Re-remembering cinema

I was living on Havelock Road in the mid-90s when the Duke of York’s had a major refit. All the seats were replaced and, like the copies of Sight and Sound that formed the core of my filmnerd collection, the old ones found their way into the skip round the side of the cinema. Collecting one was an opportunity too good to miss: phone calls were made and friends were summoned. These were the seats of our cinematic education: worn-out chairs adorned with red heart shaped felt-patches, the seats in which we’d learned to love Godard and Hal Hartley, stubbed cigarettes out beneath in the balcony and stayed awake till 1am in to watch Tetsuo. Owning one was owning a little bit of Brighton history.

Being cinema seats, they were slightly unsuitable for use as household furniture: they had only one foot, and sitting in them required keeping a rather low centre of gravity. My friends took one each and suggested they were going to nail them to planks to form a home cinema. Mostly they languished in our rooms till we got bored of them as we got bored of Hal Hartley, and left them behind when we moved house. Shortly after they went in the skip I saw some boutique reselling seats they had salvaged: even at less than a tenner, I was outraged at this naked profiteering. Like the farmers’ soil of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, the Duke Of York’s cinema seats belong to those who loved films in them.

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Songs in the other key of London

Here are 9 great songs about London that weren’t performed at last night’s Songs in the Key of London at the Barbican.

London, Sway, feat. Bruza and Baby Blue
Cockney translation, Smiley Culture
Five Nights of Bleeding, Linton Kwesi Johnson
African Headcharge in the Hackney Empire, Lee Scratch Perry
Bow E3, Wiley
Dettwork South East
, Blak Twang
Electric Avenue, Eddie Grant
Galang, M.I.A.
Brixton Blues, Ram John Holder

Now, what do they all have in common?

Content

Content, Dir Chris Petit, UK 2009

Content, Dir Chris Petit, UK 2009

This is the foregoing, redux. Chris Petit cannot let go of the Westway, a promise of modernity unfulfilled, now only a key to the past, driven over again, the camera always behind the wheel of the Mercedes, the act of driving as tracking shot. Serious bespectacled youngsters, old men in statement hats and sallow psychogeogratrices are here to see. Multiple narratives, overlapping narrators. It’s usually at this point that we come out of the dive, says Emma Matthews.

Abandoning synchronised sound means the freedom to create any narrative from the images you have. Ten horses begin the race; not so many finish. Malfated children talk about the daily drizzle of family life. Family: “a mechanism for turning life into containers of resentment”. Ian Penman returns from cyberspace to speak through Hanns Zischler about email and late middle-aged desire. A film whose writers have been downloaded.

Petit’s collection of postcards from Berlin, in all states: pre-war, occupied, DDR, post-Wende. The architect whose 1941 vision of Auschwitz as a dormitory town for German emigrants is reborn in the 21st century as the newtown non-place of Cambourne. The parallel drawn, I won’t take it further than that, says Petit. What is said after the film illuminates as much as the film itself.

Always, again driving. Driving as the inevitable Ballardian anticipation of the crash. The crash writ real, the Crisis. Beneath a Dallas underpass, the approaching panoramic rectangle of daylight a forced metaphor for the cinema screen when this technology would no longer be recognizable to the Lumières. Petit pronounces his own take on the Kennedy assassination: an inside Catholic job to martyr the philandering president.

Thomas Hood’s ‘I remember I remember’ orchestrated by a musician found online, located in Finland and encountered in Dalston. “We are imperfect readers of the texts of our parents’ lives”. The middle-aged fear is palpable, but the tone is still sharp, still Robinson. These bald men in round glasses: is Keiller, Sinclair or Petit ventriloquising this film? Where’s the resistance, someone asks. Disappearance, he replies, is dissent.

Watch it on More4 next Tuesday

No more heroes

Anti-art

Anti-art: Home and Childish

It’s best not to have literary or artistic heroes. Leaders will always betray you, and heroes will always let you down. As they slide into their dotage, as their work becomes weak and repetitive, someone will always taunt you with their latest fatuity, reminding you how much you once loved them (in my case a role usually played by my father). Their books and records on your shelves, their pictures on your walls, are like mementos of an ex you can’t bring yourself to chuck away. So, best not to have the heroes in the first place. Except: some people’s work grabs you, and you can’t let it go. In the mid-nineties, three people who fell into this category for me were Stewart Home, Billy Childish and Iain Sinclair. Not only for how or what what they wrote, but also because they wrote about an interweaving, overlapping knot of things that mattered to me: poetry, resurgent Londophilia, anti-art polemics, post-Trotskyist politics, popular culture and the Situationist International.

Both Childish and Home have a history of polemic against my old employer, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (worse than either heroes or leaders, places like that: if you make the mistake of forming an attachment they’ll rip your fucking heart out). Home imagines its violent destruction by the masses in Defiant Pose; Childish as recently as last year targeted the place as part of Art Hate Week. And now, in the space of two weeks, all three of them appear at the ICA, just when it’s going through one of its episodic convulsions (mass redundancies and a departed head of exhibitions; the chair of its council is said to be flinging papers across desks in fury and falling through chairs at meetings). It’s like… well, it’s like something out of an Iain Sinclair book. A storm of synchronicity. This can’t be missed.

At the Childish’s private view it’s good to see old colleagues and catch up on current horrors. The new Childish paintings are better than the ones I saw at L-13 a couple of years ago. Estuarine landscapes and defunct steamboats, portraits of Robert Walser’s snowy corpse, a character that Billy integrates his own self-image into, via Knut Hamsun’s yellow-suited Nagel. Essays in the accompanying Roland catalogue/magazine contain plenty of typical cringe-inducing combinations of forensic over-explanation and missing the point; Childish’s own writings and poems, and a short story by Walser are much more powerful. In the upstairs galleries, a wall of album covers featuring Pop Rivets, Headcoats (and Headcoatees) and Buff Medways, is a reminder of Childish’s prolific output in all creative fields. Poems as black vinyl words on the white cube cement the feeling that poetry can certainly be read in an art gallery, but preferably not on the walls.

A week or so later, Childish reads his poetry and shows some recent Chatham Super-8 films in the ICA Cinema. I’m prepared to be disappointed, and have a little bet with myself that he’ll sing The Bitter Cup (“whiskey runs through me like a sorrowful river”). Of course he does, but it’s also quite good, not least because he keeps up a self-deprecating anecdotal monologue (he offered to oil-wrestle portly Guardian art pontificator Jonathan Jones, apparently) between poems, and takes the piss a little out of the audience (who don’t look like a typical Childish audience, but what does a typical Childish audience look like?). Some of his intense hatred for family hypocrisy seems to have mellowed since he’s become a dad himself, and the patriotic stuff escapes me (a 20-minute movie about the re-enactment of a first world war march through France is the evening’s one bum note) but he’s hardly yet ready for treasure status. In both verse and person he remains committed to a open, egalitarian vision of human creativity, a harsh critic of art education and any kind of detachment from influence.

The talk by Stewart Home and Iain Sinclair is unconnected to the Childish exhibition, purloining its title from a forthcoming Verso book of urban essays, Restless Cities. Two such massive egotists on stage without a disciplinary interlocutor is always a risk: Sinclair begins by claiming that he may have invented Home as a character, or at least some of his ‘psychogeographical’ writings. Home puts him right on a couple of points about the London Psychogeographical Association and the Neoist Alliance (attempts to recuperate Italian left-wing communism through the establishment of one-man splinter groups) before launching into a series of anecdotes about the gangster antics of distant relatives. Home speaks in the same monotone he uses for his fiction readings, with an added air of weary resignation implying that he could tell you how everything really is, if only it was worth it. He’s oddly compelling: you think you’ll get bored of listening to him long before you do.

Sinclair reads a little from Hackney: That Rose-Red Empire. He’s at his most convincing in his opposition to the Olympics and the clear-cutting of East London. I’ve come across  several people recently slating Sinclair for his adolescent pseudo-romantic solipsism and self-indulgent prose, but his consistent digs at the Olympics, as previously at the Dome, are an honourable sally. Sensitive to accusations of being a pair of ageing men only interested in the past, Home responds by mentioning his enthusiastic use of the internet (I can vouch that he posts a lot of videos on facebook), and the vastly improved quality of contemporary café food. Sinclair by contrast regrets the contemporary immanence of media: journeys of discovery are his bread and butter.

The subject of the ICA’s current crisis itself comes up: is it at risk of becoming a lost venue, like the Scala? Home mentions the notorious 1989 Situationist International exhibition at the ICA that historicised the SI (a trajectory aimed squarely at the gift shop) at the same time as it was coming into focus for the generation of avant-garde leftists that gave birth to the LPA. The first visit Home himself made to the ICA was to see an exhibition of Marvel comics in the bar. He mentions JJ Charlesworth’s analysis of the current crisis in Mute, and mounts a surprising (but half-hearted) defence of current director Ekow Eshun, arguing that the precarity and corporate orientation of the ICA goes back to Philip Dodd, and Mick Flood before him.

They seem in danger of historicising themselves. Sinclair offers that what matters to him, the work that he produces, is the connections offered by anecdote and coincidence. Old men trading on past glories? Here’s where the web tightens and pulls me in. The first time I visited the ICA was for the SI exhibition Home mentioned (people were handing out leaflets outside: who demonstrates outside an art gallery?). Childish is indirectly responsible for my early persistence in publishing my own poetry, via a friend, whose own chapbook, Jack the Biscuit is Skinhead, was inspired by Childish’s Hangman Press. I remember the friend who typeset Childish’s first novel, for another publisher, complaining about what a pig the job was (too fond of Celine, too particular about his ellipses). I used to send Stewart Home stamps in exchange for copies of Re:Action (one of which featured a headline quotation from one of my father’s books), my own (failed) mail art project used a box at British Monomarks, the same mail-forwarding company Home used. My connections to Home and Childish are precisely Sinclair’s tangential, anecdotal, coincidental connections. Not enough to build anything but a meandering thousand words or so out of.

Nevertheless, in the final days of Thatcherism, in the last decade before the internet exploded, Home and Childish offered evidence of a meaningful samizdat popular culture. Self-published chapbooks, small press book fairs, Xerox art workshops, the AK press catalogue and postal exchanges were all part of a real alternative to the depressing monotony of mainstream literature and music. It’s halfway to archaeology now, but it’s become a personal archaeology. That’s why the records are still in the collection, that’s why the books are still on the shelves.

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It’s best not to have literary or artistic heroes. Leaders will always betray you, and heroes will always let you down. As they slide into their dotage, as their work becomes weak and repetitive, someone will always taunt you with their latest fatuity, reminding you how much you once loved them (in my case a role usually played by my father). Their books and records on your shelves, their pictures on your walls, are like mementos of an ex you can’t bring yourself to chuck away. So, best not to have the heroes in the first place. Except: some people’s work grabs you, and you can’t let it go. In the mid-nineties, three people who fell into this category for me were Stewart Home, Billy Childish and Iain Sinclair. Not only for how or what what they wrote, but also because they wrote about an interweaving, overlapping knot of things that mattered to me: poetry, resurgent Londophilia, anti-art polemics, post-Trotskyist politics, popular culture and the Situationist International.

Both Childish and Home have a history of polemic against my old employer, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (worse than either heroes or leaders, places like that: if you make the mistake of forming an attachment they’ll rip your fucking heart out). Home imagines its violent destruction by the masses in Defiant Pose; Childish as recently as last year targeted the place as part of Art Hate Week. And now, in the space of two weeks, all three of them appear at the ICA, just when it’s going through one of its episodic convulsions (mass redundancies and a departed head of exhibitions; the chair of its council is said to be flinging papers across desks in fury and falling through chairs at meetings). It’s like… well, it’s like something out of an Iain Sinclair book. A storm of synchronicity. This can’t be missed.

At the Childish’s private view it’s good to see old colleagues and catch up on current horrors. The new Childish paintings are better than the ones I saw at L-13 a couple of years ago. Estuarine landscapes and defunct steamboats, portraits of Robert Walser’s snowy corpse, a character that Billy integrates his own self-image into, via Knut Hamsun’s yellow-suited Nagel. Essays in the accompanying Roland catalogue/magazine contain plenty of typical cringe-inducing combinations of forensic over-explanation and missing the point; Childish’s own writings and poems, and a short story by Walser are much more powerful. In the upstairs galleries, a wall of album covers featuring Pop Rivets, Headcoats (and Headcoatees) and Buff Medways, is a reminder of Childish’s prolific output in all creative fields. Poems as black vinyl words on the white cube cement the feeling that poetry can certainly be read in an art gallery, but preferably not on the walls.

A week or so later, Childish reads his poetry and shows some recent Chatham Super-8 films in the ICA Cinema. I’m prepared to be disappointed, and have a little bet with myself that he’ll sing The Bitter Cup (“whiskey runs through me like a sorrowful river”). Of course he does, but it’s also quite good, not least because he keeps up a self-deprecating anecdotal monologue (he offered to oil-wrestle portly Guardian art pontificator Jonathan Jones, apparently) between poems, and takes the piss a little out of the audience (who don’t look like a typical Childish audience, but what does a typical Childish audience look like?). Some of his intense hatred for family hypocrisy seems to have mellowed since he’s become a dad himself, and the patriotic stuff escapes me (a 20-minute movie about the re-enactment of a first world war march through France is the evening’s one bum note) but he’s hardly yet ready for treasure status. In both verse and person he remains committed to a open, egalitarian vision of human creativity, a harsh critic of art education and any kind of detachment from influence.

The talk by Stewart Home and Iain Sinclair is unconnected to the Childish exhibition, purloining its title from a forthcoming Verso book of urban essays, Restless Cities. Two such massive egotists on stage without a disciplinary interlocutor is always a risk: Sinclair begins by claiming that he may have invented Home as a character, or at least some of his ‘psychogeographical’ writings. Home puts him right on a couple of points about the London Psychogeographical Association and the Neoist Alliance (attempts to recuperate Italian left-wing communism through the establishment of one-man splinter groups) before launching into a series of anecdotes about the gangster antics of distant relatives. Home speaks in the same monotone he uses for his fiction readings, with an added air of weary resignation implying that he could tell you how everything really is, if only it was worth it. He’s oddly compelling: you think you’ll get bored of listening to him long before you do.

Sinclair reads a little from Hackney: That Rose-Red Empire. He’s at his most convincing in his opposition to the Olympics and the clear-cutting of East London. I’ve come across  several people recently slating Sinclair for his adolescent pseudo-romantic solipsism and self-indulgent prose, but his consistent digs at the Olympics, as previously at the Dome, are an honourable sally. Sensitive to accusations of being a pair of ageing men only interested in the past, Home responds by mentioning his enthusiastic use of the internet (I can vouch that he posts a lot of videos on facebook), and the vastly improved quality of contemporary café food. Sinclair by contrast regrets the contemporary immanence of media: journeys of discovery are his bread and butter.

The subject of the ICA’s current crisis itself comes up: is it at risk of becoming a lost venue, like the Scala? Home mentions the notorious 1989 Situationist International exhibition at the ICA that historicised the SI (a trajectory aimed squarely at the gift shop) at the same time as it was coming into focus for the generation of avant-garde leftists that gave birth to the LPA. The first visit Home himself made to the ICA was to see an exhibition of Marvel comics in the bar. He mentions JJ Charlesworth’s analysis of the current crisis in Mute, and mounts a surprising (but half-hearted) defence of current director Ekow Eshun, arguing that the precarity and corporate orientation of the ICA goes back to Philip Dodd, and Mick Flood before him.

They seem in danger of historicising themselves. Sinclair offers that what matters to him, the work that he produces, is the connections offered by anecdote and coincidence. Old men trading on past glories? Here’s where the web tightens and pulls me in. The first time I visited the ICA was for the SI exhibition Home mentioned (people were handing out leaflets outside: who demonstrates outside an art gallery?). Childish is indirectly responsible for my early persistence in publishing my own poetry, via a friend, whose own chapbook, Jack the Biscuit is Skinhead, was inspired by Childish’s Hangman Press. I remember the friend who typeset Childish’s first novel, for another publisher, complaining about what a pig the job was (too fond of Celine, too particular about his ellipses). I used to send Stewart Home stamps in exchange for copies of Re:Action (one of which featured a headline quotation from one of my father’s books), my own (failed) mail art project used a box at British Monomarks, the same mail-forwarding company Home used. My connections to Home and Childish are precisely Sinclair’s tangential, anecdotal, coincidental connections. Not enough to build anything but a meandering thousand words or so out of.

Nevertheless, in the final days of Thatcherism, in the last decade before the internet, Home and Childish offered evidence of a meaningful samizdat popular culture. Self-published chapbooks, small press book fairs, Xerox art workshops, the AK press catalogue and postal exchanges were all part of a real alternative to the depressing monotony of mainstream literature and music. It’s halfway to archaeology now, but it’s a personal archaeology. That’s why the records are still in the collection, that’s why the books are still on the shelves.

On this day in history

A hundred years ago today my grandmother was born. Her name was Mildred May Pendlebury. Before she married my grandfather, who died before I was born, she was a milliner. She was from Bolton, and she lived in Shipley.

My memory is already not what it was, but I remember that she lived in a semi-detached bungalow, that this was the only bungalow I knew as a child, and that the garden continued from the front, around the side and to the back, and it was also the only three-sided garden I’d ever come across. I remember that when the whole family came to stay and she shared a room with us, I heard the sound of her snoring and thought there was a lion in the room. I remember that sometimes she slept in a chair so that we could all have beds.

I remember that she cooked roast chicken, bacon, chipolatas and gravy for us when we arrived driving up from London, and how good it was to have a dinner with three different kinds of meat in it. I remember that she made flapjacks which she called ‘crunch’ and bought us Lucozade and Ribena to drink. I remember being told how much she spoiled us. I remember that when my father was president of the local Trades Council, she made a big fuss of asking if Mr President would like a cup of tea.

I remember that she used to save up five pence pieces in steradent tins to give to me and my brother when we came to stay. I remember that she would take us to W H Smith to buy toys and books, and we’d count the coins out onto the counter from the tins to pay for them. I remember that after we had been to stay, when we got home we would call her on the telephone, and she would tell us how much she had cried after we left. How much did you cry, granny, we asked? Did the tears reach the ceiling? I had to stand on a chair, she said. I think the first time we left she really did cry.

I remember that she lived up a big hill from where the bus stops were, and that Old Man’s beard grew on the corner of her road. I remember that I got lost coming back to her house once and went back down to the main road and crossed the footbridge to get some sweets from the garage in case I was out a long time. Then I tried hitchhiking. I remember that when she had sciatica, going on the swings on Northcliffe made her feel better.

I remember visiting her house years after she had died and telling the people who lived there now how much I had enjoyed playing there. They had built a new extension onto her kitchen: it diminished the garden. I remember visiting the cemetery where her ashes were buried. There was no marker. In the book that records burials and cremations for the cemetery I turned to the day of her funeral, and there was no record of it. It was what she wanted.

Ghosts in the media art machine

Kinetica Art Fair. Photo: flickr.com/jellybean

Kinetica Art Fair. Photo: flickr.com/jellybean

It’s one of those what-do-you-call-it dilemmas. In the way that ‘Artists’ Film and Video’ has embraced and displaced terms like ‘avant-garde’, ‘experimental film’ and ‘video art’, so ‘(New) Media Art’ has kicked out ‘digital art’, ‘interactive art’ and so forth as a useful name for a messy field of practice. Myself, I cleave to ‘net.art’ (or even ‘internet art’) in the way that I prefer ‘experimental film’: not because I think it’s a better and more descriptive term, but because I both prefer a specific area of practice (work with the medium of film; work with the medium of the internet), and feel that practice needs some kind of nominal recognition and differentiation. Which isn’t to say that Media Art doesn’t need defending, not least from its juvenile detractors, just that I prefer art that starts with the internet.

The funny thing is that Media Art can be an envelope even when its address isn’t on the label. This year’s Kinetica Art Fair and the V&A’s current Decode exhibition occupy very similar ground (and one or more artists). Strangely, neither of them use the term ‘media art’, but pitch themselves in terms of their own traditions: kinetic art in the case of Kinetica, and design in the case of the V&A.

Kinetica is definitely the cooler of the two: you can tell from the euroartchicks manning the front desk. It costs eight pounds to get in, and at ten o’clock when the doors open exhibitors are still setting up and plugging in their creations. The vast concrete bunker of P3 features plenty of neon and LEDs, but little wifi. I bump into an eastern European businesswomen I know whose conversational strategy consists of staring at you a bit awkwardly until a chance to mention her product arises.

Kinetica makes a point of signposting its heritage: at the back of the hall are ‘Kinetic Masters’ including work by Jasia Reichardt and Jean Tinguely, Bruce Lacey’s R.O.S.A. B.O.S.O.M. robot from the ICA’s Cybernetic Serendipity, and a Liliane Lijn poem machine, Get Rid of Government Time. There’s a film by John  Dunbar shot in and around the Indica Gallery, containing some tantalising shots of the Post Office Tower that I want to add to my influences. Gaberbocchus press, the link with the Themersons and the European avant-garde doesn’t have a stand this year like last, but their books are on sale in the shop.

Jasia Reichardt’s essay in the catalogue posits the digital work in a grander tradition, claiming of kinetic art as a meta-category:

Kinetic art represents a range of heroic art manifestations that constantly cross those boundaries that any established art form, group, or movement builds around itself with time.

There are a lot of works here which are simply kinetic: beautifully-moving sculptures to pick and drop, push, or blow. Most of the work here, however, owes something to digitality, is computer generated or designed; was born or lives in a network.

Staples of the fair are individual exhibitors and graduate collectives. Hugh Turvey, currently working with the British Institute of Radiology makes x-ray animations by taking appliances to pieces, x-raying them, and then reconstructing movements with software. The most striking piece is two skeletal hands playing round after round of stone-scissors-paper. Lots of his still and moving works are brightly-coloured in a way that generic medical x-rays aren’t. Turvey’s partially colour-blind himself, but he says that using computer technology to add colour to the images gives him a confidence in their appearance.

From the Goldsmith’s MFA stable Ric Carvalho’s Global Warming uses a pressure-sensitive pad mounted on a urinal linked to a Google Earth display to allow you to piss all over the world (using a bottle of water of course). Other works respond to the human body: Interactive AgentsHydro-Acoustic Big Bang Filter allows you to control water levels and a rising tone by moving your hand through a cut-off beam; Monomatic’s P.E.A.L. is a laser-triggered virtual campanile you can walk around and around, ringing bells (one pre-teen makes circuit after circuit in a having-arty-parents version of zoo psychosis).

At the corporate end of the spectrum are some earnest-looking types from NESTA plugging a project they proudly announce as ‘fascinating’ (why not leave that to the audience to decide?); just outside the doors Ben Perry and Jacques Chauchat’s Milk Float is at the more industrial end of the creative ‘industries’ and wouldn’t look out of place with the Mutoid Waste Company.

There’s also some reification at work here. A certain kind of artwork appears at an art fair. It might have its roots firmly in the internet, but Mark Napier’s PAM (Untitled), an uneasily fluxing chimera generated from images of Pamela Anderson found online is an editioned work, something to buy and own. Likewise, the films of Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries embody almost exactly the kinetic relationship between text and meaning that Liliane Lijn’s Poem Machines do, but (while YHC have done gallery work) you won’t find a place for freely downloadable flash movies in an art fair.

Meanwhile over in South Kensington at the V&A, it’s manifestly less cool, but only a fiver to get in, with a chunky catalogue thrown in free. ‘Digital Design Sensation’ is a curious subtitle for the show. There’s nothing particularly designy about it at all – most of the work here is simply screen-based or interactive art. What in particular would distinguish ‘digital’ design these days, anyway? Almost all design happens on computers. If it were necessary to highlight specifically digital aspects of design, the V&A’s own China show in 2008 made a better job of it, demonstrating the appeal of mass access to the design of vinyl toys, for example.

An aesthetic of fragmenting polygons and networked nodes dominates the screen works in Decode as it does in Kinetica. The internet as an idea is present in Decode, theorised and abstracted in the manner of the finer arts. Fabrica’s Exquisite Clock, a chronometric display constructed from photographs submitted online is prefaced by typical curatorspeak: “This networked world has provided the basis and tools for works of art and design that are multi-sited and global.” (Go on, read that again and try to figure out what it actually means).

The pieces that dominate, though, and the biggest overlap with Kinetica are the works that react to or record the movements of the spectator, responding to sound and body movement. These are typically slicker and more colourful than found at Kinetica: Yoke’s Dandelion allows you to blow the fluffy seeds off same with a hairdryer. Mehmet Akten’s Body Paint reacts to your body’s movements by releasing glorious washes of colour.

While this kind of work certainly fetishises ‘interactivity’ its also undermines its own status as an art object with the fact that it wouldn’t be much fun to own one. Imagine setting it up and turning it on in your big home, calibrating the camera and then standing in front of it, throwing lonely handfuls of brightly-coloured virtual sand at yourself. Art like this only works in a gallery, with other people to queue behind (even the V&A’s typically hideous middle class punters who don’t like you getting in their way when you’re taking pictures of them and the art), play with and discover how the pieces work. The V&A has this over Kinetica: it’s not a club or a marketplace, it’s a publicly-funded gallery, a place of collective entertainment, and this makes a subtle but monumentally important difference to the nature of the experience.

The V&A’s aware of  its responsibility to the public too, and the ‘user-generated content’ component of Decode’s online presence (‘get involved’) is a challenge to redesign Karsten Schmidt’s identity for the show. It’s interesting in that it actually requires some work, and is craft/code based (like the Science Museum’s Cosmic Collections mash-up competition) rather than aesthetic or one-dimensional, appealing to a constituency who are already engaged. Nevertheless, it remains limited to the show’s marketing identity: online contributors are kept at a safe distance from the actual art.

Perhaps Media Art is a temporary umbrella covering phenomena that will eventually go their separate ways; perhaps Kinetica and the V&A feel their own traditions are longer-lasting. It still seems strange that two exhibitions share such a large common ground but should be pitched and presented so differently. While I’ve always felt that net.art was the ghost in media art’s machine, media art itself seems to be doing the haunting at the moment.

Five years of cinema

Les carabiniers, Dir Jean-Luc Godard, France 1963

Les carabiniers, Dir Jean-Luc Godard, France 1963

1977. We’ve just been to see Star Wars at the Enfield ABC. Ahead of us, unknown, lie fights over collectible toys, tauntauns, ewoks, and referential homage in Gen X comedies. Even further lie monstrous sequels, and the sharpness of their disappointment will remind us how far this mythos has burrowed into our minds, but right now we’re ignorant even of where George Lucas has borrowed his hidden fortress from. Seated in the family Hillman Avenger, my mum turns on the engine. ‘I’ll have to remember I’m just driving a car,’ she says, ‘and not flying an X-wing fighter.’

1989. The Screen on Baker Street runs a midnight Friday screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I go with my girlfriend. Baker Street is alien territory to us Zone 4 types, the land of Madame Tussaud’s  and Sherlock Holmes: a night bus home, and night buses are not that great in the 1980s. The screening involves an amateur performance troupe called the ‘Fabulous Underclothes’ who have learned by heart the call-and-response to the film that satirises the satire, seizes on the clunky moments in Richard O’Brien’s script. I loved it, and The Time Warp too, but that’s not something I’ll readily admit to now.

1993. Valentine’s night at the Duke of York’s in Brighton and I’m watching Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz and Bridget Fonda in Bodies, Rest and Motion with two single female friends. The Duke of York’s is my university arthouse education, the cinema that plays Hal Hartley double bills, its spot-colour fold-out posters as commonly found on student walls as Egon Schiele’s Artist’s Wife. It’s where we see what Heli calls ‘headfuck French movies’ when we don’t get them out on VHS from Video Box. But Bodies, Rest and Motion is a dreary indie tableau of needlessly emotionally tortured twenty-somethings, and I’m almost as annoyed at having wasted the evening watching it as I am at being alone on Valentine’s night.

2001. ‘All you need to make a film is a girl and a gun’. The NFT runs a Godard season, and I see as many of the films as I can, nearly twenty: the macho sci-fi detectivery of Alphaville, the political thrills of Le Petit Soldat, the simulcast translation of Un film com les autres. The pantomime war of Les carabiniers remains my favourite, and I still can’t see why anyone likes Pierrot le feu. A weekend devoted to the revolutionary work of the Dziga Vertov Group culminates in a panel discussion with Tariq Ali, Colin MacCabe and Laura Mulvey. I ask a naïve question about cinema trying to change the world. ‘We weren’t making agitprop,’ replies Mulvey, ‘we were addressing the contradiction in cinema itself.’ Through two months I pack my head and a small notebook with reminders, connections, observations and thoughts. It’s a notebook I’ve rarely opened since.

2005. Watching The Ipcress File in NFT3. At one point in Harry Palmer’s adventure of deception and torture he is put in a small box and subjected to a sequence of intensely flashing lights and bizarre sound. It occurs to me that I’ve paid good money to see quite similar films in this very cinema. Somehow, the most abstract moving image pushes buttons that paintings leave unpressed. The avant-garde cinema weekend in the London Film Festival has become an anchor around which revolve screenings in pubs and art galleries around the capital, Lux’s ‘Visionary Landscapes’ at Cecil Sharp House, shorts programmes at the ICA and salon screenings in Shacklewell. Trying to learn all over again what cinema is.