Weekend links 287

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Cover by Valentine Hugo for Contes Bizarres (1933) by Achim d’Arnim. See Hugo’s interior illustrations here.

• “In spite of the blood-drinking pursuits of Rollin’s protagonists, there’s very little in the way of body horror to be found. His undead are sensual, romantic creatures that are frequently delicate of mind and body. These movies attempt to evoke nuanced emotional responses with their mixture of romance, loss, eroticism, and tragedy.” Tenebrous Kate on Sex, Death, and the Psychedelic Madness of Jean Rollin.

• “Late at night, [Melville] ‘turned flukes’ down Oxford Street as if he were being followed by a great whale, and thought he saw ‘blubber rooms’ in the butcheries of the Fleet Market.” Philip Hoare on Herman Melville’s time in London.

Haunted by Books, a new collection of writings by Mark Valentine, “explores the more curious byways of literature.” Full details at the home of the esoteric, Tartarus Press.

I am completely an elitist, in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it’s an expert gardener at work, or a good carpenter chopping dovetails, or someone tying a Bimini hitch that won’t slip.

Art critic Robert Hughes quoted in a review by Siri Hustvedt of The Spectacle of Skill: Selected Writings of Robert Hughes

• “Art, art – I couldn’t give a crap about art.” Oscar Wilde’s nephew, Arthur Cravan, puts in another appearance at Strange Flowers.

• “The Tarot is utterly fascinating,” says Evan J. Peterson discussing his Tarot-inspired writing with Tarot Poetry.

Manuel Göttsching: “A lot of crazy music happened at the end of the ’60s, very strange, and very curious…”

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 169 by Chra, and 28th November 2015 by The Séance.

Czech Artists’ Radical Book Designs of the Early 20th Century

• Ten things you might not know about Yayoi Kusama.

• More megaliths: Francis Pryor on ritual landscapes.

Peaches gets wild in the desert: Rub (uncensored).

Irmin Schmidt‘s favourite records (this week)

Mount Etna erupts

Rituals (1981) by Bush Tetras | Ballet For A Blue Whale (1983) by Adrian Belew | Etna (2006) by Boris & Sunn O)))

Weekend links 123

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La Perspective Curieuse (1663) by Jean François Nicéron. From Curious Perspectives at BibliOdyssey.

1612 Underture is a forthcoming album by The Eccentronic Research Council and Maxine Peake which extends the electronics + occult concept to encompass Kraftwerk and the Pendle Witches. The Quietus has a review of their album, and an interview and report about a recent live performance (I missed the latter, unfortunately), while the Guardian’s interview with the splendid Ms Peake reveals that “musically, her tastes range from Japanese black metal, garage rock and folk, to techno and psychobilly.” The famous Lancashire witches also happen to be the subject of Jeanette Winterson’s latest novel, The Daylight Gate.

• Yet more Marker: The Owl’s Legacy: Chris Marker’s 13-Part Search for Western Culture’s Foundations in Ancient Greece, and J. Hoberman on The Lost Futures of Chris Marker.

Dr Oliver Sacks talks about how hallucinogenic drugs helped him empathize with his patients.

Paulo Coelho’s ill-judged Joyce-bashing has made him a butt of scorn this week, but he’s a safe target because, with books that multitask a little too openly as self-help manuals, he’s not so clubbable. Unlike, say, Ian McEwan, who not-that-differently declared against “the dead hand of modernism“, for all the world as if the dominant literary mode in post-war England was Steinian experimentation or some Albion Oulipo, against which young Turks hold out with limpidly observed interiority, decodable metaphors, strained middle-class relationships and eternal truths of the human condition(TM).

China Miéville on the always contentious future of the novel.

The Foliate Head: a new book by Marly Youmans with illustrations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Hysterical Literature: Session Two: Alicia reads from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

Dreaming in Dirigibles: The Airship Postcard Albums of Lord Ventry.

The Art of the Literary Fake (with Violin) by Jeff VanderMeer.

RIP Neil Armstrong, first human on the Moon.

Macho Man: Morgan Meis on Robert Hughes.

• Book covers by Hannes Bok.

This Is Now!

Squid Moth

Lunar Rhapsody (1947) by Dr Samuel J. Hoffman | Lunar Musick Suite (1976) by Steve Hillage | Back Side Of The Moon (Steve Hillage’s Under Water Deep Space Remix) (1991) by The Orb.

Robert Hughes, 1938–2012

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Read this book. Revised edition, 1991, no designer credited.

“Robert Hughes”: those were the first words I wrote in the first post for this blog, six years ago, referencing a piece Hughes had written about Rembrandt for the Guardian that week. Re-reading his polemic Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America earlier this year I was feeling guilty about not having read more of his books; in slight mitigation I did watch every appearance of his on British television following The Shock of the New, and still have his American Visions series imprisoned on VHS in a box somewhere, along with The Fatal Shore, The New Shock of the New, some one-off things he did about Barcelona and Goya, and Visions of Space, a series of three films about European architects: Albert Speer, Mies van der Rohe, and Antonio Gaudi. Thanks to YouTube many of these exceptional documentaries can be given a fresh viewing; follow the links. Hughes used to write for the Guardian regularly so it’s no surprise they’ve filled several pages with memorials:

Obituary by Michael McNay
“Robert Hughes was Australia’s Dante,” says his friend Peter Carey
Robert Hughes on art
Robert Hughes quotes: 20 of the best

Elsewhere:
NYT obituary by Randy Kennedy
“Robert Hughes: The art critic with a dash of the streetfighter”: Judith Flanders at the Telegraph
At Open Culture: Remembering Robert Hughes, the Art Critic Who Took No Prisoners

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”

Land art

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Spiral Jetty.

Reading this story about an ownership dispute over Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty in Utah had me searching out his celebrated artwork on Google Maps. It’s easy to find since Google have many of the well-known pieces of 1970s land art marked on their satellite views. Having found Smithson’s construction I went looking for a few more.

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City.

Less easy to find, since it’s not marked and the artist forbids visitors, is Michael Heizer’s enormous and enigmatic City, an earthwork complex he’s been constructing in the Nevada desert since the early 70s. From the air it looks like a secret military base, the art area being the diagonal arrangement of structures on this view while the squares to the right are the artist’s home. I’ve been fascinated by this creation ever since a part of it, Complex One, was featured in Robert Hughes’s The Shock of the New, not least for Hughes’s assertion that these remote works impel an act of pilgrimage on any would-be visitors. This page has more about City and some of the few photos which have been released of its structures. See also A Sculptor’s Colossus of the Desert and Art’s Last, Lonely Cowboy.

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Roden Crater.

Equally remote, and for the time being inaccessible to the public, is James Turrell’s Roden Crater in Arizona, an extinct volcano which Turrell has been converting into an enormous viewing space for astronomical events and the transitory effects of natural light. This was begun in 1978 and seems like it may actually get finished, unlike Heizer’s construction site. This NYT article discusses the work’s history while Paul Schütze has recent photos of site details as well as a free download of some of the music he’s composed for the interior.

Continue reading “Land art”