The art of Arnau Alemany


La raffinerie.

Since his first exhibition in Barcelona in 1978, Spanish artist Arnau Alemany has dedicated himself solely to painting. In recent years, he has shown in Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Lyon, San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Valencia, receiving second prize in the 1991 Montecar Biennial. A collection of his work also hangs in the prestigious Museum of Spanish Contemporary Art in Japan. Beginning the creative process, Alemany creates an imaginary urban landscape, either with signs of destruction or general abandonment, which are the artist’s expressions of the incompetence of city planning. Above all, he hopes to show that visual surprise is possible, through the use of magical realism.

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The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Gérard Trignac
The art of Jean-Pierre Ugarte

Farewell to Deadwood


So farewell then, Al and company. Deadwood finished its third and final season this week. Since it’s still running in the UK I won’t say anything about how things turn out. There was supposed to be a fourth season but it seems we’ve been denied this after HBO cancelled the run. This is a shame but we should probably be thankful that the thing exists at all at a time when television drama in the UK has been run into the swamps of mediocrity.

I came across Deadwood by chance via a mention in The Guardian that described Ian McShane swearing and murdering his way through a new role as malevolent saloon owner, Al Swearengen. If it hadn’t have been for the whole pirate TV network that now exists it’s unlikely I would have seen it at all. My television gave up the ghost a few years ago and even when it was working I didn’t have any satellite channels which is where it’s been shown in Britain. I downloaded the first episode and was immediately knocked out by the incredible period atmosphere (no mere sets these, they built an entire town), the cinema-quality production values and the exceptional performances. Ian McShane had played villains in the past but Al Swearengen was as far away from cheeky antiques dealer Lovejoy as it was possible to get. The rest of the cast was just as good but for me it was the scripts that made the series. The Sopranos may have the edge in being closer to our world and our lives but the language of Deadwood, its prolixity and elaboration amongst the most outrageous cursing, was completely without precedent. I’m looking forward to re-watching the entire run on DVD so I can go back over some of the incredible aphorisms that the writers gave to these characters, lines at once baroque but with an elegance fitting a BBC period drama and completely lacking the anachronisms (swearing aside) that often spoil Hollywood films. No wonder that Brian Cox demanded to be given a part; he was also given some of the best lines in the third season as actor/manager Jack Langrishe.

As with many cultural works, it seems to be the very things I enjoy that serve to alienate a drama like this from a wider audience. The Sopranos is pretty much a soap opera with the addition of strippers and people being whacked; nothing too challenging there. Deadwood was darker and quite often a lot weirder. Tony Soprano confides his troubles (albeit reluctantly) to a psychiatrist; Al Swearengen talks to the severed head of an Indian chief he keeps in a box. In The Sopranos considerable care has to be taken when disposing of bodies; in Deadwood they’re dragged round the corner to the Chinese quarter and fed to the pigs. This sounds inordinately grim but there was also a great deal of humour (often of a rather black variety), a major tragedy in season 2 and a very poignantly-developed lesbian relationship. The fact that this series came about at all provides a sliver of hope that television drama isn’t quite the redundant medium it often seems to be. It’s this, not 24 or Lost, that people will still be watching in years to come. It seems there may yet be two more feature-length specials that continue events. Fingers crossed for those. The first two seasons are out there now on DVD. Run, don’t walk.

The Major Arcana


Tarot designs proliferate at a seemingly unstoppable pace (you can see a selection of them here) so it’s probably fair to say that the world doesn’t need more of them. However, most modern designs are pastiches or fantasy-oriented works that tend towards an elaboration even more baroque than some of the older designs. My As Above, So Below poster was an earlier attempt at presenting traditional occult schematics in a modern setting. The challenge with this Tarot design was to try and create a Major Arcana set using nothing but international symbol pictograms or dingbat sets. It succeeds for the most part although I had to cheat a couple of times (creating a light bulb from scratch, for instance) and it’s debatable how recognisable these cards would be without their labels. I was following the Aleister Crowley scheme that renames a few of the cards, and some of his designs, especially The Aeon which replaces The Last Judgment, are rather resistant to simplification.

I would have uploaded this to a new CafePress shop as a poster design but their servers don’t seem to like my big jpegs just now. Maybe later.

Update: It finally uploaded. This is the shop.

The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda II

invasion.jpgLong, Strange Trip for a Hypnotic Film

By James Gaddy
August 27, 2006
The New York Times

IT TOOK 38 years, but Ira Cohen’s cult film, The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda, which was first screened in 1968 at the high point of the psychedelic hippie head rush, is now commercially available. Given the close calls, the long absences and his chaotic archival system, Mr. Cohen, 71, is a little surprised himself.

“It didn’t really involve patience,” he said in his apartment on West 106th Street in Manhattan, surrounded by books stacked waist high. “It was just reality.”

In 1961 Mr. Cohen built a room in his New York loft lined with large panels of Mylar plastic, a sort of bendable mirror that causes images to crackle and swirl in hypnotic, sometimes beautiful patterns. After a few years experimenting with the technique in photographs, he invited his friends from the downtown scene—like Beverly Grant, Vali Myers and Tony Conrad—to make a film.

The finished product sets languid images of opium smokers (in fantastic makeup and costumes) against a droning, chanting, tabla-beating soundtrack by Angus MacLise, the original drummer of the Velvet Underground. Xavier Garcia Bardon, film curator at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, said the film is an important artifact of the era.

“It’s like going on an ecstatic journey to another planet, full of magical beings, animals and plants,” he said. “It’s a hallucinatory, almost trance-inducing experience.”

Mr. Cohen left New York in 1969, shortly after the film’s first screening, for art- and drug-filled travels in India, Ethiopia and Nepal. He roamed through the 1970s and 80s. While he was away, the film’s legend grew, even as the original few copies slowly disappeared.

Mr. Cohen said he dropped off the original print at DuArt Film Laboratories before he left; the staff reached him in Kathmandu in 1978, asking for $300 in storage fees. He asked the lab to send the print to the Museum of Modern Art, but the museum has no record of receiving it.

“If you have money, you can store it any way you want,” he said ruefully. “But for some people, $280, $300 changes the way things turn out.”

It wasn’t until a compilation of Mr. MacLise’s music came out in 1999, 20 years after his death, that interest in distributing the film began. Jay Babcock, editor of the underground magazine Arthur, and Will Swofford, a composer who was then studying at Wesleyan University, independently tracked Mr. Cohen down.

Mr. Babcock said he was curious to see how Mr. Cohen’s early Mylar photographs would look like in a film. “I had dreamed for years what it would look like,” Mr. Babcock said. He began pressing for distribution rights.

Meanwhile Mr. Swofford had persuaded Mr. Cohen, whose health has been failing (he’s had two strokes in the last year), to let him operate as an archivist and agent. Mr. Swofford eventually found 40 cans of unused outtakes in a green trunk, buried beneath books, papers, slides and assorted creative runoff.

“No one had touched the film for 25 years,” Mr. Swofford said.

Because the original version lasts only 22 minutes, he began beefing>up the content for the DVD age. Mr. Cohen wanted to use part of the found film, an eight-minute section in which he is buried in mud, as a prelude; Mr. Swofford used the nearly four hours of outtakes to fashion Brain Damage, a 30-minute coda. The DVD also features a slide show of Mr. Cohen’s photographs, audio recitations of his poetry and two alternate soundtracks to the film.

One of these versions was by the band Acid Mothers Temple, which had recorded a live soundtrack to the film at the music festival Kill Your Timid Notion, in Dundee, Scotland, in 2003.

“I had no idea what a DVD could be,” Mr. Cohen said. “I would have just put the film on there.”

The film was released last month, the result of a collaboration between Bastet, Arthur magazine’s music and video label, and Saturnalia, Mr. Swofford’s label, with distribution limited to the magazine’s Web site and a few independent music retailers. Thanks to labor donated by both parties, the initial 1,000-copy print run cost about $8,000.

But $8,000 is still a lot of money for a magazine like Arthur, a break-even labor-of-love venture. “It’s shameful, with the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on movies every year in Hollywood, it’s left to a penniless publication to put this out,” Mr. Babcock said.

Yet he remains optimistic. The film received positive reviews when screened at the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Next month Mr. Bardon will hold a screening with live music in Brussels, and Tony Conrad, now a professor in the department of media studies at the University of Buffalo, will screen the film in Atlanta.

Mr. Babcock is already making plans to release Mr. Cohen’s two other films if Arthur can recoup the investment on this one. “We hope this is just the beginning,” he says.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda

Jack of Jumps

jack.jpgDavid Seabrook’s fascinating true crime investigation was published in May by Granta sporting a cover design by yours truly. The Guardian finally managed to review the book this weekend.

Tart visions
Chris Petit shadows David Seabrook as he trails a serial killer through the streets of sixties London in Jack of Jumps

Chris Petit
Saturday August 26, 2006
The Guardian

Jack of Jumps
by David Seabrook
370pp, Granta, £18.99
Between 1959 and 1965 eight prostitutes were murdered in London by a killer who became known as Jack the Stripper because of his habit of dumping the victims’ bodies naked. The murderer was never found. David Seabrook picks up the story in a manic, exhaustive trawl, via old police files, through a fragmented underworld defined by drink, soliciting, unwanted children and bad dentistry. He sifts his evidence with the zeal of a demented anthropologist, taking us back into a pre-decimal world where he notes a weekly disability pension of £2 8s 8d, against a cost of thirty bob for full sexual intercourse (three quid down in Curzon Street). It was a world caught on the cusp between postwar recession, stasis and a dying moral code, and the colour, mobility and licence of the 60s.

The case remains unsolved, despite Seabrook’s best efforts, but that hardly matters when his real subject is metropolitan jetsam and the kind of desperate lives that usually go unnoticed for want of a chronicler. While his category is true crime, his implicit references are to fiction and film, to an imaginative landscape variously represented by the drinking culture of Patrick Hamilton’s lowlife novels and the Notting Hill of the film Performance. Seabrook transforms the stale material of hundreds of “as-told-to” accounts into an act of epic retrieval, full of arcane cross-referencing. Implicit in his argument is a city haunted as much by a lost popular culture as by its missing souls.

Seabrook’s previous book, All the Devils Are Here, contained a memorable cameo of Freddie Mills, who resurfaces in Jack of Jumps. The former boxer ran a Chinese restaurant in Soho and in the early days of television was a popular light entertainer, distinguished by a dopey grin, amiable mugging and a dubious line in knitwear. In 1965 he apparently shot himself in his car in an alley off the Charing Cross Road. Seabrook fails to find anything to support the most scandalous rumour surrounding Mills’s death, that he was the murderer of those prostitutes and had topped himself in a fit of remorse, upon which the murders stopped.

Other theories remain equally elusive: that the victims, all of short stature, were choked during fellatio; that a copper was the killer because the locations where the bodies were dumped suggested someone who knew police divisional boundaries; that the killer had attended the Earl’s Court Motor Show. With greater car ownership, private vehicles played an increasing role in soliciting. Seabrook taps away at the darker recesses of the metropolitan mind, relishing the fact that his subject is so heroically unglamorous. Jack of Jumps is contemporaneous with the Profumo affair, but there are no good-time girls in this account, just lives of hard grind. At its most optimistic, it is a story of coming affluence: as the manhunt intensifies, the police earn a fortune in overtime, something that would have been inconceivable only a few years before.

Seabrook is a tart observer and knows that his obsession borders on the pointless: gumshoe as mug, retreading a worn-down past, chasing ghosts through a litany of pubs and their vanished clienteles, searching for the forgotten, luminous detail (“On this occasion she bought a bottle of Lovibond’s Vat 30 whisky”). Seabrook’s crazed A-Z of the city turns him into a low-life Borges, charting the impenetrable riddles of human behaviour, in a London that feels as foreign and surreal and as remote as Buenos Aires.

Previously on { feuilleton }
New work out this month
Borges in Performance