Living Statues

June 3, 2009 at 9:06 am (Interview, performance) (, , )

picture: hans s

picture: hans s

A lot of work goes into standing still – perfectly and completely still. Self-discipline is the key. You have to uphold constant control of each limb, each muscle. Physically it’s exhausting. But living statues must remain unaffected by their surrounding environment even if it is a bustling audience willing them to move. No nuance of thought is allowed to register on the face. They have to hide their breathing.

For Jason Maverick it’s just another day at the office: “The worst aspect is getting the body paint off – red or black make up is very difficult to remove. It’s just a case of scrubbing.” He admits it can be tricky when people try to make him laugh. While he has never cracked, he thinks people have probably detected a smile a couple of times: “because sometimes people do genuinely funny things”.

Today living statues line the Thames or other tourist destinations in most major cities. People may stop for a look and perhaps even throw a little change into the upturned top hat. Few realise that this art form has it’s roots in Renaissance where “tableau vivants” or living pictures would be used to entertain royalty.

Jason recently performed at the Watchman premiere. He was painted fluorescent blue and was wired up so that electricity shoots out of him, Doctor Manhattan-style. Seven hundred people attended to watch Jason stand. He is used to large crowds. He’s performed at a range of high-profile events, from the Queen’s Golden Jubilee to Sting’s private party. He won’t go into detail on either: “there’s a certain amount of privacy that you have to uphold”.

picture: Carlos Lorenzo

picture: Carlos Lorenzo

Jason trained in mime. The living statue utilises those skills. “The beauty of mime is that you can cross language barriers,” says Jason. “I have performed in India, Africa, Asia. I performed in a village in Africa and I really wondered how it was going to come across but the humour travels. I was surprised actually.”

Jason does a lot of different statues. Lord Nelson is popular and his Bollywood statue goes down well. One statue has an elaborate piping system which pumps water out of an urn. But his favourite statue is the Golden Doorman. The Doorman wears an expensive golden suit with painted mannequin-style face. “You get a very strong reaction because you look like a person but the make up has blanked out all your features – you put it across your lips, over your eyes, everything. When you move people find it quite disconcerting.” It was the Golden Doorman won Jason second place in the annual Living Statue Contest in Holland two years ago.

What can he think about when he’s performing? “I do concentrate quite a lot when I’m doing it. Sometimes I’ll focus on different parts of my body, so I’ll think oh my calves are really tense, or my shoulders or I’ll think about adjusting my body position. If you’re body painted of course people can detect you breathing so I try to shallow breathe. That’s a whole other area of concentration.”

Has a bird ever landed on him by accident? “That’s the most random question I’ve ever been asked,” smiles Jason. “No.”

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The underrated art: Beatbox Battle 2009

May 14, 2009 at 9:21 am (music, performance) (, , , )

Last week the Beatbox Battle Online World Champion was announced: Canadian Julia Dales, 17. The YouTube based competition saw people from all over the world – Japan, USA, Norway, Belgium – go head-to-head in the Wild Card competition. One vital question emerges: does it hurt?

A Short History: Beatboxing, “a form of vocal percussion which primarily involves the art of producing drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, voice, and more” is today firmly rooted in hip hop. But it goes back much further than that, though the origin is contested. Some trace it back to the Indian tradition of bol, or the Chinese tradition of Kouji, a performance art which uses the vocal organs to mimic everyday sounds and is 2,300 years old. African and Native American traditions use the vocal tricks and the body in rhythmic performance. It’s kinda universal, in all senses of the word.

Modern beatboxing has developed since the 1980s, and gets its name from mimicry of the first electronic drum machines, known as beatboxes.

Although he didn’t make it into the final five in the Wild Card competition, this guy makes it look effortless. Which it is NOT (I should know. I tried, alone in my house. Felt silly).

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The Great Cake Escape

May 11, 2009 at 11:22 am (Interview, street art) (, , , , )

cake-escapeA pink and white cupcake sits on a grubby East London pavement with a little flag saying “Eat me”. People bustling past barely notice it – just a small flash of colour on the grey side street. But this cupcake has a purpose. It’s waiting for someone to sink their teeth into it’s fluffy sponginess; to make a mess of its icing and read its flag. But who would eat a cupcake they found on a street corner?

Lot of people would, as it turns out. “So many people re into cake it’s crazy,” says Cherry Bakewell. “I never really realised before but people are obsessed with cake.” This particular cupcake is the creation of Cherry and Fondant Fancy – aka The Great Cake Escape – where street art meets Betty Crocker. The pair are bent on brightening up the world one cake at a time. A modern day Alice in Wonderland via Shoreditch.

The Great Cake Escape started as a one-off birthday project but has turned into a guerilla street-art campaign. “I always really liked that kind of thing, when you leave something on the street and you never quite know who’s going to find it,” says Cherry. They were both into street art but “didn’t want to be vandals”. Inspired by tea parties, they made lots of cupcakes, dropped them around London and watched.

It was supposed to be one afternoon of fun, but a year and a half later they’re still doing it. “We usually produce around 200 cakes,” says Cherry. “To make any visual impact you need to have plenty. They go so quickly it’s amazing. We’ll drop some, then turn around to see if anyone has taken them and they’ll be gone.

“Recently someone found one of the cakes – we left it on his bicycle basket – and he cycled round London and took pictures of all the places he had taken it. In the end he left it somewhere, hoping that someone else would find it and take it on another adventure.”

Dropping cakes isn’t always easy. Some people simply don’t get it. Cherry and Fondant have been criticised for wasting food, and more bizarrely, trying to poison a dog. Then there are the street wardens to contend with. “At first we were scared that we would get caught for littering,” says Cherry. “But i’ve seen street cleaners that go and look at them, pick them up, read the message and laugh and then put them back down.”cake escape flour

They never really intended for people to eat them, although they’re perfectly edible. It’s more about evoking curiosity, rousing people out of their everyday routine by giving them something unexpected. Each cake has a little flag saying things like “I’m an abandoned sweet surprise waiting just for you. Have a little fun tonight, share me with someone new.”

The domestic arts – crafts, knitting, baking – are expereincing something of a comeback. Nostlalgia is in. First it was the vintage boom and clothes your grandmother wore, and now her hobbies are back too. The Great Cake Escape has adopted a ’50s housewife aesthetic, lipstick and Mary-Janes.

“It’s about being sick of everything being manufactured, all the shops look the same,” says Cherry. “People are more aware that if they go and buy something in Topshop they’re not really sure of where it was manufactured or the quality of things. It’s nice to be individual and enjoy being creative and actually making something.”

Because they are young women baking cakes, inevitably questions have been raised about their feminist stance. Their work has been lauded by feminist groups such as Riot Grrrl fanzines and events like Ladyfest. But Cherry insists that a feminsit statement wasn’t they’re intention, though they enjoy the association. At these events, the flags say things like “Riot don’t diet” and “Love your muffin top, eat more cake”.

“People thought, ‘Ok, what are you doing with this image, are you reclaiming it?” says Cherry. They were accused of behaving lik drag queens performing an idea that was damaging to feminism. “It was really strange for us because we didn’t go into it with any agenda. I guess people can think what they want to think.

“It’s pretty simple,” says Cherry. “There’s nothing deep. We just want to make people smile.”

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Review: Is Anybody There?

May 1, 2009 at 10:02 am (film, review) (, , , , )

Michael Caine and Bill Milner

For his latest film, Is Anybody There? Sir Michael Caine is doing more publicity than usual. This film, he says at the premiere in west London, is a tough sell. Death is “hardly a barrel of laughs”.

Yet although Is Anybody There? is set in an old people’s home in a drizzly corner of 1980s seaside Britain, it will make you laugh – often and out loud.

Directed by John Crowley (Boy A), the film follows the blossoming friendship between the ageing Clarence (Caine) and ten year-old Edward (the excellent Bill Milner). Both are reluctant residents of a slapdash old people’s home, Lark Hall, run by Edward’s parents. Firmly rooted in the 80s with it’s brash clothing, discos and mullets, the film is based on the personal experience of writer Peter Harness who grew up in an old people’s home.

The film opens on a cheery Christmas gathering draped in colourful paper hats and tinsel. But Edward is angry at the world (he had to give up his bedroom for Arnold – he can’t afford the £50 a week) and tired of living with old people. He’s obsessed with death and tries to capture grisly final moments on his tape recorder.

Edward’s childish dramas are played out amidst the chaos of the old people’s home, whose eccentric residents are both charmingly stuck in their ways and slowly dying off. Just about holding it all together is Edward’s stoic mum, played convincingly by Anne-Marie Duff, who carries on with grim determination in the knowledge that she is doing a little “good” in the world.

Caine with director John Crowley

Caine with director John Crowley

Soon Clarence arrives in his rusty magician’s van, heavy under the burden of his own mortality and regret. Like his faltering van, Clarence’s grip on reality is fading fast and in the absence of a family, he can’t see much in life worth living for. Caine brings his usual gruff charm to his character, but balances it with a tender vulnerability that underlines the helplessness of old age – with the occasional “Fuck off!” of course. But it’s Milner with his skilful portrayal of a boy struggling against the world who steals the show.

The film is about the pain of growing up and the pain of growing old, with the two central characters each locked in their own misery but finding salvation in the other. Clarence, the retired magician gets a final boost by teaching Edward some old tricks. If this storyline sounds a bit twee, it isn’t. Clarence’s tutorials are sporadic, impatient and his pupil is reluctant. His hands can’t move like they used to.

It all seems very depressing, and at times it is. But this is one of the film’s strengths. It doesn’t glorify old age, but takes a stark look (through a series of poignant close-ups) at the wrinkles, and the hair loss – the wretchedness of it all. With such tricky subject matter it would have been easy to over-sentimentalise. But in Is There Anybody There? death becomes something to both laugh and cry at. Old age is a moment of both grace and despair.

The ups and downs of the characters are swept up into the narrative flow, and much like life itself, things have a way of plodding on. This is why at it’s heart Is Anybody There? is a celebration of life. It may be tough, but it’s worth having a good go.

In cinemas May 1.

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Cannes Film Festival: here’s to the independents

April 23, 2009 at 5:28 pm (film) (, , , , , , )

Cannes Film Festival official poster

Cannes Film Festival official poster

Today the Cannes Film Festival has announced it’s competitors. With a line up including Jane Campion, Tarantino and Almodóvar, it’s worth getting excited about.

With so many big names vying for the Palme d’Or it will be a tough decision for the judges. Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces, a psychological thriller featuring his favourite leading lady Penelope Cruz, is up against Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (starring Brad Pitt who heads a troupe of Jewish soldiers bent on wiping out Nazis). Thrown into the mix is Jane Campion’s Bright Star, a drama exploring the romance between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. She is the only woman to ever win the Palme d’Or three years ago with The Piano.

The festival is showing Heath Ledger’s final performance in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, although the film is not entering the competition.

Hotly-tipped British film Looking for Eric exlpores the unlikely friendship between a downbeat football fanatic postman and Eric Cantona. Will film maker Ken Loach  impress the judges as his Wind That Shakes the Barley did three years ago?

Still, even the fabulous Cannes is not insensitive to the current economic situation. Since 2009 is has already been dubbed “Crunch Cannes” since Vanity Fair cancelled it’s glitzy bash at the Hotel du Cap, the city’s hotels still have empty rooms and guests may have to settle for sparkling rosé rather than champagne. The festival’s official coiffeur will be accompanied by a modest team of 15 hairdressers, down from the 20 of last year.

There’s something about all this thriftiness that seems appropiate. Independent film has always been about economic uncertainty with unstable funding. While Cannes is an important celebration of independent film, perhaps this year’s scaled down affair will act as a reminder – when it comes to the independents there’s just never enough money.

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Bathroom Graffiti

April 5, 2009 at 8:36 pm (graffiti, literature) (, , )

picture: katiecarman

picture: katiecarman

I’ve always been fascinated by bathroom graffiti. You know the sort. It’s found scrawled across walls of humid night clubs (this post was inspired by Camden’s Dublin Castle). It ranges from the charming: “You’re beautiful” to the puerile “If you’re reading this, you’re a “[insert  dirty, dirty word]”.

Sometimes, though, you’ll read one you want to write down (but for some reason you’ll never have a pen to hand) – a little piece of wisdom that a stranger felt they needed to pass on. Sometimes they are sad, insecure or lonely. Often they are about love. Often they are cliched. In some bathrooms people have conversations – lots of different handwriting muddled up, like lots of voices talking in one small bathroom cubicle. picture: sejan

secrets1

picture: fearlessvk

picture: fearlessvk

Trouble is, one person’s wisdom is another person’s vandalism. Still, bathroom graffiti can make you smile in the least likely place – the loo. That’s something worth scrawling about.

picture:green shock

picture:green shock

picture: Made Underground

picture: Made Underground

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The Husband Project has my attention, but is it art?

April 3, 2009 at 4:54 pm (art) (, , )

A 23 year-old woman has chosen marriage as the theme for her final year art project. But she’s exploring the topic a little differently – she’s going through the process itself. She’s deftly named it The Husband Project.
Alex Humphrey’s, a student at Leeds College of Art and Design, is disillusioned with dating and scared of becoming a spinster. So she has decided to tackle both her final  project and her love life by setting up a blog to find herself a husband. In an interview in The Times, Humphrey’s says: “I don’t want to wake up when I’m 30 and think: oh my God, I’m on my own.” She adds, “it’s better to say I’m looking for a relationship, not just a shag.”
Humphrey’s has three simple requirements: that applicants are male, have a sense of humour and are taller than her. Applicants are asked to answer a 45 question survery, including things like, “Are you financially secure?” and “Are you good in bed (be honest!)”.
Picture:  foundphotoslj

Picture: foundphotoslj

It reminds me of the woman who sold her virginity on ebay. And also Neil LaBute’s film The Shape of Things where an art student shapes her boyfriend and then hands “him” as her final year thesis. It’s sort of a mix of the two, actually.
But is this art? To me art is about making a statement, and I can’t work out what this one is saying. Humphrey’s reason for the project is to “ensure that I am remembered for years to come!” I’m all for art in Web 2.0, it’s important to push art into new creative boundaries. But I can’t help but think this is more of an exercise in self-promotion tapping into of the trend of instant celebrity.

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Wintersleep interview in Pictures

April 1, 2009 at 9:22 pm (Interview, music) (, , )

Wintersleep in Pictures by Alastair Plumb

Wintersleep in Pictures by Alastair Plumb

When we were interviewing Wintersleep (see post below ), my friend Ali (of Lollygagger fame) nimbly whipped out his camera and took these photos, which he has since organised into a pretty collage. For this, we thank him.

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Interview: A Drink with Wintersleep

March 31, 2009 at 12:51 pm (Interview, music) (, , , )

Canadian rockers Wintersleep have just completed a tour to celebrate the release of their latest album, Welcome to the Night Sky in Europe.

I caught up with them in London to talk about first records, winning the Juno award and stealing polar bears…

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Odd Art

March 26, 2009 at 5:40 pm (art) (, , , , , , )

What do sheep, burger grease, the London tube have in common? Why, they’re all art of course – wonderfully odd, odd art.

Here is a round-up of five contemporary artists who are pushing artistic conventions and, frankly, taste.

5. The Mona Greasa 

You already know that fast-food is bad for you, but now you can literally see just how bad. American artist Phil Hansen has used both burger and fry grease to make his art. He used 14 burgers to make a 12 ft Mona Lisa.

4. Ruislip Rhythmns

Ben Langham is a London based engineer-cum-DJ who likes to record the sounds of the Underground. He takes a digital recorder with him into London’s tube system, capturing anything from escalators to passing trains, and then mixes them into dance tracks.

“I liked the idea of having this concept, noises from behind the scenes on the tube which the general public don’t get to listen to.” said Ben.

Picture: little pollo

Picture: little pollo

3. Spanish artist Juan Francisco Casas creates 6ft portraits (left) out of the humble biro. In an interview in Metro, Casas said he ventured away from oil painting for a bit of fun but then ended up coming second in a national art competition. “It was an academic competition and I knew they would think my entry was a joke. It was a real shock it was so successful.”

2. Heads and Tales by Heide Hatry

New York based Hatry creates her portraits out of untreated pigskin which covers sculpted  clay, raw flesh for the lips and fresh pig eyes, “in order that the resulting portrait would appear as if it were looking at the viewer with a vital expression which the photographer had just captured at that moment.

“In fact, a photographer taking a picture of a model does more or less what I’ve done with my sculptures: the model will be made up, its hair will be done, appropriate lighting and pose will be chosen, etc.”

1. Extreme shepherding.

The Baaa-Studs – a troupe of men from Wales – took to the hills armed with sheep, sheep-dogs and special LED sheep-sized “jackets”. And then there was art. Among the creations: a fireworks display, a giant sheep, a game of Pong and the Mona Lisa.

In using sheep as a medium, The Baaa-Studs challenge our perception of what constitues art. By blurring the boundary between art and farming, they make a profound comment on the taut relationship between culture and Nature. Or something.

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