Thursday, 28 August 2014

A wordcloud wordcloud

Perspective - Friday Flash

Planet C3762YB
Report of the Cultural Bureau
Exhibit 273-275
National Look Up AT The Sky Day


It is perhaps pertinent that the only aureole of light in the entire tableau, rests not over the hooded figures, but that from the overhead streetlamp casting down on them. Indeed the artist has chosen to efface the features of the monks beneath their cowls. The chiaroscuro is clearly in place, with the dark, heavy tones of the raiment of the holy men, their pallid hands the sole pale contrast, suggestive perhaps of how fragile the flesh lies. Or perhaps the diaphanous nature of prayer, as these hands are deployed in all manner of encoded gestures just adjacent to the supplicant, transferring their devotional energies into his body. The craquelure in the lead monk’s leather jacket attests to this interesting reversion to oil paints rather than the acrylic which after all would echo the fabrics worn by the rest of his brotherhood in the picture. The sheen of sweat in the supplicant is minutely picked out by the artist and there is an echo of the shape of these perspiration drops in the anointing of him with red pigmented droplets from the head monk’s ordination dagger. The supplicant’s (presumed) outstretched fleshy hands are eclipsed by the circle of the monks, as if he has yet to develop the more pliant, yielding markers of flesh that these holy men have ascended to. He remains a creature bound head to toe in the earthly tissue of raiment. This is further reinforced by the translucency at the edge of the monks’ forms, whereas for the supplicant there seems only to be a black void encompassing his outline. Perhaps this is suggestive of a negative, impure energy he has yet to slough from his doubting ontological being. The rictus on his face could be the dread at the start of his metamorphosis, or it could be the residual distaste as he struggles internally with his unwillingness to make the leap of faith, and figuratively give himself into the arms of the monks. That rictus is echoed in the expression of the dog that hovers around the men. But the genius of the artist is it’s not only the dog’s expression, but the whole convolution of its body as it skittishly keeps itself on the fringes of the action. Another leifmotif is the cylindrical metal chalice that rolls on its axis on the ground. A bead of golden liquid hangs pendulously from its lip, again echoing the sweat beads of the supplicant. 

In the middle of the three panels, the supplicant is shown bowing, as now it is his mass which swallows and occludes the lead monk’s ordination rod. The other monks have almost ceded the ground to their leader, as they fly back centrifugally from the centre, pressing themselves against the margins of the canvas. The dog has retreated to the base of the lamp post where it squats, its rictus even more predominant now, so that its tongue is exposed in exquisite brushwork detail. The chalice has become distorted in form, (an allusion to future Cubist style?) hammered flat, perhaps beneath the foot of the supplicant or one of the monks. While in the final panel the canvas is emptied of the entire bustle of its two predecessors (is this what they mean by ‘vanishing point’? The guidebooks are a touch unclear as to the meaning of this term). Now the supplicant lies prostrate, presumably the humility required and recognised of his new lowly status before his divinity. His entry into stillness as portrayed by the starkness of the image. There are a scattering of mass tones of the red pigment about his form while a more atramentous glaze limns the ground where it borders his body, as if to represent some sort of holy spirit entering his corpus. The technique of this final panel is one of sfumato, the whole image being hazier and more smoky than the previous two, suggestive of the more numinous and divine powers that abound in this frame. It as if the materiality of both dog and the chalice have evaporated in an extramundane puff of smoke.   

Exhibit 276
National Yo-Yo Day

Still Life

The light source for the picture is that of the sun, but it is refracted and filtered through a thin column of smoke ascending in the foreground. The architecture is framed by the heaped automobiles through which the viewer is granted snatched or privileged access, perhaps like that of a voyeur, that in a homegrown resident would provoke feelings of guilt, but which in us of course we experience no such sentiment. Intriguingly the colour scheme has been reversed by the artist. Since the atmosphere above the ground is depicted in gun-metal grey, tinged with pink, which is of course what we might expect to see in the portrayal of the automobiles. However, they are rendered in the burnt umbers and russets suggestive of decay, corrosion and oxidation which one would normally associate with the polluted atmosphere… 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Rebirth - Friday Flash

When he finally regained consciousness, his first picture was a vista of sparks and coruscations as if he were witnessing the birth of the cosmos. He rent the air with a scream that pierced the universe. Partly from the pain pent up from the entire time he had been in a coma, but also from the sudden inundation of all the suppressed senses held under for the same duration. Inside the projection screen of his mind, he could recall the features of the man throttling him. But his eyes were registering nothing outwards, other than amorphous shades of black and white with twinkling pain flashes. Maybe he was actually dead after all and he was merely dreaming these serrated sensations as some delusion of life. 

Somewhere in the yonder of the void, the doctors explained that there were neurological issues brought about through the lack of oxygen under constriction. The police whispered in his ear that they had caught his assailant and there was evidence aplenty to guarantee he would be put away for life. He had another searing body-wide paroxysm that cleaved the universe in two, as he realised he could neither respond with word nor gesture. Or perhaps it was just the conflagration of diverse emotions, from relief, through rage to fear. What did they mean ‘neurological issues’? 

The medics simplified it for him as ‘brain damage’. His family testified he was lucky to be alive. The physios stated that now the hard work really began. He heard the words, but couldn’t understand what they were saying. He couldn’t put the pieces together. The physios said that was exactly what they had to do with him. To reconnect parts of his brain to his body. At least those black and white dancing hues had settled down and begun to cohere into shapes and depth. An elaborate regimen of drugs brought his physical pain under control, but his mental maladies would not be so ductile.

First they had to train him to lift up his head and support it. As the locus of the original trauma, this was a monumental feat to achieve. Each flex of the cervical muscles, each tiny motion of the head, pricked vivid images and wild flashes back to when his neck was being assailed by the other man’s hands. Every time he thought he was going to blackout. He imagined he could feel the force of the sensations from his body reaching up to petition his brain for processing, but held in abeyance by an impenetrable barricade where they just couldn’t cross. This anguish was far more deleterious than any to do with swollen sinew or traumatic memories. He raged impotently at what he had become, to what he had been reduced. His brain was feverishly trying to fire messages across dead zones. And such emotion with nowhere to go to be discharged by a broken body, just heaped the torment further upon him. 

Once he mastered controlling his head, they got him to work on sitting up in his bed. Then they rebuilt the motions he needed to chew his food and swallow, so that they could remove the drips and tubes sustaining him. They gently pincered his chin and worked his jaw for him. Even babies didn’t have to suffer this indignity. He reclaimed the ability to drink from cups without spouts and without the liquid dribbling back out of any crookedly sealed lips. They also worked on teaching him how to speak again. Now he realised he had fully become a toddler for the second time in his life. That all his primal howl on reentering the world had lacked for, was a midwife slapping life and air into him. Instead he had burned into his retinas, the image of his would-be killer fulfilling the opposite role of taking the final air from his lungs and delivering him into death. It spurred him on all the harder to grab on to this his rebirth.

After he managed sitting up, he was taught how to structure the movements to feed himself with a spoon. His speech was slurred, but he reacquired some gestural movement in his hands to bolster his meaning. His face however remained slanted and his expression frozen. He was transferred into a wheelchair and for the first time was able to exercise his eyes on sights other than the four walls of his ward. He was being wheeled like a baby in a buggy he thought ruefully. In the hospital gym they toiled with him to define his musculature and begin the long march to getting him to stand, to support his own weight and eventually to walk. When finally he had mastered an awkward, angular shuffle, he could take himself off to the bathroom so finally there were no more of commodes and nappies. 

He could dress himself as long as he perched on his bed to do so. He relearned how to clean his teeth. He drew pictures in crayon that were recognisable for the subjects he was representing. He had ticked off virtually every one of the developmental stages in his baby book for a second time. Except he had yet to manifest a smile. 

for the memory of my father who died today. He inevitably made me what I am and was a great lover of words himself. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

People Watching - Friday Flash

He tracked the men as they made their way down the thoroughfare. He continually kept one of them in his crosshairs and could determine the presence of the other by the way his subject kept turning to address him as they walked. They arrived at a café and pulled up chairs at an outside table. That was suspicious enough behaviour, who else in this benighted land took their beverages outside in the open? They may people watch from the boulevard cafés in Paris, but further north we didn’t really possess the weather for it.

Nevertheless, they might not be players after all. How covert could their conversation be if they were prepared to air it with the waitress bent over their table wiping it with a cloth? Both men were looking up away from each other and smiling. He trained on the pretty waitress’ face, on the pencil behind her ear, which somewhat counteracted the delicate elegance of the dangling drop earring swaying with the slight motion of her head as she talked. She removed it to take their order and then left. Rather than follow her, he picked up fixing on the two men once more. Neither was now saying anything as they both leaned back into their chair, as he ricocheted the barrel of the gun from one to the other. A wisp of smoke coiled into this sights. He swiped his lens to trail the wisp of smoke back to its source, only to see it was merely the steam rising from the mugs of tea the waitress was returning with. No, this gathering was an innocent party of three and he arced his scope elsewhere.

He jagged the spectral divining rod of his rifle so seamlessly from figure to figure that no empty space ever pervaded between them. It was if all these people were part of some human paper chain stitched from flesh and blood. From his aerial roost he cast his vitreous fish-eye on their mouths miming into mobile phones. On their cramming a hasty sandwich into their maws as they snatched lunch on the move. He trailed a woman moisturising her scaly and blistered lips with a chapstick. He drew a bead on a man wiping away a bead of sweat from his forehead. Sign of a guilty conscience? He pulled the focus in tighter and caught a cartoon character tattoo peeking out of the man’s coat collar. No serious threat to the state would bear such a stigmata of the frivolous. 

For they had been trained, seasoned until the callouses on their trigger fingers bled, on what signs to look for to determine hostile from non-combatant. Two dimensional anatomies with target roundels to measure your accuracy of shot, while whether they were wearing balaclava or headscarf graded your accuracy of reaction. Cardboard cutouts of innocents and the iniquitous. The telltale rictus mouth of the zealous ideologue, when their enemies were actually far more cunning and whispered from the corners of their mouths rather than betraying themselves with cartoon snarls. Each pastiche picked out in lurid green monochrome, which made them all appear like Martians. The cityscape in which he operated was familiar enough with the same road signs as back home, but all the populace here were alien to him. In this windy city, none wore balaclavas though all wore hoodies. And if they pulled a rictus smile, it was only when they stood over your corpse and you were beyond any ability to register it. 

When he was home on leave, he tried to realign himself as a civilian. However, these days he could only filter people through a glass scope, with finely calibrated gradations framing the dimensions of their humanity for him. At social gatherings while folk talked and laughed and regaled each other, or just snuck clandestine glances at members of the opposite sex across the room, he was forever searching for a roundel target across their chests or reticles upon their brow. When introduced to new people, he could not help but cock his head and squint one eye shut when regarding them.

He regathered himself and resumed people watching. Searching for concentric circles and rictus smiles. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Songs About Cars

The wide open road, symbol of freedom and narratives just waiting to be written or sung. If you live in America that is. What could be more of a contradiction in terms than a british road movie? London to Manchester in just over two hours. To Glasgow adds just another four and a half hours. Endless vistas not of the ocean, but of oil seed rape fields and graffitied concrete bridges.

Still, I suppose rock band tour buses still have to make those journeys, so here's 10 of my fave songs about cars and the magic of the road. or not, seeing as I have never learned to drive and fail to see how there can be any attraction.

Start your engines...

1) The Clash - "Brand New Cadillac"
For a band who'd sung on their debut album "I'm So Bored With The USA" and also penned "London's Burning" opening with a whinge about the concrete flyover that dominates West London, here is a song that seems to repudiate both of these sentiments, plus Joe Strummer's voice is lilting over to embrace the American a tad. Soon enough after this album they hightailed it to live in the USA anyway.

2) Tubeway Army - "Cars"
Ah dear old human android Gary Numan with his second smash hit song that aped Ballard and all things dehumanising about technology. An effect utterly subverted by his twee shaking of a tambourine. maybe he should have blown into a melodica or something.

3) Janis Joplin - "Mercedes Benz"
A song protesting the consumerism of America, subsequently reappropriated by the brand to advertise their wares. No wonder she drank herself to death she could see what was ahead.

4) Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - "Roadrunner"
If there's a voice you want to suggest a certain ennui and distaste behind the thrust of what the lyrics purport to be saying, then it would be our Jonathan. This is a cover of a Bo Diddley song, the man who also wrote a paean to Cadillacs.

5) Ministry - "Jesus Built My Hot Rod"
And now for a complete change of gear... This quotes lines from the very offbeat road movie "Wiseblood".

6) Buzzcocks - "Fast Cars"
See we in the UK can crank it up to well over a ton too, but the power of the engine sounds a whole lot reedier than American models. And anyway, Pete Shelley is singing his disapprobation for going over the speeding limit.

7) Dead Milkmen - "Bitchin' Camaro"
Oh my aching sides, this is cabaret rock. An ex-girlfriend of mine put this on a mix tape for me. not quite sure what it says about me. I dunno, must have seemed funny under the influence of sensi...

8) Adam & The Ants - "Car Trouble"
see now somebody had to keep it real and this song talks about the downside of motoring when the machine goes wrong. Well keeping it as real as anyone from England dressed as a Native American with warpaint and feathers while brandishing an electric guitar can...

9) Tom Robinson Band - "2,4,6,8 Motorway"
This anthemic song almost made we want to learn to drive. There's something about its appeal I can't quite put my finger on, but there you go. I sued to hate motorway journeys up to visit my grandparents in Manchester. They were so boring and predictably none of the music for the journey included top tunes like this. Yeah I know it's a trucking song not a car song, but they're all the same to me anyway. Killing machines of steel. Or sumptin'. I used to wear badges like theirs back in the day. It's what punk was all about. That and sugar soap to make your hair spiky.

10) Billy Bragg - "A13"
You might have detected I'm losing a bit of interest in the subject matter, but this song spoofing the US song "Route 66" always puts a smile back on my face. Nicely done Billy, even if you are patronising the German audience with your English as a second language patter.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Echoes - Friday Flash

The sure handed technician swished the probe across my abdomen like an air hockey disc. She was sketching my child for me, drawing her from noiseless sound waves and silent rebounds. Bouncing sonar off her budding tissue, having the echoes pulse back through the swell of me and into the machine’s imaging stick. Pixels of my little pixie as her head is fully rendered. The outline of her arms expertly plotted by passage through the shallow fathoms. Even her fingers floating like sargassum in the void are charted through the sink and swim of the sonic undulations. The topography of my daughter. That slowly burgeoning coral reef cropping out from my amniotic sea bed.

The minute motions of her heart are as yet too tiny to be picked out in electrical motes. This being only the first draft for the overlay of more detailed pentimento compositions to come. But even without a monitor I could see, feel and most significantly, hear, my own heartstrings go ping as her image became limned in light emerging from the shadows of me. The technician squeezes some more jelly on my belly. It felt similar to when you used to pull out of me on to my stomach, terrified that we might launch new life. But her reproduction up there on screen suggests you got your timing wrong. That we were arrhythmic, out of step with one another. And when I relayed my suspicions of generation within me, you were off like a torpedo. There were no returning echoes from my plaintive pleas launched in the direction of your retreating back. Even though you were a complete dog, my entreaties appeared to be shrill beyond any audible frequency. But that’s okay, I have someone real close now who is held rapt by the softly lapping waves of my body and the song they make. Our call and response established here will be for all time. 

It was the same sonographer, but this time her piloting seemed less assured. There was a sense of choppy urgency to her sweeping over my distended stomach. And I scoped on the monitor that some of the pulses were not receiving the requisite echoes back.  Her rudimentary tissues were too weak to bat them gently round. The heart was now visible, but barely fluttering. They took me from lying prone under the ultrasound and folded me in half in front of a consultant. He was speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear his words. Wrong frequency for my brain to hold I guess. A siren only I could hear was reverberating in my head. 

They depth charged her with medical bombs. And when those didn’t find their target, they brought in an abominable bombardier with a suction duct to scuttle her little half-built vessel while she was still in harbour. 
And everyday now I rub my hand over my belly, the trenches and the depressions. Yet the seabed there is still. No echoes are ever returned  to me. 

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Acquaintance - Friday Flash

The two former school friends bumped into one another on the street. They shook hands heartily, clumping each other on the shoulder. The commotion of their boisterous reunion broadcast a warning to those pedestrians forging towards them sightlessly with their heads bowed to consult the augury of their phones, so that they managed to swerve around them without disaster. Yet above all the bustle of the street, the two men couldn’t make themselves understood, even when they inclined in towards the mouth of the other to hear what he was saying. 

The pair decided on adjourning to a café to catch up on old times. They snaffled a table just as the waitress was clearing it of the leavings from the previous occupants and ordered two cups of tea. While they stirred sugar into their milky brew, the pair proceeded to fumble for the vectors of alignment of their recollections. Yet they engendered none of the call and response of familiarity. They failed to finish each other’s sentences with that curious intimacy born of shared experience. They recounted events with a similar hollowness that the other vaguely remembered but without any illumination. While they could both place themselves at the same occasions, there was none of the customary effervescence of a reciprocal memory that meant they could place each other there. 

This was because neither had been the protagonist in these recalled scenes. Both had been on the margins, stationed in the boostering chorus (men do not acknowledge any cheerleading role), while others took centre stage with prodigious drinking feats, bodily regurgitation of such feats, or the violence that inevitably ensued. To find such exploits truly memorable and recountable, you had to be there, which they were of course, but perhaps really only tangentially. You don’t allow for wallflowers outside of dancehalls and that usually applied to women, but both men had been let’s call them spear carriers for the main actors and this was dawning on them as they increasingly failed to depict themselves or the other as heroic in any single incident. They were not at the moral centre, because their timidity had determined the moral decision making process for them from the very outset.

They were barely listening to the other as their thoughts turned inward to process these revelations made through lacunae. This happy coincidence which should have prompted a reclamation of carefree youthful joy, had merely shown up their lack of dimension then as now. They couldn’t connect in any pleasing way. Neither cared what the other was currently engaged in and what he had made of his life. For he was reflecting that he himself had still achieved nothing noteworthy, had made very little of his own life in line with the unpromising, modest beginnings. 

The pauses elongated into silences. Though ill-aligned, now the urgency was to break away from their contiguity. Both gulped their tea and made sure to slurp the dregs as loudly as possible to signal an empty cup. One threw his empty sugar packet into the teacup, the other snapped his plastic stirrer in half and also set it in his cup as if a tombstone. The first wiped his mouth with the paper napkin, the other signalled for the bill. They each paid half, stood up and shook hands without any cupping of arms around the shoulder. As they rose to leave, the waitress scooped up their cups and gave a cursory swipe over the table with her cloth.