We Are All Chrysalids Now – on body shaming and other circus antics

Striding through the urine warm, wave machine propelled waters of a Kentish leisure centre, I realised that there wasn’t a body there that wouldn’t be shamed if it belonged to a public figure.
Evolution can create a lot of shapes in a single species.

Looking at Spencer Tunick’s photographs of the naked and blue in Hull, I was struck by how many shapes barely exist in culture unless they were painted by Lucian Freud or appear on a late night TV show where people weep because they have come to learn from glossy mags and pop promos that their fluctuating skin is fit only for a circus sideshow.

With so many body types, it seems peculiar, even perverse, that those that are projected at us from screens, magazine covers and the sidebar of the Mail Online have so little variety. Even the beach imperfections that incite relentless clicks and salon debate are many miles from the average angular diversity seen flying off the water slide or yomping through the shallow end.

“Does the body rule the mind or the mind rule the body, I don’t know”, sang Cartesian Morrissey. The fear of our own bodies and how they are judged by others seems to pointlessly preoccupy our minds more than is healthy or useful.

Underlined in my oft-reread copy of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is “the shape of a man’s body is largely irrelevant to the shape of his ideas”. For a species that prides itself on a superior brain and the ability to rise above the animal, we are chained to some dull notions on the physical. The corsetry has changed, but the obsession with outward physical appearance still seems to usurp any interest in outward mental appearance.
Hair transplant first, thoughts second (if necessary).

My own body horror as a child was having vague breasts. It was enough to mark me out as a chrysalid should I be forced to play in the skins team in PE. I can still recall the nausea as the teacher divided us up and I prayed to whatever god I held in my head then that I would remain in my vest.

REM’s inner sleeve for Eponymous remains a favourite on this subject of creative inventiveness and cracking tunes just not being enough for the publicity department.

Leafing through the internet, I find out that Nicholas Parsons looks a bit old as he departs from the BBC (at 92 and 3/4s, I think he is allowed moments of looking a little more fragile than Dwayne Johnson) and Stacey Solomon’s beach breasts may be flesh, not marble. What strange, yet mundane days it must be for the paparazzo when his mind rejoices, “callooh! callay! I have caught a moment of bikini bosom adjustment. The editor will be gleeful and I shall feast on Lobster soup tonight”.

Is this obsession because we feel so unhappy with ourselves, so thrive on “the beautiful people” sagging and puckering, or is it just from spite?

Sadly apocryphal, the tale of John Ruskin’s wedding night is the Aesop fable of pubic hair. As an art critic, Ruskin was well aware of the female form, at least its painted version. Ruskin may have scrutinised many female nudes in the galleries, but their pubic hair was unrepresented in oils or watecolour. Therefore on his wedding night, he was shocked to the point of impotence by his wife’s “unnatural” hair. The marriage was never consummated.

I was told that pubic hair did exist in paintings before Gustave Courbet, but that 19th century prudery led to an artful “tippexing out” of pubic hair in older paintings where the artist had been so adventurous. In much the same way, Victorian prigs felt it best to turf in the genitalia of the Cerne Abbas Giant for fear that monocles would shatter should an aristocrat travel through Dorset and peer at the lewd and chalky hillside. (do not take my word for it on either count. This article from Vulture elaborates on pubic hair in art, but also repeats the Ruskin story as truth http://www.vulture.com/2014/12/brief-history-of-pubic-hair-in-art.html )

It seems we demand perfection, but we also hanker for a point of revelation where we see it is just a little putrid too. Considering the number of flabby or pointy or creased amongst us, it remains remarkable that any such figures being heroes of pop music or Hollywood will always be celebrated as an eccentric novelty.

The next Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles is with writer, singer and art historian, David McAlmont, and there are plenty of others to choose from including Stewart Lee, Geoff Dyer, Lisa Dwan, Sara Pascoe, Brian Cox and many more. Browse through our catalogue of delights HERE.

There is a second Dead Funny horror anthology out now, with stories by Alan Moore, James Acaster, Alice Lowe, Isy Suttie, Stewart Lee, me and on and on…HERE

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These Are Not The Graphs You’re Looking For – an updated post on doubt and dogma.

UPDATE: The blog post below was written a few hours before driving to ABC’s Q&A with Brian Cox. In the build up to his debate with Malcolm Roberts, I had been thinking about the conspiracy mind set and how it may be different to healthy scepticism. Reading some of the the conspiracy magazines, I was interested in the appearance of a shared agenda – Pro-Putin, Anti-Vaccination, keen on climate science conspiracy theories, and some possessed the age old, lurking anti-semitism. Active and researched doubt seems healthy, but it seems that it is not religious enough, and so the step to scepticism is avoided and exchanged for a leap to dogma which is described as free thinking, but is chained to oft-refuted, oft-repeated misinformation & disinformation. Whatever evidence is offered is rejected as “the wrong kind of evidence” or evidence from a corrupted source. While we reap the rewards of technological and scientific understanding, we then use the systems that have emerged from this to deny anything that methods of experiment, inquiry and testable hypotheses reveal if it is not to our liking. Overwhelmed by information, we reject doubt and opt for a new church, instead.

Our 21st century cognitive dissonance is tumescent.

Anyway, this is what I wrote on the way to the studio.

My brain is confused today, so please excuse grammatical and logical errors found below.

Looking out from the 35th floor at the city beneath me, I experience vertigo.
This is not a vertigo inspired by a fear of falling into the ventilation fans 25 storeys below, but cosmological vertigo.

My brain can’t analyse the information from everything it sees and reads, so it is just stuttering like a faulty traction engine.

There was the article on consequentialism, the interview with David Icke, the news reports on Donald Trump, the chapter on quantum indeterminacy, and the episode Bewitched. I should have just stuck with the episode of Bewitched, I was safe there.
I first read about cosmological vertigo in Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress. Paul Gauguin found the rapid accumulation of scientific knowledge about our universe and ourselves abysmally befuddling, so decided that the civilisation he was drowning in should be left behind.
He famously journeyed to Tahiti where he knew there was a simpler way of life and all the women went about topless, which would take his mind off Darwinian evolutionary theory and atomic hypotheses. Finding out that women now popped a top on in Tahiti and things were not as Eden-ish as he had imagined, he nevertheless painted it as he had hoped it would be so as not to show himself up too much.

Tahiti would be no escape for me, they’ll have wifi by now.

I went into a Sydney newsagent looking for the excellent Cosmos science magazine. Unable to find any evidence based glossy, I went violently in the other direction and picked up New Dawn (“Consciousness, Quantum Science, Akashic Paradigm”) and Uncensored (“David Icke was right” “Who is Edward Snowden Really Working for?” “The Real Reason for Cellphone Towers”).

I have moments of consumer desire where I see these sort of magazines in a rack and imagine they might be fun to read. Then I sit in a hot bath, sulky and confused as I turn the pages and squint at the burbling, bubbling text. I remember that there are great books still unread and so much science for me to still understand (nearly all of it actually), as well as Alan Moore’s Jerusalem to finish before the end of the week. Therefore, spending time reading how the LGBTTTT (“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transabled, transhuman”) agenda stems from the ancient interbreeding illuminati bloodlines lusts for sexual deviancy or sentences such as “the patient is incarnate awareness disconnected from inspiration, knowing, insight and intuition from its greater self operating at frequencies outside of this fake reality we call the world”, may not be time well spent. It seems that outlets that encourage free thinking are often rigid about which dogmas are stamped with the certificate of freedom.

And none of this scepticism stems from a confidence in the mainstream media, the trustworthiness of corporations, or a delight in our current political systems. Wars are rarely fought for the given reasons, business and banking deals frequently reek of skullduggery on the occasions that the stink of deceit seeps through the cracks, and there appears to be bulky, hulking slabs of misinformation and disinformation stealthily seeded across multiple platforms. But these revelations are usually not as hammily melodramatic as the alien spaceship moon beams controlled by the viper tongued and lizard-eyed secret cave dwelling overlords that scramble our minds and lure us to fast food outlets where the milkshakes tastily sterilise us and brainwash us into dunkin donuts complicity.

It is a problem when the means of mass communication are controlled by so few, and the users frequently prefer confirmation bias over scepticism.

I watched a David Icke performance recently. The first three sentences pointed towards the possibility of an interesting lecture looking at the media in a Chomskyian manner, but before the end of the paragraph, we were in to Von Daniken-ese with a lengthy explanation of why the moon is an alien spaceship. If you want to know more of how that may affect your life, read Our Mysterious Spaceship Moon by Don Wilson. Pragmatists, you may have something more useful to do. Sometimes, I worry that it may be Icke who is the pay of a shadowy splinter group who live in the basement of the CIA. Or is he really from the lizard bloodline, making it all so preposterous then eating big rats whole with Rupert Murdoch and Princess Anne.

So much information, everything is true. I wish it was just a matrix or an angry god or I was brain in a jar being manipulated by an evil mastermind, it would make it much easier to find a handy dogma. I think for the time being I’ll have to believe that humans are confused and confusing, that there’ll be no supermen to save us from ourselves and that, even if our universe is a hologram, stubbing your naked toe on a swollen boulder would create a seemingly accurate sensation of annoyance and pain.

As the history of science has taught us, there may be no right answers, but with careful thinking and experiment based interrogation, we may find a way forward that is at least less wrong than some of the others. Looking at our current carnival of political chaos, it is surprising that we haven’t found a less wrong solution than this. I wish I could blame the lizards.

The latest Book Shambles podcast is science (and Mills & Boon) book special with Brian Cox, Rosetta Missions’ Monica Grady & Matt Taylor, and Ben Miller. Earlier episodes include Chris Hadfield, Mark Gatiss and Sara Pascoe – all are HERE

Johnny Mains and I have edited a new anthology of horror stories by comedians and Alan Moore, including stories by Stewart Lee, James Acaster, Alice Lowe, Josie Long and Isy Suttie. It is out now.

FOOTNOTE: I am going to be returning to Australia and New Zealand in March with a bunch of comedians and scientists for some shows, keep an eye on the AFA website for news – http://atheistfoundation.org.au/

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What Use is Pondering Death if It Doesn’t Make You Live Life?

My reflection is beginning to match my actual face. It has taken a while to catch up. I noticed my reflection was now nearly as old as my face when I caught myself reflected in a shiny wall at the Gallery of South Australia. Our mind seems to CGI our face. That is why we are often appalled by photographs, the lens doesn’t filter our image in the same way as our brain. For many years, I have been grey (hair and skin). My reflection never looked as grey and I reckon it might be because a mental shortcut means my mind pieces together my look from so many older, darker haired days. I know I have been thinning and balding for a while, yet when I looked in the mirror, things weren’t so bad. It was a slow waltz to scalp decrepitude. I only realised how thin my retreating hair was when I saw some high up camera shots from Book Shambles recordings. Now I have been confronted by the reality, my reflection is slowing becoming a more honest representation.

The gallery also reminded me how much I enjoy lighting fixture made of dog skulls. My sisters would not be surprised. They had always imagined I’d grow into a serial killer, and just because I had a sheep’s skull next to my bed. It was almost a cuddly toy with its soft moss covering.

The skull chandelier was by Sue Kneebone, who has also created two entertaining mutation portraits with A Cautionary Tale of Over-Confidence and For Better or Worse.

In the room beyond is Fiona Hall’s All The King’s Men, the ghost train of this particular gallery. Ghastly knitted skulls and gut-like accoutrement hang from the ceiling in an unsettling formation of doom.

A knitting project from someone who has lost all faith in the possibly humanity of this world.

 

The unease is fortified when the spectator discovers the ghoulishness is constructed from torn military uniforms.

The gallery surprised me on my last visit to Adelaide and it did so again. In this city of churches, clock bells and low buildings, you might expect that the art within would be parochial, maybe even musty and mundane. On my first visit, it was Marc Quinn’s Buck with a Cigar that shattered my simple-minded preconceptions of Adelaide’s art offerings. A bold bronze cast of a tattooed man, bold and biting on a cigar, the twist is the female genitalia. Buck was physically born a woman, but had become a man, though maintaining the genitalia he was born with . As the label states, “Buck’s confident pose and genial demeanour does not invite either condemnation or pity”. I am glad it is in the Frank and Gladys Penfold Gallery.

Walking into a room of photographic portraits, a woman sits in contemplation opposite a photo narrative. I try not to disturb her and stay at the edge of the frames. It is William Yang’s Sadness.

“I don’t think I have great technical aptitude, but I am interested in people” – William Yang

This series of prints shows the decline of a former lover who has AIDS. Under each photograph is a hand-written description of friendship and health. It travels from shortly after diagnosis in 1988 to death in 1990. The decline, suddenly so rapid, and the final image of the now lifeless face, is stark, memorable and miserable. Alan comments that when his friend was in a coma, he thought he looked as if he were dead, but it was only when he saw him dead that he realised a true change from seeming lifelessness to actual death. Fortunately, for this disease at least, this is of another time, at least in places where medicine healthcare is properly available. It seems remarkable that 26 years on, science has found methods to allow people to live a pretty normal and full life. I must have been a teen when I first saw the tabloid images of this brand new plague. I think it was on the cover of The Sun newspaper, a healthy, full-faced young man side by side with his near death mask one year on. Then there was Rock Hudson, John Hurt’s iceberg narration, and Ian Charleson’s early death, soon after a triumphant Hamlet. No one knew he was ill, i think the reason for his changed appearance was given as an adenoid problem or similar. A friend saw that production and wept all the way home, not knowing he was dying, but so traumatised by the delivery of Hamlet’s deliberating over life and death.

I read and looked, and read and looked again. Then I paused…

I decided I didn’t fancy a snack in the café.

There was a lot of death in Adelaide’s Gallery, which is a good reminder to live a life. Maybe I should have had cake after all. What’s the use of melancholy moments in art if you can’t use it to propel yourself? And with my grey face reflected before me, I better get on with it now.

Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles Podcast has plenty of conversations on life, death, passion and books – from Brian Cox to Stewart Lee via Sara Pascoe and Geoff Dyer and plenty more. HERE

There are strange tales of death and terror by Alan Moore, Stewart Lee, Alice Lowe, me and many more in the recently published Dead Funny Encore.

 

 

 

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Time to Declare Your Intentions – Nosferatu, Manifesto, Doves and Elephants

I was disappointed by the exhibition I’d been anticipating at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, but I was delighted by the unexpected.

it is an impressive and unexpected statistic that art event attendance in Australia is higher that sporting event attendance. I have been told this statistic by two people and have decided not to investigate it as I like it. The Saturday ticketing queue for the Frida Kahlo/Diego Riviera exhibition and The Archibald Prize (the Australian equivalent of the UK’s BP Portrait Award, but without the controversial sponsor ). On the way to the counter, my friend and I occupied our time talking about death because there’s been a lot of it since we last saw each other.

Once in the Kahlo-Riviera exhibition, we shuffled along in a funereal conga with the snake of people stopping and staring at each image for long enough to justify their $19 entrance fee. Turning a corner, I expected to see a room full of paintings, as there had been few so far, but instead it was the sofas of finality that are found opposite a couple of screens showing short documentaries.
The exhibition was informative, but disappointingly slight when it came to artworks. I enjoyed finding out that Kahlo’s parents were shocked by her much older husband, considering him to be like Brueghel. (picture below is Brueghel the Elder, though they might have meant the younger)

“It was like a marriage between an elephant and a dove”

I also found out what chromophore and auxochrome mean.

Walking through the galleries of Australian art, I started working on my dissection of why the art that pleases me does that, but I am without the language to define it.

Why do I prefer Lloyd Rees’s The Road to Berry (below) to Margaret Preston’s Grey Day in the Ranges?

And why do I prefer Grey Day in The Ranges (below) to Lina Bryan’s End of the Road?
And how does it help me if I ever do work that out?

Down the escalator was where the real treats (subjective treats obviously) were projected or hung.
Tracey Moffatt’s Love (mentioned in my MCA post) was playing. As we sat and watched the skilfully edited arc of cinematic lust, love, betrayal and death, testing each other’s film buff memories, I wondered how these names hide in your head for so long, but can be ready when confronted with the right image. As her second montage piece, Other, began, a face came on the screen. It was Jeff Chandler (best remembered for 1950’s Broken Arrow). I am not sure I have ever said his name aloud before, but there it was. While I struggle to remember the names of people I know in a non-celluloid reality, leading to all manner of social bluffing, I am safe in the knowledge that should the ghost of the long-dead Jeff Chandler be at an event, my recall will be intact.

The walls all had Moffatt’s photographic work Laudanum 1-19.

The sequence is inspired by Losey’s The Servant and Nosferatu. The series either looks like a vision of reality observed by a ghost, or the observation of ghosts by someone quite alive. It also has that grainy black and white reminiscent of attempting to capture a dream. After watching The Elephant Man when I was 12, I woke up the next day uncertain of whether I had really seen it and whether I had made up further scenes when I was sleeping (I think Alan Moore’s Jerusalem is beginning to affect my mind).
John Carpenter’s dreams broadcast from an alien intelligence in Prince of Darkness achieves a similar sensation.

The standout of this trip was Julian Rosenfeldt’s Manifesto, a collaboration with Cate Blanchett. This is a series of thirteen films, each one representing a collection of artists’ manifestos.

It starts with sparks and Marx, “all that is sold melts into air” and then each further screen reflects a story where the protagonist speaks the words of artists.

“this culture will not be dominated by the need to leave traces”

A whiskered hobo drags his trolley through the remains of a power station. (foolishly, i forgot to note down the manifesto title of this one)

For futurism the camera glides above row upon row of shoulder to shoulder stockbrokers watching the market with intent.

For Creationism (as in Creacionismo, not as in “god made the bats and beagles”), a drunken, tattooed rocker spouts – “to the electric chair with Chopin…who raised the question of sincerity”.
I was particularly taken by the well-stencilled tattoo of Peter Lorre on her upper arm.

“My madness has not been reckoned with”

Dadaism is a funeral eulogy with a cameo from an Afghan Hound.

“Logic is a complication. Logic is always wrong.”

Surrealism is in a room brimming with puppets of political leaders, thinkers and stars, their glass eyes beady and dead.

Pop Art is a family sunday roast with grace replaced by the words of Claes Oldenburg.

The funniest is Conceptual art presented by a glamorous new anchor in discussion with a reporter in the rain. Film, mxing manifestos of Von Trier, Jarmusch, Herzog and Stan Brakhage, has Blanchett as a teacher instructing a class of eight year olds on the necessities of cinema.
“I want you to remember what Jean Luc Godard said,’It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them too’”

Each one is beautifully shot. Blanchett is magnificent. The manifestos are forthright, intriguing, and at sometimes pompous. They often read like a drunk at his most confident, ready to take on the world before the hangover sets in. It can be the artist as ubermensch, spitting at the passers-by as he waves his brushes and best collage scissors. These are bravura performances.

I feel like writing a manifesto now, pass me a bottle of whiskey and a dictionary…

Book Shambles podcasts which include episodes with Mark Gatiss, Geoff Dyer, Sara Pascoe, Lisa Dwan and Brian Cox, are HERE

A new horror anthology with stories by Stewart Lee, Alan Moore, Josie Long, me and many more is available now

 

 

 

 

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Is it the Lizard Illuminati Controlling my Head Who Make it Spin So Much?

UPDATE: I wrote the blog post below a few hours before driving to ABC’s Q&A with Brian Cox. In the build up to his debate with Malcolm Roberts, I had been thinking about the conspiracy mind set and how it may be different to healthy scepticism. Reading some of the the conspiracy magazines, I was interested in the appearance of a shared agenda – Pro-Putin, Anti-Vaccination, keen on climate science conspiracy theories, and some possessed the age old, lurking anti-semitism. Active and researched doubt seems healthy, but it seems that it is not religious enough, and so the step to scepticism is avoided and exchanged for a leap to dogma which is described as free thinking, but is chained to oft-refuted, oft-repeated misinformation & disinformation. Whatever evidence is offered is rejected as “the wrong kind of evidence” or evidence from a corrupted source. While we reap the rewards of technological and scientific understanding, we then use the systems that have emerged from this to deny anything that methods of experiment, inquiry and testable hypotheses reveal if it is not to our liking. Overwhelmed by information, we reject doubt and opt for a new church, instead.

 

My brain is confused today, so please excuse grammatical and logical errors found below.

Looking out from the 35th floor at the city beneath me, I experience vertigo.
This is not a vertigo inspired by a fear of falling into the ventilation fans 25 storeys below, but cosmological vertigo.

My brain can’t analyse the information from everything it sees and reads, so it is just stuttering like a faulty traction engine.

There was the article on consequentialism, the interview with David Icke, the news reports on Donald Trump, the chapter on quantum indeterminacy, and the episode Bewitched. I should have just stuck with the episode of Bewitched, I was safe there.
I first read about cosmological vertigo in Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress. Paul Gauguin found the rapid accumulation of scientific knowledge about our universe and ourselves abysmally befuddling, so decided that the civilisation he was drowning in should be left behind.
He famously journeyed to Tahiti where he knew there was a simpler way of life and all the women went about topless, which would take his mind off Darwinian evolutionary theory and atomic hypotheses. Finding out that women now popped a top on in Tahiti and things were not as Eden-ish as he had imagined, he nevertheless painted it as he had hoped it would be so as not to show himself up too much.

Tahiti would be no escape for me, they’ll have wifi by now.

I went into a Sydney newsagent looking for the excellent Cosmos science magazine. Unable to find any evidence based glossy, I went violently in the other direction and picked up New Dawn (“Consciousness, Quantum Science, Akashic Paradigm”) and Uncensored (“David Icke was right” “Who is Edward Snowden Really Working for?” “The Real Reason for Cellphone Towers”).

I have moments of consumer desire where I see these sort of magazines in a rack and imagine they might be fun to read. Then I sit in a hot bath, sulky and confused as I turn the pages and squint at the burbling, bubbling text. I remember that there are great books still unread and so much science for me to still understand (nearly all of it actually), as well as Alan Moore’s Jerusalem to finish before the end of the week. Therefore, spending time reading how the LGBTTTT (“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transabled, transhuman”) agenda stems from the ancient interbreeding illuminati bloodlines lusts for sexual deviancy or sentences such as “the patient is incarnate awareness disconnected from inspiration, knowing, insight and intuition from its greater self operating at frequencies outside of this fake reality we call the world”, may not be time well spent. It seems that outlets that encourage free thinking are often rigid about which dogmas are stamped with the certificate of freedom.

And none of this scepticism stems from a confidence in the mainstream media, the trustworthiness of corporations, or a delight in our current political systems. Wars are rarely fought for the given reasons, business and banking deals frequently reek of skullduggery on the occasions that the stink of deceit seeps through the cracks, and there appears to be bulky, hulking slabs of misinformation and disinformation stealthily seeded across multiple platforms. But these revelations are usually not as hammily melodramatic as the alien spaceship moon beams controlled by the viper tongued and lizard-eyed secret cave dwelling overlords that scramble our minds and lure us to fast food outlets where the milkshakes tastily sterilise us and brainwash us into dunkin donuts complicity.

It is a problem when the means of mass communication are controlled by so few, and the users frequently prefer confirmation bias over scepticism.

I watched a David Icke performance recently. The first three sentences pointed towards the possibility of an interesting lecture looking at the media in a Chomskyian manner, but before the end of the paragraph, we were in to Von Daniken-ese with a lengthy explanation of why the moon is an alien spaceship. If you want to know more of how that may affect your life, read Our Mysterious Spaceship Moon by Don Wilson. Pragmatists, you may have something more useful to do. Sometimes, I worry that it may be Icke who is the pay of a shadowy splinter group who live in the basement of the CIA. Or is he really from the lizard bloodline, making it all so preposterous then eating big rats whole with Rupert Murdoch and Princess Anne.

So much information, everything is true. I wish it was just a matrix or an angry god or I was brain in a jar being manipulated by an evil mastermind, it would make it much easier to find a handy dogma. I think for the time being I’ll have to believe that humans are confused and confusing, that there’ll be no supermen to save us from ourselves and that, even if our universe is a hologram, stubbing your naked toe on a swollen boulder would create a seemingly accurate sensation of annoyance and pain.

As the history of science has taught us, there may be no right answers, but with careful thinking and experiment based interrogation, we may find a way forward that is at least less wrong than some of the others. Looking at our current carnival of political chaos, it is surprising that we haven’t found a less wrong solution than this. I wish I could blame the lizards.

Johnny Mains and I have edited a new anthology of horror stories by comedians and Alan Moore, including stories by Stewart Lee, James Acaster, Alice Lowe, Josie Long and Isy Suttie. It is out now.

The latest Book Shambles podcast is science (and Mills & Boon) book special with Brian Cox, Rosetta Missions’ Monica Grady & Matt Taylor, and Ben Miller. Earlier episodes include Chris Hadfield, Mark Gatiss and Sara Pascoe – all are HERE

FOOTNOTE 1: One of the issues of New Dawn was sort of fun. The consciousness malarkey can be jaunty, but the anti-vax stuff, hmmmmm

FOOTNOTE 2: I am going to be returning to Australia and New Zealand  in March with a bunch of comedians and scientists for some shows, keep an eye on the AFA website for news – http://atheistfoundation.org.au/

 

 

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Soviet Space projects, bronze sleeping bags and Magic Hours

For a while, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art reined supreme as my favourite art gallery.
Jet-lagged and incompetent, I found myself at their Ugo Rondinone exhibition of 2003. On top of the building was a rainbow declaring “Our Magic Hour”, inside were rotund fibreglass clowns opposite shattered mirrors while a cover version of spoken word excerpts of Hal Hartley films played. I stared and I stared, and I stopped, and I stared again. My favourite room consisted of eight screens, two per wall. The projections were repetitive monochrome films of curtain blind cords being toyed with, a man walking as a camera follows, someone floating through murk, and similar images, and playing in the background was a simple lo fi song called Everyday is like Sunshine.

I became addicted to it. Every day I was in Sydney, i would go into that room, just for a minute or two, and leave over an hour later. As I stood mesmerised, I would make a decision to leave the room the next time the drums kicked in, but when they did, I would resign myself to the fate of staying for just a little bit longer. I think this was also the year there was an exhibition of Wim Wender’s photographs of lone desert road Americana.

The MCA also introduced me to the work of the renowned Australian artist, Tracey Moffatt. The first work I saw was a montage on the theme of love in films. Using sharply edited, sometimes split second moments from Hollywood romances, tragedies and noir, she demonstrated the arc of cinema romance, from first flirt to final bullet wound.

Today, I returned. I have not been so keen on the MCA since the building was extended, I don’t like change in my contemporary art galleries, and I can be quite a Luddite if my favourite Futurists attempt to move forward with the times.

My teenage niece and nephew were not enamoured by New Romance: art and the posthuman.
They are clearly precocious, already muttering the old man’s response to two milkshake containers and a broken umbrella vaguely moving in a gallery corner, “I could do that”. I never got around to an opinion on that particular exhibit. Having seen the more epic “Flood” at Brisbane’s GOMA on Sunday in which a deserted McDonald’s restaurant falls victim to its dystopian fate , I had already experienced the artistic peak of bleak fast food prophecy.

Patricia Piccinini and Peter Hennessy’s Alone with God conjured up some nice fleshy mutations of strange multiple cocked and lipped skin mounds. It was reminiscent of David Cronenberg being asked to design some muppets.

If I had been at a looser end, i would have watched Jeon Joonho and Moon Kyungwon’s El Fin Del Mundo. This short film on two screens is beautifully shot and enigmatic, showing a desperate future and the future beyond that which returns to examine it. Will my life leave any artefacts worthy of scrutiny?

Further up the MCA was Telling Tales: Excursions in Narrative Form. Kerry Tribe’s short film, Last Soviet, is based on the story of Sergei Krikalev, the last Soviet in space. Leaving earth before the fall of Communist Russia, and returning 311 days later to a rapidly changing nation, he was the last cosmonaut of the Soviet regime. A good story, enticingly told by Kerry Tribe. The work was further complicated by my misinterpretation of bean bags for art installation. Stood at the back, I saw shapes that seemed to be sleeping bags. Initially, I was fearful they may suddenly move, like the terrifying sack in the film Audition. Or maybe they were like Gavin Turk’s bronze cast of a figure in a sleeping bag?

But no, they were just there for people to sit on when the room was fuller. Later, I would face that horrifying quandary, “is the chair in the gallery for sitting on or for most definitely not sitting on as it is art”. I neither sat nor stared, I moved away.

Jitish Kallat’s Covering Letter was a striking projection of a letter (from Gandhi to Hitler) on dry ice.
Bouchra Khalili’s The Constellation (1-8) was a thoughtful reaction to the refugee crisis where the path of eight refugees was mapped out like a stellar constellation.

To further refute Oscar Wilde’s aphorism that all is useless, the exhibition also include some of Safdar Ahmed’s Refugee Art project, a series of cartoon strips and sketches in which refugees portrayed their feelings and experiences. In Safdar’s words, “The intention is to facilitate the agency and self expression of asylum seekers and refugees and to activate art in the struggle for refugee rights.” Actions and works like this are an effective swipe against lazy presumptions that those fleeing are somehow not the same as you and your aunt.

The MCA may not be number one on my list anymore, but I forgive it modernising its modern art facade now. Sometime I am a stick in the mud, and when I am, I stand in the corner and hope I am mistaken for art.

Latest book shambles is a science special with Brian Cox, Monica Grady and Matt Taylor, and it is HERE

New Horror anthology, edited by Johnny Mains and I, and with new work by Stewart Lee, Rufus Hound, Josie Long, Alice Lowe, James Acaster and many more is available now too

 

 

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You Can Have your Art, and You Can Have Your Peacock Spiders Too

“What’s it like touring with a rock n roll particle physicist?”

Well, we speed down highways listening to Bruce Springsteen songs and occasionally making diversions into small towns so Brian can have a curry pie.
That’s quantum showbiz.
At times, Brian appears to be both eating a pie and NOT eating a pie, but that is more down to the speed he eats a pie. It’s a trick of the light, though the light does it without intention.
It is not superposition pastry.

All the above is factually correct.

We are in Sydney now, preparing for shows four and five.

Apart from the dead birds I kept stumbling upon, Canberra was a delight. I can’t blame the avian fatalities on Canberra, apparently it might be due to severe migration fatigue.

As well as all the art I interrogated, I was lured into Questacon.
Happily lured.

In Natalie Angier’s The Canon, she notes that there seems to be an age where a child passes into a pretentious adulthood. The parent sees the science museum as something to toy with when the brain is at its most plastic and keen to pull levers, but as the structure solidifies, we must leave the science exhibits behind and peer at the lilies of Monet from a peculiar angle.

I hope this attitude is evaporating now. Seeing the delight adults have at the grown ups only Science Lates that have sprung up, pulling levers and scrutinising lunar modules is not just for children. I could gut the words of Oscar Wilde and type,                              “curiosity is wasted on the young”
but it’s not
so I won’t
(though I have).

It was thanks to a tweet from Geoff, an alumni of the traveling science circus, now a leader of the impending Australian Science Week that I found myself in Questacon. The building bubbled with excited schoolchildren, spilling from buses into exhibitions of spiders, elements, big fish, magnets and severe slides.

Sadly, I ran out of time before I could climb up and drop from the big slide.

(continued after picture)

The cloud chamber captured my mind and heart on this visit. It is such a simple, mesmerising detector of particles. A charged particle striking the liquid ionizes it and creates small cloud like shapes, the shapes change depending on the particle. I particularly enjoyed the muons. Looking at these frequent “strikes”, we wondered at what point nature might become art, or if we can happily view this spectacle without burdening it with the label of artists endeavour by a charged particle. I could, and one day will, spend hours watching the cloud trails of charged particles.
As Richard Feynman said, “the imagination of nature is far greater than the imagination of man”.

The Dancing Peacock spider was a further delight ,it’s only a recent human discovery.The male, as males so often do, puts on a fancy display, and if fancy enough, the female with both have sex with it, and devour it. Apparently, sometimes the male is only rewarded with the latter.

However much your offspring may think you are showing them up, remember Australian science week, and all the other science events and museums around the world, are not only there to intrigue child minds. You don’t have to disengage curiosity at voting age.

Questacon has a sculpture of Einstein’s head outside the building, beneath it are his famous words, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
He continued, in a sentence too long for a sculptural aphorism, “for knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

Since I wrote the blog post above, I have been to Sydney’s MAAS for a Large Hadron Collider based lunch (this is not a lunch where the potato is prepared by firing spuds at each other at incredible speeds to discover why potatoes have mash, but merely themed around the opening of their Collider exhibition). Though I didn’t see a cloud chamber, we were lucky enough to be guided around the store rooms. The objects we revered varied from an enigma machine to an original Tina Sparkle dress (the one with the tropical fruits, Strictly Ballroom fans). The Collider exhibition, originating from the London Science Museum, opens to coincide with The Sydney Science Festival. I missed it in the Northern Hemisphere, so I was very happy to catch up with it in the Southern one. I remain astounded that we can interrogate what the universe is made of at such a scale. The process of discovering why bundles of protons are smashed together at speeds near that of light in the hope of discovering why the universe has mass is beautifully investigated and explained by this exhibition. Every diagram, panel and digital representation of the process on display illuminates and entices. I look on it all, squinting with confusion, as tantamount to sub-atomic witchcaft, but evidence based witchcraft. Later, when questioning Brian Cox on stage about the LHC, the sound of a choir bled through from another room. It was an accidental elevation of his scientific description to a religious ceremony. I feared that he would go on to say, “you see, every time two bundles of particles  collide, it makes an angel”. Fortunately, he didn’t say that, but I did.

There are two Book Shambles Blue Dot Science special Podcasts coming up, they are available HERE
You can see Brian and I, or rather puppet Brian and I, going around the Science Museum in a series of films HERE (and keep an eye on http://www.cosmicgenome.com as they’ll be announcing a science tour of New Zealand and Australia very soon, hosted by me, with lots of guest.)

FOOTNOTE: Sorry for the mash joke

 

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