This set closes a trilogy begun with Grinning Crocodile and Left Side Dub.
War 4 Love is also shared as a set on SoundCloud
Two deranged songs: Soiled soul and spilled spunk music. Do It Like This has a light funkiness but strange undertones with some UK garage and techno influences. The second track is a cut-up of a jazz singer and her band. Her lament is split like the atom, and that’s the postmodern blues.
Left Side Dub is also shared as a set on SoundCloud
Four track EP available to download for free.
Inspired by jazz and funk-infused instrumental hip hop of the 1990s, I made a lot of slow jams and heavy grooves with Bubblebrain and continue to return periodically to the sound. The work has evolved idiosyncratically, reaching in the cracks where dub and hip hop grind in audiological metamorphosis, and from it grow flowers of sonic blue.
Grinning Crocodile is also shared as a set on SoundCloud
Since 2008 Asylum has promoted excellence in music performance and supplied solid sound and stage management. It is deliberately mash-and-mix style and conceived as a space to explore cultural ideas and identities. It is not in the mainstream but it is open to all collaborators. Asylum is an exercise in objective art, creating conditions for experimentation with forms and meanings, propelling the matter forward to higher dimensions like a brain on mushroom brew.
A venture in music promotion requires a recognisable graphic identity. The image that the Asylum crew refers to as the girls logo has a lot of meaning packed into a minimal form. It was developed by Chris Almond and Luc Pallot from a found woodcut. Following precedents throughout the history of art and typography from Peter Flötner’s Anthropomorphic alphabet (1540), Anthon Beeke’s Nude alphabet (1970), and to the present with Slovakian designer Peter Biľak’s Dancewriter, the Asylum logo represents the capital letter ‘A’ for Asylum.
The community in which Asylum plays a part, geographically located in Channel Islands, UK, is dominated by male voices. There are some excellent female writers and performers and it would be good to see more of them. By using this image of female society, a symbol of encouragement to female musicians is being shared.
Two women join in an embrace. Their nakedness suggests a homoerotic state of being; they could be Adamina and Eve at play in the Garden. The image can be read as an expression of coming together, of love, companionship, and community. The sign of a lost beginning, a classical verdant Genesis, is advanced in the primitive substance of the woodcut and the nakedness of the bodies. Alpha carries the radical notion of erasure of the human form in representation. In moving back and forth between these two views, there is a limitless range of interpretations in the space between the gesture of human contact and an atom of linguistic code.
“I would never have believed until Sukita-san showed me the contact sheets that he had taken so many photographs of my trips to Japan (and other occasional cities) over so many years. From the early Ziggy shows including the well known Rainbow concert in London, the market trips to Tokyo, temples in Kyoto and even the subway adventures: it seems Sukita-san got them all.” David Bowie, Speed of Life, Genesis Publications 2012.
My copy arrived: Number 594 of 2,000 of Speed of Life, artistically designed and lavishly crafted book of fine art prints from the archive of Japanese fashion and rock photographer Masayoshi Sukita. His subject is David Bowie, on stage, in the studio, exploring urban Japan, at leisure, over four decades. Both authors contribute extensive commentary on the chronological sequence of images, printed in English and Japanese, adding context and details as a kind of twin autobiographical framing with much warmth for the reader and each other. A ceremonious concept of two vividly inventive creators with interrelating fascination for the other’s cultural world, and their periodic, fertile reconnecting as collaborators and friends, is reflected in the simple symbolic patterns and striking colour harmonies of the book’s design.
The limited edition is printed onto heavyweight matt art paper and hand-bound in calfskin leather with a turquoise cloth cover personally selected by Bowie. A high quality 7″ vinyl single of Bowie’s It’s No Game Parts 1 and 2 (1980) is snugly housed in a round tray cut into the inside back cover. On the front cover is a mirrored plate featuring an image from the iconic “Heroes” album cover sessions. The special edition is limited to 2,000 copies. Each copy is signed by Bowie and Sukita, and both of them have been involved throughout the design process. Over 80% of the photos in the 300-page book are previously unpublished.
I’ve been a fan of David Bowie’s work since 1980. Acquiring this book is a significant milepost for me to compare with seeing him perform live at Phoenix Festival 1996 in Stratford-upon-Avon. When this handsome example of the art of bookmaking arrived, and I carefully unpacked it, I felt the same thrill I used to cherish when a new album by Bowie was released and I hurried home from the store to listen for the first time. Although he does not release records any more, this sumptuous portfolio is unmistakeably a major new release by Bowie together with one of his greatest collaborators, the master Masayoshi Sukita.
Photos are at the bottom of this post but first rambling.
I’d been meaning to start this project for a few weeks but being unwell with an intensive work schedule I could do no more than plan and ponder my project. That is to make visits to a small wooded hill near La Rue De Samares in St. Clement, Jersey, and build a set of photographs and video studies of the place. It was somewhere I used to go as a boy, to get away from it all. My abiding memories are of strange visions of being a small, furtive mammal under foliage with a family down in a hole, coming out at night to snack on bugs. Summer air gets trapped in the woods’ strange phytoclimate. Sensations are curiously amplified and affected. Some might say the presence of a dolmen near the top of the hill amplifies cosmic energy. The woods seem to have a pre-human atmosphere somehow dissolving human personality. I didn’t realise it had an actually tragic reputation. According to Mal on Facebook “about eight people have hung themselves up there.”
I made my first visit last Friday. In pain and not feeling strong, it wasn’t easy. Crouching down to compose some shots and standing again nearly precipitated fainting. The place is dense with mystery as I remembered. The weirdest little woods in Jersey are packed with details, forms and effects of light to please any photographer.
Pete said be careful people don’t think you’re a paedo if there are kids about. I’m not going to prepare for a days shooting only to get there, see a snotty child, and pack up and go home! If there are youths l’ll ask them, do they mind or not if I take some photos? I did it here and got one acceptable shot out of a session in the pouring rain. All lads, they were boisterous and quickly bored of my attempts to get them to ‘act up’ for the camera. I found that directorial approach didn’t make for good shots, since they were not being themselves or interacting naturally as a group.
The bogeyman – and it seems the majority of lurkers after children in isolated or providential situations are male – is a folk archetype having persisted for thousands of years, for as long as genesis there has been abuse in secret places. I thought about this, and while initially feeling a little prickled by political correctness, I have come to feel that as a title for the whole work, Bogeyperson Woods is pretty great.
Related reading: “Do you like to go to the airport to look at planes?”
After an hour of wandering in which I took about twenty or thirty pictures, a man with a large black dog arrived and the pair sort of speed-rambled around the hill’s pathways in a circuit back to their car. We said hello briefly: “Hi …” “nice weather,” “yeah, hope it lasts.” After they’d driven away, I wish I’d asked the guy if I could have photographed him and his hound. The evidently well-trained dog had that kind of focused look as if for it an evening ramble was a mission of serious importance. Its owner had a slightly ruffled, bookish appearance. It would have been good.
These photos are also available as a set on Flickr: Mont Ube woods and environs
In 2007 I wrote an appraisal of Bowie’s album Never Let Me Down, which was then twenty years old. Since I have been following in fascination the erudite and broad-ranging horological review of every work Bowie has produced, in Chris O’Leary’s award-winning website, Pushing Ahead of the Dame, I thought I should resurrect this old piece just in time for Pushing ..’s alighting on the strange moment when Bowie released that album.
Never Let Me Down has gained a solid reputation for being a creative nadir helped partly by Bowie’s on-the-record expressions of disappointment in its production quality. It is really one of the most perversely important works he made. It’s a document of jumping the shark by a man who was painfully aware of the artistic aridity that had followed his mid-eighties superstar cash-in enterprise and was desperate to reinvent it all. The rock ‘n’ roll suicide is one of Bowie’s enduring acts of performance – he’d created an extension of psyche, Ziggy Stardust, only to dramatically expunge the character. A few years later he annihilated the ‘American’ figure of the Duke, his strategy for dealing with the destructiveness of lurid, drug-infested fame in the seventies. He would go on to perform all the old songs one last time (a broken promise) on the Sound+Vision tour. This album, subject of the following article, isn’t pretty. The lyrics are poor: Bad-enigmatic streams of unconsciousness, woeful fantasy story-telling, and even a pulpy blast of sexist machismo. The cover art is cheap-looking. The ill-advised ‘theatrical’ tour that followed its release was a pinnacle of grand meaninglessness, a multi-layered wrapper of energetic dancing and spider-based set design for material performed by a cheesy band. Nonetheless, Bowie delivered a work of its time in this statement of commoditised, alienated anxiety.
This is an impressionistic review of Never Let Me Down. Bowie was, in 1987, locked fast within a huge financial machine and he was its controller operating from within the head of a giant robotic spider. He wrote songs of moral and political decay with the socially aware vantage of a millionaire rock star in Switzerland, shot through with lingering images of hope and desperate love, possibly as a suite to be performed with narrative dance. Or maybe that idea came later for the Glass Spider tour which was the incongruous vehicle for the album’s promotion.
The production being both bombastic and indistinct is horrible. Every song suffocates under over-wrought, too-loud soloing. A large, superfluous crew doodles all over the work. Carlos Alomar, best rhythm guitarist ever in Bowie’s band, is barely audible under the clanging and splatting of Erdal Kizilcay’s drumming and all the extraneous, stabbing synths.
On occasions the mixing of rebel-rock songs and manically busy backing results in good effects – the duelling leads of guitar and trumpet in Time Will Crawl, the same song’s strange vocal skipping lightly across a haunting piano riff, and Zeroes’ fusion of sitar and disco rhythms are a few moments of pop-art shudders recalling the neurotic post-punk pop that he pioneered with Eno and others a decade earlier. The buried grooves are often satisfyingly muscular and aggressive but the artistic energies here are massively depleted.
Never Let Me Down remains a favourite album among many Bowie fans, being regarded by some as a classic of sorts. It is notorious for being the record that, in its original release, bore the almost inarguably worst song of Bowie’s career: Too Dizzy. That lyric’s gritty tale was about what Bowie would do if he caught his girlfriend looking at another man. Thankfully, for all concerned, since 1999 Never Let Me Down can be enjoyed without the distasteful sound of Too Dizzy. Bowie himself insisted that it be removed from the remastered re-release.
I can remember watching a televised press conference in 1987. Bowie was performing a few songs from the forthcoming new album with a small band. It sounded and looked good. Then, Bowie took questions from the press. ‘What is the symbolism of the spider in your work, David?’ asked one journalist.
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders
and now this
The song, Glass Spider, contains images of baby spiders being born to a giant mother spider who lives in a vast natural structure of some kind. She deserts the young who have to make their own ways across deadly terrain.
Bowie seems to have decided this is a concept album, a bit like Ziggy, set in the world five years on that Ziggy sang about, when the pressures and fears of modern life are threatening to crush the human spirit. And the cause of all this strife is the abandoning mother in the form of a gigantic spider.
The spider is a mother figure in my work, said Bowie to the journalist. And he did a stagey little laugh and rocked back on his heels while comically shaking his hand at the wrist. He hooted briefly: “Woo -”
David Bowie in 1987 had some ideas for songs and concepts for stage but their execution was hampered by the fractured nature of his being at that time: A businessman with enormous pressures like never before; an artist with a legacy of pioneering drug-rock, glam futurism, posturing pan-sexualism and arch, neo-romantic lyric-writing. Never Let Me Down was to be his paean to the lost promise of decadent highness. Somehow it became the output of a desk with all faders pushed up, long after the band had gone, and the studio air ceased to be excited by the mild exertions of complacent, rich musicians.
Listening to it again, I am struck by the desperate edge in Bowie’s vocals. He was facing the prospect of a global tour with grim determination. His return to a production style informed by pop, with extra blues rock heaviness, mimicked the sound of young LA rock ‘n’ roll in the late eighties. Much of that music was vacuous and cash-rich.
The spectres of his time in LA were rising up.
Is the spider made of glass to point up the symbolism of the mother as a vessel and machine of production?
On the last night of the Glass Spider tour, the enormous fibreglass spider stage set cracked and erupted. Millions of living glass spiders, each little creature the size and shape of a clear pebble with long, clickety legs, poured out and the entire audience was crushed under the massive weight and perished.
Bowie has not sported a mullet since 1987. A coincidence?
Three of my photographs of 2011 were shown in the Archisle 1 exhibition in Jersey. They adhere as a whole of three parts they were not originally intended to be. Now I think of them together as an example of the neo-medieval form of multi-panel art so congruous with the presentation and subversion of religious iconography: Triptych.
After I have shared work publicly I can be troubled that I haven’t worked for longer at editing it. Most of my work contains big chunks of barely touched first drafts alongside laboriously reconfigured material, and that is my application of chiaroscuro. My experience of making the triptych was different – it had to be completed to a deadline imposed by the Archisle photography open call. I recklessly, and thrillingly, finished it with no time to spare. Ideas and sources for its inspiration had been seeded at Archisle workshops and the piece is a response to themes and challenges of the workshop programme previously discussed here.
The figure pictured below belongs to St Patrick’s, a small Roman Catholic church near Samares in Jersey.
A chapel, built in Wesley Street in 1876, which in recent times was used as commercial premises until a fire in 2008. It is being developed by Dandara to be luxury flats behind the retained and restored facade.
The pictures of the Methodist chapel of brother Wesley and the light shining on the golden musculature of a neoclassical, dying Christ were made on the last evening before the deadline. Months earlier I was in the central auditorium of Jersey Opera House accompanying another photographer, my friend Will, and I was taking ‘back-up’ photos and making a kind of document of the process as he carefully composed his shots. This image of mine from that day was the last piece to earn its place in the succession of three: The geometric grandeur and illumination of secular culture in the cathedral of art.
With thanks to those who have encouraged the image-making side of my creativity, I have found a way to make a visual statement (again, at last!) and it feels something like freedom. I have tried not to overdo analysis here because it seems there is a lot to be made of religious subjects in visual art and I would rather have comments and discussion than a lengthy statement of artistic intent. If a reader wants to comment and share any views, they’re welcome.
Images © Copyright 2011 Chris Almond. All rights reserved.
Archisle 1 Open Photography Exhibition opened on Friday 16 December, briefly closed for the holidays, and is now open again weekdays and Saturdays until 31 January 2012. The venue for the exhibition is 7 Pier Road, St. Helier, Jersey, C.I.
Anyone who can physically get to 7 Pier Road, Jersey, between now and the end of January, and who loves photography, should see this exceptional show where some of Jersey’s most interesting photographers share space with a diverse selection of international artists.
The exhibition can also be viewed online at www.archisle.org.je
Archisle is a project hosted by Société Jersiaise to promote ‘contemporary photography through an ongoing programme of exhibitions, educational initiatives and commissions.’
Workshops in Jersey took place from April through July, with three groups each attending two days of presentations and group discussions. I was among those signed up for the middle pair of dates 2 and 9 July 2011.
Gareth Syvret, photographic archivist at Société Jersaise, led the workshop with A Short History of Photography. The structure of presentation allowed a generous, relaxed story to be made of a historical tour, with pauses to examine details and curiosities along the way. This was a superb introduction to the subject enriched with a projected visual display featuring many wonderful items from the Société’s archive.
Mark Le Ruez, Berlin-based artist, complemented Gareth’s history-potting with a close examination of some key contemporary photography-using artists, and fielded group discussion throughout. There were valuable things to be revealed – some of the practical methods of the artists as well as insights to artistic expression coming out of mundaner doing and living. Richard Billingham’s breakthrough tableaux of the indoors, resembling grimy, hyperreal sitcom stills, received special attention as did Sally Mann’s powerful portraits and landscapes drenched in mystery.
Group members were asked to prepare three images to discuss in the second session: One new image as response to the theme of islandness; one image from their personal archive; one image by another photographer. These presentations and discussions of them formed the central exercise in the second workshop. I was impressed by how easily and well each person addressed the group, talking interestingly at length about making and choosing their pictures. There was guidance towards preparation for planning and realizing submissions for the open competition, as it grew clearer that modes of thinking I can only call critical philosophies were being introduced, generously and gently, to our conference.
That week-long phase of creating work to analyse it was of great assistance to those of us who later submitted to the open call.
Fast-forward to mid-December 2011: The winning works were announced at the launch of the show. The evening was a good one, with cosy pre-Christmas atmosphere helped along with mulled wine and a full house. Cynthia O’Dell, second place award winner, and Lucian Bran, first place award winner, were not present and so accepted their prizes by means of digital video. Their virtual presence made for one of the more theatrical, touching moments of the evening. Cynthia O’Dell garrulously chatted to us the unseen about her project of bringing images of her relatives to their native country to undislocate the past to the present. Lucian Bran kept things briefer, and was no less charming. His photographs are from the series Alien Structures examining ‘architectures that disturb or interrupt familiar forms in the landscape’. The delicate views of backwoods of Romania and, and in one triumphantly enigmatic image of landscape placed in a space of ambiguous, Magrittian reality, with their quiet, uncanny atmospheres, seem to recall the revolutionary spirit of surrealist image making.
The exhibition room is grand and large with lots of floorspace balanced with the lavishness of its furnishings. The modern, vibrantly various photographic collection on the walls adds to the visual mix a delightfully riotous experience as one explores intersecting sequences of images.
A rich essay to accompany the exhibition, Archisle 1: An Introduction, by Gareth Syvret with Mark Le Ruez, contains penetrating analysis of the winners’ work and statements as well as looking in detail at several others in the exhibition. It’s a wonderful piece of writing given to exhibition visitors, and, so far as I know, not published in any other form. Its authors state that it is obvious that ‘the distinctive physical geography and the political and cultural development of the island of Jersey are intertwined.’ The 2011 brief, inviting observations of ‘islandness’, resulted in an abundance of poetic mystery, metafictions, historical resonances and visual novelty, as Gareth and Mark explain, ‘Islands of fact and of fiction have surfaced in the submissions to our 2011 open call; islands of the earth and islands of the mind.’
Below is a quote from Archisle‘s mission statement as they advance, in this period of exponential hyperconnectivity, to a synthesis of all islanders’ common experience in photographic art and the enlisting of something like an avant-garde cultural research community.
The Islands of the World V International Meeting in Mauritius on 4 July 1998 recommended, ‘that islanders speak and others hear the unique and positive cultural experiences of island living through literature and other forms of creative expression.’ Taking up this assertion and analysing the challenges and opportunities for island art Peter Hay has observed that:
‘In a stressed world, islands are under particular stress. At the same time – as the global economy becomes more and more tightly controlled from the centre – it may be that it is only at the fringes that the necessary “critical distance” will be found that enables the envisioning and generation of real and radical alternatives to taken-for-granted existence. Despite the inflexibility to which islandness has conduced in the past, then, it may be that in the future islands will be crucial sites of inquiry, even of resistance.
‘Island arts engage with the land and the sea (of course!) and the community. They address the large questions of existence, but they do it within a context of shore-bounded particularity. They are, in reality, not “minor” arts at all, and island artists are, in reality, not workers at the margins. So should it be recognised.’
Through Archisle we seek to create a space for creative discourse between Jersey and international artists on and about island experiences. The readings presented here and the yet to be told interactions between present and future participating artists and their audience reveal the tremendous creative potential of beginning this discussion.
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