London and the Multisensory City

William Hogarth (1741). The enraged musician. Engraving. Image source: http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/hogarth/images/works/the_enraged_musician.jpg

Hogarth's friend Henry Fielding, said that the Enraged musician (1741) was 'enough to make a man deaf to look at it' (Uglow 2008:55).

We visited the idea of the multisensory city, which Hogarth manages to express visually, in an earlier post on this blog. For more on this, see the latest issue of TENGEN magazine where I have an article London, the multi-sensory city expanding on some of the ideas in that post. My colleague Gareth Polmeer has an accompanying piece, The cinematic map, reviewing the new film on London by William Raban, About now: MMX (2010).

About now: MMX (2010). Directed by William Raban. Film
Holme, A. (2011). London, the multi-sensory city. Tengen Magazine. No. 3, (March), Pp.3-5 http://issuu.com/tengenmag/docs/tengen_issue_3 (Accessed March 23, 2011)
Polmeer, G. (2011). The cinematic map. Tengen Magazine. No. 3, (March), Pp.5-6 http://issuu.com/tengenmag/docs/tengen_issue_3 (Accessed March 23, 2011)
Uglow, J. (2008). Words and pictures: writers, artists and a peculiarly British tradition. London: Faber and Faber


Shopping: JG Ballard - Kingdom Come

JG Ballard's last novel, Kingdom Come (2007), is centered on a shopping mall.

Note the reversal and interchangability of agency between the consumer and the commodities in the 'Metro-Centre' in this excerpt from Ballard's writing which is to be found towards the finale of the novel:

Vaguely searching for a more comfortable matress than my fever-sodden berth
in the hotel, I stood in the entrance to the store as the pilot lights shone on
the freshly waxed floor. A work party had moved through the ground level, and
the tang of polish hung on the unmoving air, making me feel almost giddy. By
sweeping out these temples to consumerism, by wiping and waxing and buffing, we
made clear that we were ready to serve these unconsecrated altars. Every shop
and store in the Metro-Centre was a house of totems. We accepted the discipline
that these appliances and bathroom fittings imposed. We wanted to be like these
consumer durables, and they in turn wanted us to emulate them. In many ways, we
wanted to be them...
(Ballard 2007, p235)

Ballard's writing brings to mind Marx's idea of the commodity fetish (1990, p163), and also Guy Debord's Society of the spectacle:

67. The satisfaction that no longer comes from using the commodities produced in abundance is now sought through recognition of
their value as commodities. Consumers are filled with religious fervour
for the sovereign freedom of commodities whose use has become an end in itself.
(Debord, p33)

Guy Debord refused to copyright his work. The complete text (in translation) is available here http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/index.htm

Debord's film, The society of the spectacle is available here http://www.ubu.com/film/debord_spectacle.html

Ballard, J.G. (2007). Kingdom Come. London: Harper Perennial
Debord, G. (No date given). Society of the spectacle. Rebel Press
Marx, K. (1990) Capital. Volume 1. London: Penguin Classics


Shops on Screen

They Live (1988), directed by John Carpenter.

The Stepford Wives (1975), directed by Bryan Forbes.

The Pawnbroker (1965), directed by Sidney Lumet.

Gun Shop (1977), with Richard Pryor.

Local Shop from The League of Gentlemen (1999–2002), with Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton.

Four Candles (1976), with The Two Ronnies.


Watercolour, Tate Britain

Edward Lear, Macropus parryi, watercolour, reproduced as a lithograph in Volume 1 of the Transactions of the Zoological Society of London. Image source: http://static.zsl.org/images/width500/img-2054-600-9107.jpg

One does not necessarily think of the poet Edward Lear as a zoological illustrator. But his watercolour of the Kangaroo was just one of the surprises that awaited me at the Watercolour exhibition at the Tate Britain (until August 21, 2011).

It is an excellent show bringing together often less well known watercolour works by major, and sometimes less well known artists - Turner, Blake, Samuel Palmer, Graham Sutherland, alongside Cozens, Paul Sandby, Wenceslas Hollar.

The thematic curation can be a little irritating - you arrive at a bit of a hotch potch of works in places, and at times it seems overly didactic. Some of the categories do in fact work - The Natural World, and Travel and Topography being good examples, but other categories are much more open and less convincing than a chronological approach - Intimate Knowledge, Abstraction and Improvisation, InnerVision - and here we are at the whim of the curator (hence the dispersed Turners, some breathtaking late works in Abstraction... of course we know what the curator means, but the subtlety and the differences get lost beneath such heavy handed didacticism.)

Some of the time I found myself marvelling at technique (how does Turner in his landscapes, achieve such an apparent freedom and overall unification of the image together with such exquisite fine detail?) and at many works that did not, even on close inspection, seem to resemble watercolours, such were their technical strengths.

All in all, this is a show that must be seen - and, I would have thought, a particular delight to any illustrator. It has really made me rethink the possibilities and the vast potential of the medium.