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June 19, 2010

Richard Long: ‘Heaven and Earth’ at Tate Britain

June 15, 2009

On a day off  I managed to get down to the Richard Long exhibition at the Tate Britain. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite sure how much I would enjoy it, being unfamiliar with his work and still associating a childhood sense of  boredom with the word ‘landscape’. I clearly hadn’t escaped London for far too long.

A retrospective collection which spans work dating back to the early ’60s through to recent years, Long’s work captivates the imagination as only the outdoors can.

The hills and rivers of Britain and Ireland are particularly dominant in the earlier work and form some of the most inspiring moments in the exhibition. Anyone who has explored the land by foot, as is the concept behind most of Long’s art, would be hard-pushed not to find some memory springing up readily as they take in his verbal and visual representations of journeys travelled.

His later work is more ecclectic and spans continents from Africa to South America, combining photography with text to convey the scenes and sights he has witnessed.

Particularly striking are the textual representations of walks he has created through listing landmarks and details he has passed. One piece takes a journey from the North to the South of Spain and presents it entirely through written descriptions of the sounds he encountered. His use of maps as materials through which to indicate space and time over distance adds another dimension to his take on travel.

As a means of escape from the centre of London and to recconnect with the world beyond the city, this exhibition deserves its  recommendations.

Paying for online content – the future of newspapers or a privileged throw back to the past?

May 14, 2009

Firstly, another apology… the two jobs have continued and are now competing with exam revision for waking hours. Sorry blog.

But what’s being talked about among media folk , other than the continuing plethora of job cuts, pay freezes and general depleting morale (Scotsman staff, you have my condolences). News Corporation is looking to get you to pay to read its online content.

‘But, wasn’t that idea thrown out years ago?’, I hear you cry. ‘Isn’t that where we were before the age of free news everyone now takes for granted?’ ‘Aren’t we meant to be looking at other ways of funding journalism, advertising (pre-recession), benevolent grants, some kind of nationalisation??’

Murdoch: Free website model is 'malfunctioning' (Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

Murdoch: Free website model is 'malfunctioning' (Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

Certainly that is what online trailblazer Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post thinks: “But what won’t work”, she wrote in this week’s Observer, “– what can’t work – is to pretend that the last 15 years never happened, that we are still operating in the old content economy as opposed to what journalism professor Jeff Jarvis has called the new linked economy, and that the survival of the industry will be found by “protecting” content behind walled gardens.

“We’ve seen that movie – and consumers gave it lousy reviews.”

She’s certainly not the only one to hold this view, and as newspaper sales continue to decline year by year, with the exception of the odd anomaly, the lack of public willingness to pay for news seems all but apparent.

But before we write it off completely, I think more details are needed. As far as I’m aware, no one is sure exactly what form this paying-for-online-content is going to take.

For the two papers which currently charge for their online content, the Financial Times’ and The Wall Street Journal’s, there is an obvious nicé of premium content they provide.  Murdoch, who has said he is inspired by the latter’s success, is obviously not going to be unaware of the fundamental differences between his titles.

But if premium content is key, which logic suggests it should be, it is worth noting that with his media mogul status as the owner of the likes of News International (The Sun, News of the World, The Times, The Sunday Times) BSkyB, Fox, a long list of papers and wire services in Australasia, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal and, crucially, The Dow Jones in the States, he has a fair few resources to draw from.

It’s a very brave move and is out-of-step with the thinking across the vast majority of media organisations, but one which I doubt has been taken lightly. If anyone is in the position to make it work, Murdoch is probably in one of the strongest positions to do so.

Alistair Darling v David Cameron on budget day

April 22, 2009

‘Help’ and ‘support’ – provided for the people or being called for, however you want to read it – were the most frequently used words by chancellor, Alistair Darling in his budget speech today.

Darling calls for help and support to save Britain and its people from the worst recession since 1945

Darling calls for help and support to save Britain and its people from the worst recession since 1945

Tory leader, David Cameron, however, was quick to launch an attack on the government for creating a projected £1.4 trillion of public ‘debt’ and a record of (over) ‘spending’ in his response.

Cameron curses Labour government for reckless economic policy of borrowing and over-spending

Cameron curses Labour government for reckless economic policy of excessive borrowing and over-spending

Some might call it a simple example of effect followed by cause.

(Images created using Wordle).

Big Brother’s little brother and his guardian cousins, or the Metropolitan Police, the citizen journalist, The Guardian, the House of Commons and the assault on Ian Tomlinson at G20

April 9, 2009

Apologies for my recent absence. My dual commitments at the media outlet responsible for inspiring this post and at one of its rivals have meant that sleep and personal journalism have been locked in a bit of a battle for the past couple of weeks.

But now I am back and awake.

From the moment I saw amateur video of Ian Tomlinson being assaulted by a police officer in riot gear, moments before he collapsed and died from a heart attack, I have been glued to the subsequent media storm. Not only because of the horrific incident it disclosed and the damning blow it brings upon the Met, but because of the ironically reassuring message it sends out about the functioning of the third and fourth estates. (The House of Commons and the media).

The power of the citizen journalist is now irrefutable. No more so than when he has a video-recording device in his hand. Without the footage sent to and published on on Tuesday evening, it seems unlikely the current Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry into officers’ conduct last week would be taking place.

Likewise, the role of the more traditional, professional media has been shown to still play an invaluable role in holding authorities to account. I suspect the footage would have not been viewed worldwide so rapidly had it not been published by an authoritative source.

The call for a criminal inquiry was then made by the Liberal Democrats, proving the important role parliament plays in ensuring what is raised in the media cannot be ignored.

Many may now complain of a Big Brother society, in which a vast amount of our actions are surreptitiously filmed, tracked or recorded in some way. But the rise of the citizen journalist, aided by mobile and easy-to-use technology, means there is a little brother which has the power to hold the actions of its overseer to account.

And this week’s incident has shown, among many less admirable things, that there are at least still plenty of people willing to amplify and support the little brother’s voice.

Is Twitter here to stay?

March 25, 2009

Once again the primary school curriculum has had a shake up. I have no objection to the Victorians becoming an optional subject and as someone who studied Nazi Germany three times at school,  it would seem a good idea to allow teachers to choose their own topics. It might mean a few more children grow up knowing what happened between 1640 and 1914.

And I am not going to bemoan the matching in importance of typing with handwriting, (although I’m not quite sure why they need lessons  in how to use a spell-checker…)

But a specific curriculum objective in understanding Twitter? Wasn’t Yahoo quite big when today’s 11-year-olds were in year 3? And chat rooms?

While many teachers are no doubt groaning in horror at having to get to grips with the concept of tweeting and twhirl (though probably not those who have just come to this post via my memonote), I’m sure many nine-year-olds are happily updating their feeds. If not now, in six months they will be.

But in six years, when the current year 3 are all of 13? Anyone in a position to suggest the teaching of Twitter should surely recognise that it is likely to be replaced by another form of communication before long. If not, then I would suggest the idea is not much more than a gimmick designed to give the impression of forward-thinking.

I always thought the point of primary education was to provide the basic understanding of principles and concepts on which more specialist knowledge could be built. Of course this includes IT, the internet and social networking tools in a broad capacity, but to specify learning something likely to be so transient as Twitter seems to miss the point.

At a round table event at City University on Monday, online journalism experts, including The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss and the BBC’s Pete Clifton, all agreed Twitter will be replaced by something else as soon as it becomes completely mainstream. It has been the case with blogs and chatrooms, search engines and to an extent, myspace, which has been overtaken by the more popular facebook. Why should Twitter, a very simple concept with easy-to-copy technology be any different?

To suggest that Twitter is here to stay shows a short-sightedness only to be found among politicians.

First Night Review: The Hounding of David Oluwale

March 25, 2009

The Hounding of David Oluwale by Oladipo Agboluaje

  • Eclipse Theatre
  • Hackney Empire until Saturday

(Image courtesy of Ewan Thompson PR)

When David Oluwale’s body was dragged out of the river Aire in 1969, an investigation began, which led to two police officers being put on trial for manslaughter. They were found not-guilty, but both were convicted of assaulting the 38-year-old Nigerian. The light sentence remains to date, the only successful prosecution of police officer in British history.

Oladipo Agboluaje’s transfixing adaptation of the book, written by Kester Aspden after the case became available to view in 1999, begins at the moment Oluwale’s body is discovered. The audience then plays witness to a jigsaw reconstruction of his life, gleaned from the tenacious notes made by Perkins, a Scotland Yard inspector who was dedicated to unearthing the brutality and prejudice which lead to Oluwale’s death.

Daniel Francis is stunning as the lead. Portraying the twitches and convulsions of a man subjected to powerful medication, shock treatment and continual beatings, he physically conveys the inhumanity with which those deemed to be different can be treated. His contagious charisma in scenes set before and shortly after his arrival in the UK only makes his subsequent degeneration more haunting.

Perhaps excused by the new setting for this touring production, the play is let down slightly by some poorly positioned staging and the diction could at times be clearer from all.

But no audience could leave this production without feeling a shared understanding and utter revilement of the brutalising treatment which can reduce a bright and confident young man to a cowering animal-like creature.

Interview with Doreen Lawrence after the performance

After the play, Stephen Lawerence’s mother, Doreen, joined a panel discussion on discrimination in the police force. I caught up with her afterwards to ask her how she felt the play could make a difference. This is the video I made:

Review: Plays East at the Arcola Theatre, Hackney

March 10, 2009

Play East 8th March 2009

Arcola Theatre


Purgatory by Steven Berkoff. Dir. Hamish Pirie

Flowers in her Hair by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Dir. Fiona Morrell

The List by David Eldridge, Dir. James Grieve

The dark but cavernous space of the Arcola’s studio theatre provides an intimate setting for three new shorts which all take the importance of being witnessed as their theme.

Repeated three times on one Sunday afternoon, the programme opens with a dark comedy from Steven Berkoff. At times reminiscent of Pinter and Orton, the play opens with an out-of-work actor arriving to request lodgings from a well-worn land lady. The no-nonsense older woman is brilliantly played as a true Eastender by Linda Robson, incidentally instructing the forlorn thespian he should try to get a part on the soap. The Anonymous Actor with a passion for Shakespeare, his Landlady and the ‘crazy tart from next door’ all struggle to express how they feel and are reprimanded as soon as they begin. The short production cycle of this performance is evident – at times the actors are clutching scripts – but the comic timing is immaculate and the characters evoke our sympathy for their short-comings in the restrictive world they inhabit.

A more contemporary mood is struck by Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s ‘Flowers in Her Hair’. Sexually confused Ivan and voyeuristic Laura are meeting for a blind-date coffee. We witness them as they listen to each other, depicting their inability to engage with others until an unspoken understanding seems to have been struck. The direction is simple and focused, with all the action taking place on a single table, raised on a thrust stage which cuts an angle through the performance space. Both Simon Poland and Pandora Colin are utterly compelling as the withdrawn protagonists and are touching as they delicately manoeuvre around romantic and social longings.

Eldridge’s ‘The List’ is set firmly in modern day East London and draws its characters from Hackney’s transient demographic. A woman dies and leaves behind her heavy-drinking gambler of a husband and two successful children. The tensions of conflicting aspirations are borne out through the reading of a list written by the deceased mother shortly before she died. As her family struggles to deal with the revelations of how she viewed them and what motivated her (one of her happiest moments was when she recently ‘nicked a bike’) the audience is presented with a picture of how differently Hackney’s older and younger generations view the borough. Madeline Herrington is particularly strong as the banker daughter. It is easy to see why she and her equally stubborn father, convincingly portrayed by Paul Moriarty, leave each other exacerbated. But as more of her mother’s thoughts and reflections are laid out into the theatre space, it is as if the woman has come back to life to remind them who they really are.

Interview with Linda Robson

After the show I caught up with one of the stars, actress Linda Robson, who told me about how the plays fitted into a cultural environmental project.

Tweeting from court places burden on juries

March 7, 2009

Hidden in The Guardian’s World News in Briefs today is the news that a US federal court has approved the use of social networking site, Twitter, to provide updates from trials.

Ron Sylvester, a reporter for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas, began using the microblogging service to provide updates and it has been decided his actions were ok.

Lawyers quite rightly raised the concern that jurors, who are suposed to avoid media coverage of a trial, might read the reporter’s twitter feed online.

US District Judge J. Thomas Marten’s response was that ‘jurors are always told to avoid newspaper, broadcast and online reports’ and this responsiblity should by nature extend to the reporters’ feed.

But it might not be quite so easy.

How is a jury supposed to avoid reading ‘coverage’ of the case they’re working on, when comments are  popping up on their computer screens and constrantly being delivered to their mobile phones?

In the UK, twitter is still largely the domain of media junkies and techno-socialites.  But in the States where one in ten internet users has an account, court tweets are likely to reach huge audiences.

And that audience is not necessarily going to be actively seeking out the information. Scroll down any twitter subscriber’s home page and you will see a large proportion of the posts consist of ‘@replies’, essentially a way of making a response to another’s post publically visible. Not just to the people interested in the original post, but to everyone who subscribes to the replier’s feed.

So, if a twitterer, lets call him Bob for the sake of simplicity, is listening to the radio and hears that Peter Mandelson has just had green custard thrown at him by an environmentalist, he might send out a tweet saying ‘Mandelson’s just had custard thrown at him’ – or something wittier. Everyone who subscribes to Bob’s feed will be able to read this and, if they choose, comment on his tweet, opening with the prefix ‘@Bob…’.

Imagine Stacey’s just done this. Now  everyone who subscribes to Stacey’s feed, regardless of whether they have a clue who Bob is, will receive it. The inquisitive may try to find out what she was replying to, the Mandelson haters may just agree and expand on her derrision.

Put this into a court context and you could have opinions about testimonies bouncing about all over the place. The juror might be trying to avoid reading coverage of the trial and not activily seeking out the respective Bob’s’ twitter feed, but what about the hundreds of people he or she is following? Who will censor what opinions are expressed in response to information tweeted from a trial?

Review: Julius Caesar, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, Bristol

March 2, 2009

Julius Caesar

Tobacco Factory


Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Until 21 March

Box Office: 0117 902 0344

Tickets: £20 full price.

Students: two for one available on the night.

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory has become a well-loved fixture on the regional theatre scene, renowned for its dedication to simple and direct story-telling. Set in the round, enclosed within the old factory building, the theatre always creates an engrossing sense of intimacy and there is perhaps no other play which lends itself to such intense scrutiny as the political drama of Julius Caesar.

The production feels remarkably contemporary despite being set in the turbulent period of the English Civil War, with universal questions over good governance, tyranny and personal ambition being projected at close quarters. The entire production is carried by the ensemble of actors who are permitted by the bare set, adorned only by four guarding pillars, to perform as if in closed spaces hidden from the riotous outside world. There is little music nor spectacle to enhance the experience beyond space-defining sounds such as a not-so-distant impassioned crowd and the stark ticking of an interior clock.

It is this sense of space which makes the audience feel as though they are eavesdropping on the private whisperings and grievances of the Roman consuls. It is not so dissimilar to what one imagines they would have heard had they been privy to the gripings of Downing Street in recent years.

Grand political questions about when good ruling turns to dictatorship are posed on a remarkably human level by the leading performers. Simon Armstrong is particularly strong as Caesar, conveying a complex mixture of authority and impotency throughout. Other notable performances include that of Cassius, one of the key conspirators, whose sharp movements and urgency of tone create an atmosphere of apprehension and uncertainty as the action is propelled to its brutal climax.

The ensemble work, as is to be expected from the close-knit company, is exquisite and helps bring a dynamic energy to what can be a rather dull and static play. It is a testament to Hilton’s exceptional choreography that poignant moments such as such as Mark Antony’s ironic reckoning that “Brutus said he was ambitious and Brutus is an honourable man” resonate so strongly.

Perhaps the only point of weakness in this very raw production is the inconsistent performance from Leo Wringer as Brutus, whose delivery sometimes seems inappropriately distracted, but there are few moments beyond the initial scenes where this really gets in the way of what is otherwise a compelling piece of theatre.