Sunday, 18 December 2016

Ideas of Beauty at Summerhall

2016 has been such an ugly year, it feels like anything beautiful will just slide right off it, give it two fingers, and run away for all its worth, maybe never to return again. But just before it gave 2016 the slip, John Sumpter of the Democratic Camera Club gallantly chased beauty down with his butterfly net, dressed in a dapper yellow tie, suit and hat and placed beauty gently but firmly under his magnifying glass for an exhibition called Ideas of Beauty held at Summerhall in Edinburgh.

In an open submission, he invited enthusiasts, professional photographers and artists alike to puzzle over ideas of beauty. We discovered that, beauty being ever elusive, many of us do not agree on what is beautiful. Beauty then, was traditional, unconventional, mundane, dynamic, whimsical, concrete, uncanny, homely, alive, dead, deceptive, revealing, brash and shy, boring and interesting and even, yes, I am afraid to say, it could be really downright ugly.

Then the public came, and some of us were convinced there was a strong possibility that they would think Flickr sunsets and picture of kittens are beautiful and would be disappointed and not buy anything at all from our exhibition and leave rude comments. Then some of us thought that that this was maybe patronising and not the right way to imagine the public but then we asked ourselves - well who is the public exactly anyway?

In the era of Brexit and Donald Trump, do we have to listen to popular opinion even if we don't agree with it?

Luckily for us, as it wasn't a referendum, or even an election, we didn't. The public came, also trying to get a glimpse of beauty before it evaporated forever, and not one of them asked why there were no kittens or Flickr sunsets in the show. Instead they had so very many different and unpredictable ideas of beauty that surprised us.

And for some of us, some of the pictures became more beautiful over the ten days the exhibition was on, like friends do when you get to know them. I would say some of them became less beautiful but that would not be polite.

If I could pin down beauty just a little bit, it would be to say that the process of assisting John in selecting and arranging so many disparate ideas of beauty on the walls together with Elaine Robson was a truly beautiful process, though by saying that I may be falling into chocolate-box cliche, the cardinal sin of beauty and best to be avoided if we have any hope of getting beauty to stick around in 2017.

Monday, 7 November 2016

The Whole Darn Thing

The lemon-bleached letters on the ground
A message to the morning sleepwalkers
Their way to work read backwards
A sense of real life happening in dreams

A dog squats and unceremoniously pees
An acid drop melts a wormhole in the ground
Nearby the irony of a garden of wild flowers
Weeded, tended, not wild at all.

On the threshhold from street to park
A chalked poem to a captive audience
“A lemon wedge between my sharpened claws”
writ large in double spacing across the narrow path

I leave the poem behind and cross the park
The trees like sharpened claws
The grass sliced into wedges by tarmac paths
And I want to squeeze the life out of it this time

A lemon-coloured leaf falls at my feet
In the distance the sad snake of traffic
Seal-like skins of joggers dodging
Yellow jackets of safety-first cyclists

The colour of a winter sun
And facing it the sun-worshipers
Motionless, they soak up every ray
In case they miss it, the whole darn thing

Sunday, 23 October 2016

I still believe in miracles

Today the doors of  Inverleith House, situated at the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh, are sadly set to close. The current exhibition, "I still believe in miracles" celebrates 30 years of the gallery. Today at 3pm there was a "mass visit" to support the gallery and there also is an online petition to save it. I have only been in Edinburgh a few years, but one of the highlights for me was the Isa Genzken exhibition from September 2014.

The exhibitions I have seen are always challenging, original and innovative. Also, being situated in the Botanical Gardens it means that a broader public visit who otherwise might not go to these types of exhibitions. Yesterday I was there with my mother-in-law who I don't think has ever been to a modern art gallery. Encouraged by the assistants she took away some Jim Lambie red posters of platform shoes that were part of the exhibition. These will be winging their way to a small village in Germany very soon.

As I was taking pictures, I somehow always found myself in the same rooms as an older couple. The man was grumbling the whole time about the 'terrible drawings' to his wife who told him to 'enjoy the Georgian building' or go out. He must have enjoyed a good grumble or annoying his wife as he stayed and grumbled throughout the whole exhibition. I think it is a good sign if you hear someone grumbling in a public art gallery, as it indicates it is not just the usual audience visiting. As for his wife, she may have not got there in the first place if it hadn't been for the pretext of the visit to the Botanics.

The current exhibition features the many Scottish and International artists including Roni Horn, Louise Bourgeoise, Douglas Gordon and Ian Hamilton Finlay who have had solo shows in the gallery over the years together as well as botanical drawings from the collection of John Hope (1725-1786) and others. I particularly liked the topsy-turvy botanical drawing of a flower which I photographed above. Planted upside down as part of an experiment, the plant does a u-turn as it grows up towards the light. I hope that the Botanical Gardens, Creative Scotland and Edinburgh Council will also see the light and hopefully the gallery will continue to thrive in the future with the rest of the flora and fauna Botanical Gardens. I still believe in miracles.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Over dew

Over dew

There's the "dew" I say in the American way to my son 
as we walk to school
The grass silvery and inviting
A short cut across The Meadows

But we must stick to the paths
The sun's glitter will dry the dew away
But your shoes will be soaked all day
Let's run, or we'll be late
On the way home
I cross the grass
making my feet wet
In an instant.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

To Die For

After about a year of indecision I bought a new printer. It was only when I got home that I noticed the name, HP ENVY. I wondered why I had bought a printer with such a negative sounding name, and anyway, why name your brand after one of the seven deadly sins? Once I let Envy into my home office though, everything just went downhill from there, with some few broken commandments finishing off my home office look.

To Die For

My printer's name is Envy
My computer's brand is Greed
My smart phone is called Lust
And my headphones Gluttony

I have some pens called Foolish Pride
They come in several shades
Of Hubris and Pomposity
Self-regard and Vanity

And Sloth is my hole-punch
(It's teeth make quite a mess)
And Anger is my number cruncher
I just call him 'Ken'*

My desk is from HabiHate 
The chair from I-Sneer
My shelf is from Primevil
And my lamp from John Leer

My walls are painted Poison Green™
My carpet Sicknote Beige®
My curtains Rancid Banana©
And the stationary Scarlet Rage♻︎

My friend's pad has a better flair
Decked out in Marxist Spinster ware
Envy's just the start of sin
I'd kill to have her paper bin

So now that Envy's entered in
I'm done with virtue signalling**
I've a printer to die for, all should be well
but for the fact this could all lead to hell.

*Apologies to Kenneth Anger (filmmaker)
** Virtue signalling is the expression or promotion of viewpoints that are especially valued within a social group, especially when this is done to enhance the social standing of the speaker (Wikipedia.)

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Gisela, by the way

Gisela, by the way*

I am just a goods train
You are just a shack
Whenever I go past you
I'm longing to look back

By night I blow you kisses
That whistle o'er the track
By day my windows wink and smile 
The sun towards your back

On grey days when the light is flat
I lend you shadows with my lamps
to make your contours crisp and clear
and help you see your worth, my dear

And by the way, it's destiny
To love someone so stationary
To share her with the platform
The ticket booth and masonry

When passers by, pass you by
And life itself does the same
Just remember that this old train
Loves Gisela, by the way

*I photographed this abandoned kiosk/shop from a train window in Germany. The name 'Gisela, by the way' sounded like unintentional poetry to me.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Love is a Birch

The photos above are of  "Maibäume", or "May trees" in Cologne. Traditionally on the night of the 31st April to the 1st May, young men would go out to the forest and find a birchtree, chop it down and decorate it with ribbons and a "May-heart" with the name of the girl he favoured on it. He would then put the tree up in front of her house to show his intentions.

Nowadays, the tradition continues, but it is illegal, in Cologne anyway, to just take birch trees from the forest. Now you are supposed to buy them from an official seller and can even get them delivered, erected and taken down by a "Maibaum-Taxi" service for a price, which doesn't sound quite so romantic.*

This being Cologne, home of the Carnival, there have been known to be shenanigens in the night to 1st May. Maibaums have been known to disappear in the night only to appear in front of another girl's house, the heart inexpertly replaced and another name scribbled on in Edding marker. An unguarded May tree on this night may be seen as fair game. The adventure of finding and putting up the tree is by tradition something you do with your friends. Defending or trying to steal another tree into the early hours just as much a part of it. To steal a tree after the 1st, is seen as poor taste.

The trees are supposed to be taken down by the 31st May, and in return for their efforts the boys (or on leap years, girls) receive a crate of beer and perhaps a kiss or an invitation to dinner.

In July then, when I visited my friends, I was surprised to see the Maibäume still hanging in there on the lamposts and guttering two months later. Were they still there to bring a bit of colour to the otherwise drab facades? Or were they abandoned by some spurned suitor? Were the owners simply "Angeber" or "show-offs", as one friend put it? All the green leaves, symbols of youth, Spring and renewal were long gone, the coloured crepe ribbons tangled and wind-swept. One heart devoted to "Maria" stood more like a paean to love lost, illusions stripped bare just like the brittle dead branches surrounding it.

Or perhaps the story is not so tragic. Maybe the Maibäume are still in bloom on social media, and can wither and overstay their welcome on the street. There is no need to take them down in "real life", as it is already out there forever.

Instead you can post clinking Emoji beer mugs as a reward (forget real beer crates) on Facebook and receive likes from your beloved (and his friends) in a new tradition of self-endorsement and mutual appreciation ad infinitum. Meanwhile the aging Maibaum, erstwhile a symbol of fertility, still clings to the guttering, now a reminder of youth and love's folly in the face of time.

Of course I have no idea why the Maibäume were still there, and it probably doesn't matter why. Though I am glad that they were. Otherwise I could never have photographed the Maibäume that shouldn't have been there on an overcast first day of July.  And found out what I probably knew all along; that love can be a real birch.

* I checked out the Maibäume-Taxi service  in case you might find yourself wooing a sweetheart in Cologne one of these days. It has ten options on offer, starting from 40€ up to 180€. Here is model 5:

"Tree option 5 for €100: Take advantage of the all-inclusive service and have a colourfully decorated Maytree complete with heart delivered to the address of your choice. There in the night to 1 May it will be put up between 20:00 and 07:00 and at the end of the month (at the latest 1 week of June) it will be picked up and disposed of. You will be notified by text message when the tree has been put up. You don't have to do anything. By special request you can have tree 5 with white/red crepe ribbon in Cologne 'look' / FC Köln club colours, or Düsseldorf 'look'."