated eyes. "Of course my works could not possibly be more personal, yet what could be more universal than subjectivity? We all have that in common. The simultaneously personal and universal - a beautiful paradox! Already they are somewhere inside of you. Inside of everyone. People need only look."

Then what makes you so talented, I asked him once, if your works are just lying around inside of everyone, waiting to be found. "Me? I just found them first, of course," he laughed. Perhaps, that is something that all great artists can say of their works.

But to anyone unfamiliar with the world of Kermit Lansbury no doubt this all sounds much like the Emperor and his new clothes, and his claims to have lived as a mango perhaps sound to you no more than a self-conscious eccentricity. Let me describe, then, one of the pieces he once described to me; it is not something he is in the habit of doing, and took much persuasion on my part, but I'm sure he will forgive me for sharing it with whoever might read this. After all, it has already been exhibited all around the world. The piece in question is very simple, and like all Kermit's work unnamed: it consists only of a huge black expanse and in the bottom right-hand corner a tiny white dot. It is in the interpretation that complexity arises:

"To you, a pessimist," he told me, "it will mean optimism, perhaps, this dot. And from moment to moment you will see a different dot: smaller, larger, in a different position, maybe even sometimes no dot. Everyone will see it differently. Me, I see a negative of the image - I call the dot pessimism. But, of course, I am blessed with innate optimism. Someone else may call the image Solitude; another, Hope. How to name it, then? It is much that way with all my work."

How to name it, indeed, this image? But even more so, as we have already touched on, how to render it? How to render any of his works? Ever changing, endlessly interpretable, so personal as to be universal: the only possible medium, the only possible gallery space for Kermit's works, indeed the only place that would not rob them of their essential subjectivity is certainly in his head; and at the same time, perhaps, in all our heads. To commit such works to canvas would not only compromise them, it would be impossible.

Needless to say, exhibiting Kermit Lansbury is not without its challenges.

The stunned expression of the woman who first opened a gallery to Kermit's works was itself a picture to behold. After many weeks of assuring her not to worry, that everything would arrive in time, just go ahead with the invites, he had turned up an hour before the opening entirely empty-handed. "But where are they?" she had asked. "Your works. We can't open to an empty gallery."

"Why not? It's a perfectly lovely gallery. All the more so for the lack of clutter," he had deadpanned. The poor woman was frantic. It was her first exhibition. A directionless young heiress, at this stage merely dabbling in the arts, Portia Teversham had never owned a gallery before. Which is not to say that she wasn't taking the whole thing very seriously.

"We have Press coming! We can't…"

"For an unknown? You've done me a great service then."


"Don't worry. I'm here. That's all you need. Every one of my pieces, even some I have yet to create - they are all here," he had smiled, tapping his temple. I remember her just staring at the madman, open-mouthed. "I was once a mango, you know," he had then whispered in her ear, as she would tell me many years later. I don't think he could resist. It is to her eternal credit, then, that she finally went ahead with the event.

Kermit had talked her round, of course:

"If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then let them come and behold beauty. What need have they of artworks? Interpretation too. Is that not the critical thing? If that is of their own making - the public, the critics - then my work need not be involved.

"Don't misunderstand me, there are, of course, artworks in my mind, many of them - I have spent countless hours over each - but how can I render them as I see them? Only in my mind are they as I see them. The instant they leave my mind they have failed. Were I instead to describe them it would be just the same.

"Nevertheless, they are undoubtedly worthy of exhibition. And so, here we are. I have my twenty works and each of the audience will be asked to leave with their twenty interpretations. Would that not also be the case if my works had simply been placed on the walls? When you think about it, where is the problem?" The poor girl hadn't been sure, although she'd been quite sure that there was one. But it was too late. And not just to cancel the show: she had fallen for him.

More or less the same speech Kermit later gave to the assembled Press and public. Some critics enthused wildly, if inaccurately, about the event as "a profound and unique comment on the impossibility of Art." Others decried Kermit as a "charlatan" pulling a "cheap stunt." While others were merely curious to see what he might do next. The reviews of that first show were decidedly mixed. But one in particular pleased him enormously:

"The images I saw ranged from the oddly comforting and vaguely pastoral, to ones so perverted and disturbing I can't even begin to describe them. Whether these in fact corresponded in any way whatsoever to the twenty that Lansbury had brought to the gallery, I have no idea. But, why not? Kermit Lansbury's images are subjective, as were mine. And what do we all have in common? Our subjectivity. Thus, as subjective images are they not universal? Frankly, I don't know, and it's making my head hurt. But that's no reason to suppose that tonight I didn't meet a genius." It was nice, Kermit told me, that at least one person had understood.

Of course, it might seem odd to think nowadays, when Lansburys quite regularly change hands for many thousands of pounds, that Kermit was unable to sell a single piece at that first show. But bear in mind, back then, his particular brand of conceptual art was unheard of; much less, widely understood. Collectors were baffled. Whilst it's never been unusual not to be able to touch great works of art - museum guards are generally quite insistent on the matter - in 1969 not even to be able to see what you were buying, that was unheard of.

How times have changed!

We have Kermit to thank for that. For it was he who first pointed out the obvious: many art collections already go unseen, gracing only the bank vaults of the rich. To these people, that they will never see what they have purchased is - aptly enough where Kermit's work is concerned - entirely immaterial: all that matters is ownership. To Kermit, then, the works may as well remain in his head.

Still, acceptance that all collectors need possess of any of Kermit's works were signed deeds of ownership was far from instantaneous. So it was perhaps fortunate that a certain young heiress fell for my dear friend when she did (in the career of which successful artist, though, has luck not played a hand?).

Within months the pair were engaged, the ring of course a stunning Lansbury creation: quite unique, and near impossible to copy, and thus the envy of all Portia's friends. Indeed, at the party, it also caused quite a stir amongst her parents' friends. And it was perhaps this buzz that later led to Kermit's first sales; though, obviously, we shouldn't discount the undoubted quality of the works themselves.

Neither was marriage long in coming; a union that has not been without its difficulties - Kermit's frequent alcoholic excesses are well documented, and thus not recounted here, ditto the incident with the sturgeon and the dentist - but I know for certain neither he nor Portia have regrets. Something that is comforting to know as Kermit's life nears its end.

Indeed, even in death Kermit Lansbury will blaze a unique trail: perhaps the only artist to take his every work to the grave (how this will affect the collectors market, goodness knows). I say 'perhaps', for here a contradiction lies: are Kermit's works not, though, as he has often suggested, just waiting to be found in all our heads? To Kermit there is no problem: "So both things are true. What can I say? I didn't create the world!"

No, he didn't, he has just made it that much more interesting.

But let us go back to the beginning of this piece, what of that little documented period before his great artistic success? I recently asked him again - had it informed his work? "How could it?" he replied. "I was a mango! I was not conscious. My work has thus been informed entirely by not being a mango." As he was of course aware, that wasn't really what I wanted to know. He sighed. "People buy things that exist only in my head, yet that they have problems with? OK, I will tell you what happened when I was a mango." What, I asked, thinking finally I might get to the bottom of it. "Nothing. I was a mango!"

Like I said, sometimes there's no arguing with him.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Locus Novus

I was looking at that video Miss-Cellany linked to (although the post seems to have disappeared now). The one where small children viewing their lives through fake TV cameras they'd all made led to real violence. I liked it. I wondered if it had been animated by Chris Ware - he wrote/drew Jimmy Corrigan, which I also liked. At the end of the video it said This American Life, so I googled it. And, yep, it was Chris Ware. Which led to more googling, which led to a blog, which... well, it's the final destination that's important here, not the journey (contrary to the usual adage). I ended up at a new place entirely, somewhere I'd never been before: Locus Novus. Literally, and literarily a "New Place". And I love it. What a brilliant idea. And done so well.

How to describe it? In their words:

  • A synthesis of text and image
  • A synthesis of text and motion
  • A synthesis of text and sound
Yep, it's a writing site. But one where the presentation of the writing, the context, the medium, is as integral to the pieces as the words. Many of the pieces I've watched/listened to/read tonight (all three at once, in many cases) I would have enjoyed even simply as words on a page. What amazed me, though, was the effect seeing these words presented with especially chosen music, sounds, and images had on the way I appreciated them; how much it enhanced and even changed them. It was like an additional level of punctuation had been employed; one that worked on the emotions. In fact, I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that they've created a new literary form (erm, unless someone else created it ages ago and they're just copying it - I wouldn't really know).

People have experimented with the layout and appearance of text before, of course, to create differing effects and emphases. BS Johnson, for instance - he would have loved Locus Novus. But here it's taken a step further. Images and music can change at appropriate points in the text. That word 'appropriate' might sound unlikely, given that everyone reads at different speeds, but that's the point: you can only read what's on the screen. In some pieces the words/sentences/paragraphs appear then dissolve to be replaced by new ones (don't worry, soon enough they'll appear again and remain elsewhere on the screen in case you missed them or need to re-read), in some they scroll, in others you click for more when you're ready. It really does make a difference.

For instance, if a sentence appears on the screen, you really don't know whether it's about to be contradicted or agreed with - your eyes haven't already scanned what's coming next; they haven't been able to. In other words, there are real dramatic and comic pauses. In effect, you can almost copy the rhythms of speech. And as for the images and music, well it's obvious from movies/TV/etc. that these have an effect on how you perceive things. What is more surprising, though, is how unintrusive it all is - enhancing, rather than distracting. Like I said, it's been done well. And not just in terms of the design, and the technology behind it all.

What shows most that they've thought about things is that none of the pieces is more than 1000 words long. That's right, short and manageable. Unlike hypertext novels, for instance - those are just annoying: similarly reliant on internet technology, but you never know how much more of them you're going to have to read. True, you might not ever know exactly what you're going to get on Locus Novus either - the element of surprise is something else to recommend the site, by the way, in my view - but you do know how much time you're going to have to invest: not much, really. Which given the potential reward on offer, can't be bad.

Anyway, it certainly brightened up my day and got me excited about writing. Indeed, maybe it's the future of writing? Whatever, it's worth a look.

So, go look:
Oh, yeah. I didn't spot them at first, so I should probably mention, for the 'Recent' section there are up/down scrolly arrows way over on the right.

Right, I'm off to read some more... well, it's more than reading, really... it's... erm... watching? Well, not exactly...

Ok, so if this catches on, we're all going to need a new verb. Still, the old ones have been around for years - they could probably do with a nice rest.

Addendum to the above post

More Locus Novus stuff:

The City Without Memory by Stephanie Hammer is utterly, utterly beautiful. It deserves a separate post of it's own - hence this one.

For Miss-Cellany, and anyone else who might be interested, here are some links to the author and some of her other work. I've read all the stories, but, sadly, they just don't really compare. Although, I do kind of like Small Stars. And the first line of Glamagandhi made me laugh. Maybe they'd be better done Locus Novus style?

Anyway, I found stuff, so here it is:

And the stories:

Monday, March 12, 2007

Club de Misère*

Miss-Cellany, Liam and I were thrown out of a club on Friday night. Which was nice.

Oh, wait... no, it wasn't. Particularly for Miss-Cellany and Liam, who were placed in very uncomfortable looking armlocks and marched out of the club, in Miss-Cellany's case, her feet hardly touching the ground - being all of five-foot-not-much, obviously such force was entirely necessary. I mean, who knows what someone her size might have done to three bouncers. How Liam got involved I'm still not certain. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Back to the beginning.

A number of us, including our course leader, had gone for a drink at Jacob's Ladder pub. Not ready to go home, we had all successfully navigated our way down the 124 irregularly shaped and irregulary sloped steps to the Moor - not something that would have been easy had any of us been the slighest bit the worse for drink. And we had certainly appeared sober enough to the doorstaff at Remedies to actually be admitted in the first place. So there we were, sitting in the corner behind the DJ booth minding our own business, when Miss-Cellany started acting in a way which might be construed as erratic and dangerously anti-social - or it might be if you're someone with no common sense, no judgement, and a necksize larger than your IQ. She... wait for it... lay down!?!

Curled up on a sofa chair, in fact. And why not? She was tired. She'd been up since 6am, working extremely hard on the latest edition of bloc. No reason why her partner Andy, or anyone else should leave, though, so why not just put her head down; at least, I'm guessing that was what she thought. Very nice of her, really.

Enter the bouncer. As I remember it, it was the young dark haired guy who came over and spoke to her first. I saw him out of the corner of my eye; as I looked around she was just sitting up, talking to him, quite rationally and calmly. From the expression on her face it looked like someone had told her something ridiculous that she couldn't quite believe. Which was exactly what had happened: she'd been told she'd have to leave just because she'd been lying down. If she'd been drunk and incapable of looking after herself, fair enough. But plainly that was not the case, being as she was perfectly rational and lucid. Any idiot could have seen that.

Well, apparently, not any idiot. There were at least three of them who failed to tell the difference (and later a policewoman, too, whose non-idiocy I had grave doubts about). The other two were called over, presumably, in case the situation got ugly, which of course it did with the arrival of a woman who on a bad day might have resembled Alice the Goon (back left - perhaps I'm being a little unfair, but so were they) and a big, bald neckless guy who looked like he'd escaped from a rugby scrum.

Anyway, Miss-Cellany rejoined us all at the table (Andy, Steve, Joe, beyceyar, Ryan, Holly, Christina, Jen, Liam; of whom, Liam and one or more others were, I think, on the dancefloor). Andy tried to reason with the young dark-haired bouncer (I think), whilst Miss-Cellany tried to reason with Alice the Goon - when she and Andy had finished their drinks they'd be more than prepared to leave, Miss-Cellany was saying. Indeed, after a tug-of-war over Miss-Cellany's drink, Alice backed down. However, by now the bald guy wanted a piece of the action - perhaps he felt excluded, or something, poor thug. Or was just baffled by such an alien thing as reason. Here I became involved.

I'd already been trying to say how ridiculous this all was for a few minutes, but it was just then that the scrum escapee asked me to move out of the way so that he could grab Miss-Cellany. Obviously, I didn't.

"Are you going to move, or not?" he continued. I just said,

"No," and remained firmly in my chair.

There wasn't really anything to gain from it, I guess. I mean, I couldn't exactly have stopped him getting to her. Still, passive resistance is better than no resistance.

Anyway, I didn't have long to wait for the consequences. My chair was lifted from the floor, with me still on it, and unceremoniously swung out of the way. Quite why I spent this brief elevation endeavouring to put my drink back on the table I will never know. A bloody strange thing to do. Because not only should I have had a drink in this situation, I should have had other refreshments too, and perhaps someone fanning me - I mean, that was probably the closest I'll ever come to riding in a sedan chair. I really should have made the most of it.

What happened then I'm a little hazy about. By the time I turned to where Miss-Cellany had been she must already have been propelled past me, because instead there were two bouncers there telling me to leave and blocking me from grabbing my bag. Obviously, I wasn't leaving it there, so I just stood asking to get it. To no avail; until suddenly a gap opened up.

I was suddenly left alone. I can only assume it was because one of them had just gone after Liam. So, needless to say I grabbed my bag, and seeing my drink on the table decided I'd finish that too - one of those gestures of futile defiance probably witnessed by no-one, but vaguely satisfying nonetheless. I was then able to just wander over to the stairs of my own accord. Which was where I saw Liam being dragged off in some kind of armlock. Like I said, God knows why.

So, I'm half way down the stairs, when I feel a hand planted firmly in the small of my back: Alice the Goon is now needlessly ensuring that I do what I'm in the process of doing anyway: leaving. Like I said, utterly needless. But then it was all pretty needless, so I shouldn't have been surprised, really.

Reaching the bottom of the steps with her hand still propelling me, and by now somewhat pissed off, I made a point of not changing course and walked straight-shouldered into the doorman. Again, a silly, pointless gesture, but so was pushing me, so it made me feel better. Especially as I got away with it - I think he tried some kind of minor retaliation, perhaps hitting out behind him, but it only connected with my bag. At least I assume that's what happened, because I felt something hit my bag. Anyhow, Miss-Cellany and Andy were outside already, and possibly one or two others, trying to negotiate the return of her bag.

Liam followed shortly thereafter. Responding to the now five bouncers' quite unreasonable obstinacy, he shouted something to the effect of:

"God, no! Don't let her have it back - who knows what she's got in there."

Apparently, doormen aren't able to detect sarcasm. Not only was it lost on them, one of them took it completely seriously, starting to ask with a very concerned furrow in his forehead "What? - does she have drugs, or..." Thankfully, he eventually twigged, once we'd cut off his question with loud exasperated "Noooo"s (how do you write the plural of "Noooo"?).

The bag was eventually returned, though. I forget how - phoning Steve didn't work, and almost everyone else quickly emerged without it. Probably Jen was allowed back, as she hadn't been chucked out and arrived downstairs a little later. Like I said, I forget.

What else happened?

Oh yes, I mentioned a policewoman. She was bloody useless. She was in a car somewhere up the Moor, so Miss-Cellany made a complaint. Essentially, the woman just came over, listened to us, listened to the bouncers and said:

"Uh-huh. I understand both your points of view." Which was helpful.

We gave up and headed back to Christina's.

So, there you go: don't lie down in nightclubs. Or at least not in Remedies. The bouncers are under strict instructions.

Actually, no, if that's the case, do lie down in Remedies. In fact, everybody should, all at once. I reckon we should return in a few weeks and spread a message to suddenly all lie down at 2am. The whole nightclub. It would be brilliant. They wouldn't know who to chuck out first.

Ooh, I just had a great idea! Why stop there? No-one likes bouncers. So, let's make it a massive nationwide protest against bouncers. Everyone lying down at once in every club across the land. Like some kind of massive flash-mobbing type thing.

Now how to organise it? Hmm...

OK, anyone who reads this, spread the message: Friday 23rd March (or really Saturday morning, I suppose) lie down in whatever club or bouncer patrolled pub you're in at exactly 2am. Confuse the hell out of the nation's bouncers. It'll be great.

Plainly, this isn't going to happen, is it? But it bloody well should.

Any ideas?

*Sorry, I seem to have a bit of an anagram addiction, 'de Misère' being a nicely apt anagram of 'Remedies'. A remedy for what, exactly, I've often wondered. Still not sure. Certainly not misery.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Having checked thoroughly for typos...

Yay! Count Arthur Strong's back on the Radio!

Oh, right. I should probably say more, shouldn't I? OK. Here goes:

It's very funny.

There you go.

Now be off with you to that link above and listen to the first episode on Listen Again before they replace it with a new one*. Which will happen sometime after 11:30am on Wednesday. Yes, that's right, I'm a few days behind, but what else is new? (Seriously, please tell me. I'm a few days behind).

*Or don't. I know some of you actually have one of those time-consuming whadyamacallits... lives. So you guys can do whatever you like. Actually, you probably can't, what with all those responsibilities and such. Then again, at least you're all fulfilled and happy, so you probably don't need comedy radio programmes to cheer you up and make it all seem worthwhile... [feels sudden gnawing emptiness inside...... must be dinnertime].

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A thing that's been bothering me...

I seem to recall agreeing to play tennis with someone. I don't know who. Equally, it may have happened during a dream*. I really don't know which.

Now every time I pass the tennis courts near Gylly Beach I feel a touch of mild anxiety. I mean, it's kind of unsettling suspecting that one day someone might hold me to this agreement. Despite my complete lack of aptitude for the game. Or interest in it. Hopefully, then, it was a dream.

I really must learn to tell the difference one day.

In other news: the ice cream kiosk at Gylly Beach was open today. [Sighs] The tourist hordes will be on their way then...

(I'm half-Cornish; so I'm allowed to complain. Or possibly just half-complain. So, actually, as it turns out, my complaint being implicit in the ellipsis was probably the safest way to go. Hmm, well done, me - go have some hummus. Thanks, I don't mind if I do. OK, you can stop that now, before it gets annoying. Fair enough).

*A particularly dull one, obviously.