Saturday, 29 August 2009

Favourite things

One of my favourite artists (and, I admit it, a very good friend) Paola Casalino will be showing some of her work at Taunton Public Library, Taunton, Somerset, from the 1st to the 12th of September. The show's entitled My Favourite Things. One of my favourite things is a painting I have of Paola's, which hangs to my right as I work (or don't work at the moment, with temperatures still in the mid-30s). I don't know if the painting on the left will be in the show or not, but I do know that whatever Paola's chosen to exhibit will be worth seeing.

If you're in or near Somerset in the next two weeks, pop in and take a look. All the details can be found here.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Shut yo' mouth, Part Two

Silvio Berlusconi has just taken the extraordinary step of suing Repubblica on the grounds that the ten questions the newspaper has been asking him (click to embiggen above or see here) since the Papi-and-Noemi shit hit the fan last February are 'diffamatory'. His argument, or that of his weasel-faced legal adviser, Ghedini, is that the questions are 'rhetorical' and designed 'not to obtain a response' from Berlusconi but to 'insinuate in the reader the idea that the person "interrogated" refuses to respond'.

This is the kind of casuistical horseshit lawyers are paid to produce - it ought to be clear to anyone that Berlusconi's refusal to respond is not an 'idea' but a fact - so we shouldn't be surprised. What is surprising is that Berlusconi should have chosen to kick up a legal fuss now, with Repubblica beginning to feel more and more like a voice in the wildnerness here, the RAI increasingly weakened by external and self-censorship and personnel changes, and his own house rags ever more virulently on the attack, slavering and snarling like cornered rats.

The last straw appears to have been a recent piece in which a number of articles from highly-regarded foreign newspapers are quoted, describing the man as a sex-dependent tin-pot dictator in the claws of the Russian mafia. SB, who continues to insist that he has brought nothing but lustre to the image of Italy abroad, a claim that would be laughable if it weren't so readily believed and repeated here in Italy, seems to have decided to try and clamp down on the right of Italian journalists to refer to the work of their colleagues in other countries, isolating the country even more.

In the meantime, the Viagra-riddled geriatric's plans to get a little Vatican cred by dining with some cardinal or other amid the rubble of L'Aquila have been blown away, possibly by Bossi's recent attacks on the Church, guilty of taking a soft line on immigration (!) and attacks on the Vatican-controlled publication Avvenire by the Berlusconi-controlled rag magazine Il Giornale. Let them fight it out among themselves, say I.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Shut yo' mouth

Earlier this year Freedom House placed Italy 73rd in its liberty of the press league table, classifying the country as 'partly free', a status it shares with Turkey, Burkina Faso and Haiti. This is hardly surprising, given that 80% of the population receives its information exclusively through television, almost entirely controlled, either institutionally (RAI) or personally (Mediaset), by the prime minister, Silvio 'Papi' Berlusconi.

It will be interesting to see what effect the refusal by the RAI to show the trailer of a new film, Videocracy, will have on next year's Freedom House tables. Made by Erik Gandini and distributed by Fandango, one of Italy's most courageous and culturally alert film distribution companies, the film looks at the the past thirty years of television in Italy and the sidereal shift produced in its cultural role by the growth and eventual dominance of Mediaset.

The RAI has refused to broadcast the trailer on the grounds that Videocracy is not really a film at all, but a political message, transmitting an unequivocable criticism of the government, a line of reasoning that would also exclude from the definition of 'film' the work of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, not to speak of Rossellini, Godard, Nanni Moretti, Ken Loach and a hundred others. The RAI, given its well-known 'pluralism' (as in blind subservience to power), has decided that showing the trailer would require a second trailer to be shown, of a film that presented the opposite political viewpoint. It's clear that such a film not only doesn't, but couldn't, exist without the retroactive cancellation of Mediaset and, oh joy, of Berlusconi himself.

What's more, recognising that most people know what they know from their TVs, it claims that, by linking the prime minister to the country's most important commercial television company, the film not only brings up the thorny, and unresolved, issue of conflict of interest - already a cardinal sin in post-free Italy -but also suggests that "by means of the television the government could orientate citizens' beliefs, influencing them in favour of the government and ensuring their consent". Well, duh, as Homer might say.

Mediaset, needless to say, has also refused to show the trailer.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover

A fascinating interview with a great cover designer, and more, on Caustic Cover Critic, one of my favourite blogs: informative, thorughly well-researched and frequently side-splittingly funny. In this case, it's the former. The artist's name's Roxanna Bikadoroff and this wonderful cover for Flannery O'Connor's wonderful book Wise Blood is a good example of her work.

Lucky Flannery O'Connor (not words you often see together, I know).

You can read the complete interview here.

Friday, 14 August 2009


I went to the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol yesterday. I've known about the place for years, but the last time I was in Bristol, in autumn 1975, I was looking for a job and don't remember even considering the notion of a visit to an avant-garde arts space. What I remember most vividly from that visit was, first, getting involved in a brawl while looking for somewhere to sleep, something that had never happened to me before and has never happened to me since, and sweating against the plastic lining the owner of the bed and breakfast I was staying in had slipped between the bottom sheet and the mattress of my single bed. At that time,art played second fiddle to concerns as immediate as work and a place to live, however much these concerns might have fuelled my own art later. But it's a place I've been aware of, and been intrigued by, for years, so I was keen to visit. We were there just before ten, when it opens, so we sat and looked at the water in that state of contemplative alertness to small shifts in the environment that water produces. An immensely elegant, unbearably malodorous, tramp, tall, long-boned, with the bearing of a medieval hermit, approached us and asked, in passable Italian, for a cigarette - he'd presumably heard us talking between ourselves - then thanked Giuseppe for the half packet of MS he was given with a smile of great sweetness and a lilting Grazie. And then it was time to go in, and so we did.

The current exhibition is called Sequelism. This is what the site has to say about it:

Sequelism, Part 3: Possible, Probable or Preferable Futures is an ambitious, multi-faceted project that looks into the future and at that which is yet to happen. It will consider how the inexact arena of futurology is used as a means to better comprehend the present and the past.

Well, that's what it says, and I don't want to argue with people who have far more invested in all this than I do. But what I saw was a series of objects arranged in certain ways - venetian and other sorts of blind hanging in the centre of a gallery, a fox's stuffed head on a steel pole, a row of whirring painted discs, a sheet of what looked like rubber thrown diagonally onto the floor - and it struck me how incommensurate these two things were: the aim and the artifice. I don't want to sound snippy, but even the language of the blurb betrays a certain anxiety, or woolliness, of thought. The distinction between, for example, 'the future' and 'that which is yet to happen' may be too fine for my small brain; alternatively, it may not exist. But what really struck me was the effort expended, which seemed considerable, and the effect, or value of the reward, which seemed far smaller, banal and even irrelevant.

The array of hanging blinds of various kinds, for example, could be inviting us to think about the way space is defined, is closed, is opened, is made visible and then concealed; its variability, its arbitrariness, our imposition of order upon it, and so on. The fact that some of the blinds in the installation are western and mass-produced while others are, or appear to be, the work of Asian artisans might be important. It's important if I choose to notice it, I suppose, and that's my problem with this kind of fag-end avant-gardism. It lends itself to observation as pure subjectivity in a way, say, that the Duchamp urinal didn't. Duchamp's admonishing ghost walks dolefully behind all this work but the urinal, or the bottle rack, or the defaced Mona Lisa, didn't provide the audience with a chance to prove how clever they were at reading the new significance of the artefact. Duchamp's work, where the effort was minimal and the effect enormous, was too busy telling the audience something. The wonder of that work is just how no-nonsense and didactic its aims were. You couldn't not get it, unless you were wilfully obtuse. The stuff in the Arnolfini seemed vague and smug and, well, decorative in its effort to be cutting-edge and challenging and thought-provoking. The kind of attention it asked of me was worth less than the attention the medieval tramp had given us, because in his case it had a specific aim, or the attention we gave to the water beneath our feet. It was institutionalised and up its own arse. And this was exemplified by one of the exhibits: a portrait photograph of the artist, or a good-looking model, wearing not one but three or four padded masks over his eyes. It could say such a lot, but really says very little. Oh, it's about all kinds of things, but what isn't? Finally, it says whatever you want it to say.

But maybe it's just me.

Saturday, 8 August 2009


I was party to a fascinating, albeit inadvertent social experiment a couple of evenings ago. We were still in Fondi, floored by the sweltering heat of the past month or so. Even our house, which has yard-thick walls and traditionally poky windows, had given up any pretence of keeping us cool. It felt like the only place you could breathe in the entire town was in the alley outside Maika's house, which somehow catches whatever faint breeze there is. Maika noticed this a couple of weeks ago and decided to take advantage of it by putting a small table and a chair or two outside. The alley's a dead end, just wide enough to get a car into, with a gate half-way down it. It's inhabited by local people, holiday-makers from Naples, an Indian family with their newborn baby.

It's not unknown for people to spill out of their houses into the street, although they tend to take the furniture back in when they're finished. Maika, though, left the table, covered with a cheery trattoria-style check tablecloth, outside from one day to the next. When she was there, she used it. What was interesting, and immensely cheering, was that when she wasn't there, other people did. The Indian woman brought her little boy and new baby out to sit there during the afternoon, when Maika was at the beach. A bunch of women from a flat at the end began to gather round it later on. One night, Maika came home from dinner out in the early hours of the morning and found a bunch of men playing cards round it. She asked them to make sure to leave the ashtray clean and went to bed.

What had happened was that Maika, by invading a public space, had created community. The first instinct is to consider this 'Neapolitan', this casual disregard for the public-private boundary, and that's certainly what it looked like, some scene from a De Sica film of the 50s. But the boundary in Naples, paradoxically, tends to be reinforced by this kind of thing, to favour the occupation of public by private, as though the two were inimical, as though what's ours is suddenly yours, or his, no longer shared at all.

What Maika's done, because it's in her nature, is to open that up, to allow the edge between private and public to be blurred into near invisibility, so that everyone has a sense of ownership, a respectful, even delicate, promiscuity, a sharing. It's only a folding table, a couple of chairs, a tablecloth, an ashtray. It could be anywhere. But it felt unique. People who wanted to get by as we ate our dinner waited while we moved our chairs. We were happy to put down our glasses, and stand, and smile at the baby, and moan about the heat. Nobody minded, or complained. I wouldn't have believed this tiny provisional utopia could exist if I hadn't experienced it myself.

Thursday, 6 August 2009


I'm off on my summer hols tomorrow morning and won't be back for two whole rain-filled weeks (yes, I'm back in the United Kingdom), so try to keep your expectations low as far as my posting is concerned. This doesn't mean I won't post - I could very well produce some of my most extraordinary work - witty without being shallow, vibrant with intelligence, utterly to the point. You know, the sort of thing I turn out on an almost daily basis. It just means I may not post very much, or very regularly. Note, I say may not. As in may.

And if that doesn't keep you coming back to check, nothing will. Not even the chance of another infantile visual pun like this magazine cover from the days when men were men and boys were boys and pieces of untrimmed wood were penile extensions.

Monday, 3 August 2009

The right of the strongest

There's a typically Italian kerfuffle going on here at the moment about the authorisation of Ru486, the pill that induces abortion. It's used pretty much everywhere in the developed world, but Italy's taken its time about saying yes, for obvious reasons. It's a political issue here (yawn), which is what women tend to become when their bodies,and their right to make decisions about them, are involved. I'd call the issue ideological but that gives too much weight to the knee-jerkiness of most of the reactions here, in the world of opinion-makers, inside and outside the Vatican, if such a space as 'outside the Vatican' exists in Italy in anything but the most virtual sense (i.e blogs). Because it isn't ideological at all; it's a question of who swings what, and where. It's party lines and party funding and who gives a flying fuck about individual women and their complicated individual lives?

For some people, for example, doctors and cardinals and their various acolytes and dependents (politicians), the use of the pill 'banalizes' abortion. At this point, it might not be a bad idea to cut the crap and introduce the proviso that legal abortion is available as long as it's accompanied by a public flogging and a rather severe haircut. That way the woman won't regard it as 'banal', and will presumably think twice before having sex. Because naturally, before having sex, she'll take into account the fact that she might be able to avoid a surgical procedure and replace it with a slightly less invasive sort of medication. Good God, who wouldn't risk it, knowing that? I'm surprised Papi Silvio doesn't slip a pill into the bustarella he gives the whores he entertains in his many villas. Banal, schmanal, as long as she doesn't do a paternity suit. The chance, as they say, would be a fine thing, despite Berlusconi's latest crack that he may not be a saint, but he fucks like a god. (Yes, this is the Italian premier speaking...)

But my favourite is the comment made by Bagnasco. He's the cardinal who took over from God's ferret a couple of years ago in a PR attempt to soften the rigour of the Prada-clad One, who is currently nursing his over-stressed wrist somewhere comfortable. In the photograph above, he's the one in the red sash sucking up to the boss, in white. They're quite a picture, surounded by all that sombre but not unsexy black. These colours wouldn't matter, but they have a hierarchical significance, rather like judo. And that's what makes me laugh about Bagnasco. His reaction to the decision to allow the use of the pill was to express his bitterness that it endorsed 'the right of the strongest'. Coming from a democrat this just might have had some weight. It's certainly true that a pregnant woman is 'stronger' than a foetus, if only because she's a reasoning autonomous being and not a mere cluster of cells. Coming from a man at the highest ranks of a rigidly hierarchical structure that regards all women within its bounds as lesser beings, deprived of decision-making power and doctrinal choice, a structure that will do all it can to reduce women outside its bounds, who don't even share its faith, to the same level, as unspeaking, unquestioning vessels of God's word and man's seed, it's no longer laughable. It's obscene.

Aaah, that's better

See any difference? That's right. I've changed template here so that YouTube videos fit more comfortably, and font size so that you can read me more easily. Any so-called close friend who tells you this move towards comfort has something to do with incipient short sight or the recent ballooning of my waistline as a result of too much spaghetti alle vongole and dry white wine is a dirty rotten liar.

So don't even think about it.


Thanks to Lally's Alley, who had it from Gene Wright Harris, for pointing me to this.

"Walking is a mobile form of waiting" Thomas A Clark

The Longest Way 1.0 - one year walk/beard grow time lapse from Christoph Rehage on Vimeo.