some good things and some less good things

It has been a mixed week so far. These are some of the good things which have happened in it:

I bought myself a really excellent new cardigan.

The sun has come out! You could almost suspect it is summer.

I found out that I got a distinction for an essay I wrote about some brain-melting cultural theory things (I am feeling pretty disgustingly smug about this one, actually).

Tomorrow I get to go to Newcastle to visit the Seven Stories Centre, which in case you don't know, is an arts centre devoted entirely to children's literature. I am so excited. The fact that is actually part of my job makes it even better.

.... and some less good things which have also happened:

Now that it is hot, my beautiful sun-allergy blisters are back, decorating my face with their loveliness. Yes, I am allergic to the sun. I am very, very special.

My throat of doom has returned. it is like an uber villain from an action film, possibly The Terminator. Every time you think you have well and truly destroyed it, it is back with a vengeance, seemingly more hell-bent on evil than ever before.

The electronic council tax robots forced me to pay them £956 of council tax. Why the streets are not paved with actual gold here in Didsbury, I truly cannot imagine.

I missed out on this lovely event yesterday which I really wanted to go to, because I was tired and felt ill (see doom, throat of) after a particularly exhausting day at work. It was rubbish.

Still, in spite of all this, the sun has been shining, and I do get to go and see an exhibition tomorrow entitled 'From Toad Hall to Pooh Corner'.

On balance, I think life is okay.

pipilotti rist @ FACT

This week, amongst other things, I went on a little trip to Liverpool for a work-related event. The event itself was very interesting, but a little too participatory for my liking (we had to do a tableau at one point. Yes, really).

However, having survived my day of participation, I took myself over to FACT to see the new Pipilotti Rist exhibition, and I think I have now found myself a new favourite media artist.

For me, the highlight of the show was the installation Gravity Be My Friend, which invites viewers to lie down on heaps of soft carpeting, arranged like islands drifting through calm seas, to watch video projections shown on the ceiling. Moving through hazy, Edenic landscapes, to the background of an uncanny lullaby of strings and bells, we glimpse vague mermaid-like figures moving through an underwater haze. The work is rife with dream-like symbolism, but for me, it’s peculiar power lay in its ability to evoke a strange nostalgia for lost childhood summers, and the most elusive early memories, enhanced by a vivid colour palette of apple-red, sky-blue and grass-green.

Your Space Capsule, in Gallery 2, continues the theme of childhood, re-creating the pleasure of miniature dolls-house landscapes. Peering inside what appears to be an ordinary crate abandoned on the gallery floor, we find ourselves looking down into a tiny, private space, perhaps a student flat, complete with books and records scattered on the floor, a plant in a pot and even a tiny pizza in a box. What makes this tiny space unique is that an enormous planet against a cosmic background of stars has literally invaded this intensely personal territory, making an interesting statement about the relationship of the particular and universal, the individual and the eternal, the miniature fragments of space we occupy and the broad horizons we can fathom. Meanwhile, Apple Tree Innocent on Diamond Hill dangles a variety of clear plastic packaging from the branch of a tree, transforming everyday domestic objects into twinkling, transluscent obj√©ts d’art, seemingly endowed with a strange, almost magical power, as if a part of some secret ritual or unknown child's game.

Writing for The Guardian here, Adrian Searle complains that this exhibition “sometimes makes me feel as if I'm stuck inside a vegan, possibly even fructarian, new-age indoctrination video” and even compares Gravity Be My Friend to a hair conditioner ad. I can see where he’s coming from - there’s no doubt that Rist’s interest in 1960s art and culture and utopian idealism infiltrate these works, and yes, there might even be a Timotei moment or two. But there is a strong sense of humour implicit behind this throughout all of Rist’s work: an enjoyable, infectious “silliness” which Searle himself acknowledges. This is perhaps most obviously embodied in her 1997 video Energy Is Over All, which is perhaps the best-known work in the show, and clearly reveals the artist’s infectious, anarchic good humour. Here, a woman in a flirty, floaty summer dress dances blithely down a city street, pausing every now and again to smash the window of a parked car with the long-stemmed flower she carries. These unexpected acts of violence are seemingly tolerated by a friendly policewoman, who becomes almost a co-conspirator in the act itself. Of course, I noticed that the woman is wearing red shoes: it’s no surprise to read that feminist theorist and writer Peggy Phelan has suggested that she acts as a parallel Dorothy figure, skipping merrily in her ruby slippers down a modern-day urban yellow brick road.

For me, it’s precisely this sense of energy, irreverence and playfulness which makes these works so enjoyable and engaging, particularly in contrast to some media artworks where technology serves to keep us, as viewers, distanced and unable to access meaning, firmly at arms length. Instead, Rist seems to find a child-like delight in the magic, the sheer imaginative power and the possibility for aesthetic beauty offered by moving image as an artistic form; she gleefully welcomes us to join in the game, to play in her own carefully-constructed fantasy wonderland, as in the installation The Room which physically throws us back into childhood. This sense is, of course, reinforced by the knowledge that the artist’s name ‘Pipilotti’ is a fusion of her own childhood nickname, and the heroine of her favourite children’s book, Pippi Longstocking, giving a clear indication of the enormous importance of play, childlike imagination and innocence at the heart of Rist’s artistic practice. It’s perhaps for this reason that in concluding his review of the show, Searle describes Rist’s work as “a guilty sort of pleasure”, but for me, it’s far less complicated: it’s absolutely this kind of sheer joy and enjoyment which is exactly what the art I like best is all about.

[Image via flickr]

summer tunes to listen to

... a quick selection of some of the tunes I've been listening to of late. Check out my retro pink tape player!


I'm quite impressed that I managed this all by myself.

Truly, the internet is a magical thing.

Making this just now reminded me of when I was writing a certain novel which has since been banished to my bottom drawer. At the time, I put together a whole playlist to get me in the right mood, and some of the songs even ended up working their way into the story itself, seeming to just appear, as if by themselves, at critical moments in the narrative. There's something so sad about a lost novel: I've been thinking about it a bit lately and wondering if its worth re-writing and resuscitating. It's hard to know when to have another go and when to just say goodbye.

Actually, I seem to remember that one of the songs on that playlist was 'Return to Oz' by the Scissor Sisters, which I couldn't help including here - it just seems so very appropriate given the title of this blog. Though you may be glad to hear that I did manage to refrain from including any Elton John.

NB// There is a pause button on the front of the cassette thing if you're sick of it and want it to shut up.

I want...

I think you have probably guessed by now that I am something of a fan of 'The Wizard of Oz'.

Red shoes in general are good, but ruby slippers are excellent.

So obviously, I really want to see this new production of 'The Wizard of Oz' at the Royal Festival Hall this summer. But what I really, really want is this fabulous limited edition Ruby Slippers necklace from Tatty Devine which accompanies the production.

I actually may have to buy one. And then go and see the show wearing it, of course...

i'm back

I am back from my holiday now.

I like holidays.

Tomorrow I have to go to work. I like my job, but what I think I would really like is a job doing this.

I think I would be very good at it.

holiday in dunbar: where I am

ooh - project!

Just to clarify, I think I ought to briefly explain exactly what I mean by "ooh - project!", for those who are not so intimately familiar with the 1995 Amy Heckerling tour-de-force that is Clueless. Sadly, it is a truth universally acknowledged that not all are as appreciative of the 1990s teen movie oeuvre as I, and so for the benefit of the unenlightened, “ooh, project!” is an exclamation one might make when confronted with a new and exciting task, such as transforming a high-school no-hoper into a fully manicured, coiffured, knee-sock-flaunting, plaid-miniskirt-wearing hottie, or indeed getting stuck into any particularly appealing new scheme, in this case trying to suss out exactly what the whole crazy world of blogging is about (see below).

I would love to say here that in future this blog will be referencing more highbrow, intellectual sources, perhaps some Adorno or Derrida, a little Nietzsche, maybe Foucault, Baudrillard? (But not Lacan. Definitely never Lacan.) However in spite of all my academic credentials the truth is I’m much more likely to return to Clueless. It is after all, possibly the most quotable film ever made: for any given situation, I promise you there is an appropriate Clueless quotation to fit it. And at the end of the day, shocking though it may be, I can’t help suspecting that when it comes to a stand off between Of Grammatology and Clueless, I suspect that Clueless is just a teensy bit more fun. Of course, it's also "way existential"... like, everyone knows that.

so what is this really all about?

OK, people. And of course, by people I mean readers. So that’s one, two of you maybe, if I’m lucky? At least one of whom is my mum? (Hello mum!)

But I digress...

Starting this blog has got me thinking about writing in general, and blogging in particular. Before I started writing here, I knew next to nothing about blogging, and indeed about writing online - though I’ve had work published online, I’ve always approached writing it in exactly the same way I’d approach writing in general. I think (I hope) I know a little bit about writing. I certainly have vey extensive experience of what I might term 'personal' writing - diaries, journals, that kind of thing. In spite of this, I’m very happy to admit that I know very little about what writing a blog is really all about. I’m even a little bit ambivalent about the whole exercise, as you will see from this initial post in my having-a-go, testing-the-water blog, unpacking my library. And as I’m sure any reader of this blog will gather, I certainly haven’t started with any particularly coherent plan or considered approach to what exactly it is I’m doing here - I’ve just been posting whatever is in my mind.

But since starting to write here, I’ve become aware that this whole world (I really can’t quite bring myself to use the word ‘blogosphere’) is a complex one, and far from being as straightforward as it might initially seem. Now, I find myself asking two key questions. Firstly, what is a blog, really, when it comes down to it? Personal diary made public? A forum to discuss and communicate with others? A place to gather stuff together? To explore ideas? To showcase work? Or even something akin to fiction - a novel, a fictionalised autobiography? What does a blog really mean? Or, to rephrase the question in a particularly annoying way, which I am afraid I can only justify by explaining that I can't help it - I am currently half way through an English Literature MA course which is especially heavy on the cultural theory - how does it mean?

And then my second question, perhaps the most important one: what is it that makes a blog good? What makes it readable, compelling, meaningful, interesting, engaging? What is it that takes it beyond just another place to mess about and waste time online, and turns it into something altogether more?

Like any good and faithful student, of course my next step is to undertake some research into the subject - i.e. do the reading! I already read a number of blogs I like, and in my work I come across lots more -usually writer's blogs - on a more or less daily basis. However, I’m very much aware that I’m only just starting to scratch the surface. So with this in mind, I’m (perhaps rather optimistically) asking passing readers (if there are any of you out there) to leave a comment below with a link to any blog(s) that you think might be of interest. Blogs you love, blogs you laugh at, even blogs you think are downright awful. Blogs to inspire or enrage or enrich, or that you simply think are a really great read.

We’ll see what I get and I’ll do some investigating. In the meantime, I’m starting by reading this article about internet writing on the Canongate website by fellow Manchester resident, writer (and blogger) Chris Killen. (Chris is also the author of the fabulous 'untitled supermarket nightmare' novel which you can read online here)

And of course, whatever I find out, I’ll be posting it here.

literary london and friday fun

... my very brilliant and talented boyfriend has been presenting a paper on psychogeography at the 7th annual literary london conference at Brunel University today, and I'm sure he's having a celebratory drink or two this evening.

Unfortunately I'm not there. Back here in Manchester, I've also missed out on the Contents May Vary publication launch at Castlefield Gallery yesterday and the Art of Sound: Sound of Art event with RNCM at the Whitworth Art Gallery tonight.

So what, I hear you ask, are my glamorous, exotic, fun-filled alternative plans for the end of my week? Well, so far I have to say, Friday night has been pretty hot stuff. I'm talking drinking tea, watching 'Celebrity Masterchef', nursing the sore throat and reading 'The South Manchester Reporter'! And now I'm going to bed early. No doubt about it, I sure do know how to party.