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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

A Mountain Walked

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Art by David Ho.

This may be a frustrating post for some since it concerns a limited edition anthology that sold out almost as soon as it was announced a year or so ago. Even though the book was published last year it’s taken a few months for my copies to arrive. A Mountain Walked is a collection of Cthulhu Mythos stories compiled by leading Lovecraft scholar ST Joshi, and published in the US by Centipede Press. Anyone familiar with Centipede’s more luxurious volumes will know that they don’t do things by halves, and this weighty tome is no exception: a large-format hardback (the signed edition is also cased), with heavy paper stock, colour printing, tinted sheets and a bulk that runs to almost 700 pages.

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Art by David Ho.

Many of the stories are reprints but there’s also new material from contributors including Thomas Ligotti, Neil Gaiman, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Laird Barron, the late Michael Shea (to whom the book is dedicated), Patrick McGrath, TED Klein, Gemma Files, Ramsey Campbell and many others. The artwork also ranges widely; I’d not seen anything by David Ho before but he’s very good, hence the samples shown here. But there’s also a variety of other work, even a Lovecraftian Peanuts comic strip by Julien Baznet. I was pleased that my Cthulhoid picture was placed with the introduction, it makes up for my never having responded to Mr Joshi when he wrote to me years ago asking if I’d be interested in contributing something to Necronomicon Press.

Since the book was so successful there’s been talk of doing a cheaper reprint. In the meantime, bloated Lovecraftian plutocrats (Yuggothcrats?) will find very expensive copies for sale on eBay. A few more page samples follow.

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Number 11: Mirror Animations, a film by Harry Smith

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A very short collage animation from 1956 that Smith later expanded into a version running 12 minutes. The artwork crams a great deal of occult and religious symbolism into its 3-minute running time—alchemy, the Kabbalah, Buddhism, Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet, and so on—while Misterioso by Thelonious Monk is playing. Watching this makes me realise that there are still many Harry Smith films I’ve not yet seen despite having read about them for years. Further investigation is required.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Meeting Harry Smith by Drew Christie
Heaven and Earth Magic by Harry Smith
Harry Smith revisited
The art of Harry Smith, 1923–1991

 


Dissent

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If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favour of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.

Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992)

Terrorists don’t care about rights or laws so any debate about freedom of speech isn’t directed at them. I’d be more encouraged by the show of solidarity for dead cartoonists if I didn’t believe that many of those currently declaring their support will continue burning up social media in the next few months with demands that something be banned or stopped. We live in censorious times. Censorship (or the urge to see it enforced) never disappears, it migrates along with whatever happens to be taboo to current generations. In the 1970s much of the heat was around sexual content; today it’s predominantly about identity politics. Whatever the provocation, the results are the same: angry people step forward with a demand that something be forbidden. Last September a showing at the Barbican in London of Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B was cancelled after a petition and a demonstration outside the venue. Bonnie Greer wanted to make up her own mind but she didn’t get the opportunity:

These people largely reacted from hearsay, ideology, photos and the reactions of others who had seen it—not their own experience. I’ve seen people like this before, self-appointed judges, roaming the internet in search of what displeases and offends them. One protester went so far as to issue an absurd analysis of the possible psychological damage Exhibit B could cause the actors involved. It was ignorant and insulting psychobabble.

I don’t want to be stopped from seeing a work because, in their opinion, it’s “inappropriate”, “incorrect” or “racist”—words which are, at best, moveable feasts. I want to think for myself.

You’ll be seeing more movable feasts in the next few days when Anglophone commenters begin to discover that Charlie Hebdo was a full-spectrum offender rather like my colleagues at Savoy Books. When David Britton’s novel Lord Horror was being subject to Crown Court disapproval in 1992 The Independent wrote a prissy editorial complaining that the novel and a death metal album by Dismember were hardly worth the trouble of defending. These things weren’t art, they were trash, something that one of the UK comics mags (I forget which one) also complained about when discussing the Meng & Ecker prosecution. You can defend the principle of freedom of speech (or art) without agreeing with anything that’s being said, but for some people this often seems to be a step too far. Lord Horror escaped the obscenity charge thanks to Geoffrey Robertson QC but Meng & Ecker didn’t (comics being deemed trashier than novels by the court); my artwork for Hard Core Horror #5 was deemed obscene three years later in a separate trial in which Savoy were also declared to be unworthy of trial by jury because they were “not a bona fide publisher”. We don’t have a freedom of speech defence in Britain which is why history continues to repeat itself.

In the end all discussion about censorship comes down to this: who decides what is art and what is trash, what should be defended and what should be thrown to the dogs (or the gunmen)? You? Me? The Pope? Some guy in a ski-mask? Is freedom of speech only for the responsible people, for you and your friends? Or does it also apply to the irresponsible, the contentious, the trashy and the downright offensive? If freedom isn’t for everyone then someone, somewhere is willing to decide it’s not for you.

 


Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet

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Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet of the 1920s is one of the more famous products of the Bauhaus movement, a radical reinvention of the medium which encased the dancers in cumbersome costumes. The outfits and stage designs are familiar from Bauhaus histories but you’re less likely to see an actual performance, something that’s possible with this 30-minute film made in 1970. The ballet is in three acts: yellow, pink and black. Erich Ferstl wrote the music for the filmed reconstruction by Margarete Hasting, the original score by Paul Hindemith being lost.

The ballet has additional interest for me in having influenced part of the Reverbstorm book. Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus logo is reworked in the opening and closing pages together with other Bauhaus-derived graphics, but I also looked at Schlemmer’s ballet costumes when I was planning the final section which required a stylised transformation of Lord Horror. In the end I used a sketch by one of Schlemmer’s pupils, Klaus Barthelmess, for the Horror figure but the Barthelmess drawing was also of a dancer, and is very similar to some of Schlemmer’s designs, especially the silver-headed robot-like figures that appear in the black section of the ballet.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reverbstorm: Bauhaus Horror

 


René Binet revisited

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I wrote something about French designer and architect René Binet (1866–1911) a few years ago while exploring the creation of the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. Binet designed the remarkable monumental gate that formed the entrance to the exhibition, a structure that demonstrated his proposal that natural forms might replace historical pastiche as a basis for architecture.

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A book by Binet and Gustave Geffroy, Esquisses Décoratives (1905), argued the case with 60 plates showing Binet’s designs for new forms of architectural style and decor derived in part from the plates in Ernst Haeckel’s Kunst-Formen der Natur. At the time of the earlier post there wasn’t a copy of the book online but there is now thanks to the Smithsonian Libraries and the Internet Archive. In addition to architectural designs there are suggestions for various forms of jewellery based on Haeckel’s radiolarians and other organisms. See the rest of the plates here or download the book here.

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“feed your head”

 

Below the fold

 

Penda's Fen by David Rudkin