V&A FuturePlan

With the success of the opening of the British Galleries in 2001, the Victoria and Albert Museum, known as the V&A, announced its decision to embark on a major redesign of around 70 per cent of the galleries in the museum. This plan, known as the ‘Future Plan’, was started in 2002 and was set to be finished by 2012. The ‘Future Plan’ was divided into three phases. The first phase, costing an estimated £30 million and compromising of no less than 28 separate projects, ranges from improvements in signage and labels through to complete redesign of several galleries. Those that have been redesigned have included the main Silver Gallery in 2002 (changes were made to the main entrance), the Photography and Painting Galleries in 2003 and in 2004 the entrance from the tunnel leading to South Kensington tube station was reopened for the first time since the 1970s. This year sees many of the new galleries opening including the Theatre and Performance Galleries, the refurbished Ceramic Galleries but the most expectant of these changes is the Medieval and Renaissance wing set to open in November 2009.
Costing £11 million, and spanning the east wing of the museum, this new development will compromise of ten new galleries which will be spread over three levels. The displays will be broadly chronological documenting the story of European art and design between 300AD and 1600, housing over 1,800 objects, some of which are the V&A’s most remarkable treasures. Some of the items visitors will be able to peruse are masterpieces such as the Becket Casket, a fine example of medieval craftsmanship that contains the relics of the archbishop Thomas Becket, the rare and exceptional Lorsch Gospels Cover, one of the largest and grandest ivory medieval book covers to have survived from the Court of Charlemagne in around 800, and the Studley Bowl which is one of the earliest surviving pieces of English domestic silver. A whole gallery is devoted to the work of Donatello and for the first time on permanent display will be Leonardo Da Vinci’s small notebooks. The labels accompanying the display will also highlight important historical figures as well as patrons.
These changes provide an opportunity for the modernisation of the presentation of its artefacts. We can expect some of them to be thematically brought together within their cultural context, for example, within a domestic interior, or set in a religious space with translucent onyx window screens providing the effect of a medieval church. Upon the completion of all three phases, the museum is to be seen as a city, which will be divided into a series of quarters, making the disparate museum easier to tackle. One of the galleries will even resemble an Italian Renaissance courtyard complete with balcony, trees and a fountain.
The Press release detailing these changes contains a quote from Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, saying that “The V&A can now claim to be a world-class 21st-century museum with beautiful contemporary displays in a revitalised historic building.” The changes to the building make this statement very true. Since Jones took over in 2001, it is no longer seen as a “fusty, dusty maze of a place, with a jumble of artefacts drawn from every culture and age, poorly lit and amateurishly labelled”. The museum has managed to shake this image, as the completion of Phase One sees the lighting improved and displays and labelling enhanced and organised. All of this of this looks good on paper, but will it finally deliver for the V&A?
The V&A has a habit of acquiring exhibitions that are always described in a way that sells itself very well, but it never quite lives up to this expectation. It is a very disparate museum which is mirrored in its architecture. Once the new Medieval and Renaissance wing opens it will display what is described as the “greatest collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture outside Italy”; At the moment, it only seems to skim the surface of the collections it exhibits. My favourite exhibitions at the V&A were the temporary At Home in Renaissance Italy as well as the permanent fashion collections, but even these left me unsatisfied. There was not enough to feed my passion, and there appeared to be holes within the history and its documentation. Like a history text book, it gives the general idea, but it doesn’t go deep enough, which to the viewer can leave a sense of a lack of passion for what is being displayed. Indeed, for tourists having such a diverse range of collections from Ceramics through to Theatre and Performance in one place can seem appealing, but the fact that there is so much within the museum makes it very hard to tackle.
SE For 3E News

Club Closures

Walking along Charing Cross Road last night I was met with the gloomy sight of bulldozers and metal cordons, momentarily frozen into inaction by the February snow, it sadly hasn’t been enough to stop them altogether. As soon as the thaw begins so too will the destruction of a large part of Soho to make way for the new Cross rail extension on Tottenham Court Road Station.
It’s easy to be nostalgic about the area when we consider the list of losses but why shouldn’t we be? Clubland will move on and new venues will open but with the closure of the Metro, the Astoria and the Astoria 2 London has lost a large part of its rock history.
When the Astoria’s shutting was announced early last year Ken Livingstone suggested the Astoria “wasn’t at the cutting edge of modern comfort.” It’s unlikely anyone will deny that is true, but he completely missed the point. Anyone that has jumped, dived or surfed at gigs will know that it’s as much about getting hot and sweaty as it is about enjoying the music. People don’t really want nor need a modern, comfortable venue; venues should be a bit dirty and have their story etched into the walls.
It’s not just the Cross rail casualties that London has lost, other famous clubs to succumb to the pound of the developer in the last twelve include Turnmills, China White, The Hammersmith Palais, Canvas, The Key, The Cross, Spitz and the one that’s likely to be most missed, The End.
These aren’t small, new, struggling venues, they are well established and successful, the like of which will not be replaced quickly – it took Layo and Mr C almost a year of hard work to see any kind of success with The End.
We’ve lost some treasures and with rumours of The Vaults being under threat there’s a very real chance we’ll lose more. It’s unlikely anything will ever really replace the charm and atmosphere of places like The End but these closures give a chance to new promoters and force people to think of new ideas.
New venues are scheduled to open in the next few months - look out for Cable near London Bridge - but with licences ever more difficult to come by promoters are more likely to move in to existing venues. More and more pubs are hosting nights and there has been a steady increase in the number of warehouse and car park parties across town. Familiar club nights have already relocated – Push is now at Bar Rumba, Bugged Out is hosting nights at Matter and bands are playing under the arches of Heaven. Notoriously pop and urban venues like Punk and Movida have also opened their doors to the alternative masses.
Talk of the recession hitting takings seems to be far fetched, history tells us that when times are tough people party hard. London’s nightlife isn’t lost, it’s still around and as always it’s moving to its own beat, it’s adapting and heading out of the centre of town. With the much publicised Westminster rent hikes it’s not really surprising that cheaper boroughs with good transport connections like Vauxhall have suddenly become popular.
What can’t be replaced is all the history that had been demolished by the closure of the Astoria, Astoria 2 and even the Metro and it’s unlikely that we’ll find other venues like them; the Astoria was perfect, just small enough for new emerging bands, yet big enough for intimate gigs for more established artists.
For now we’ve got the prospect of a new replacement venue somewhere within the Cross rail development to look forward to and in the meantime we can hope that those new, young promoters start taking over bars in our part of town.
CE For 3E News

Can Art Make Us Happy?

Last month, a collective gathered at the Institute of Contemporary Art to discuss whether or not Art can make us happy in this time of socio-economic gloom and if it can provide the imaginative space needed to make us feel better. The panel included the Panacea artists Neil Bromwich, Zoe Walker and Michael Pinsky whose collaborative project explores the notion of artwork as a social cure-all, Nicolas Bourriaud a curator at the Tate, the deputy director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Sian Ede and the editor Jane Wernick.
Sian Ede suggested the pursuit of happiness is an American way of life, where one desires a constant state of guaranteed happiness and due to America’s involvement in several world activities which have not proved as fruitful as they would have liked this dream has been made slightly more difficult in the 20/21st century. Many artists do not set out to make their audience happy and the very few that try to struggle. Here she cited the Hayward Gallery “Laughing in a Foreign Language” exhibition last year which was supposed to explore the role of humour and laughter in contemporary art but instead led to many straight faces and unimpressive reviews.
The Panacea collective, who have managed to pull off several rather interesting projects, including a floating plastic iceberg hot tub, intend to cure social, political and economic problems. The hot tub project proved successful in this mission as all the trialists who were randomly selected to grace the floating iceberg hot tub were impressed and achieved a sense of happiness in their experience. However, most probably this sense of elation was due to the fact that this was a free offering to spend some time in a hot tub. One does not envisage the project would have enjoyed the same success if there was a charge to enter the hot tub, which is clearly what will happen once a firm decides to snap them up, and they will undoubtedly not go for cheap either.

Jane Wernick, editor of Building Happiness; Architecture to make you smile, hinted that whilst gross domestic product was up, happiness is still flat and wonders if it is at all achievable. Being a structural engineer, she suggested when designing schools, libraries and other institutions, it is imperative to incorporate break-up spaces where people can randomly bump into each other and stop for a brief conversation which usually makes each of the individuals happy. She also agreed along with the panel after an audience member’s suggestion that self expression is far too prominent in modern art and may perhaps be a reason for art not making the audience happy.
Essentially, it is also rather difficult to measure and evaluate the level of happiness after viewing art or architecture.
Nicolas Bourriaud was adamant individuals always have a personal battle with the artist and the art work when viewing. During the potential individual experience of happiness in front of art we often read too much in to it thus losing the spur of the moment happiness within seconds of discovering it. Builders and architects, Bourriaud suggested, should be regarded highly as their job involves building places where we go in search of a more prolonged happiness and they therefore have a rather important role to play in our lives and general happiness. Bourriaud further commented that purchasing art for yourself whether in the form of a nice ceramic bowl or a painting tends to make us happy as one sees it nearly everyday and expect visitors that notice it to appreciate it just as much as you do.
The panel agreed that perhaps the problem lies with the critical eye of the viewer, who instead should appreciate the effort put in to an art work rather than whether it makes them happy or not. Perhaps this selfish struggle for happiness and its constant evaluation is what diminishes it in the first place. Art may struggle to make us happy but like Narcissus, Pygmalion, Aphrodite and Helen of troy, the philosophy of beauty/art and happiness always led to tragedy so one should not analyze it to such an extent that it disappears whilst still in front of our eyes.

3E For 3E News

The Last Polaroid Christmas

If you went to Andy Warhol’s factory hangout during the height of seventies glamour and said to him “In forty years time, vinyl will be almost obsolete, cameras will fit in to your pocket and Christmas 2008 will be your last with your beloved Polaroid”, I have a feeling he’d erupt in to a fit of chuckles and say “Gee, you are such a Joker”. Too bad he isn’t here now to see how the digital age really has claimed so much of our much loved past. So long analogue TV, farewell VHS and now we must bid adieu to the Polaroid camera; a loss many of us will mourn for many Christmases to come.

In this digital era, where trends must be pragmatic to thrive and where the real money making is in the latest technologies, the Polaroid camera is a breath of fresh air. Polaroid means simplicity, it means rawness, it means nostalgia and as a wistful generation, you’re not alone in your quest to keep the past alive. Picture yourself as a freckle-nosed youngster, your parents at family functions capturing precious moments with the Polaroid camera you now call your own. “Cheese” mum would say and with that very instinctive whir, the machine would spit out a print and excitedly you would wait until the memory came into focus. Because that is the beauty of Polaroid; mystery clings to the impending image.

Today my mother, like most, has converted to a digital. The colours are sharp and it excuses our mistake all too easily- the blurry shot of father in front of the Christmas tree where his face seems to be lost amongst the baubles or the pictures of you and the cousins in front of the fire where your hair takes over half of the screen- delete, and they’re gone. My mother says digital doesn’t retain the magic or the satisfying click a Polaroid encompasses, just like the love/hate inconvenience of changing LP’s. “With Polaroid you have one chance to capture your composition and with your sleek image showcased in its ready-made white frame, you know it’s a one-off, a completely individual photograph. Digital is more convenient but with most heart-over-mind matters, logic doesn’t matter. Polaroid, like childhood rollerskates will be missed.”
Polaroid magic spread in 1948, when the company’s founder Edwin land put the first instant-camera on the shelves. The Model 95 camera costing the equivalent of £560 today made photography geeks worldwide excitable, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that the Polaroid really excited the snappy happy. Iconic Polaroid user Warhol frequented the voguish hangouts in Manhattan and captured social events on his Minox 35mm camera but later dabbled with Polaroid, snapping famous faces at hipster hub Studio 54. He would ask visitors at his factory to photograph their genitals and Warhol said ‘It’s incredible what people will do if you ask them.’ For Warhol the Polaroid camera combined two of his obsessions- the disposable nature of modern consumerism and the photograph as ready-made and his Polaroids along with other film prints have provided a valuable insight into the creative process of the artist behind the camera .
A book titled ‘Exposures’ published in 1985 is a collection of Warhol’s best photos, both achieved with his Minox and Polaroid. He is known to have said, “My idea of a good picture is one of a famous person doing something unfamous. It’s about being in the right place at the wrong time.” The rich art-school kids followed pursuit and plastered their bedroom walls with their instantly captured delights from their every day lives and more recently skinny-jeans wearing east-enders seem to get all nostalgic by trading there souped-up super-lensed SLRs for more quirky Polaroids and began experimenting with turntables as opposed to sticking with MP3s.

The popularisation of Polaroid in the seventies coincided with society’s rebellion against fine media and the arrival of the sx-70 colour Polaroid in1972 was deemed ‘One of the great new cameras’ and the ‘Boswell of American life’ in Time magazine. Conceptual artists liked photographs that were as unartistic, unpretentious and close to the ordinary snapshot (or even photo-booth portrait) as possible. They adored Polaroid. With photographers preferring the real, raw image as opposed to previous over flamboyant artistic vision, a new type of photography was born- Straight Ups. King of straight ups, was and ultimately still is, Paul Hartnett. Hartnett first started using a Polaroid camera at the age of nine back in 1969. He documented Leigh Bowery's legendary club Taboo using a Polaroid, as well as other formats, and was sponsored by Polaroid UK Ltd for over fifteen years, snapping clubland characters, as can be seen on www.paulhartnett.com. Even today he keeps Polaroid close to heart. “Polaroid photographs were cheap, instant, trashy. But, kind of a fabulous one off too, rather like a Daguerreotype. Now there is the alternative of the low-res digital images that end up on the popular social networking sites, images that will not last, unlike the wonderfully framed images that people shook when they did not actually need to be dried.”
Since Polaroids hey-day of the seventies, it has been a stable medium for many. Police once used it to capture mug shots, doctors used it to monitor patient’s skin conditions, casting directors used it to photograph models and artists and photographers used it to create majestical art many of which have become iconic images of the past. David Hockney, Chuck Close, Helmut Newton and Juergen Teller have all been successful with their idiosyncratic friend and since the announcement in February of Polaroid closing down its film production on the Eve of 2009, photographers such as Rankin and Jenn Howe have celebrated their time spent with the 60-second machine with special projects. Rankin decided it was important to “Do one more project before it finishe[d]”.Fashion photographer Jenn Howe is one "Polaroidoholic" who has been working solely with Polaroid film for 11 years. Her obsession began with curiosity coupled with the ‘cute aesthetic’ of her camera and the photographs themselves. “As soon as I started shooting, I was obsessed. I took Polaroids of everything. It's something about the sense of urgency and the immediacy that Polaroid pictures inexplicably possess. People argue that digital cameras provide the same instant gratification - but digital photos seem dead to me. They don't seem to have the same magic or energy that a Polaroid does.” Unlike the conceptual artists of the seventies Jenn’s theory about Polaroid is different. “My theory is that these simple, Lo-Fi machines actually challenge you. Any person can take a great shot using some high-tech wonder of a camera -it does all the work for you” and that is how Jenna YA you can distinguish between the okay photographers and the truly great ones. “With such a simple camera, there are so many limitations. You only have so much flash available, no zoom capabilities, no focus (on the simpler models), limited depth of field... you are working within very tight confines. To take a great photo such strict limitations is truly a test of skills. You must be hughly creative with the positioning of your subjects, framing and the available lighting.”
The news of the Polaroid going the way of the dodo bird has caused Jenn to stock up on Polaroid film, like a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter months. “I'm desperate for film. It’s like, "Hmmmm....can I sell some of my plasma this week? My eggs? A kidney? Anything so I can afford some more Polaroid film!”The rest of the fashion industry is also mourning the loss too. Publicists, modelling agencies, casting directors and designers use the film daily and it has become synonymous with the look of the fashion world. Model cards, fashion editorials, campaigns, catwalk cues are all Polaroid-ed, so how will the industry cope? A spokeswoman from FM Models said “Polaroid cameras will be missed, that is a certainty, but we must adapt to the change and look to the future instead of the past. It is easy to become devoted to something, even if it’s limited in its function. I can guarantee Polaroid will still be around for some time in fashion, and when it finally disappears, many will be interested in paying homage to its creamy, dreamy aesthetic.”Despite industries choosing pragmatic living over yesterday’s out-of-date practices, , I for one am a huge offender of being a notoriously nostalgic being. Despising the sieve of life where separation feelings, thoughts, people and objects are diverted from Memory Lane to Amnesia Avenue, it is important to sit back now and again, dust off your Smiths vinyl and remember Christmas ’ gone by, by sifting through a shoebox of yellowing Polaroids.

LH For 3E News

Electronic Music Progress Report From Late 2008

Many of the new musical trends that seemed at the beginning of 2008 to herald a new direction for electronic music are now looking tired, and over-saturated by poor sound-a-likes. The ultra distorted Justice and Ed Banger crew seem to be running out of steam, with their latest compilation, Ed Rec Vol 3, featuring only one real standout track – DJ Medhi’s 'Pocket Piano', an acid house/ disco exploration of just how beautiful a song one man could make with a piano. Justice’s popularity rose to the point that even a television appearance in the Simpsons didn’t seem out of the question.
Throughout 2008, a new trend seemed to be replacing this whole sound, a sound that has been heralded as global/gutter bass by many. It embodies bits of electro, house, Baltimore club, dubstep, hip hop, rap, and lots of bass. Labels such as Mad Decent and Trouble & Bass championed it, with nights like Night Slugs in London leading the movement, with artists like Drop The Lime, Mumdance, L Vis 1990, Herve, Sinden and many others forming the frontrunners. The key to this Global Bass movement seemed to be that any genre of electronic music was ripe to be sampled and imitated, creating a melting pot of styles. Other countries than the US and the UK even got in on the act, with DJ Mujava, whose hit Township Funk hailed from Africa, and ruled dancefloors in 2008, and Buraka Som Sistema whose Portuguese style of house music, branded as ‘Kuduro’, won them a signing with Fabric for their debut album.

For those that didn’t embrace this new ‘bass’ movement, a more techno/minimal orientated sound was also on the rise – with DJs like Brodinski and Erol Alkan championing it, and producers like Popof and Style of Eye destroying dancefloors the world over. This more techey sound spread to other genres as well – with producers like Shackleton, Appleblim and the whole Skull Disco crowd making dubstep with a more minimaley/techey feel. Appleblim’s ‘Vansan’ seemed to set “a techno orientated trend that pushed the genre in a new direction”. This new direction was further cemented by each and every Skull Disco release – first Ricardo Villalobos remixed Shackleton, and then Shackleton remixed Villalobos’ 'Minimoonstar'. Even electroclash producers like Tiga tried their hand at a more techey feel, with tracks like 'Mind Dimension'.
The Skull Disco label was not the only one to go in a new direction. Dubstep, which was once largely a united front, seems now to have split into many different groups and styles. Skream, Benga, Coki and Caspa’s wobbly ‘thugstep’, the techno sound I alluded to above, and another group that was labeled by many critics as ‘wonky’. Made up of producers like Ikonika, Zombie, Joker, Rustie, Starkey, and championed by Kode 9’s Hyperdub label, some of the most exciting dubstep releases of 2008 came from this group – Zombie’s 'Strange Fruit', Joker’s 'Gully Brook Lane', Ikonika’s 'Please' – all of these saw massive approval from a wide range of DJs. This style, first championed by Kode 9 and Flying Lotus on their one off Rinse FM Show from Late 2007. A particular highlight for me from the whole ‘wonky’ crew was Joker’s collaboration with Rustie ‘Play Doh’, full of squealing synths and full fat square wave bass. Big things are in store for this whole group of producers in 2009, but we can only hope that someone thinks up a better name for the movement.

Flying Lotus and Kode 9’s Rinse FM show was not the only one to pioneer a new musical movement in 2008. Marcus Nasty and Mak10’s September mix for Rinse FM was said by many critics to be the moment ‘funky’ happened. “UK funky is a style of modern electronic dance music related to UK garage that is influenced by latin music. It mixes traditional UKG beats, bass loops and synths with latin percussion and contemporary R&B-style vocals.” Again, this new movement was based on a combination of many genres – grime, funky, tribal house, bassline, garage. The primary exponents of funky are Geneeus, Mak 10, Supa D, Crazy Cousins and Marcus Nasty, and it has replaced bassline, garage and RnB in many clubs as the music for the average punter. This must in part be to its dual nature – one side is what some critics have described as “chardonnay music” – cheap and fizzy, frivolous, popular with both girls and boys, an alternative to bassline. However, grittier, more hard edged and more minimal strains of funky are beginning to appear – Donaeo’s 'African Warrior' being a prime example. For a guide to whats big in Funky, FACT’s Kiran Sande ‘We don’t do boring’ did a funky special at the tail end of 2008.

Disco also saw a resurgence in 2008, with disco nights springing up all over the country, and labels like Italians Do It Better, DFA and Phantasy championing the new disco sound. Artists like Joakim, the Emperor Machine, Fan Death, Hercules and Love Affair, Riton, Aeroplane, In Flagranti and Juan Maclean were the most popular. In a horrible parody of nu rave, some took to calling this new trend nu disco… For an hour long guide to the new (note the spelling…) disco trend, Erol Alkan’s podcast Disco 3000, serves as a perfect introduction.

Regardless of whether you listened to any of these new musical trends in 2008, 2009 will only see them getting better and popular, so why not try something a bit different, and explore the options.

BW For 3E News