Sunday, October 31, 2010

japan - ghosts

just when I think I'm winning

     when I've broken every door

          the ghosts of my life

                blow wilder than before...

another 80s favourite...

all hallows' e'en

To mark Halloween, All Hallows' Eve, Samhain, ghosting through considers La Isla de las Muñecas (The Island of Dolls) among the Xochimilco canals south of Mexico City.

The local folklore goes something like this: that three young girls were playing in a canal and one drowned.  The island was deserted for years until the 1950s, when a loner, Don Julian Santana, moved there and began to place discarded dolls and toys on the trees to honour the spirit child said to haunt the area.  Locals began bringing him old dolls in trade for fresh vegetables.  Eventually Don Santana also drowned in the canal.

The island now has an amazing collection of thousands of dolls in various stages of macabre disintegration.

The extreme contrast between childish, playful innocence and disintegration and death, as embodied in the dolls, is fascinatingly creepy and the stuff of horror films...  Their empty staring eyes, the corpse-like torsos - why do these provoke fear?

It's a curious practice - hanging dolls, teddy bears, stuffed toys in trees and bushes, and it happens in my part of the world as well, although I'm not sure what the motivation is... I found this one in a graveyard:

So cute!  Sleep well - Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

house of stone

While I'm in 80s nostalgia mood, this is The Roaring Boys...

...although I remember them in their previous incarnation - the brilliant Cambridge student band The Models... Paul Michell, Tim May, Stefan Osadzinski, Paul Goldbart, the Great Northern pub, the make-up...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Spaceman at St James

It's not hard to work out why converted churches can make fantastic arts spaces - they have a substance and quality of build, a grace and beauty of proportion that later buildings, constructed to more utilitarian agendas, can lack. 

In particular, the height of such spaces (soaring up towards the heavens...), and their acoustic (for songs and prayers to rise upwards...) mark them as special.  And there is a fittingness also in that, where there were once communal gatherings for the rituals of birth, marriage and death, similar comings together still happen, art and culture having filled the space of religion in many people's lives.

Contemporary theatre, dance, art, (and even film, as the Branchage Film Festival proved again brilliantly this year) thrive in open or unusual spaces.

Watching Spaceman by Dudendance in St James recently, I was struck by the purity of the space - this was partly because of the minimalist set-up, the Quaker-like simplicity of the white costume and the deliberate slow control of pace, which encouraged a meditative concentration in the audience.

Jersey Arts Centre had invited Dudendance's Paul Rous and Clea Wallis to undertake a three-week residency in St James to develop Spaceman, (previously seen at the Edinburgh Fringe 2009 as part of The Arches at St Stephens, and British Dance Edition 2010) so we had the privilege of seeing a performance that had become attuned to the space - and maybe the other way round as well - the space becoming attuned to the performance...

Spaceman draws inspiration from astronaut training procedures and evolutionary physical processes and the performance morphs from female to male, from animalistic to robotic, and incorporates projected film, a Sci-Fi scenario written by Paul Rous and atmospheric sounds.

I was struck by how the piece combined paradoxically both an ethereal quality and a sense of tension, arising from the intensity of focus and physical control of the performer. I also like how it evaded easy analysis, making me want to experience it again, to understand the narrative or to make my own from the subtle interactions of sound, text, film, building, dance, costume, physical theatre, still-life picture-like moments, allusions...

There was a good question and answer session with the company after the performance, especially about the merits of process versus product - which crystalized for me the great benefit of the programme of residencies organised by Jersey Arts Centre in St James during 2010 - the opportunity afforded for both performers (including local actors) and audiences to enjoy and understand more about process, rather than just the focus on the final product.  The act of creating is exciting - from the conscious mind or the unconscious, from research, dreams or memories, from the body or the intellect...

More again next year please!

Monday, October 25, 2010

shadow catchers

When I was quite young, I found a stash of discarded photographic paper (from a printing studio next door probably) and, not quite knowing what it was, experimented by putting objects onto the sheets - leaves and coins etc - to create 'magical' instant art.  Which was fun, but nowhere near as brilliant as this exhibition at the V&A sounds:

Untitled, (Körperfotogramm), Kassel, 1967 by Floris Neusüss
The essence of photography lies in its seemingly magical ability to fix shadows on light-sensitive surfaces. Normally, this requires a camera. Shadow Catchers, however, presents the work of five international contemporary artists - Floris Neusüss, Pierre Cordier, Susan Derges, Garry Fabian Miller and Adam Fuss - who work without a camera. Instead, they create images on photographic paper by casting shadows and manipulating light, or by chemically treating the surface of the paper.

Images made with a camera imply a documentary role. In contrast, camera-less photographs show what has never really existed. They are also always 'an original' because they are not made from a negative. Encountered as fragments, traces, signs, memories or dreams, they leave room for the imagination, transforming the world of objects into a world of visions.

Butterfly Daguerreotype by Adam Fuss, from the series My Ghost (2001)

I love that idea of fragments, traces, signs, memories or dreams - to be explored further in ghosting through...

Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography, V&A - 13 October 2010 - 20 February 2011

Sunday, October 24, 2010

found no 10 - sand trees

ghosting through - 5 facts

  1. 27% of the letters are vowels. Of one million first and last names we looked at, 87.6% have a higher vowel make-up. This means it is poorly envoweled.
  2. In ASCII binary it is... 01000111 01101000 01101111 01110011 01110100 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01010100 01101000 01110010 01101111 01110101 01100111 01101000
  3. Backwards, it is Gnitsohg Hguorht... nice ring to it, huh?
  4. In Pig Latin, it is Ostingghay Oughthray.
  5. People with this first name are probably: Male or female... We don't know yet. We're working on it!
(facts courtesy of

Monday, October 11, 2010


I was only four when Sylvia Plath commited suicide.  As a sixth former I wrote an essay about her poems, and later a dissertation about her work when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge.  In my adult life I have been a consumer of the latest releases into the public domain - her letters home to her mother, short stories, journals, a steady stream of biographies (of Sylvia, Ted Hughes, Assia Wevill); the unauthorised film Sylvia which I watched in an empty cinema, by coincidence on the anniversary of her death (11 February).

The careful control and slow release by Ted Hughes of Sylvia's work, as well as his reluctance to talk about her, protected his privacy but also fueled speculation and public interest - and so although Sylvia Plath the woman died in 1963, Sylvia Plath the writer and the power of the 'Ted and Sylvia' story has grown and grown ever since like some great mythic monster.

Now nearly fifty years after Sylvia's untimely death at 30 and some twelve years after the death of Ted Hughes, his estate and Melvyn Bragg have published what they call his 'final poem' in the New Statesman last week - his 'Last Letter' about his final meeting with Sylvia and the weekend of her death.

It is a very moving poem haunted by grief, by guilt, by what he knew and what he could never know about her last hours, and his sense that the estranged couple and others around them were at the mercy of their fates.

'In your long black coat,
With your plait coiled up at the back of your hair
You walk unable to move, or wake, and are
Already nobody walking
Walking by the railings under Primrose Hill
Towards the phone booth that can never be reached.'

Last letter, last poem, maybe, but not last word...

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I really admire the makers of Spanish independent film Buried (director: Rodrigo Cortés) for their total commitment to the premise – Paul Conroy, a US contractor working in Iraq, wakes up trapped in a coffin underground, his air supply running out, and has just a mobile phone to communicate with the outside world to try to effect his release. 
The camera stays within the coffin, making it intensely claustrophobic and harrowing to watch.  It might seem about as uncinematic an idea as you could come up with as the demands on the audience are more akin to that of theatre - the world outside the wooden coffin is conjured up through phone conversations and the audience’s imaginations must fill in the gaps.  Yet the lean script, strictly controlled in action, place and time (thus following Aristotle’s unities or rules for drama) creates a powerful and almost unbearable sense of the protagonist’s predicament, as well as of the world above and political forces. 
It’s hard to imagine such a script surviving without radical re-writes in a Hollywood production but I loved the purity of concept (which also made it relatively low budget.)
The ‘closed box’ plot reminded me of another recent film the ‘M. Night Shyamalan presents’ Devil – in which five characters are trapped in a lift, one of whom is the devil – both films have moments of screen blackout, but in Devil the camera travels both inside and outside the lift, making it a less intense experience to watch.  Still I enjoyed the 'game' set up by the plot of trying to work out who the murderer was - it has an old-fashioned charm.
You don't need expensive locations and stars to intrigue or move audiences (well not me anyway) and I would love to see more such variety and risk-taking in cinema.

bats at twilight

Saturday, October 9, 2010


wish tree - St Helier

Dear Friends,
This Saturday, October 9th, I will relight IMAGINE PEACE TOWER in Iceland in memory of my late husband John Lennon.
Please ask all your friends to join us by Tweeting your wishes to IMAGINE PEACE TOWER.
You can do this by coming to where you can also watch the lighting live with us at 8pm in Reykjavík = 9pm in UK = 4pm in NY= 1pm in LA = 5am in Japan.
Tell all your friends.
Spread the word!
Let’s Tweet a million wishes for Peace for John’s birthday!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


And babies, iconic anti-Vietnam War poster

James Saunders’ 1970s play Games consists of eight sections and a company of four rehearsing a piece based around a Reuter report on the US court-martial of a soldier for the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, March 16 1968.
It moves from disconnected words and phrases which gradually coalesce into sense as the performers march on the spot like soldiers, through an actor and his director rehearsing a scene:
‘Why did you shoot them?’
‘Because they was Vietcong.’
‘Where was the babies?’
‘They was in their mothers' arms.’  
to rebellions and disruptions by the actors:
‘We talk about theatre.  Outside there’s a war going on and we talk about theatre.’
But each time the disruptions might seem real, the play reins them in and they become another layer of the performance, another game.  It is a clever way of challenging an audience’s levels of acceptance of the conventions and pretence of theatre. 
The piece also touches on how news itself is used as a commodity:
‘It’s beautiful.
Really extraordinary…
…it’s absolutely true.  It’s a Reuter report, a straight Reuter report.’
Daniel Austin’s recent powerful production with Jersey Arts Centre youtheatre emphasized this aspect by having the four actors seated like newsreaders at tables, with images projected onto a screen behind them.
Starting with old footage of the Apollo moon landings and the performers quietly reading interwoven, gently-rhythmic extracts from the screenplay of Platoon, a Native American poem, and pieces on the rules of warfare and on acting, the scenes were also intercut with:
  • a live BBC newsfeed, (the content fed by chance was on the Delhi Commonwealth Games and concerns about safety)
  • The iconic Russian roulette scene from the 1978 film The Deer Hunter.  Under 18s were asked to leave the auditorium to comply with the film licence and all of the actors retired to the green room.  (Watching the film in this context one was really conscious of it as performance.)
  • A very moving montage of images of the My Lai massacre, (a sense of the victims was absent from the original script, rooted as it was in a point in time.)
  • Breaks when the cast elicited responses and questions from the audience.
  • As an added layer, a young actor appeared as Daniel Austin, the third director of Jersey Arts Centre.  At the end of the performance he was left alone in a fading square of light, allowing us to conjure up a sense of George Ritchie, the first director of Jersey Arts Centre, who was not there but to whom the performance was dedicated.
The production was beautiful, evocative and uplifting and yet also provocative and unsettling, raising questions for me such as:

  • What is a true response to news/theatre? 
  • To what extent do we fake our responses?  That we all perform...
  • How much do we really want to care?  
  • How we want to consume news in five minute bites with the blood, pain and violence to some degree neutralised, so that we can continue our daily lives, not too moved or affected...
  • Just in using images of the My Lai victims, as I have done in this blog, there is an element of guilt.  The commodification of tragedy. 
  • And the ethics of war photography, of detachment, of 'capturing' the iconic image instead of helping individual victims.
  • The ethics of any cultural usage.   

Friday, October 1, 2010

found no 9 - table

my Branchage 2010

Jersey Branchage - a rock n' roll film festival
3rd year
4 days
a spiegeltent
I pass
67 events to choose from
12 events attended – but I would have loved to see more if logistically possible
highlights: opening night - Tamara Drewe - Roger Allam, flown in from a matinee at the Globe, giving a brief taster of his Falstaff…
dashing between multiple venues...
enthusiastic audiences...
imaginatively integrated programme - musicians and films melding creatively...
Q & A with the very charming Gilbert O’Sullivan, meeting his local fans at last…

Battleship Potemkin, a tugboat, the harbour, Zombie Zombie live soundtrack, still night, still water, moonlight, an amazing combination and a coup to pull off as the closing event…