Tag Archives: art

It’s been a long, long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.

I don’t do this often, but this is important:

Please, please, please go to the cinema and watch this film this weekend.

The Age of Stupid

If you’re in Edinburgh, it’s showing at the Filmhouse for a week from this Friday, with a bunch of events around the screenings in association with the lovely people of Take One: Action, and on this page you can find local screenings throughout the UK. I watched the premiere on Sunday night, and apart from anything else, it’s bloody brilliant – it really is the most thought-provoking, outlook-changing, unmissable, oddly life-affirming £6 you’ll spend in a good while.

There are terrifying, horrifying moments – as stomach-lurching and spine-shivering as anything from War of the Worlds or 28 Days Later – but this isn’t science fiction. Instead, you find yourself shuddering at things like the realisation that about 40% of natural gas is still being burned off at source across Nigeria‘s 1000 onshore oil wells. Yes, that’s the same natural gas that we use to cook and heat our homes: according to the World Bank, over 100 billion cubic metres of it – that’s the combined annual gas consumption of Germany and France – are ‘flared’, uselessly spewing filthy, toxic smoke into the air, every year, apparently because it’s not easy enough for oil companies to make a profit storing and exporting the fuel. In Nigeria, the practice continues despite the new law prohibiting it from 1 January 2009. Much like the High Court ruling that prohibited it from 2005, then.

It’s difficult not to feel appalled at moments like this – but that’s not the whole story. The Age of Stupid, like our world itself, is beautifully put together, inspiring and frightening by turns; part-disaster movie, part-cautionary tale. There’s no knight in shining armour, no fairy godmother, and no straightforward way to a happy ending, but for me, some of the most thought-provoking moments are genuinely uplifting. Watch the excellently named Alvin DuVernay III – the Shell employee who lost his home and everything he owned, but saved the lives of more than 100 of his neighbours in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina – sitting in a jazz bar and reflecting on what he’s learned from the experience about materialism and the way Americans use energy, the way we all live, and tell me you’ve seen a more – good GOD I hate this word and can’t believe I’m about to use it – heartwarming scene in a film this year.

Incidentally, from filmmaker Franny Armstrong’s fascinating backstage diary: [Alvin] is haunted by all the people he didn’t save. He said he “lost his humanity” that day – because he was so focused on getting as many people as possible that sometimes he snapped when people asked if they could bring lots of luggage or go back for something they forgot. Now he says he wants to find all those people and apologise for being short with them.

If that dude has lost his humanity, there’s a lot of us could really do with finding some of it.

Anyway, got distracted there, my point is: it’s pretty easy to feel tiny in the face of climate change. It’s easy to feel terrified, to feel there’s nothing you can do to help avert the forthcoming catastrophe – in short, to freak out. Easy, but certainly not logical – this is our world, our generation, and this is real change that’s happening now, to us. This is why Age of Stupid media producer, brilliant animator and all-round mensch Leo Murray wants you to

Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip

Very seriously, if you don’t see The Age of Stupid (which would be, well, stupid), if you don’t even read this whole post, then please, please DO take 10 minutes to watch Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip. It’s short, it’s easy, it’s free, it’s got some ace artwork, and it might just change your life. On peut le voir en français ici, and it’s also available in Deutsch, Español, Nederlands, Türkçe and English with subtitles.

Another of the most resonant moments in The Age of Stupid, for me, was a quiet reflection from an Englishman. Piers Guy, a windfarm developer who’s struggling to achieve positive change against the disturbingly blinkered ‘not in my back yard’-ism of a snobbish, Home Counties tweed-wearing set, stands in Airfield Farm, near Bedfordshire, and is reminded of the war and how the land got its name: “You only have to look at the terrible things in our history, which everyone regrets now”, he muses, “massacres, the Holocaust, and a lot of that was just going along with what was the predominant thinking at the time.”

And this is it, this is what I needed: the reminder that yes, massive social, economic and political changes for the better can happen. More than that, they do happen, must happen, and will happen, and relatively fast.24.358

A hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to vote, and it’d be massively unlikely for me to go to university – but as early as the 70s the UK had a female Prime Minister (granted, she was a shit one, but that’s beside the point here). Sixty years ago, black children in the USA were segregated into ‘Negro’ schools, and couldn’t ride buses or trains, use drinking fountains, or play sports with their white peers; today the President is black. These changes have happened within living memory, and there’s more – the film goes into the (rather exciting) possibilities for going forward into a cleaner, greener future and working to achieve a position of global energy equality, which will unsurprisingly involve the US and Europe seriously (though gradually) downsizing our fossil fuel consumption. (Al Gore: ‘They’re seeing the writing on every wall’).

My grandparents, probably some of your parents, remember life during wartime – living in fear through Blitzkrieg over London, and worse in Poland and the former USSR; losing brothers to the fighting, watching children die from treatable diseases. And they remember dealing with serious shortages – they remember the rationing of clothes, petrol, soap, sugar, meat, fat, then bread, then potatoes. Nobody’s asking our generation to give up our lives for our freedom and principles, and we’re not even talking about rationing bread, more like rationing the time we spend with big-screen TVs, XBoxes, cheap flights. Unquestionably we can face this fight. It’s started in the Maldives, it’s coming to Copenhagen this year.

We can do this, we can survive – and more than that, we can and we will live low impact.

Newsflash: Bikes are still amazing!

Who’s with me (pictured)?

Pete Postlethwaite is with me.

And finally, bonus fun, whimsical and actually rather beautiful link by way of a reward for having read this far: check out Leo and Bill’s creation of the universe with milk and a fishbowl.

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There she goes, my beautiful world.

planeUp until I was about nine or so, I always thought these were called ‘plain trees’ – no special name, just your common-or-garden, standard variety tree. In London, where I lived, they’re all over the place, so it seemed a reasonable assumption. In fact it’s spelled ‘plane’ and they are London Planes, Platanus × hispanica (or × acerifolia).
The London Plane is a hybrid of two trees from either side of the world, Platanus orientalis and P. occidentalis. The Eurasian one, orientalis, is obviously the closer to home for me and is the one that interests me more. It (like the London plane) is huge, beautiful, sturdy, fast-growing and long-lived — they’re particularly revered in Greece, where at Kos, there’s one that’s supposed to be 2,400 years old under which Hippocrates taught medicine.
The leaves can be used to treat certain eye problems, and while (unlike me) the plane tree is super tough and hardy, (like me) it loves and needs sunlight — in fact, from one of the tree books I love so much at the national library I’ve made a note of the decisive sentence, ‘It cannot grow in the shade’.

Really though, for me, this one is about where I’m from and remembering how much good and beauty and strength I get from that. My other two leaves, for their own reasons, are to do with growth and newness, looking forward and finding my own way in the world, my place in Edinburgh, where I’m at or where I’m going more than where I’ve been. This leaf, which I picked up last time I was down there on my way to Camp for Climate Action 2008, is to balance that out a bit, is about recognising that the past is wonderful too and that, as I keep saying, I’m very lucky and blessed to have such fantastic people in my life who have always been there for me. To remind myself, perhaps, a little, that it’s not always all about what’s new: you need roots and wings.
Home and family are all mixed up together for me; memories of London are inevitably memories of my brother, my parents, and my sister’s birth. Memories of primary school and starting to know myself, learning to learn. The first pavements I ever walked were scattered with plane leaves, and so this seems only natural, simple and right.

London, of course, is the hometown of very many other people, many great and inspiring people. Not least among them is William Morris, the great Walthamstownian (that is clearly not a word, but should be). I’ve quoted him here before and will again (particularly if and when I add an elm leaf to my little gallery – see Previously on Alice’s torso), because he’s endlessly appropriate. All of these together, with my lily and shooting star, are symbolic of Morris’s and my shared understanding that there is so much beauty, so much deserving of awe and adoration in nature, and that it’s worth looking after. So, I think I shall leave you with him today, on pattern-designing:

You may be sure that any decoration is futile, and has fallen into at least the first stage of degradation, when it does not remind you of something beyond itself, of something of which it is but a visible symbol. […]
[T]hose natural forms which are at once most familiar and most delightful to us, as well from association as from beauty, are the best for our purpose. The rose, the lily, the tulip, the oak, the vine, and all the herbs and trees that even we cockneys know about, they will serve our turn better than queer, outlandish, upsidedown-looking growths. If we cannot be original with these simple things, we shan’t help ourselves out by the uncouth ones.

(lecture, 1881)

Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.

Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.

So whoa, how ace was yesterday, as transfer deadline days go?! Man City, I don’t even know where to begin, Man City started the day with effectively no owner after absolute nutjob of a Thai ex-prime minister billionaire “human rights abuser of the worst kind” fly-by-night Thaksin ‘Frank’ Shinawatra had his £800m assets frozen. Not the most promising of starts, and then by lunchtime the boys in sky blue are apparently rolling in oil money, waving over £30m of it at Wor Dimi, pictured above, presumably at least half sincerely and the rest with the concerted aim of pissing all over the cornflakes of veteran veiny-nosed gobshite ‘Sir’ Alex, also pictured above? And buying Robinho.

Incidentally, I myself was praying for Kevin Keegan to sneakily nab this sulky bugger off our hands for 50p or something, having never forgotten the mildly entertaining chat when he first came over about his being a mental Magpie: “Dimitar told me it was his dream to play for Newcastle United one day and wear the same shirt as Alan Shearer, who is my son’s hero”, said his ma. His old schoolmate Mario Bekov, who has known Berbatov for 20 years, said his admiration for the former Toon ace bordered on obsession. “Dimitar never missed a Newcastle game when it was on television. And Shearer was up there with Pele as a God for him.” Alas, this one really was but a dream. Sure he would only have fallen victim to the curse of NUFC/Michael Owen syndrome and sustained a mysterious ‘training ground injury’ like all their other half decent players ever. Serious, what is it with that? Is it from foightin’? Well, now they have Joey ‘stubbed out a lit cigar in a youth player’s eye and also assaulted a 15-year-old’ Barton, so probably yes. And also the Messiah himself is heading off down the Gallowgate Jobcentre. Or not. Probably. Maybe.

So, the point is, yes I am going to miss Berbs. I’ll miss his weirdly early receding hairline, complete with girly Alice band, I’ll miss his deep-set eyes and his lovely accent, I’ll miss his great long runs and his flailing predation and I guess I’ll miss his teenage strops. And I’ll definitely miss the time he netted four against Reading. WHAT IS THAT EVEN CALLED? A four-trick? A fat trick? A hat-trick-and-then-some? A fourgasm? A Dimi? And what will become of him? I’m not too sure. I think, as we’ve seen, boy’s perhaps got too much of an ego on him and he wants to be a superstar, and I just am not sure whether he’ll look quite as good as he thinks he will lining up alongside Ronaldo and Tévez and even, on a good day, Giggsy… and there is just no sign of anyone EVER stopping wanking on about Ronaldo, so will there be enough wankery left over for wee Berbs? WE SHALL SEE. Also I just really really dislike Man U and always have and always will, I dunno. Even though I do love red.

What will become of Berbatov? What will become of Keegan and NUFC? What will become of Pavlyuchenko with no Arshavin? How cute was it when Corluka said he was really happy to come to Spurs because Luka Modric is his bestest friend? Is Daniel Levy a nob head and should I have given up on him years ago? Why do I get so worked up about this stuff, actually? Do you care about footy? You mostly don’t, do you? What about some of you? Club football? International football? Do you know what I mean if I say something about no matter how rational and logical and sensible you want to be about it, you just can’t help but feel disappointed with mornings like this one and ever so slightly angry at players who’re ‘disloyal’ to the club, even when they’re Bulgarian Toon fans and you hated the way the whole Jol thing was handled and it all really has very little to do at all with lovely old scummy old North London and the grimy smoggy streets you walked and ran and grazed your knees on as a little girl, and besides all that you actually lived very slightly closer to Upton Park anyway? No? I should go to bed, really, shouldn’t I?

With no transfer window to entertain me, I had to console myself with playing the old ‘Elvis Costello-lyrics-related-facebook-status-updates’ game with my brother instead, today. In case you were wondering. That’s awesome.

I went to Critical Mass! With M, who is wicked cool. I met a nice Australian(?) girl. My back wheel/mudguard situation was a little bit mashed up: boo. P fixed it, pumped my tyres and stopped the seat squeaking too: yay yay yay.

You know what is really really cool?


sri’s mehndi hands by darcitananda


the end. by misscaro

Islamic tile art

Image Plate from Owen Jones’ 1853 classic, “The Grammar of Ornament”, as scanned by cool origamist EricGjerde

Isfahan/ Imam(Shah) Mosque by HORIZON

And pretty much all intricately detailed fractalicious abstract things. AWESOME.

News from nowhere

Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimming
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.


“My point would be that there’s nothing in the ice core that gives us any cause for comfort,” said Dr Eric Wolff from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
“There’s nothing that suggests that the Earth will take care of the increase in carbon dioxide.
The ice core suggests that the increase in carbon dioxide will definitely give us a climate change that will be dangerous.”

I don’t know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I’ve been afraid
That I might drift away

[“A]nd while you live you will see all round you people engaged in making others live lives which are not their own, while they themselves care nothing for their own real lives – men who hate life though they fear death. Go back and be the happier for having seen us, for having added a little hope to your struggle. Go on living while you may, striving, with whatsoever pain and labour needs must be, to build up little by little the new day of fellowship, and rest, and happiness.”

Yes, surely! and if others can see it as I have seen it, then it may be called a vision rather than a dream.

It is because everything I have fought for and that all campaigners for social justice have ever fought for – food, clean water, shelter, security – is jeopardised by climate change. Those who claim to identify a conflict between environmentalism and humanitarianism have either failed to read the science or have refused to understand it.


Bob DYLAN, The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1963). Alice ROSS, photograph: Kingsnorth coal and oil-fired power station, England (2008). Yoshitomo NARA, sprout the ambassador (2001). Dougie MACLEAN, Caledonia (1979). William MORRIS, Acanthus wallpaper (1875). William MORRIS, News from Nowhere (1890). Alice ROSS, photograph: skies above Kingsnorth crossed by power lines (2008). George MONBIOT, The stakes could not be higher. Everything hinges on stopping coal (2008).

All I can say is that my life is pretty plain.

Here’s something I wrote in London:

I went to Tate Modern with Don and Martin. We looked at Shibboleth, the Doris Salcedo crack in the Turbine hall, and raised our eyebrows; made lots of jokes along the lines of ‘kids, don’t do crack’; noted trying-not-to-sound-surprisedly how many people there were, late on a wet Sunday afternoon, I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising. There are a lot of people. I took a couple of photos of people interacting with the fissure, because everyone else was.

We looked through a crowded room of Surrealists, particularly Magritte and Ernst. I was excited to see a couple of Ernst’s landscapes/cityscapes, including a beautiful one I’d never seen that was oddly 3d, made out of cork, Dadaville. There were lots of other things there too, I especially remember lots of curvy organic shapes, some tiny little bronzes by Henry Moore, mini-Moores, not sure if they were studies or plans for larger pieces, maybe he just made them and I’d never seen any of them before, bronze would seem an odd choice of material for preliminary studies. An interesting one was roughly ovoid with three sharp points, curling in on itself like claws, the tips almost touching but not quite – a real sense of frozen movement and of electric urgency. Then on to a room of Bacons, through a really interesting set of tiny, tiny, infinitely delicate etchings by a chap called WOLS (Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze, as I scribbled in my notebook), who died young before he’d ever actually printed many of them. They were amazingly varied, angular shapes suggesting dark cities alongside curly, botanical-looking, loopy little figures that reminded me of lost hair, the individual lines as thin. Bacon, of course, very powerful and angry, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion very Silent Hill, which of course actually came later so what I mean is those things in Silent Hill are very Bacon, and so they are.

After that, of course I wanted to see the Rothko room so we trooped on over, through some lovely abstract stuff – Ishi’s Light, a tall Anish Kapoor, stands welcomingly in the first room. It’s a curved sheet, like a topless, bottomless egg open on one side, it’s a cross between an egg and a revolving door: it’s matte white on the outside and shiny dark within so that the room and everyone in it are reflected, refracted, into this stretched column of light that shines right in the centre, moving to one side and another as you do. Kids run inside and push it in a way that makes me, as such a recent warder, draw a sharp breath, so it’s nice to remember that I don’t have to tell anybody off today. There are large red canvases on the wall facing it and they all become part of the inner, mirror-image, light show, it’s a beautiful and a calming thing. ‘Interactive’ in that quiet Kapoor way, not the trendy way that makes me think of ‘proactive’ and gag, but in the way that recognises that everything, all art, two or three-dimensional, is interactive if you choose to make it so, that there’s always a fourth dimension to everything, a fourth wall. I think again of the word ‘reflective’ and its meanings.

The Rothkos are as brilliant as I could’ve hoped, mesmerising, multiplied, suggestive and intricate, the colours vivid and visceral, the scale of them dizzying, you feel like you might fall forward into the dark parts, like you’re standing at the edge of a lake or a void. I am happy to have come and to have a little time to stand and stare, it’s a luxury in London to be able to feel this aware of the space around you. I feel a kind of clarity of the senses, something like focusing through fog, something like bonds or cataracts, distractions, falling away; it’s something I’ve felt at the most sublime moments of those Sunday concerts in St. Giles’ cathedral, where sound and space come together so beautifully, I suppose maybe that’s what people get when they pray.

As we leave, we pass under the spindly-legged, sharp-edged Louise Bourgeois spider and the sky’s darkening over the Thames, blue giving way to black that seems to soak, inky, upwards from the horizon. The city’s full of soft colours, warm uplighting casting gentle glinting shades on the Gherkin and London Bridge and some financial buildings, I don’t know what anything is but it’s just for looking at tonight, it’s for our eyes only. There are these streetlights, orange glowing globes, and then whitish, pinkish, green or blue tinges to all the other lights, it’s as if my aesthetic sense is rejoicing, the dark Rothkos having unlocked, reawakened something dormant, a sense of pleasure in the world, or perhaps in me. The glow of sodium vapour in the rain; more inwardly the glow of seeing beautiful things. The air’s not so cold now.

On the Tube, the beautiful everything continues – there’s this sweet grungy-gothy-punky kid biting his chipped-black-polished nails across from us where we stand, his golden brown hair falling from under his hood about his face in sinuous, relaxed locks that curl at the ends as unreal and graceful as smoke. On his chest there’re little undotted question marks of hair, on his chin too he’s displaying his burgeoning manhood, he wears a necklace on a silvery chain, I can see the clasp, which has slipped down on his right-hand side, but not the pendant.
A round-headed, solemn-faced blonde toddler sits in a buggy and kicks her squat, stubby little legs with an air of importance and of curiosity. She’s got these sparkly, cut-glass or plastic ‘jewels’ on her squarish little shoes, and infinitely smaller, more ephemeral and beautiful, rain drops glittering in her hair and on her fleecy pink hat.

There’s this absolutely gorgeous, tall guy sitting nearby, he’s got close-cropped hair so as not to distract from his lovely, smooth face with its slightly soft lines, kind of angular but kind of voluptuous at the same time; his nose and ear are pierced with simple studs shining, he’s mixed-race and has these stunning dark eyes with fabulous lashes, I wish there was more light in here so I could see them look more lively, see the little ever-changing reflected lights dancing in them and echoing the flashes of light you get from his jewellery, but he’s mostly looking at the ground. There’s a tiny hole in the seam of his blue jeans, noticing it makes me realise I wish I could see more of his body, I wish there were more holes generally. Peep-holes I suppose. He’s got a dark shirt on over a white t-shirt, if he would even just roll up the sleeves…

Then there’s a youngish, curly-haired couple – brown eyes for him, blue eyes for her – laughing together, she’s so pretty when she looks up at him and smiles. She’s not really much to write home about when you first look, but then she brings out this amazing great big grin that just lights up her face and the whole tube compartment and the whole day, like flicking a switch. He obviously says something funny and she just loves him for it, you can tell, it’s brilliant. She’s wearing a snug, cosy-looking, vintagey high-necked check coat and there’s a button hanging loose on its thread at the throat, it swings from side to side with the movement of the train and with her laughter.

This one’s from the heart.

lime, hornbeamLIME (is the British name) or linden leaves are heart-shaped and especially beautiful, most especially especially at this time of year. Just go and look at some, they’re everywhere.

In Norse and early Germanic religion, the linden was highly revered and associated with Freyja, the goddess of fertility, attraction and love. In Greek myth too (or just Ovid), it’s lovey-dovey because of the story of Baucis and Philemon. They were an old married couple who, although they were poor, showed kindness and hospitality to Zeus and Hermes (in disguise) and were rewarded by being granted their only wish: to be together forever, even in death. He was turned into an oak tree and she a lime, and there they stood, intertwined, in the deserted bog that was the ruin of their town (the gods had to destroy it because everyone else was too wicked, see).

The association with romance has continued through European art and literature, via people like Walther von der Vogelweide (scroll down – Unter der linden is the third one on that page) all the way down to Nick Cave. Aw.

Tilia platyphyllos (the large-leaved lime) is one of only about 30something trees native to Britain – only the south though, which is where I’m native to, too. It and its friend Tilia cordata and their hybrid Tilia x europaea are very frequently planted as ornamental trees, or shade trees in parks and gardens. The European thing is to have long lime-lined avenues, like Unter den Linden in Berlin and the gorgeous Frederiksberg Allé in København. It used to be a closed street, with gates, which only the King and his family (that’s Frederik) could use, but luckily for me it was opened to the public in 1863. I walked down there on September 14, 2006, which became one of the most unutterably beautiful days of my life.

Lime blossoms make a sweet and pleasant tea which has been used as a remedy for, among other things, headaches, indigestion, fever, liver disorders, anxiety and hysteria. The wood is soft and easily worked so it is favoured by carvers, including the most excellently-named Grinling Gibbons, and my uncle Roli who is totally ace and taught me about the Gibmeister, having just completed a degree in Ornamental Woodworking. The blossoms are also good for a light, delicate but beautifully flavoured honey. This tree is all about the prettiness.