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Showing posts with label Russ Hoban. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russ Hoban. Show all posts

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

A #UCFF response to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

This is a response to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

27 May

This is a response to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014),
as seen at
Saffron Screen on Monday 27 May 2019 at 8.00 p.m.


Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Phrenology with Phronesis (work in progress) : Watch yourself when the (cross-)rhythms kick in !

This is a review of a gig given by Phronesis at The Stables, Wavendon, MK

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 May

This is a review of a gig given by Phronesis at The Stables, Wavendon, Milton Keynes, on Wednesday 18 May 2016 at 8.00 p.m.

Personnel (in surname order) :

* Anton Eger (drums)

* Jasper Høiby (db)

* Ivo Neame (pf)

This posting has been prepared from review-notes, made consistently with having to take them within blank spaces on Saffron Screen’s (@Saffronscreen’s) beautifully printed May / June programme, since a night off / out turned into a busman’s holiday… (One’s own fault, for going to The Stables (@stablesmk) and not realizing that wanting to write a review was inevitable - and, also, that its proportions would balloon beyond 'a mere sketch' of a review, which was intended 'to give the flavour' !)

First set¹ :

1. Song For The Lost Nomads

2. 67,000 mph

3. A Silver Moon

4. OK Chorale

5. Stillness

By anyone’s standards, (1) ‘Song For The Lost Nomads’ was a pretty good opener : one might have been forgiven, at the very outset, for thinking that Jasper Høiby was just quietly touching the strings of his bass, as if to check, as string-players quietly do, that it was in tune (his is a standard double-bass with a pick-up²) :

Except that he was looking across to Anton Eger (on drums), with whom he had less need to tune than with Ivo Neame (piano)… [One is reminded of Ravi Shankar famously having said, at The Concert for Bangladesh, If you like our tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.]

Rather than with apparent tuning of any kind, (2) ‘67,000 mph’ had, if not a militaristic drum solo to start, then, at least, one that one sounded to be militarily informed. As one was to realize, from hearing the three members of Phronesis, both of the other instruments have their percussive aspect, and they rejoice in using it (please see below). Not that, just as Høiby later tapped out some rhythms on his bass’ case, one cannot, say, use the opening and closing of the valves on a tenor sax as an effect, but bass-strings, even when bowed (one can bounce the bow), can more easily lend themselves to relatively pitch-neutral sounding (and one need only look to Igor Stravinsky, or Steve Reich, for piano-tones that are embedded within ensembles).

For, Phronesis clearly does, at times, have a principle in working out an approach to compositions that uses blocks, whether of sections within the number, or bars over which it will increase or abate intensity and or tempi, and thus using the capacity of all players for ‘patterning’ the material in this way is an important aspect of the whole.

In (3) A Silver Moon, however, they perhaps felt a little more self conscious, at first, when introducing more elements of free jazz ? Before one felt that they had ‘got into’ the item, the impression was given of being a little more at a remove, and which was heightened by the seeming classical allusions as the theme became exposed. Of course, in jazz that deserves the name, it is by being improvisatory, and needing to be open to running risks, that it is alive (one does not stoop to referring explicitly to a jazz-gig where members of an ensemble around the size of a quintet exclusively played off the page), and, appreciating as much, it was fine that this central part of the set had made a little less impact.

No matter, as pianist Ivo Neame opened (4) ‘OK Chorale’, and we were into another of Phronesis’ elongated treatments, originating with his patterned (or repetitive) figurations [if there is a magic in styling it ‘Ok’, apologies to Jasper H. for having put the title into house-style] : unlike with a jazz-standard (or if one already knew the band’s discography or its members’ pedigrees), one is not – as is sometimes the case (Brad Mehldau maybe, or, more obviously, Keith Jarrett with his long-standing Standards partners) – waiting for the melody to emerge from where it has been submerged (though there is some element of that to Phronesis, too), but, as one might with formal sonata-form writing, recognizing / knowing the material that we heard earlier when it recurs.

That is as may be, but there had been a touch of holding back, from the strength in and of the first two items, in the third, and now we knew that the trio was really into it. Not, of course, just because we had a rocking, head-banging drummer before us in Anton Eger, but rather that, as we listened, and as he interleaved mini drum-solos into the texture, seeing him, and his face and expression, confirmed to us that he was on a feed-back loop with us – however that works for performers, be it seeing nods, hearing gasps or sighs, or perhaps even a sway in the front row... (It is not, one knows, only at the end, when the length and amount of applause is longer for this item than for its predecessor, that both we, amongst our fellows, and the performers come to grasp whatever might be what Russell Hoban (@russellhobanorg) liked to call the limited-consensus reality [apologies, Russ, if you likewise did not hyphenate...].)

The set closed with (5), in which Phronesis felt most free of all, and we heard Jasper H. bow his bass, even sawing with it at times, and then some low picked notes, which sounded very deep, as well as next going extremely high.

As we proceeded, perhaps another classical allusion from Ivo N., some strummed bass, and then what looked like – from the front – Anton E., playing his drum-kit with a pair of dinner-knives : metallic, anyway, and bringing that kind of timbre to cymbals and stretched surfaces alike, but just as part of that bewildering ‘build of sound’ that is Phronesis at its best, with symphonic proportions summoned by three instrumentalists.

They were lucky that we let them off the stage to take a break, though they had clearly taken much pleasure in playing (and so any need for rest came after a refreshing kind of work-out) !

Second set¹ :

6. Urban Control

7. Phraternal

8. Behind Bars

9. Kite For Seamus

10. Rabat

11. Just 4 Now


More to come soon...

Encore :



¹ Set-lists by kind courtesy of Jasper Høiby of Phronesis (@phronesismusic). However, when the second set gets written up, there was clearly a segue that was wrongly interpreted (for reviewing purposes) as a change of mood / tempo of the sections within a number…

² But no ‘sock’, attached to the side, in which to stow the bow, which instead rested handily on the small stand by his right. One gathered that bowing the bass has come relatively recently - and also that its player does not play in a symphony orchestra (almost necessarily, the latter fact came before the former.)

(As agreed afterwards, such devices to carry the bow not only look like a holster (and how quickly does one need to whip out a bow ?), but they must also affect the sound and performance of the instrument.)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 29 August 2015

A 300-word story : The Parallelogram of Forces

A 300-word story : The Parallelogram of Forces

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

The Parallelogram of Forces

For Roland*

Her nippy little Jetta (nippy beyond its years since registration) shunted him before he could think to do anything.

Yes, he could see her coming, once a proper chance to look had made him stop. However, that just tensed him on the wheel, giving him whiplash (alongside, from the belt, the injury to his shoulder). What was almost worse (well, he did not feel those things at the time their way is to come to-morrow) was that horribly familiar, if infrequent, sound that car makes on car.

They surveyed the bits that now constituted the nearside light-assembly, and the nigh-padlocked box of his boot. Somehow, physics, and The Parallelogram of Forces, had been far kinder to her Jetta than his now damp squib of a Fiesta.

She did not remember her insurers, or have her policy. Of course, she readily agreed that he needed to know : much more readily even if it was a momentary and anxious hesitation, suggesting the suspicion that he had ‘designs’ than part with her phone number, which he wrote on his certificate.

As he drove away (thankfully, he could get to that appointment still, albeit late), he strongly felt she was the sort of woman who appealed to a man like him. When he called (after a few days, not to seem eager he had learnt that much), he found she was not exactly local, but it was kind of her to offer dinner, and…

When she died, just three years on (and in childbirth), he found that she had decided to preserve, behind her chest of drawers, a handful of neat notes on yellow A5.

As he read them, they made sense of a pair of luggage-labels : her return flight from Malta, his that had been missing when he landed from Berlin.


* Who wisely leaves to others what they can do best.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 30 March 2015

My name sounds so much better when you say it ! ~ Josh

This is a review of While We’re Young (2014)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

30 March (6, 7 April, Tweets added)

This is a review of While We’re Young (2014)

Whatever Noah Baumbach may have felt about Frances Ha (2012) when he had finished making it (in which Adam Driver (from this film) played Frances’ one-time flat-mate Lev), and whatever he may have felt when he knew how it had been / was being received, may have had no bearing on While We’re Young (2014) : one forgets the likely gestation of things (just as film-makers forget what we may notice about their technique), and unthinkingly wishes to see the next film as some sort of progression from what we previously saw.

For, if that were the reality of film-making, a linear succession of films (with no spurs, dead-ends, recursions), one would be tempted to say that this one is for whatever reason striving to be as little like Frances Ha as possible. That film has its nods, and, staying with Woody Allen, one now feels a touch of Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) at times, but also of all of these, too, at others (in alphabetical order) :

* Celebrity (1998) ~ Jamie Massey (Adam Driver) bears resemblances to Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh), with his opportunistic, if unfocused, ambitiousness (and to that of Oscar Isaac (as Llewyn Davis) ? please see below)

* Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) ~ Josh (Ben Stiller) is, occasionally, a little in the vein of the character of Lester (Alan Alda), other times that of Cliff Stern (Woody Allen)

* Deconstructing Harry (1997) ~ Here, Josh mirrors what happens to Harry Block (Woody Allen), which is also at the time of someone being ‘honoured’

* The Double (2013) ~ On which we begin to converge

* The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) ~ Also played by Ben Stiller (as Walter), but on better form, and with a better version of this sort of ‘character-journey’ ?

* The Talented Mr Ripley ~ Please see next item

* The Way Way Back ~ Such seduction / attractiveness, but, from Sam Rockwell (Owen), in reverse, and not for ill and also in and through the retro feel / ethos (rather than, say, invoking the analogue / digital paradigm of The Matrix (1999)…)

** Turtle Diary* (1985) ~ Shamanistic initiations (in Russell Hoban's (@russellhobanorg's)novel, it was rebirthing, probably little included in the screenplay (one forgets), by Harold Pinter)

What, then, would a film look like that had fragments of these other films embedded in it ? Well, one that is trying to find how character can drive plot, perhaps, since Frances depends, as well as on her (Greta Gerwig’s) relationship with Sophie (Mickey Sumner), on the personality of Frances, in relation to that of others, and the film’s direction arises from it. While We’re Young has a much more obvious story-line, which those who could not relate to Frances were presumably missing…

In the event, though, structurally at the over-arching level this film does still resemble Frances (or, equally, Deconstructing Harry) : the bulk of the film is, relatively speaking, at the microscopic level, but the coda (here, with an explicit statement as to the passing of time) puts it in a macroscopic context. One may remember, likewise, how Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) concludes, where Mickey and Holly’s (Woody Allen and Dianne Wiest’s) union is blessed with an unexpected pregnancy or, even getting to that point, how their chance meeting in a record store is able to benefit both from the passing / healing of time, and by Mickey (who finds himself able to share it with Holly) having had an epiphany that has moved him on.

Films that do not do this (both Allen’s and those of others) may still do something that has a similar effect, i.e. of putting distance on what the rest of the film has depicted staying with Allen, and giving another example from his canon, To Rome With Love (2012) starts with the perspective of the traffic policeman, who comes out of his role (directing the traffic) to direct us into the film. After immersing us in the action, Allen ends it with the viewpoint of the householder in another dramatic Roman location, overseeing the Coliseum, who gently reminds us that the four strands of story that we have seen are just part of what he could tell us another time. (Other films may be less explicit in so doing, using part of the language of cinema itself, by slowly zooming in on our locale at the beginning, and then, nigh ritualistically, by taking us back out again by way of conclusion That's all, folks !)

What Noah Baumbach does with While We’re Young is to seek the same misdirection at the close as at the start (along with the literary red herring of Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder), coupled with whether faked or not a little piece of pure observation about where one generation puts itself in relation to another : how, in the face of the impact of technology*** (epitomized by such films as Her (2013)), sometimes the things that we have in common (as Joaquin Phoenix [Theodore Twombly] does with Amy Adams [Amy]) count for more than what might separate us, and so we are left with the incredulous gaze / expression of Naomi Watts.

Does the film try too hard to be more than one thing, and so dissipate its energies, because, by not being any one thing (arguably, since life itself is not any one thing), it ends up being not very much ? It certainly felt that it did, and it had stylistic features that made one question whether, when they appeared too obvious, they added not to feeling invited to relish the artisanal nature of the enterprise (and, with it, its status as a constructed reality), but, rather, that it was more amateurish in nature, and that Baumbach had employed techniques without (much) regard to what they would look like to those who saw (through) them :

* Such as the patent use of different people being in light and shadow, although in the same, ostensibly undifferentiated setting :

* Or the reaction-shots that foreground, bottom left or right (and extremely out of focus), what is sometimes no more than an impression of a sleeve or shoulder almost as if to parody notions of what a reaction-shot is supposed to include (required by 'industry standards' ?) so that one 'knows' that it is one, but to do so in such a way that, if it is not meant to resemble on the fly documentary footage (after all, this is the genre of the film within a film consistent with using that fast-pan onto Josh when he finds something on Google® ?), it looks incompetently done.

* Most curious of all, the scene at Lincoln Center when Josh confronts Jamie a wide, low long-shot that, looking dead, has absolutely nothing going for it, either in itself, or within the edit. Suddenly, it feels that someone unused to making the impact of a setting tell (such as the scene behind the windows) has stepped too far back, and lost the subjects... Or as if it had not been deliberate to take it to use it, it had to be used for want of anything better.

If, though, one just unquestioningly consumes what is exemplified above in viewing the film, maybe the result is that one just dips in and out of Josh’s life as a more likeable and less fractured type of Inside Llewyn Davis**** (2013), which, conceivably, is Harry Block (from Deconstructing Harry) with the softer features that Stiller has as Walter Mitty ?

So even if maybe for the wrong reasons (unless Baumbach is actually trying to please, and to work through theses for an elite about being mimetic in cinematic style / technique ?) this is a film that does / can get one thinking : it has a slow-burn of a response, which, for others, persisted, beyond the immediate three hours afterwards, following Under the Skin.

Yet, unlike that dismayingly dazzling ending, the one here could be seen (in the same way that Frances 'deals with her issues') as normalizing the paranoia / projection that Josh vividly gives us (and which, although we may be slow to believe that Stiller is a film-maker (let alone Watts), we buy into, it must be said which is the real power of the film), and endorsing a rather tame message that Time heals ?

* Frances and Sophie did make one laugh, whereas one is aware that Josh (Stiller), Cornelia (Watts), Jamie (Driver), and Darby (Seyfried) are (being) amusing ?

** There is some speculation, here, about a re-make :

*** The cover-all word (along with technological advance) that indulges / excuses everything, and makes it seem acceptable to be drawn into having the latest ‘device’ (another such word), rather than dismissing it as gadgetry ?

**** Another point of contact with Adam Driver, who there is Al Cody, Llewyn Davis’ friend / fellow musician.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Strange transmissions

This is a review of Father and Son (2003)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

11 February

This is a review of Father and Son (2003)

Sokurov is often referred to as Aleksandr, but is here credited as Alexander. In any case, his directing gives us a screen-world that mixes (as T. S. Eliot has it*), memory and desire, except that it is memory and desire and dream… Dreaming, though, where son can talk to father from outside it (and vice versa), and ask what it is like, which Russell Hoban prefigured by publishing Amaryllis Night and Day in 2001 (hardly uniquely, since it is likewise the stuff of Ursula Le Guin and Earthsea, which has its roots elsewhere).

In no way repeating Mother and Son (1997), but not disappointing those who watch Father and Son (2003) by the strength of the performances or the writing, Sokurov dwells on the awkwardnesses in life that bring us so close or so far apart (as Peter Gabriel puts it**) : British and Russian politeness / society are not poles apart, and changing the subject is just as much part of (Chekhov or) this film as is suddenly talking about the weather.

A delirious moment, of nigh-febrile intensity, begins the film, bringing us at once inside the physicality of Alexei and his dad’s life and love, both for others and for each other. To this kind of soldierly behaviour, not only Britishness may not easily relate, and so find in it the homoeroticism that Sokurov seems to have wanted to dismiss [NB link is to a review that mentions Sokurov's reaction], even if there is quite intentional ambiguity about so much in what we see.

So, in a beautifully crafted and cut-together scene, where Aleksei Neymyshev (Alexei) talks to Marina Zasukhina through, and around, the narrow aperture of a window, we do not even know for sure though we may surmise, since this is in a barracks why the window cannot be opened more widely, let alone who they are to each other, or why Alexei’s father (Andrei Shchetinin) has also come to visit. Later, the script has Alexei almost stumble upon an encounter that almost mocks, perhaps, Shakespeare’s balcony scene, yet at the same time bringing out the tension and sense of daring in wooing, as in any interaction.

To say little more, because the film needs to speak for itself and to a willing recipient, the dialogue, and Sokurov’s tight direction of scenes, both keep at the human level. Even so, the filming introduces visual distortions, say, with the tram, or has us impossibly trying to follow ‘the action’ of Alexei with, and in the company of, his fellow military colleagues, wrestling and struggling in pursuit of exercise and expertise in hand-to-hand, unarmed combat watching too closely, or trying too much to follow, and missing what else is in the film-frame.

If Chekhov is a struggle (because we cannot see, or relate to, what is unsaid in all that is said in, say, Uncle Vanya, or The Seagull), or if Pinter’s wordy silences seem awkward (which serve a similar purpose, at times, of making us aware of the underlying sub-texts to our lives and actions ?), that may disincline us to watch Father and Son. Yet one could still try it, but by giving oneself to 83 mins in the undiluted medium of cinema without trying to understand how the reimagined musical scores or its interplay with the soundscape work, or the heightening and lowering effects with light : so, surrendering, as to a dream-world that is another’s life, to what the camera shows us, chooses to show us.


* In the very opening of Book I (‘The Burial of the Dead’) of ‘The Waste Land’ (although only a cursory look at the Faber & Faber facsimile and transcript that Valerie Eliot edited soon has one wondering whether it is Eliot’s poem, or that of Ezra Pound, to whom (in 1925) it was dedicated, and who is credited : Il miglior fabbro). Whilst we are contemplating Eliot, the fact that filming took place in St Petersburg and Lisbon has given something of the effect of his ‘Unreal City’ (via Charles Baudelaire) in Book III (‘The Fire Sermon’, heading the fourth block of lines).

** To quote the lyrics of the track ‘That voice again’ on the album So (or is it So ?).

*** Symbolically, does either desire it or, rather, to continue to peer through the crack, or through the bottom of the pane ? Cinematically, which is what is posing these questions to us, the effect caught is unnerving, electrifying, and perhaps infuriating both in and outside the action, as we try to address what we are seeing…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 18 August 2014

Gustav Metzger, Damien Hirst, and being a butcher

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 August

The cinematic reference is : White Heat – or White Star ?

At the end of it all, whatever the merits of Kettle’s Yard’s (@kettlesyard) Gustav Metzger retrospective Lift Off ! in Cambridge (which runs until 31 August 2014), is one just left with ideas of responsibility and redundancy, and with exhibits that could be reliably reproduced by anyone following the instructions / principles involved ?

One wanted it to amount to more than The Science Museum in a gallery, but the overlap is really less than when, in his quest for understanding, Peter Diggs goes to look at Klein bottles in Amaryllis Night and Day (a novel by Russell Hoban*), and ends up meeting both the man who made them, and, much more, what they signify to him and his situation. Or, in another Hoban novel* (Angelica Lost and Found), an imaginary creature in the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto learns how, by travelling to a space of contradictory appearance, to become real and occupy human form – only to be haunted by art, and visit others with it, that unnervingly revisits that space.

Hoban (who died at 86 in December 2011) was full of life, and with an irrepressible interest in science and technology (as this writer touched upon in Russell Hoban at 80, a festschrift [] from February 2005), so he could just as easily conceive of Jocasta as the organic computer Pythia, and invent interstellar voyaging by means of flickerdrive, which is based on the idea of what happens in all the spaces caused by the refresh-rate of the retinal image. This feels like a real meeting, a fusion of art and science.

In comparison, Metzger – not always easy to understand when he speaks nowadays – may have been talking about meeting The Who, how they wanted to do a benefit gig for his colleagues and him (but their management refused), and ending up doing a liquid-crystal light-show for a gig of theirs at The Roundhouse. However, it was in some obscure context, never curatorially explained, of having to be at The Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey), and there was never any suggestion here of cross-fertilization between art and science – he did his things, they did theirs (almost a transaction**)

A note on so-called auto-creative art :

Put a primed canvas on an easel, line up a prepared palette and a selection of graphite, pencils, rags, brushes, solvents, water-jars, lock the room, and wait to see what happens…

Or set a process off (it could be a computer, generating fractal- diagrams, or liquid crystals that are being heated on a slide in front of a projector), and see what happens.

Both outcomes are predictable within certain limits, i.e. that the canvas remains as it is, or another piece that looks like a fractal-diagram is generated and the heated crystals distort into patterns that are projected, but there is no auto-creation. If there were, the canvas would be painted on, and one would not know what to expect of the program or the set-up with the crystals :

The exact patterns generated are not known beforehand, but they have not caused the process that gave rise to them (even if they did, via a feedback loop, that loop’s effect would have been envisaged and pre-ordained).

The show Lift Off ! is stochastic processes and applied physics, and, although some of the exposures of fibres moved around on photographic paper may be striking, it is essentially an aleatory method that can be repeated over and over, and one could fill the room with the things, but they largely resist having an artistic content. Dancing Tubes could just as well belong in a Health and Safety Commission training video about the dangers of releasing compressed air without controls, and any lab could set it up.

The scientific method says that an experiment should be capable of being reproduced, and these works can be by just having the notion of what is to be achieved and setting it up, which may even produce refinements or improvements. The idea seems temptingly close to the approach of Damien Hirst (except that he was the one who did first cut – or have cut – in half a formaldehyde-treated cow (and a calf)) and exhibit it (them) as art), and yet so far away, with his being across the line in art.

Not indisputably so, though, with works displaying concepts such as What Goes Up Must Come Down (1994)*** and Loving in a World of Desire (1996) (using the same essential technology), or, perhaps, the less-skilled spin paintings) but in terms of a body of work that is recognized as artistic. The Plexiglass, table-tennis ball and hair-dryer of the former differ from similar museum displays of the principle of keeping a ball in the air by explicitly being – or appearing to be – ready-made items, such that the hair-dryer coincidentally has the right amount of upthrust to keep the ball in motion (though its current may, of course, have been safely adapated to achieve this effect, by trial and error with resistors or the like, behind the scenes).

Hirst’s huge ashtray Crematorium (1996) (not his only repository for cigarette-butts), Roni Horn’s huge glass pieces (opaque, red, black, and one at least resembling an ashtray ?), take the artist into the hands of a manufacturer who will produce what the artist seeks, but the vision makes it more than any old order from a glassworks. There is even more artistry in generating a fractal diagram and giving it a colour-scheme than in most of these exhibits of Metzger’s :

Though some would sniff at fractals as art, but not hesitate to embrace Duchamp’s Fountain [] (Tate Modern (@Tate) exhibits a replica in 1964) – there, the mistake is as to the real work of the piece, which was Duchamp’s gall and iconoclasm in submitting it to an exhibition at The Society of Independent Artists, not the urinal itself. A Museum of Curiosities seems a better place for what Metzger gives us, alongside automata, counting-engines, and elaborate orreries.

He created, after all, a significant art show in and using materials found around a brand new laboratory in Swansea : if that influenced anybody, then we need to know how and why, and that should be at the heart of curation. Instead, the rather unhelpful assumption is of an unannounced starting-point, and hence of shutting off discussion, to the effect that any distinction between art and science is arbitrary : yet the fact is that anything that can be depicted as a continuum has no point where something ceases and another begins does not render it meaningless to ask the question*** and to set limits (e.g. abortion and the medico-legal test of how many weeks old a foetus is).

However, the one-day conference Art, science and social responsibility in 1960s’ Britain largely took tangents from Metzger, and shied off, much of the time, from stating clearly why we should care about him now, whatever his approach was 50+ years ago, and not just forget about it as a by-way : Metzger, sadly in a wheel-chair, was ‘in the room’ literally (the aptly Zen Lecture Theatre 0), but he was rarely the topic.

A brief summary report on the conference – to come…

As to auto-destructive art, the Conference seemed to have assumed that what Metzger did in 1960 with a large pane of glass, a larger piece of nylon stretched across it and applying hydrochloric acid that neither the set-up, not the outcome needed to be described : the Tate (@Tate) has has done it for us.

Again, it is to be noted that the description of auto-destruction is simply wrong : the nylon clearly did not destroy itself, Metzger destroyed it by painting acid on it, otherwise, if I kill someone with a gun, I could call it as meaningfully self-shooting syndrome.


* Respectively, Bloomsbury, London, 2001 and 2010.

** The allusion is to the play Shopping and Fucking by Mark Ravenhill.

*** One of Zeno’s paradoxes starts with a grain of millet, and adds one, and then another : when does it become a pile ? Blurring boundaries because of the in-between ground is as much a fallacy as the law of the excluded middle (where anything that is not X must be Y, whereas it could be Z, in that middle ground), and it ignores the obvious fact that two grains are not a pile, 20,000 grains are. A chemistry experiment is not a piece of art, and a work by Watteau is not science.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)