Friday, October 27, 2006

The Triumph of Stuckism, School of Art & Design, Hope Street

Though the Stuckists’ show at the last Biennial prepared me slightly, it is still surprising to see so many modern paintings of actual things in one exhibition space. But then that’s the whole point of the Stuckists, to stick Tracey Emin’s postmodernism where the sun don’t shine and get back to producing artwork that everyone can enjoy (apart from some critics who made their names talking about $4 million sharks in formaldehyde and unmade beds).

This is a much smaller collection than the one so claustrophobically displayed at the Walker two years ago, but it is all of the same exciting standard. There are vivid colours everywhere, and more vivid insights into the minds of each artist, multiplied or divided by the viewer’s own imagination.

Bill Lewis' Self Portrait shows him under the moonlight, wearing a purple satin shirt and holding a pair of antlers, whilst a timepiece-wearing fox looks on. What must a night out with him be like, eh? Jaime Braz brings a touch of surrealism to the proceedings, with his Adieu, Sardine Attack and Stray Cars Mating Season offerings. And in Guy Denning's The Madness of King George, a man and a woman scream their millennial fury, surrounded by scribbled curses against Bush the Second and his partners in crime.

But Naive John is first among equals, and not because he is the Liverpool-based curator. The Other (above) portrays a centaur waiting for a bus, in a bizarre but breathtakingly beautiful creation, while
An Unmedicated Disaster on Upper Parliament Street presents exactly what it says - and the results certainly aren't disastrous.

The Stuckists are anything but stuck. If art has a future, if the proverbial person in the street is ever going to get excited by art, then that art will be made by that proverbial person in the street. Or at the bus stop. People like the triumphant Stuckists.

To read the Stuckist manifesto, visit here

Liverpool Fingerprint Frenzy!

The last two days has seen the Echo/Daily Post publish two stories about compulsory fingerprinting in Liverpool. These are a couple more steps down the line to creating an Orwellian nightmare in a city that already has more CCTV cameras per person than any other in the country, and where police have floated the idea of using military-style 'drones'.

Yesterday, it was revealed that Liverpool faith schools will be introducing scanners which read children's thumb prints when they buy school meals. No-one from the school was available to comment, but one parent said: "To me, the electronic scanning of seven-year-old children's thumbs is not in their best interests.

"About a month ago, we were first told a new cashless system would be coming into operation.

"If you really do not want your child's thumb scanned, they can input a six-digit number instead. So why use the thumb print at all?

"The previous system worked well for years, so I cannot think of a valid reason to introduce this."

This evening, Merseyside Police are said to be "seriously considering" taking fingerprints from drinkers and clubbers before they enter bars and clubs.

The paper claims that this is 'a bid to stamp out alcohol-related crime', and 'all revellers would have their right index fingers scanned by a computer and their details and photographs stored on a database.

'Biometric details of individuals along with their name, address and date of birth would be recorded as they enter licensed premises, the data being shared by all pub landlords and club managers in the city, so known trouble-makers could be tracked.'

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Marie Antoinette (12A)

If there’s one thing most people know about Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France, it’s that she was a rich bitch who didn’t give a damn about the poor. Ok, so she may not actually have said ‘let them eat cake’ when told that people didn’t have enough bread, but she might as well have done. So it is interesting that Sophia Coppola – heir to her father’s throne – tries to portray the pampered aristocrat as somehow deserving of sympathy in this biopic.

As a teenager, Marie Antoinette of Austria (played here by Kirsten Dunst) was married off to the dauphin Louis (Jason Schwartzman). He was the French equivalent of Prince Charles, making her the equivalent of Di. In fact that analogy stands up quite well, because they were totally incompatible, yet pressurised into producing a male child, and she ended-up having an affair with an aristocratic military man (Jamie Dornan). All this takes place amidst fantastic, obscene riches, strict protocol, and hair that gets progressively bigger as the film goes on.

In Sophia Coppola’s version of reality, Antoinette wasn’t totally shallow, because she read Jean-Jacques Rousseau tracts with her ladies in waiting. However, little did she know that the words she was quoting echoed changes going on outside her bubble, changes that would eventually lead to her overthrow and the reign of the emerging capitalist class in France.

Dunst lives-up to the starring role very well, but then she has actually gone on record as saying she “really showed (herself) in this movie the most” whilst wallowing in this ridiculously decadent opulence. There’s no dialogue to speak of in this film, just another box of shoes, another glass of champagne, another party. It’s an absolute fantasy. It’s this week’s The Devil Wears Prada. It’s an absolute spectacle, in the very worst sense of the word. Ordinary people are meant to hand over their fivers, drool over the kind of wealth they will never experience this side of another revolution, and get back to work.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Train Insanity On Merseyside!

At a time when the government are supposed to be worried about combating climate chaos, you might have thought they would want to encourage people to use public transport, instead of carbon-burning cars. And yet...

Today's Daily Post contains an article about a report prepared for Transport Secretary Alistair Darling. The subject of this report? How to 'persuade commuters to switch to later trains'.

Apparently, rush hour trains are much too packed, and are going to get even worse as employment increases on Merseyside over the next twenty years.

There are a couple of problems with this analysis. Firstly, there is no guarantee that employment will increase in the next two decades. Business is making a lot of money in around here at the moment, so unemployment is actually quite low by Liverpool standards. Once the Capital of Culture corporate jolly is over, the money is bound to go elsewhere, the bubble will burst and unemployment will go up massively.

Secondly, I often get rush hour trains. Yes, they can be slightly uncomfortable. But everyone gets a seat. That's more than could be said for the buses. If it's that much of a problem, the simple solution would be to attach more carriages. Problem solved.

Anyway, what are the report's proposals for curing the problem it has just invented?

a) increase peak-time fares
b) stop at fewer stations

So working people would lose out, the environment we all depend on would lose out, but who would benefit?

a) car companies
b) oil companies

We can't let this happen. We can't let the government use climate change as an excuse for building nuclear power stations, whilst trying to stop people using public transport.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The History Boys (15)

When I studied Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues for A-level, I found his stories of isolated, introverted northerners fascinating. That may be something to do with the fact that I was an isolated, introverted northerner, but it’s also because I marvelled at the way he would sketch the cold and unfriendly Thatcherised world using the smallest details of the unravelling personalities in his stories.

More recently, Bennett’s play The History Boys has toured three continents and won a shedload of awards. However, though it is shot through with the writer’s trademark wit and intelligence, and though the entire cast is perfect in each of their roles, there seems to be something missing.

At a working class school in Yorkshire, the headmaster (Clive Merrison) is obsessed with getting more students into the posh universities. The History class has passed their A-levels with flying colours, thanks to their charismatic gay teacher (Richard Griffiths), and the fact that – for some apparently random reason – nine intelligent and enthusiastic students have ended-up in the same place at the same time. But the headmaster thinks they are a bit rough and unready, so he hires a young up-and-coming teacher (Stephen Campbell Moore) to shepherd them through Oxbridge qualification. The styles of the two teachers clash wildly, with a world-weary female teacher (Frances de la Tour) playing referee.

So whose side is Bennett on? Pathetically, he seems to think that all sides have good points. Yes, it’s a shame that schools are like sausage factories, but on the other hand, you just have to swallow the nastiness of the modern world. Nothing can be done.

Even more annoyingly, though the soundtrack places the film firmly in the mid 1980s, this is only a minor detail, so it really could be any time in the last thirty years. There are no other cultural or political references of any substance. The school seems to exist in a kind of vacuum, albeit one where an entire class of students from a poor background qualify for Oxbridge and have no hang-ups about homosexuality.

Pressure from business has led successive governments to focus the schooling system on measurable results. Rather than encouraging young people’s natural curiosity, schools teach them to pass exams, memorising facts and techniques that will have little use in whatever career they go on to have. Forcing six year olds to prepare for SAT tests amounts to child abuse. How can anyone with an ounce of humanity not be furious about this?

Alan Bennett’s monologues succeeded because all his characters were so clearly extensions of his own personality. Trapped in their own alienated existence, they perfectly reflected the time in which they were set. However, stepping out of his comfort zone and into the world of human interaction has set new challenges for Bennett – namely to create believable dialogue, and express opinions about the wider society he finds himself in. This proves to be a task too far.

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