Tag: Art

The Library of the Future

In Nordmarka, Norway, 30km outside of Oslo, a thousand trees have been planted for a very special purpose: the library of the future. In 2115 they will be used to make paper for a collection of books.

The Framstidsbiblioteket, or Future Library, is a 100-year project launched by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. In every year from 2014 until 2114, a notable writer will give one piece of writing, destined to remain unread until after the project has concluded. The purpose is to give readers of the future a fresh anthology of works by some of the century’s greatest writers.

Starting the Future Library off in 2014 was Margeret Atwood, five-time nominee for the Man Booker Prize, who gave a work entitled ’Scribbler Moon’. She said of the project: “Future Library is bound to attract a lot of attention over the decades, as people follow the progress of the trees, note what takes up residence in and around them, and try to guess what the writers have put into their sealed boxes.”

The second contributor, for the year 2015, was David Mitchell who contributed a piece called ‘From Me Flows What You Call Time’. Mitchell said “Civilisation, according to one of those handy Chinese proverbs, is the basking in the shade of trees planted a hundred years ago, trees which the gardener knew would outlive him or her, but which he or she planted anyway for the pleasure of people not yet born. I accepted the Future Library’s invitation to participate because I would like to plant such a tree.”

“The project is a vote of confidence that, despite the catastrophist shadows under which we live, the future will still be a brightish place willing and able to complete an artistic endeavour begun by long-dead people a century ago. Imagine if the Future Library had been conceived in 1914, and a hundred authors from all over the world had written a hundred volumes between 1915 and today, unseen until now – what a human highway through time to be a part of. Contributing and belonging to a narrative arc longer than your own lifespan is good for your soul.”

In 2016, Icelandic artist Sjón’s piece ‘As My Brow Brushes On The Tunics Of Angels or The Drop Tower, the Roller Coaster, the Whirling Cups and other Instruments of Worship from the Post-Industrial Age’. Patterson, who came up with the Future Library concept said of Sjón; “Sjón creates a world of metamorphosis: his poetic works weave together history and myth, folklore, ancient storytelling, the surreal and the magical, through the language of past and contemporary Icelandic.”

“His writing is dynamic and melodic, and like Future Library, interlaces the human and natural world through stretches of time. In addition to writing poems, novels, plays, librettos, lyrics, and children’s books, Sjón often collaborates with other artists and musicians, so I am very excited about the possibilities his contribution will bring to this hidden library growing through the trees.”

The most recent addition to the project is Turkish author Elif Shafak. Patterson spoke about Shafak saying “her work dissolves boundaries: cultural, geographic, political, ideological, religious and spiritual, and embraces a plurality of voices. Her storytelling is magical and profound, creating connectivity between people and places: a signal of hope at a particularly divided moment in time.”

The works will be kept in a purpose-built room in the New Deichmanske Public Library that will be opening in Bjørvika, Oslo. The room, designed by Patterson, will utilise wood from the forest and will try to emulate the tranquility. There will be a list of the name’s and titles of the works included in the project, however, none will be revealed until 2114.

You can watch a short video about the project, featuring Margaret Atwood, below:

In Conversation with HOME’s film programming team

By reaching out to all demographics of its area, independent arts organisations are a wonderful way to build community in large cities. Here in Manchester, we have HOME, a place where film, theatre, art, and dance converge. But how do film societies work, and what do they do?

A core element of building a film society is its programming, which involves developing an audience through the venue’s choice of films and events. Independent arts organisations such as HOME work on a basis of consent and consensus between the staff and the audience, meaning that the films and events put on must reflect the audience’s taste by finding a balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the old and the new, the popular and the obscure.

It is that balance that the film programming team attempt to perfect with every season though multiple facets.

A crucial one is the lengthened running time in the cinema or a slower turnover of what gets screened. HOME’s Cinema 5 allows there to be a rotation of films, a room able to seat around 40 people, and is a unique space that allows opportunities to approach artists through Q&As (although these can take place in any of their cinema rooms), which is a step towards making the cinema goer’s experience an immersive and enlightening one.

Being a part of a large city, the people working at HOME take it upon themselves to reach out to different demographics/communities in the area It is important for any film society to develop an ethos surrounding their film programming. HOME Mcr has done so by limiting the amount of Hollywood/Blockbuster films, ensuring that a certain number of films are UK/World cinema, showcasing a proportion of documentaries and animation each film calendar, but also by making sure each season to programme a film which reaches out to a certain community in the area. For example, hosting half of the Jewish Film Festival, discounted tickets for students in Manchester, a £1 ticket scheme for people from an impoverished background, or hosting a workshop in January for creatives with disabilities.

By installing such initiatives, HOME has seen results and proven how important programming is within the building of a film society’s audience and their loyalty to the organisation. There is a real creation of community, and the volunteers within HOME help this community function and thrive. Film societies depend on a large staff of both employees and volunteers, who either indirectly or directly tend to the audience’s experiences, by greeting the audience, introducing them to the concept of HOME or simply talking about the event they are about to or have just seen.

Places like HOME make it their duty to prevent certain films from falling into the abyss, or not being widely shared with future generations – planned well in advance, “States of Danger and Deceit” had been in the making for over a year in order to coalesce with the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. This is when the idea to showcase a retrospective of European thrillers came up. Senior Visiting Curator for HOME and Film Studies Professor at the University of Salford, Andy Willis expressed his personal concern that some canonical, pivotal films of his generation had never been heard of before by his film students.

At the centre of the film team is the Film Programmer for HOME, Rachel Hayward, and is pivotal to the smooth running of each film calendar. Her role involves a lot of public relations, connecting and creating links with people in the industry, as in Arts organisations, the employees are all trying to share the art, whether that be theatre, paintings, or films. “Everyone tries to help each other,” Rachel explained, when talking about the process of putting together a film season for HOME, locating often niche material and obtaining the rights to showcase it.

HOME’s Artistic Director Jason Wood started off as a filmmaker, but after co-directing three films, realised “it was going to be quite hard to make a career out of”, then moving on to work in distribution. At Entertainment Film Distributors, Jason worked on releasing independent films, including Paul Thomas Anderson’s first two films, and Se7en by David Fincher. Progressing to work in exhibition at Picture House cinemas for ten years as programming manager, he then joined the team at Curzon Artificial Eye as director of programming for five years, and during this time began to write film articles, notably for Sight & Sound and The Guardian.

What appealed to Jason about Curzon, in the beginning, was that “they were a cinema which showed almost exclusively independent films, not many of the Hollywood blockbusters”. It was when “they wanted to go much more mainstream with their programming”, partly due to financial benefits, that Jason knew he couldn’t work with them anymore.

Previously, Jason had been involved with the Cornerhouse in Manchester and their film programme, and gradually developed much more affinity with their agenda than that of Curzon’s. The opportunity then came up at HOME for Jason to take on the role of artistic director, in “a cinema that was truly a space for independent thought and filmmaking.”

What Jason, Rachel, and Andy work towards developing at HOME is a “film programme led by culture, not by commerce”, showing films that might have an alternative point of view from the mainstream or an urgent commentary regarding race, class, gender and/or sexuality. HOME has “proven that you can show a film programme which is led by culture and not just a need to make money”. In fact, as HOME’s cultural led programming has been so successful, other venues have reached out to the programming team to programme their venues as well, such as the Art House in London.

The people behind places like HOME are truly committed to the idea of culturally led entertainment and have shown what the cinema-going experience can be like if you treat your audience with respect, sensitivity, but also financial inclusion.

In Conversation with Kevin Everson

Kevin Jerome Everson, fresh from a mid-career retrospective at London’s TATE Modern, travelled up to HOME to screen a selection of his short films with producer Madeleine Molyneaux. Viewers were treated to multiple UK premieres as well as a Q&A, hosted by HOME’s Artistic Director Sarah Perks.

Born in Ohio and based at the University of Virginia, Everson is an award-winning artist and filmmaker and is regarded as one of the most important and creative filmmakers currently working in the USA. Despite this though he remains humble, ‘I’m just from a small town, I just make things and I’m fascinated by people who want to see what I do.’

Art as an opportunity only caught his attention at college. There he studied photography, printmaking and sculptures, before that he was ‘just a big dumb jock’. Since then his films have screened at festivals such as Sundance and Toronto International Film Festival and are praised for their unique style, combining scripted and documentary elements with an obvious formalistic approach. The focus is almost entirely on the African-American experience within the working class whilst abstaining from any generic socio-politcal commentaries.

The 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship winner exhibits a strong sense of labour in his work, ‘I’m very privileged to be an artist, so I try to find artistry in the everyday lives of workers.’ One film in particular, Company Line (2009), centres around a group of city employees battling the snowy conditions to grit the streets.

‘I make films for the subject matter not the viewer, so I’m conscious about how they look and what they say. I find the people who are the best at what they do, and capture them doing it.’ A large section of Company Line is riding along with a particular snowplough driver, watching him at work. There are deeper remarks about 20th century African-American migration to the northern US present here too, depicting a class seldom mentioned let alone seen on film.

The town shown, Mansfield, Ohio, is Everson’s home town and the film was used as part of a trilogy about the first three black neighbourhoods in America. In the early 1970’s the land they lived on was purchased and all the residents in that neighbourhood were scattered all around.

There are more unusual films in his catalogue too. For example Rough and Unequal is a 16mm project where he used a telescope to capture the moon and stars. Commissioned specifically for an exhibition at the Franklin Museum of Art, it was designed to have an effect on the art space as a whole, changing the audiences perceptions of all the pieces on display throughout its runtime.

More recently his 2017 work Brown and Clear that was shown at TIFF divided audiences. It takes place in a bar and shows a man filling up empty bottles with alcohol for the whole 7 minutes and 40 second runtime. Naturally this would immediately turn off a subset of viewers but the variety of techniques utilised make this an intriguing watch.

The story behind the film is similarly intriguing. Everson was visiting a relative and came to the pub he ran. Instantly he was looking at his surroundings for potential subjects. He noted that ‘it was all of questionable legality’. After going back home he decided to drive the eight hours back to film the relative at work.

Medium to close shots are intentional to mask the location and identity to avoid any police trouble. There are numerous interpretations to the underlying meaning of Brown and Clear, one member of the audience suggested that it ‘was a comment on alcoholism’. Everson himself agreed with this adding ‘where I’m from you didn’t get all the fancy alcohol choices you guys have, it was either brown, like bourbon or brandy, or white, like vodka or moonshine.’

Working with a colleague at the University of Virginia, he also makes period films about the history of African-Americans. ‘When we show them in front of the school where there are people of European descent they get upset but they’re not in it. Whether it’s positive or negative they want to be at the centre of it’

Although his art is focussed on the African-American experience, it is unavoidable that it would be primarily shown to white audiences, whether that be at a film festival or a gallery. The main objective though is to spark discussion about the social, political and economic condition present. ‘I never know what people will think when they watch my films but I just try to be consistent. If not then fuck it, i’ll just film more tomorrow.’

2017 Film Challenge – June

Here we are, half way through the year. 6 months have passed in a flash. This has been a productive month with me moving house, starting another job and getting an invitation to a preview screening of an upcoming major release plus an interview with the leading actor/writer! Watch this space for more on this, as a hint for the film it was a smash it at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. This month I watched 13 movies bringing us to a grand total of 155. This is 30 above our needed pace so I’m confident this can easily be reached. Here are the films I saw, and my opinions of them (reviews are linked).

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  • The Big Lebowski x2 – What can I say? Whenever I’m stuck for ideas on what to watch, this is my fallback choice. A masterpiece
  • Horrible Bosses – From a masterpiece to, well, the absolute opposite. An unfunny, unoriginal and lazy film. I cannot recommend this less.
  • The Pianist – A harrowing war-time picture about Polish Jews in Warsaw during World War 2. Uncomfortable to watch at times and with scenes that will stay with you for a while.
  • Project X – This is less of a movie more of a music video to the soundtrack. If you’re not into house music or house parties, this one isn’t for you.
  • Interstellar – Perhaps my favourite film of all time, a science fiction film like no other. Thought provoking and visually stunning, a must watch for an Sci-Fi or Nolan fan.
  • The Red Turtle – An enchanting tale of a man shipwrecked on an island. Purely visual, wholly entertaining. Another beautiful film by Studio Ghibli.
  • Rush Hour – The buddy cop sub-genre is massively oversaturated but the electric chemistry between Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan makes this one of the better examples.
  • War Dogs – Another average Rise/Fall film that gets pumped out seemingly every month by one studio of another. Miles Teller and Jonah Hill are the saving graces here making it worth a watch if you are a fan of either.
  • Dodgeball – Incredibly silly and over the top but never feels like too much. Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn are both great in their roles. A hilarious sports comedy.
  • Secret Life of Walter Mitty – In my opinion this is Ben Stiller’s best directorial effort. An ambitious, spectacle of a film, it achieves everything it sets out to do.
  • Reservoir Dogs – A phenomenal debut film by Tarrentino. Unrelenting in its violence, snappy in its dialogue and surprising in its intellectual depth.
  • My Life as a Courgette – A charming stop motion film about a group of kids living in a children’s home. It features a beautiful soundtrack, adorable characters and with a very short 71 minute run time, there is no excuse not to see it.

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Best Films of the Month:

  1. Interstellar
  2. My Life as a Courgette
  3. The Big Lebowski
  4. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  5. Reservoir Dogs

Most Watched Films:

  1. The Big Lebowski (6)
  2. La La Land (3)
  3. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (3)
  4. Dodgeball (2)
  5. War Dogs (2)

The Big Lebowski is starting to pull away now. I’m sure that it’ll achieve double figures by the end of the year, probably being the only film to do it. No other film so far this year has had the same easy viewing vibe but we are only half way through so a lot could happen. La La Land has sadly been stuck at 3 watches for the past few months, I think I exhausted myself. It will get a couple more this year but whether it’ll still be second or even on the top 5 remains to be seen.

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To check out the months you have missed, click one of the following links:

Review: The Red Turtle

Studio Ghibli’s comeback centers around a stranded young man who’s only company is a domesticated group of crabs, battling with solitude, surrealism and finding serenity in his reality. Shipwrecked, the initial part of the movie follows the young man day and night as he comes to terms with what has happened to him. Determined to leave the island, he builds a sturdy raft made from bamboo (a major fixture in the landscape of the island), yet at every attempt to sail away, a mysterious marine being destroys his makeshift vessel. The tension builds and builds, coming to head when the man encounters the titular Red Turtle on the sand, turning it over on its shell to die in an act of warranted frustration. What happens next is the beginning of a mystical journey and is a fantastic piece of non-verbal story-telling.

The Red Turtle’s lack of a tangible plot will turn off certain viewers, as the story is more about the underlying meaning of the experience and journey than a neatly tied up ending. The story is not about him returning to civilisation, but more to do with his acceptance of the situation and his experiences on this fruitful island. The beauty in this wordless tale is most certainly the lucid-dreaming effect it produces on the viewer.

Avoiding over-saturation in all areas, the artwork is striking in its minimalism and refinement of details. Vivid colour palettes help contribute towards a fuller immersion into the magical realism of this story. To reinforce this, Dudok De Wit’s choice to emphasise the island’s isolation add to the viewer’s dreamlike state, which permits the more fantastical events that occur to be unquestioned.

Laurent Perez del Mar’s soundtrack seamlessly fills the space and need for dialogue, perfectly tailored to the emotional waves of the film. The music feels almost spiritual, again transporting us from any notion of this film being one-dimensional.

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During the film, I frequently found myself associating the atmosphere and deeper existential journey with much of Haruki Murakami’s literature and the vivid pictures he creates. Both Murakami and The Red Turtle merged western and Asian themes, creating culturally rich stories. Similar elements to Murakami’s magical realism such as giving animals a human-like depth or making the surreal believable are present in The Red Turtle. The film’s effect reminded me that many readers of Murakami have stated the experience of reading his work is the closest they have come to lucid-dreaming.

As much as the film is enchanting, one can but wonder what the underlying meaning to this fable is. Our main character starts off utterly alone on the island, which I perceived as the man’s inability to forge social connections around him in society. The Red Turtle can be seen as another person before he makes the connection (or in other words a stranger). When the shell cracks, it is the beginning of the connection being made. He then finds life more bearable and stops trying to leave.

The non-existence of dialogue or narration and universal theme of Man’s basic need for companionship used together makes The Red Turtle a unique film that transcends boundaries of language, culture and age, all of whom can in one way or another identify with the story at hand.

It is inevitable that one will be left pondering the larger questions of life, such as what it means to be human, what makes Man desire social interaction contrasted to the need for solitude and the fragile balance of one’s reality. The major theme that contains all these sub-interrogations is the cycle of life: birth, death and re-birth. The Red Turtle is the acknowledgement of Nature’s way of always restoring balance in life, and how death is an integral part of that.

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Review: Sky Ladder

The art of Cai Guo-qiang is like a moment in time. A drop of creativity in the pool of conventionalism. Kevin MacDonald’s Sky Ladder explores the artistic process behind his work, the origins of his illustrious career, and the shackles of patriotic ‘collaboration’.

From humble beginnings in Zhangou, the historic origin of fireworks, Guo-qiang’s father, Cai Ruiqin, was a highly respected calligrapher. A craft allowing for little personal expression, he found solace in books, regularly spending entire weekly salaries acquiring them to the detriment of his family. ‘It’s my fortune’ he told his son, ‘and one day that will be yours, too’.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be, as a drastic new ideology was sweeping through China. Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution cleansed society of so-called bourgeois elements bleaching huge periods in history, paralysing the country politically and economically. A dangerous time for classical artists and musicians, Ruiqin was forced to burn his extensive collection of books and in turn watched his son’s future reduced to ash.

And it is from those very ashes that a phoenix rises, one symbolising the flourishing of art and culture through the 1980s, the true Cultural Revolution. A time for experimentation, to push the limits of what is possible. For Guo-qiang, this was gunpowder. To essentially destroy a classical portrait through controlled detonation and call it art, to call that moment art, was simply unheard of, yet his work established a niche in the contemporary art community launching him on a trajectory to international fame.

Little by little, a shift towards a capitalistic government is becoming evident. One that takes art in it’s purist form, strips away the passion and replaces it with fanfare and melodrama. There is no greater example in Guo-qiang’s life than his 2001 APEC Conference firework show. It was conceived as a cacophony of sight and sound, coupled with suggestive themes, his trademark. With potentially the most symbolic scene following, a meeting with government officials, we watch as an increasingly desperate Guo-qiang clings to his ideas with every aspect deemed against agenda. ‘The government is here to help you’ he’s told, ‘you just have to figure out something creative with all these chains on you’. Prevented from abandoning the project from latent patriotism, the resulting soulless display is a tragedy, both for himself and, through MacDonald’s candid filmmaking, the viewer.

When an artists achieves high popularity, the likes of Damien Hirst for example, they become a brand, a large cog in the capitalist machine – often losing sight of their original cause. This issue is presented matter-of-factly, illustrating MacDonald’s disdain for the current art environment. To avoid this fate, Guo-qiang works with the unknown. Those who create for passion and self-fulfilment, the foundations of greatness. His long-awaited dream, to connected Earth to the Universe through a ‘Sky Ladder’, has wrestled with the requirement of investment. A costly venture that has suffered multiple cancellations over two decades (due to issues with weather, and an unfortunate increase in security following 9/11 terror attacks), he plans one final attempt. This time not for the eyes of the world however, but for family and friends, especially dedicated to his almost 100 year old grandmother. The affair is a poignant reminder of the struggles faced by Chinese virtuosi, with work completed in secret to avoid interference from the government. After more delays due to bad weather, Guo-qiang seizes his opportunity and what follows is simply joyous, a euphoric spectacle as dream becomes reality. His masterpiece, realised.

Sky Ladder is akin to peering through the keyhole. A brief glimpse into an ordinary man with truly extraordinary ambitions. Driven not by money, but by an incessant need to provoke discussion, instil a sense of wonder and most of all, to make his family proud. An event almost lost to the ages, MacDonald’s documentary is an astonishing extension of Guo-qiang’s art, a profound experience and an honour to watch.