Category Archives: Arts

Retro Decorative

Sometimes it’s not just the things we remember, memorialize, preserve.  Sometimes it’s how we choose to do so which has a larger meaning.  Berlin, it strikes me, would be perfectly happy to put the Wall firmly in the rearview mirror of history, but there is a tourist draw there, and that cannot be ignored.  There is also that tendency, so strong in the wartime and post-war generations to Never Forget.

Europeans, in general, have long memories, when they wish to, and short ones when it serves them.  Italy, until recently, flirted for several years with a strongman president, in Silvio Berlusconi, for example, even though there are still people living who remember Mussolini.  Germany, which for generations has lived a kind of collective, historic shame for the way it treated neighbors & citizens alike during WWII, but then just elected to parliament a far-right-wing party for the first time since then.

As I commented to a friend, just before leaving on this trip; The last time a far-right party sat in parliament, my family’s home was bombed.

So, went to get a transit pass today.  A day pass for transit is 7€ and a Berlin Welcome Card, a tourist-focused offering, is 19.20€ for 48 hours.  Since I leave at 11:05 Sunday, I opted for the latter, as it was noon by the time I left my flat, and 48 hours would be just the right time frame.  I would have needed three day passes (they expire at 3AM after purchase) for the same coverage.

Off to the BVG I went, in search of said pass.  It was a harrowing experience, fraught with language barriers, but I ultimately found an obsequious clerk who claimed I had “Perfect German” and sold me my pass.  Now why couldn’t those flustered, German-only speaking public servants before him have just been as fawning?  One is left to wonder.

I hopped the S-Bahn (above ground trains, as opposed to U-Bahn, which are subways) and headed up the right bank of the Spree to Museum Island, where, as one might have guessed, the museums are.  I traipsed around there for a while, before coming to the conclusion that I really didn’t feel like spending my day inside a museum (or five) so I wandered over to the nearest tram stop and headed to Alexanderplatz.  This is a bustling square with malls and open air shops; fairly touristy.  Strolled around there in the light rain a bit, then down into the U-Bahn to ride home.  It was a nice little jaunt into the city, and away from the bleak neighborhood within which I’ve been cloistered so far.

After some lunch, a change of shoes, and a little catch-up, it was back out into the bleak side of things for a bit.  I had decided to check out the East Side Gallery, which is the largest preserved stretch of Die Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall), at 1,316 metres long (just short of a mile).

To get there, I walked down Köpenicker Straße to the Watergate (a music venue) and then crossed the river.  Along Köpenicker Straße is a lot of bleak, a lot of angst and a lot of broken.  Here’s some images from that stroll.  First, however, a little out of sequence, is an eloquent rejoinder to the hopeful logo above:

In case you cannot make them out clearly, or don’t recognize the reference, those items along the right side of the image are 100€ notes.  The rush from national reunification to what is widely perceived as subjugation to the European Union — the loss of the Deutsch mark (a formerly unrivaled store of wealth); the partnership with, and economic support of poorer neighbors, like Spain & Italy; the surrender of sovereignty to a continental body — for many still bitter from years of Soviet rule, the Euro has come to represent all they hate about the powerlessness state in which they find themselves.

Now, onto the bleak:

Heroin Kids

Heroin Kids

One sees these Heroin Kids print ads (above) all over Berlin, and given the opioid epidemic in the US, can be forgiven for thinking they’re part of a hip awareness campaign.  Nope, they’re just what they say, Ignorant Fashion.  Click the image to see more of this dreck.

Looks like a striking piece of chalk street art, but really an ad for a Windows app which encodes long functions or “macros” onto adjacent pairs of keys (hence “keySstroke”) such as <s> and <x>.  Much of the polished street art one sees around is actually advertising, it seems.

Above is the (recently) burned out shell of a squat.  The pavement out front was littered with charred remains of mattresses, chairs and the like, and an acrid, smoky smell hung in the air.

The following series of photos are all of SOBR’s It’s Time To Dance poster project (Facebook page here).  I stumbled across this, but others have been following this artist’s work for some time.  There’s a pretty good article on the subject here.

One striking element of this poster art is that by this time it’s coming loose, like the girl’s head right below.  These loose pieces flutter in the wind, animating the work, and giving it at once an air of impermanence, fragility and energy.

Above is a current squat, a campground really, which was active as I walked by.  The sounds of loud music, argument, discussion; the smells of cooking, car repairs (reeked of acetone) and more.  The slogan Solidarität Mit Linksunten translates as Solidarity With The Bottom Left, which sounds like some sort of softened anarchy to me.

 

Another piece of street art verging on advertisement.  This directing one to the artist’s web page, where books and more are on sale.

The Wall fell, as it were (actually was opened) on 9 November 1989.  The first construction on it was on 13 August 1961.  So in the greater scope of history, the wall has been gone almost as long (28 years and 2 days) as it stood (28 years, 2 months, 27 days).  It is still recent history, but it soon will just be history.

Update: Mon 5 Feb 2018: Today is the day that the wall has been down for as long as it was up.  Longer, by the time anyone reads this.  As the Washington Post reported:

On Monday, Berliners celebrated a once unthinkable occasion: The Berlin Wall has now been gone for longer than it stood. But on the same day, the city’s authorities confirmed the discovery of a previously unreported stretch of the wall in the district of Pankow in northern Berlin.

It had already been discovered by a man named Christian Bormann in 1999, but the now-37-year-old Berlin resident kept his discovery a secret for almost 20 years as German authorities kept erasing more and more remnants of the city’s division.

“Berlin wasn’t ready for this discovery when I came across it,” Bormann told The Washington Post.

Following are some photos of the East Side Gallery wall segments, but first a juxtaposition, viewed from the Schilling Bridge, looking north:

Just views from one side of the bridge and the other.

Here’s some wall shots.  Remember, most of this graffiti is not historic, but an “artistic” response, years later, to the wall and what it means (meant):

Please see more on Thierry Noir, below.

Oddly enough, as one approaches the end of this stretch of wall, and a luxury office/condo project underway, one finds this warning placed in a gap:

It translates as “Guarded at the hands of City Control.” Brrrrrrr

The following image shows a segment of the wall from an area I walked both on my way home from East Side Museum, but also just a few days ago.  I include it here for historical context, and due to who took the photo.  First the context.  As you can clearly see here, “The Wall” was in fact a “wall system.”  It most often is comprised of two walls, with a “no man’s land” or “death strip”, on the east side of the Wall, here follows the curve of the Luisenstadt Canal (filled in 1932).  This is the exact same area I ventured along in the first post of this trip.

This image of the Berlin Wall was taken in 1986 by Thierry Noir at Bethaniendamm in Berlin-Kreuzberg.

The maker of the above photograph, Thierry Noir, is also the artist who made the final wall painting shown above.

Oops; A Wandering I Go

…in which intrepid Pawn goes looking for a Fairy Tale park and finds himself lost, missing a concert in the end…

The name says it all…

This morning began oddly, and just went downhill from there.  Firstly, I awoke at 03:30, wide awake.  Having not gotten to bed until 00:30, this wasn’t so welcome a development.  Giving up on willing myself back to sleep, I arose and spent the next couple of hours writing, which is its own reward, after all.

Back in bed by 5:30.

Stirred at 11:30 by an incoming text message, but then remained in bed until 12:30.  Now caught up on sleep, arose again.

Having had a prodigiously busy autumn, with travel all over the US, many weekends worked-through, many weeks of 60 or more hours worked… part of the reason for this trip was to relax and catch up on sleep, reading and personal time.  I am certainly getting that, but do feel some guilt that I am wasting the opportunity of being in Berlin, when what I’m doing here could have been done in Cudahy, fer cripes sake!

Okay, friend PK has recommended a visit to Märchenbrunnen, Am Friedrichshain.  This is a Fairy Tale sculpture garden originating about 150 years ago, which has waxed and waned over the years, due to expenses, vandalism, wars, etc.  Finally restored in 2006, it sports a lovely grand fountain, in a classic Venetian style, formal hedges of which any British would be proud, and other incidental magic.  All of this on just the corner of the first public park built in Berlin.

I checked the online guides on Berlin transport for information on transit day tickets (7€/day) and sizing up the landlord’s handy map to local attractions, like the BVG transit ticket stop, and out the door I went.  Strolled up Heinrich-Hein Straße towards the BVG, but never found it.  Did find a post office, and use the ATM therein, but decided that I would keep strolling, since the best information I had was that the park was just over a mile away.

 

I found the park just fine, and found, too, that most of it was boxed up to protect from the cold, so it was more a garden of wooden crates than a vibrant fairy tale fountain.  Oh well.  Snapped some photos of said crates, and headed back homewards.

 

 

Okay, not directly homewards.  I could easily have retraced my path.  I still have short term memory, after all, but I was already out and about, and figured I could venture into the heart of Berlin a bit more, and then swoop south, across the river Spree, back to Heinrich-Hein Straße.  Not so easy, it turns out.

See, my phone, it doesn’t seem to get data access here.  It should, it’s supposed to.  We pay an extra monthly fee for global roaming — voice and data — and I know voice still works, since I keep getting robo-spam calls here, but no data!  Without data, no functional GPS.  The GPS still knows where I am, but Google maps has no maps to put that little blue dot on, so I’m just a dot in the sea.

Having come to expect my phone to know where it is, I hadn’t bothered to bring an actual map with me )what foolishness!) and so ended up consulting bus-shelter maps to wind my way back.  That didn’t work so well, either.  Drats!

 

 

It was about 14:30 when I left on this quest, and about 15:20 when I left the park and headed back home.  It was 17:30 when I finally stepped back on to Heinrich-Hein Straße, and into the Sushi For You shop.  My feet were sore, my pride bruised and my appetite whetted.  I ordered sushi — Lach Menu, which was two nice nigiiri sake, a sake maki, 2 Alaska maki and 2 inside-out kappa/sake maki.  All that for 14.40€, or about $16.  Great deal, and well packaged to make it home, with loads of soysoß, wasabi and ginger.  Yum!  Also stopped at Edaka for some oranges, snacks, & sweets.

Home by 18:00, at last, and as I removed my shoes I knew there was no way I was going to make my previously booked programme of Stravinsky, Schoenberg & Haydn at the new Pierre Boulez Saal.  Oh well.  Like I said, the whole purpose of this was to rest and relax, and that’s what I’m doing.

Lessons learnt; Don’t rely on phone.  Bring up trip in City Mapper, which does a good job of caching local map tiles, so if one loses data access, what’s in memory is at least somewhat useful (this is ultimately what got me back on track).  Get over hesitancy to talk to the locals, which was caused by surly store clerk on day 1.

Something Borrowed, Something New

One pleasure, in my book, one can glean traveling in a different country, is the sample of their culture one gets from their media.  These days that is primarily television, newspapers and print advertising.  Take my last post, for example, on Posters.  Posters are both ubiquitous and populist.  They are put up by bar bands (Bar Stool Preachers) and humongous, multi-national brands (Nike) but they provide a lens into the sensibilities of both the local district and larger culture in which they are erected.

Nearly every person, other than me, on the flight here from Frankfurt (45 minutes in the air) was reading a newspaper.  I having already consumed the International Herald Tribune at the airport, the only English language paper on offer.  These are true “broadsheet” papers here, other than the occasional tabloid (der Spiegle) so when all those in a “three across” row are reading, the leafs overlap and rustle.  Now this avid digestion of the news may be due to the fact that Lufthansa, which dominates FRA the way that few American airlines dominate a particular airport, has racks of free copies liberally sprinkled throughout the airport, but many American airlines either place piles at their gates, or have carts on the planes.  No, I think this is a cultural item, and it is encouraging.

But, as I don’t read German any better than I speak it, I didn’t delve into the papers much beyond an idle page-flip in the airport lounges.

So now we get to television.  The set in my flat, a Sony, is connected to some sort of Free Satellite service, as is common across Europe.  This one has no Internet component, however, which is also becoming common, so I have no access, for example, to YouTube, or Netflix.  There are precious few choices in English, which shouldn’t shock.  There’s a channel which airs BBC news for part of the day (not sure which, yet) and then reverts to scrambled MTV-HD other times (how one determines that MTV is scrambled is beyond me, but the telly assures me it knows).

So what does an American, with just a few memories of those four years “studying” German, watch on telly?  Well, there’s the ever-present Bloomberg mix of business and news “Intelligence,” which, in these fraught times, is both unnerving and strangely welcome.  Unnerving in how they smoothly and glibly finesse a question about tax avoidance (the Paradise Papers imbroglio) and yet pay attention to climate change (with Syria joining the Paris accord, only the US may be outside of it).

In this age when seemingly every institution of modern life, from the grocer on the corner to the websites we visit and the governments which surveil us, all want as much “Intelligence” about us as possible.  Bloomberg, then, to us average, non-dues-paying Joes, gives us that ephemeral sensation of parity.  Just for a moment, we know a thing or two about a Saudi crown prince that maybe he doesn’t know about us.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Then there’s the surfeit of wildlife shows, which are almost universal in that one needn’t, really, know what the narrator is saying to understand that that Tasmanian devil was trying to schtup that other devil (who seemed none too glad, and later, pregnant in the southern winter, just sulks in the cave dwelling).  Animals schtupping is universal, so we easily overcome the language barrier and settle in as the animal-world voyeurs we all have been since those early petting zoo days (or is that just me, too?).

Oddly, most of the wildlife shows here are dubbed British or American episodes, rebranded into some new travelogue-ish scheme, which have their own books and other assorted follow-on products available for order.  Given that the dubbing technique in the video is to mute the narrator, whom we can often see right on screen there, and slather the German language dialogue over the top, one is left to wonder; these books, is the original English-language text over-struck or Sharpie’d and then German text inserted?

In one particularly touching scene in an otherwise run-of-the-mill special on primates, the narrator, a casually dressed African-American gentleman, sits near the bush observing a mountain gorilla and its young, who are foraging and stripping some vegetation for a snack.  The pappa gorilla ambles past, making a big show of ignoring the human, but the juvenile just can’t seem to pass by without an exploratory move.  The young ape skitters over and, reaching out tentatively, grasps the man’s hand, as if to confirm the same-ness of these digital appendages.  The narrator, overcome, says (barely audible in English) “Well that was amazing.”  Over his voice, however, we hear a string of syllables which goes on so much longer that import martial arts films come to mind.

As with the wildlife shows, the plentiful bounty of police procedurals one finds on air here are most often poorly dubbed presentations of American, or more often British or French shows.  Prime Suspect, Life on Mars and others proliferate.  Every effort is made to completely erase the original dialogue and cover it with German.  This strikes me as odd.  In my experience it’s not at all unusual for European broadcasters to option each other’s programming, but it’s almost always subtitled, not dubbed.  When I watch Forbrydelsen — the Danish show which was remade by Fox, for AMC, as The Killing — or any of a number of other, brilliant European programmes on British telly, they are always presented in their original language and subtitled.  Not so here.

Last night, for example, while reading the New Yorker, I had on, in the background, a couple of episodes of the single-season British show Life On Mars, starring John Simms as a disoriented, time-traveling cop plopped down in a mid-’70s Manchester station house.  A success in the UK, this somehow failed in a US remake, a couple years later, on ABC.  In this German dubbed edition, in which evidence centred largely around team scarfs for Man United, the whole topic of team fealty seemed oddly detached.

So why is it that the Germans prefer dubbed to subtitled foreign programming?  One is left to ponder.  At first blush, it’s easy to assume that the length of German language words might preclude subtitling, without needing to skip text or fill the screen with it.  The tendency, in German, to compound words together certainly does make for longer and longer strings of text, that’s for sure, but let’s take the example of the Danish/Swedish co-production Broen|Bron (Bridge) from 2011.  The series opens with a body found on the Øresund bridge connecting Copenhagen to Malmö, right in the middle, so detectives from each city’s police forces, Danish inspector Martin Rohde (Rafael Patterson) and Swedish Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) must cooperate on the case.  The characters, he a gruff, slovenly womanizer and she an autistic, precise, exacting, clueless to social cues and oblivious to common sexual mores, are meant to reflect each country’s perception of the other.  Thus the entire show serves as a sort of split group social catharsis.

It’s a good show, as reflected by the fact that, after having shown it, subtitled, to warm reception, British and French networks Sky & Canal+ teamed up to produce their own version, The Tunnel, starring Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy in the British and French roles, as Karl Roebuck and Elise Wasserman, respectively, with similar cross-cultural stereotyping.

Likewise, FX remade the series as The Bridge, for American and Mexican audiences, with the American being the uptight one, casts Diane Kruger and Demián Bichir in the lead roles, again as stereotypes.

Interestingly, the original team wanted to set this on the bridge connecting Detroit to Toronto, rather than El Paso and Juarez, which leaves one wondering what the social contrast would be.  No doubt the American would have been the rude one, which would go against the grain of FX’s parent company’s politics..

The reason I mention all of these is that there are at least four versions (a Russian/Estonian version was made, too) the Germans could have chosen to remake, and they chose not the original Danish/Swedish, but the Anglo-French.  Why this one, one wonders?  Is it that the Germans prefer tunnels to bridges?  Or is it the ease of obliterating English and French dialogue (yes, in a first the original was bilingual) with German versus some difficulty doing the same vandalism to Danish and Swedish, or American English and Mexican Spanish?

Well, that’s the something borrowed, for sure.  Here’s the something new: Crusti Croc Flips:

Crusti Croc Flips

Crusti Croc Flips

These are like Cheetos or any other such extruded corn puff food, but what makes these stand out is the Erdnuss (peanut) variety.  Imagine a low-sweetness version of that peanut-flavoured breakfast serial that you’ve seen other people’s kids eating (Puffins or Gorilla puffs, or Cap’n Crunch).  They’re really quite good, but one feels there must be something wrong here.  Rather than turning orange, one’s fingers feel a little… smudgy?  Not sure how to describe it.

Well, I like them, so that’s what matters.

Poster Impressions — Berlin 2017

Here’s a few images of posters festooning the area around my flat:

Large wall painting, just past the Lidl shop

Astroturfing from Nike, on Bethaniendamm

Kind of want to see this show, based purely on the opening act, Barstool Preachers

More Nike astorturfing

Are these before and after illustrations?

Not a poster, granted, but street art along Melchoirstraße.

Need to know more about this one…

I’ve got no idea

Translates as “The Truth About Monte Verita”

I am trying to get to see The Truth About Monte Veritá, as it sounds right up my alley.  Here’s is how it’s described:

An interactive expressionistic silent movie installation and a live performance, inspired by dadaistic poetry and Rudolf von Labans eight efforts and movement theory, the piece focuses on the artist colony “Monte Verità”, one of the most significant sources of alternative movements in the 20th century and place of utopian escape.

And here’s a video trailer:

Update: I’ve heard back from Dorky Park, and there is a ticket with my name on it waiting for Saturday’s performance.  I can’t wait!! 🙂

Who wouldn’t love to see Pussy Riot?!? Can’t make it, however. Bummer.

London Journal, A November Week

Just over a week ago the US held a national election. Then we fled the country.

That’s the simple version of events, but it’s really never the simple version, now is it?

The trip itself was fairly uneventful. Prompt off the ORD runway, quickly through LHR border control, and little turbulence in between.

Our first real encounter with a local was our cabbie on the way from Paddington to our flat in Southbank. Upon hearing our accents he asked if we were happy with our election outcome. Further discussion revealed that he was a firm Brexit supporter, entirely due to immigration fears. Had we told him we intended to settle, however, I’m sure he would have welcomed us, given our colour.

As with our last team visit here, X & I hit the ground running, as it were, with a show our very first night: Wordless! a jazz concert cum lecture put together by illustrator Art Spiegleman and jazz musician Phillip Johnston. It’s a history of the graphic novel layered atop a jazz sextet performance. Great stuff.

He opens with the works of Lynd Ward and moved on to Frans Masereel, H.M Bateman, Otto Nuckel, Milt Gross and Si Lewen. Spiegelman closed with a new, short, autobiographical sequence — Shaping Thought — which he introduced by referring to “America taking a nihilistic mudslide to apocalypse!”

Indeed.

But prior to our theatre experience at Barbican Centre, we stopped in at their Martini bar.

1556martini_bar_pattern3_e1

This garish pod of craft cocktailing is a holdover from the Designing 007 exhibition from a few years back.

designing-007-barbican

Our bartender, a willowy waif, starving artist type with blackened fingertips, stringy hair and not the slightest whiff of pretension about him, took our order (£5 happy hour!) and then tendered his apology thus: “To all of my American customers I say, `I’m sorry’.” He then proceeded to whip up a couple of truly spectacular drinks. Dowsed the ice in a rocks glass with vermouth, chilled the Martini glasses with ice water, added spirits (vodka for X, gin por moi) to each glass after draining off the vermouth, and then stirred with ennui. Finally decanted into the now cold glasses, the drinks were served sans garnish (at our request) and met with accolades by us both. I think it was the ennui that did it.

An inquiry into the cause of the previously mentioned blackening of his fingers revealed him to be an art student, who just that afternoon had been dying paper pulp. Pawn suggested rubber gloves for future such projects.

Saturday, coincidentally enough, was the Lord Mayor’s Show day, which consists of a flotilla up tthe River Thames followed by a procession through the streets of The City, and culminating in fireworks from Victoria Embankment at dusk (an early 5pm here). Despite mist and drizzle we slogged our way across the river and up to Ludgate Circus and got prime viewing just as the procession approached.

The City of London these days most often refers to the financial centre of the country, but has historical roots dating back to Roman times. Indeed the London Wall — remains of the original fortifications of Londinium — define what is also called The Square Mile or, simply, The City. Even as the monarchy arose and various stages of city and state grew around it, The City has remained fiercely independent. The Lord Mayor does, however, extend the occasional invitation to the monarch to come and visit, and this is one such occasion.

The procession is comprised of various guilds and orders, Masons and Joiners, Nurses and Accountants, as well as military units, government bodies, municipal grandees, etc. It was a joyous event, that’s for sure. Here’re some snaps (note: coming soon).

Finally a repast at Slug & Lettuce in St Mary Axe, and a meet-up with our friend A. She had been fighting through obstructed traffic to try to get in some long postponed shopping, and seemed glad for the burger and tea we had waiting for her. Then off to Whitechapel and Thick Time, an exhibition of works by William Kentridge.

X & I had enjoyed a large retrospective of the South African’s work, several years ago, at MoMA in New York. This smaller exhibit focused on recent works, including environments, films, animations, book-arts and studies for an opera, Lulu, which, coincidentally, we were to see in two day’s time. A was tickled to learn that!

There was a lot to like, and some to love, in this compendium. Of particular note was the large installation, The Refusal of Time.

williamkentridge_install-view
This collaboration with a team of artists comprises sound, light, video projection, a large “Breathing Machine” and more. It was truly a stunning, enveloping experience. Other favourites include the many artist books on display and the film Second Hand Reading. The exhibit closed with another installation piece, smaller and more theatrical, Right Into Her Arms, which included footage, imagery, illustrations and sound from the workshop process for Lulu.

installation-view-of-right-into-her-arms
It was wonderful to have this little taste of this work prior to seeing the show.

Surprisingly, no show Saturday. After parting ways with A, we returned home to Southbank and stayed in. This is a fairly nice flat, tucked into a block-long side street, behind the OXO wharf, just west of Blackfriar’s bridge. There’s a Little Waitrose two blocks away, a couple of cafés around the corner, our choice of pubs, even a cake-making school! A damp terrace abuts the lounge through lovely French doors, adding some light and greenery to our stay.

A “Supermoon” hung in the sky as we traipsed uptown to Islington and the Hope Theatre (above the Hope & Anchor pub) for a Sunday performance of Rigor Mortis, an Irish two-hander of recent vintage. Jazz Dancing Criminals brought this stiff little one-act, fire breathing, chest thumping, pogo-sticking, drug addled, funereal farce to the Hope for it’s British premier following a successful run of its earlier “incarnation,” Urbs Intact Manet in Waterford, Ireland.

A drunken tosser has pinched his late friend, casket and all, from the mortuary, he discovers when he awakens, hung over, to the pounding on his door from his equally dissolute mate. They proceed to wok their way through a monumental pile of cocaine and a couple cans of stout as they wake their friend and debate what to do with his remains.

Irreverent, loud and at times barely indecipherable, it was a fun 75 minutes of Irish mayhem. Thumbs Up!


NPG have Picasso Portraits on special showing, so we went and saw it. Lovely stuff, as one might expect. The real treat here, aside from the expected and widely known masterpieces, such as woman with hat and self portraits, were the small sketches from his youngest days.

woman-with-hat-olga-1935 picasso-self-portrait-uncombed-hair
Often meant as throw-away pieces, these are little gems. Whimsical and light. Unfortunately, no good samples on the web to show here.

Lulu, the aforementioned opera directed and designed by William Kentridge, is based upon “the Lulu plays” by Frank Wederkind, by Alban Berg, and completed by Friedrich Cerha (English translation by Richard Stokes). This production originated at Dutch National Opera, and last appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The fourth producing company is Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. Each country providing a new cast, the real attention getter is the stunning, almost literally, as in hit-you-over-the-head, visuals; a combination of projection, props and constantly unfolding set (set design Sabine Theunissen).

Here are a few images from the production (most from ENO, but some from other stagings):

lulu

lulu-kentridge1 lulu-eno-coliseum-778-700x455

lulu-solo

“Solo Performer” Joanne Dudley

Lulu is 3½ hours of discordant music, striking imagery and implausible story, but a wonderful time. The “Solo Performers,” Joanna Dudley and Andrea Fabi nearly stole the show, but Brenda Rae, in the title role, was amazing, as was James Morris as Dr Shön/Jack the Ripper (yes, really).

More to come…

An Embarrassment of Museums

Upon arrival in Brussels, Pawn actually had no plans, save one. Knowing well Pawn’s predilection for Art Nouveau, friend P had recommended a tour of the home of Victor Horta, one of the founders of the movement. Yesterday I went, and I must say it was lovely. Located in Saint Gilles, the museum is a faithful preservation of the home and studio of Horta, built between 1898 – 1906, and modified several times over the ensuing decade, the home & studio occupy two plots of land, side by side, and were mostly separate internally.

horta-ex

As much as possible the preservations, mounted over several years from the 1960s, when the building was saved, up until 2012-14, when the most recent renovations were completed, have kept the furnishings and finishes close to the original. In many cases, Horta designed furnishings have been brought from other properties, as have chandeliers, switch plates, etc. Wallpapers and fabrics have been recreated from designs of the times, etc. The effect is quite complete and one feels totally as though you’re seeing the original thing.

horta4 horta3 horta-stairway

It is breathtaking!

One stunning feature is the sculpture atelier in the basement of the studio, in which we find models and maquettes of many of Horta’s building designs, as well as a large etagere, in which common elements of Horta’s designs are displayed alongside their inspirations from nature — spider’s webs, flowers, plant stems & leaves, birds, skeletons & bones — in such a way that we are drawn to re-imagine these beautiful designs as composites of their constituent natural components.

horta5

Today a journey to the Bozar museum for a large range of exhibits in a grand building designed by none other than Horta himself, in the years between the wars. Pawn took the tram down to Royal Park, and finding the entrance to Borza closed (new security regime…) started to look around for the new route. What’s that sound? A strange, fascinating blend of Hip Hop and Brass Band is bleeding out of the park. A little investigation revealed the Royal Park Music Festival to be underway at the Kiosque do Parc de Bruxelles, having just opened with Wild Board & Bull Brass Band.

20160703_111635

This group, fronted by Herbert Celis, features tenor & baritone sax, trombone, trumpet, bass and drums, and has a sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Here’s a clip from YouTube:

Yowzah!! I grabbed a glass of Cava and a seat in the crowd and stayed until the rains started. What a joy, a real find. If someone has tried this combination before, the rich flow and sharp edge, I sure wasn’t aware.

Oh, and I should mention the armed military presence, which one finds at so many events which draw crowds.

20160703_114338

Up with the brolly and down the stairs to the only open entrance to Bozar. One sign makes it clear that one must check bags, and many other signs describe the various exhibitions and ticketing arrangements, but nowhere can one see where to actually get the tickets. Well, carry on. Check the bag in a locker (free) and start to explore. A fine set of photographs by Colin Delfosse, Gbadolite, Versailles in the Jungle, grabbed my eye. Part of the Summer of Photography exhibition. Here’s three:

20160703_115605 20160703_115614 20160703_115625

But I wasn’t able to look at much more without being able to present a ticket, and finally someone explained to me that I needed to leave the museum(!), go across the street, buy a ticket there, and then return. All of this in a driving rain. Fun.

So, go retrieve my bag from the locker, grab the brolly, cross the street, buy Day Pass ticket (access to all exhibits), cross back, re-enter building, re-check bag…

It was ultimately worth it, as the rest of the exhibits were quite good. I won’t provide full reviews of them all, but at least a list would help:

  • A Lighthouse for Lampedusa
  • Facing The Future: Art In Europe 1945-68
  • After Scale Model: Dwelling In The Work of James Cesebere
  • Dey Your Lane: Lagos Variations
  • The Center For Fine Arts of Victor Horta: A Labyrinth For The Arts
  • Amos Gitai: Chronicle of an Assassination Foretold
  • Vincen Beeckman: The Gang
  • Open Spaces | Secret Places: Works from the Sammlung Verbund, Vienna

You can find information on all of these at Bozar’s website.

I did wander through the entire Labyrinth For The Arts exhibit, camera at the ready, as the exhibit was the building, or parts of it, at least.  There are a handful of thoughtfully arranged drafting tables, festooned with blueprints, photographs and other documents from the period of the construction of the building.  This in the hallways outside the grand theatre.  Here’s some snaps, these first are the entrance doors for the private boxes:

20160703_122313 20160703_122316

20160703_123555 20160703_123450 20160703_123348 20160703_123245 20160703_124910

Here’s some snaps I got in before being told not to (no signs) from Facing The Future .

20160703_125704 20160703_130023 20160703_130037

I then strolled through the district for a while before coming to the Palace square, and the Royal Museums. I chose Mus̩e Fin-de-Si̬cle and am so glad I did. Here the focus is 1868 Р1914, which happens to line up well with interests of mine, and also with a golden era of Belgian art. No snaps from this (I was a good boy) but here are some from their website and online resources:

GillionCrowetCollection gillioncrowet3 gillioncrowet2 gillioncrowet1

What a joy to see such fine examples of Art Nouveau furniture and fittings! These went well beyond the few styles visible at Horta’s house, and included many lovely examples of pottery, glassware and metal work. Pawn was in heaven!

majorelle-gc138-l1

In heaven but starving by the time it was over. A wander down into the neighbourhood led to Café Leffe, a brasserie linked to the brewer. A dish of boef carbonnade was just what I needed, and washed down with Leffe Blonde. Yum!

le-leffe-deventure-avec-terrasse-53654

Okay, home again, blisters on the soles of my feet.

Geisha’s Miracle

Sorry for the delay; much going on, and moving around.

Pawn’s final performance at ITS Festival 2016 was Geisha’s Miracle, a dance by Jija Sohn. Sohn is the winner of 2015’s Moving Forward Trajectory fellowship program, which gives her, “the opportunity to develop her work and network with the help of five Dutch production houses. The project is a coproduction with Dansgroep Amsterdam and a collaboration with DansBrabant, Dansateliers, Generale Oost, Random Collision and ITs Festival.”

jija sohn

The venue was a rather remarkable space, Dansmakers, “As generator of talent, Dansmakers stands for research, production and presentation; a production house with stage where makers can search, fail and shine.” It is a lovely space with very nice seating, flexible performance areas, extensive lighting grid and good sound system.

The three dancers started in a clutch in a back corner of the stage and slowly, very slowly, arrayed themselves across the whole space. This slow movement almost brings pain into the bodies of the audience, as we watch their tensed muscles fight against each other to not move too quickly. Eventually the dance resolves into more recognizable modern movements, and a variety of props, effects, instruments and focus shifts are brought to bear to give us at least the outline of a story.

In her treatise, Sohn, “explores how to communicate emotional or formless material with dance and movement to bridge the gap between different cultures.” While I cannot be sure how successful this endeavour was, I can attest the the effective beauty of the piece, and its visceral involvement of us, the audience. All in all, a lovely night at Dansmakers.

The evening was completed with the announcement of four nominees for the 2016 Moving Forward Trajectory. These four will receive mentorship and assistance as they work towards a November mini-presentation, after which one will be selected for the full year’s program.

Banksy/Warhol @ MOCO

MOCO is a new Museum of Contemporary Art in Amsterdam, next to van Gogh Museum on Museumplein.  Their inaugural exhibitions are Banksy/Warhol, separately presented, in the most part, but with some overlap.

Pawn has seen several exhibit of Banksy, which is always a little odd, since he’s known primarily as a street artist, a Graffito.  Here, however, we see quite a few of his works on canvas, board, metal and wood.

20160629_101318 20160629_101342 20160629_101443

There are still samples of his street work, such as these, excised from their original locations:

20160629_100546

20160629_101208 20160629_101223 20160629_101259

As for Warhol, while there are many familiar items on display, the real joy was in seeing some of his drawings and paintings without the Pop-Art angle.

20160629_102052

There is of course much similarity to be drawn between these two artists, and that is where the strength of this paired exhibition lies.  Here are some side-by-side encounters:

20160629_101758

Kate Moss, Gray – Banksy, 2005 Marilyn – Warhol

20160629_101709

The problem with this show, however, lies in the simplistic and sometimes baffling text panels.  One wonders if the curatorial staff has any clue.  Pawn was particularly irked by the panel accompanying Forgive Us Our Trespassing, a Banksy work.  Here is the piece, originally conceived in collaboration with Los Angeles schools students:

20160629_101538

The original version, in LA, was created by the kids placing graffiti on a wall, and then Banksy painting the window frame and praying boy on top of that.  Here, however, is the text the curators chose to place with it:

Like Cardinal Sin, a work with a biblical theme. “Forgive us our trespasses” is the 7th sentence in the English Catholic Lord’s Prayer, or Our Father, the most used prayer in Christian tradition.

Trespassing is also an act and word strongly associated wit Graffiti and street art, as street artists have to trespass private property in order to get a certain tag or artwork on a particular wall.

In this work, Banksy used a very literal approach by depicting a church window, which is tagged on with colors and by different artists.  In front of the work, a boy is praying for forgiveness.

The implication here is that the boy seeks forgiveness for having tagged the window.  To my eyes, however, the boy is seeking forgiveness for having painted the arches on top of the tags.  He has seen beauty in the colours of  the graffiti, and has converted the mess of tags into stained glass.  I think they’ve got it all wrong!

An Odyssey

The youth of Europe spoke today with a United voice. A voice at times strident, but more often hopeful. They scolded and coddled, preached and implored. They came from across the continent to speak together but separately. They appealed to our better angels, after reminding us we still have them. Mostly, however, they made clear that it is they who are our inheritors, and they shan’t be denied.

The European Parliament, you might ask; The British? Nee, I speak of An Odyssey, an audacious undertaking by Platform European Theatre Academies, PLETA. This group, along with ITS Festival, Europe by People, and others, brought together eight leading European Theatre schools for this production. Each academy produced a piece for an island from Homer’s tale of venture, nostalgia and return.

Our Odyssey began near a small dog park, next to a ferry launch, about a mile from Centraal Station, Het Stenen Hoofd. At the appointed hour a small squadron of brown-shirted youth arrive and start to bark orders at the audience. These students of Theatre Academy Helsinki TEAK put us on a forced march to Calypso, where we are ridiculed and cajoled, made to march in strict lines, then taken into small groups. Pawn finds himself with a group of 8, sitting around a refugee campfire, where our brown-shirt guide tells us that she will soon put us on a boat out of here, but first we are to partake of a brief ceremony; she is to make for us a pot of coffee, which we will share together, before never seeing each other again. As she prepares the pot of coffee over a propane stove, she sings us a Finnish song, and then explains the lyrics in English. They are of separation and finality.

This isn’t just any Odyssey, you see, This journey is informed by Europe’s current refugee crises. Here is a brief excerpt from the programme:

This project represents a unique connection between future actors, mixing cultures, languages and artistic expression into one vision; to create a performance that mirrors the humanitarian challenges we face today. Never before has the need for tolerance, openness, and respect felt more urgent than now. I believe that a better world is possible, and that anyone can contribute, regardless of religion, beliefs, colour of skin or sexual orientation.

-Andreas Koschinski Kvisgaard (Student Westerdal, Norway)

From our imaginary Calypso, we are led to a ferry, which takes us through Amsterdam harbour and deposits us on the banks by the Tolhuistuin cultural compound. This is where the rest of Homer’s islands will be. But first, along the way, we are provided wireless headphones (Sennheiser Outdoor Cinema, for the curious amongst you) through which we hear seabirds and music, voices and more. We are told a tale of Poseidon, how his bureaucratic duties as God of the sea are boring and wearying him, and how, finally, he lays down his trident and retires. This portion of the presentation is by Theaterakademie August Everding, Munich.

This overwhelmed yet bored Poseidon is based not on Homer, but Kafka. When we finish our journey, however, we are led into the Tolhuistuin compound where we are met by flashy, bikini-clad girls with selfie-sticks and few barriers. They in turn lead us to a boisterous man lounging is a small pool, where we are allowed to share in the Champagne. Suddenly a woman appears in the windows above us and launches into a speech about globalization and corporate responsibility. Inspired by the text of a speech given by Cor Herkstroter, former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, the rhetoric here deplores government for demanding too much from corporations, and encourages it to get out of the way and let corporations do what’s best; “scrutinizes the Janus-faced Europe of today, whose values of openness and solidarity are being ground down by the very bureaucratic manchinery designed to protect it.” as the programme tells us.

Near the conclusion of the speech, some White Power nationalists filter through the crowd and commence to shout and chant. They sweep through the crowd and over to a small clearing, where they roust a refugee from a tent, and proceed to rough him up, under the gaze of a black-trenchcoat wearing religious figure. The refugee is finally thrown into a shallow grave, and that’s the end of the Cyclops, brought to us by Akademie Teatralna, Warsaw.

20160629_155728

Latvian Academy, Riga, bring us Phaiacians. Rather than the purely theatrical techniques used by the others we have seen heretofore, this group share with us some cold, hard facts. Latvia is a country of 1.95 million people, and have accepted a mere 80 refugees. Even if they take their full allotment over the next decade, that is only 700, fewer than half of which are expected to wish to stay. The citizenry may be up in arms, but the country faces severe depopulation, having lost over 10% of the population in the years since the Iron Curtain fell.

The troupe scheme how to entice the refugees, represented by one young man, to stay. They compose little songs and practice being friendly. The song starts to take form, “Welcome to my country, here you don’t belong. Welcome to my country, here you can go wrong…” They eventually get it right, but the whole effect is to poke fun at the efforts by well meaning progressive forces to coax a reluctant populace to see the benefits of immigration.

Ask many people if they’re familiar with Homer’s Odyssey and they may say yes, but they probably only know the story of the Sirens. Odysseus has his men lash him to the mast of the ship, and then bung their ears with wadding, so they may safely traverse the shoals around the island of these temptress singing maidens. Odysseus becomes the only man to hear the Sirens’ song and survive to tell the tale. Thomas Bernhard Akademie, Salzburg, presents this island to us, with a mixture of dance, spoken word, song and music. It is keening and rich, overlaid with language in Arabic, Turkish, German, and English:

The history of the occident is also the history of tying down the body and the musicality of its languages and hence a history of bodies that get in panic when they are confronted with the otherness of the voice or the voice of the other.

This scene attempts a rhythmic-repetitive bodily and musicalized retelling of the triumph over the jeopardy of the voice…

20160629_162718

We watch all of this from a room fronting a canal, the performers on a barge, the musicians in the room with us, video screens providing various translation, full and partial.

Next up we are dragged by a frantic, jubilant woman, to a new space, her island. She is Circe. Erasmus Hogeschool/RITCS Brussels bring us a raucous and bawdy rendition of this island of lions, wolves and pigs. In this version we are serenaded by In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and what amounts to a lurid and yet lyrical dance, which in turn tells us the story of debauchery offered and escaped. This was a truly stunning and unnerving interlude, and quite moving. Doesn’t seem to say much about modern Europe, or refugees, but that’s fine with me. We deserve a break!

Toneelacademie, Maastricht, next bring us Underworld. For this we are led to the mezzanine of a small studio theatre space, where we are looking down into a pit. This stunning piece uses a phalanx of video projectors, painting the floor and walls of this sunken chamber. Odysseus enters the underworld, represented here as a placid pool of water dotted with stepping stones, a small geometric island in the centre. When Odysseus steps onto a stone, the ripples he releases show us the lost souls trapped beneath the surface, tangled webs of bodies trapped in eternal struggle for rest. This is by turns disturbing and alluring.

I cannot even begin to describe just what a gift this revelatory experience was. It is immersive and voyeuristic, knowable and mysterious, beautiful and ugly, all at once. When Odysseus pulls Theresius from the lower depths, and they step out onto the water, the surfaces of this CGI disappear, and we are left only with the underlying mesh scaffolding upon which all of this imagery has been constructed. The effect untethers us, leaves us adrift without reference or anchor. It was profound.

The actors and the CGI are perfect together, bound to each other by 3D-scanner coordination, to great effect. I suspect we’ll see more of this in live performance, for it brings the promise of video augmented live performance to a level Pawn has certainly never seen before.

Return. No Odyssey is complete without return, right? That, after all, is what separates Odyssey from misadventure. Here we find return in a quiet glen, where Odysseus is first confronted by suspicious descendants of those left behind so many years ago. But he is eventually recognized, first by his loyal dog, and then by the rest, as who he is. Westerdal, Oslo, present this with masterful sound design and finely choreographed movement. It is triumphant!

20160629_171909

An undertaking of this scope and scale would be laudable in the best of times, but what makes this piece so extraordinarily suited to this time, to this moment, is the events of recent days. Not a week ago, even, England and Wales have dealt what could be a lethal blow to the European project. Last night, parties unknown deployed automatic weapons and suicide bombers in the Istanbul airport, killing 41 and injuring over 200. Funerals have already started and we don’t even have final casualty counts.

It is against this backdrop that these students have spoken, have sought a voice which says No! They want Europe, they love Europe. They embrace this ideal of shared cultural norms with separate histories and traditions.

One cannot experience this and not find hope for our future, regardless of the orange-haired monsters in our midst.

Three One Acts – ITS Amsterdam 2016

Almost forgot to write this one up.  Oops!

playmaids2

While the title “Theatre Triple Date #2” doesn’t convey too much information, it was an interesting night of theatre.  First up was Play Maids by ArtEZ Music Theatre and Acting, Arnhem, directed by Mart van Berckel and performed by Margreet Blanken, Anne Freriks and Robin Kuiper.  The latter two play a pair of maids, Claire and Solange, loosely based on Jean Genet’s The Maids, by way of Grey Gardens. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on The Maids:

Solange and Claire are two housemaids who construct elaborate sadomasochistic rituals when their mistress (Madame) is away. The focus of their role-playing is the murder of Madame and they take turns portraying both sides of the power divide. Their deliberate pace and devotion to detail guarantees that they always fail to actualize their fantasies by ceremoniously “killing” Madame at the ritual’s dénouement.

In Play Maids, these games appear at first to be more playful than anything, but we shall see.  Performed in the round (mostly) the set consisted of a sort of wire-frame wardrobe from which hung garments and from which sprouted work surfaces and other accoutrement necessary to the maids’ work.  The setting and props were fresh and inspired; the performances frenetic, farcical and fun.  Blanken as the matron was marvelous, and her seeming obliviousness lent much to the production.

playmaids1

Perhaps a bit longer than was needed, the entire enterprise was well done and a joy to watch, perhaps more so because of the physical similarity of the two young actresses.  I could see this doing well in a Fringe (and, indeed, they will be at Fringe Amsterdam this September).  Interestingly, fashion label Maison the Faux is listed as a collaborator, for Scenography.

Next up was De Spectacular Schandelijke van Een Jong Meisje en het Tragische Einde Dat Daarop Volgde, again from ArtEZ Music Theatre and Acting, Arnhem.  Herein a single performer, Laurien van Rijswijk, performs an augmented monologue.  I can’t tell you too much about it, as it was all in Dutch, which I don’t speak.  I think the gist of the piece was that this young woman is coming into her own as her mother is dying of cancer, but that’s just a wild guess.  It did have moving scenes, which I could judge by the waterworks in the audience.

Lastly was The Sound of Circles, Codarts Circus, Rotterdam.  Ralph Ollinger and Marko Hristoskov conceived and present this piece of juggling accompanied by string bass.  It was lovely and well executed.  Seemed an odd fit after the earlier entertainments, but it did leave one with a clear head.