Weekend links 338

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At the mountains of madness, fragment I (2014–16) by Céli Lee.

Spirits of Place, edited by John Reppion: new writings from Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, Vajra Chandrasekera, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Kristine Ong Muslim, Dr. Joanne Parker, Mark Pesce, Iain Sinclair, Gazelle Amber Valentine and Damien Williams.

• “Are we wrong to neglect [Jean Cocteau]? We are.” Kevin Jackson reviews Jean Cocteau: A Life, a biography by Claude Arnaud that’s finally available in an English edition (translated by Lauren Elkin & Charlotte Mandell). Related: Jean Cocteau speaks to the year 2000.

Void Beats / Invocation Trex by Cavern of Anti-Matter has been one of my favourite music releases this year. Tim Gane talks about the inadvertent origin of the group, and there’s also the welcome news of a reissue for the scarce first album, Blood Drums.

• Pauline Oliveros: 1932–2016; Geeta Dayal looks back on the life of US composer Pauline Oliveros, including reflections from, amongst others, Betsey Biggs, Fred Frith, Terry Riley, and Morton Subotnick.

• The relaunched Jayde Design website is selling copious Moorcock publications and ephemera, back issues of New Worlds magazine, and much else besides, including rare works of my own.

• New from Mute Records: Richard H. Kirk #7489 (Collected Works 1974–1989) and Sandoz #9294 (Collected Works 1992–1994).

• Drawings by Austin Osman Spare are on display for the next two weeks at the Atlantis Bookshop, London.

The Architecture of the Overlap: Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, scanned in three dimensions.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 201 by Félicia Atkinson, and FACT mix 579 by Jenny Hval.

• “No one has the slightest idea what is and isn’t cultural appropriation,” says Fredrik deBoer.

• I’m never keen on end-of-year lists but I’ll read any list that John Waters writes.

• “The Driller Killer and the humanist behind the blood and sickening crunch”.

• More Lovecraft: Stories to make you say UGH! by Pete Von Sholly.

Alan Moore talks to Stewart Lee.

At The Mountains Of Madness (1968) by H.P. Lovecraft | Mountains Falling (2001) by Bluebob | Mountains Crave (2012) by Anna von Hausswolff

Weekend links 286

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One of Faig Ahmed‘s melted Azerbaijani rugs.

• “I asked [William Burroughs] about the future of typography and he said that letterforms would go back to hieroglyphs, similar to the ancient Egyptians.” Jonathan Barnbrook discussing the thinking behind his design for blackstar, the new David Bowie album.

• “…a thick, yellow fog fills the air, sinks, crawls on the very ground; at 30 paces a house or a steam-ship look like ink-stains on blotting paper.” PD Smith review London Fog, a history of the capital’s lethal pea-soupers by Christine Corton.

• At Rue Morgue: Dejan Ognjanovic asks seven writers and editors why HP Lovecraft is still relevant. Related: big thanks to Paul Gallagher for plugging my Lovecraft calendar at Dangerous Minds.

• Some end-of-year weirdness from Moon Wiring Club: Into The Chattering Ground, a sample of the new releases available at the MWC website.

Elaine Lustig Cohen: accidental graphic designer. Related: book covers and other designs by Elaine Lustig Cohen.

• The tomb that architect John Soane built for his wife inspired the shape of Gilbert Scott’s red telephone box.

• Mix of the week: Stephen O’Malley at the controls of Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone on BBC Radio 6.

• At Dirge Magazine: S. Elizabeth talks to Alice Rogers about art and occultism.

Simon Callow on taking 25 years to write a three-volume life of Orson Welles.

Todd Haynes on Cate Blanchett, Saul Leiter and Queer Cinema.

Le Freak (1978) by Chic | Freak (2003) by LFO | Jovan Freak (Rune Lindbaek Nomaden Mix) (2012) by Georges Vert

London ruins

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Soane’s Bank of England as a Ruin (1830) by Joseph Gandy.

Joseph Gandy’s painting of the Bank of England does indeed show the building as a ruin but the painting was also intended to show the architectural layout of the place, hence the intact quarters in the lower left. The architect, John Soane, was a friend of Gandy’s, and owned the painting which usually hangs in the Soane Museum, one of my favourite places in London. Gandy’s painting is currently on display at Tate Britain as part of a new exhibition, Ruin Lust, which also features some other favourites of mine including John Martin’s The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum (1822), and Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), a work which really needs to be seen in situ. Soane’s Bank of England, incidentally, had a less Romantic ending when it was demolished in the 20th century to make way for a newer building.

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The New Zealander (1872) by Gustave Doré.

Also included in the exhibition is Gustave Doré’s surprising view of London in the distant future, the last plate in London: A Pilgrimage (1872). Visitors to Italy and Greece in the 18th and 19th century were fascinated by the idea that a city with the former splendour of Rome could have been reduced to a handful of marble ruins. This prompted the obvious thought that equally splendid cities such as London—in Doré’s time the most populous city in the world—would themselves be reduced to ruin one day. Doré’s picture illustrates a fleeting reference in Blanchard Jerrold’s text to a passage by Thomas Babington Macaulay concerning the longevity of the Roman Catholic Church. At the end of a lengthy paragraph Macaulay writes:

And she [the Church] may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.

I hadn’t traced this quote before but can see now that Doré was evidently familiar with it since he’s given his future New Zealander a sketch book. It’s typical of Doré to expand on a tiny detail in this way. There are plenty of recent views of London in ruins but this is a rare example from an earlier century. If anyone knows of any others then please leave a comment.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Mérigot’s Ruins of Rome
Pleasure of Ruins
Vedute di Roma

Silent Engine

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Artist/composer Paul Schütze unveiled some new photo prints this weekend, a series he calls Silent Engine. At first glance I thought the view on the left above was indeed an engine interior, with that radial construction being some kind of extractor fan. But these are actually nocturnal views of one of my favourite places in London, Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The photos use only the available light which makes Soane’s collection of ancient sculpture and architectural fragments seem like the components of some antiquarian generator. Anyone familiar with Schütze’s 1997 album Second Site will know that this isn’t the first time he’s applied the word “engine” to architecture.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Paul Schütze online

Pleasure of Ruins

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The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures. How old is this world! I walk between two eternities.

Denis Diderot, 1767

Ruins, as Diderot observed, are the memento mori of civilisations, a reminder that the apparent permanence of architecture is illusory: this too shall pass. Rose Macaulay explored the melancholy pleasure inspired by this contemplation in Pleasure of Ruins (1953), a book I was reminded of on two separate occasions this weekend. Before I get to those I can’t resist showing something of my own copy of Macaulay’s study, a heavyweight volume (286 pp, 346mm x 260mm) published by Thames & Hudson in 1964. This was the third book by Canadian photographer Roloff Beny who made a habit of photographing ancient ruins. Here he visits Angkor, Tintern Abbey, Persepolis, Petra, Baalbek, Leptis Magna, Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu and elsewhere to embellish Macaulay’s text with 160 photogravure pages, 12 tipped-in colour plates, and maps of the locations on fold-out spreads. Beny also designed the book which even in my rather scuffed and damp-afflicted copy is an impressive example of the mass-produced edition as work-of-art.

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Metallic silver printing on the endpapers.

Rick Poynor provided the first mention of Macaulay’s book in a piece of polemic justifiably disputing the pejorative term “ruin porn”, an epithet that’s appeared recently among critics of those fascinated by photos of abandoned Detroit, or Battleship Island off the coast of Japan. If photos of ruins are “ruin porn” then Roloff Beny’s books must count as hardcore, while my National Trust Book of Ruins is evidently a government-sponsored sex manual. Poynor notes the criticism being a particularly American one, and wonders whether some Americans fail to appreciate the long cultural and political history of the ruin in Europe. Plenty of European cities have ruins in their midst, whether ancient ones like London Wall and the centre of Rome, or more recent ones like the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin and Coventry Cathedral, both partially destroyed during the Second World War. An appreciation of ruins began in the 18th century and evolved in tandem with the emergence of antiquarianism. Prior to this, ancient ruins were either a nuisance or a resource to be plundered for their stones. (Or, as can be seen in some of Piranesi’s Views of Rome, a convenient support for shops and houses.)

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From ruin porn to Ruin lust: our love affair with decaying buildings, an essay by Brian Dillon which covers similar ground to Poynor’s piece, and discusses Rose Macaulay’s interest in ruins, an interest that survived being bombed out of her home during the war. This is a great run through the usual suspects, from the Romantics (with a nod to Fonthill Abbey) to JG Ballard’s obsession with the remnants of the Cold War and the Space Age. Dillon mentions the painting John Soane commissioned from Joseph Gandy showing his Bank of England building as a future ruin. And he also recounts the story (which I heard repeated recently in a Robert Hughes documentary) of Hitler’s demands to Albert Speer during their planning of the future capital of the Third Reich, Germania, that the buildings should make good ruins. It’s impossible to imagine anyone today planning a building as a future ruin even though many will end up that way, if they last at all.

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If it wasn’t already apparent that ruins are the thing du jour, a current exhibition at Dundee Contemporary Arts is of photographic prints by Jane and Louise Wilson showing views of abandoned Pripyat, better known as the town at the heart of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Rick Poynor refers to Pripyat in his piece, and it’s also an inevitable subject of discussion in Geoff Dyer’s latest book, Zona, an exploration of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker where a disused power station adds a more sinister quality to the pleasure of ruins.

More pages from Roloff Beny’s book follow.

Continue reading “Pleasure of Ruins”