The Everything: fashion takes a leap

Kenzo, the fashion line now run by the people behind the hip-store chain, Opening Ceremony, take advertising and fashion to a new level with a 30-minute film to launch their latest collection. The film, directed by co-creative director, Humberto Leon, about teenagers with supernatural powers, offers a full narrative arc and features some well-known faces (Milla Jovovich for one) alongside a largely unknown cast. This is more than creative product placement and takes the company deeper into the cinematic territory that it has been inching toward. The line has a history of presenting its products in a surrealist way and The Everything takes this idea even further. Fashion shows are increasingly elaborate theatrical productions these days. It is no longer simply a case of sending models walking down runways, the larger companies produce mind-blowing stagings of their clothing. Kenzo is taking things in a more cinematic direction, it remains to be seen if anyone else will follow suit. The co-creators, Leon and Carol Lim are known for their iconoclastic approach to retail, marketing and design, and they may just have pulled off another shift in the direction fashion might take in the future.

The Story of Us and Them

On the outside wall of the Black Box in Belfast’s Cathedral district is an amazing piece of art by Conor Harrington I saw it the first time I was in Belfast after many years and every time I go back I always make sure to check that it’s still there. It’s a fencing scene that feels both contemporary and classic at once, a scene you might find framed on a wall in a stately home and yet the style evokes something else, something very present and contemporary, baroque, abstract and graffiti styles all rolled into one.

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Harrington, Irish born, now London based has seen his work rise up from the street to galleries. There are imprint coffee table books and a growing market for his amazing works.

The Heni gallery here in London is exhibiting a set of new works by Harrington called, The Story of Us and Them. Focusing on the growing sense of isolation that countries seem to be moving towards, with new walls being erected, boundaries and borders being constricted or closed and the notion of a post-globalistic world emerging, Harrington has created a set of works that invite us to think about these emerging divisions. He made two flags, one red one blue and they feature in all the works. The gallery blurb says,

Harrington drenches historical portraits of forgotten generals in vivid hues of red and blue, exaggerating this idea of ‘us and them’ through various political and cultural tropes. He stages photoshoots on which he bases the scenes in his paintings and utilises fire extinguishers, brushes, squeegees, hand painting and more to build up an image on his large canvases.  

For this series Harrington had two flags made, one red and one blue, which he reproduces in paint and through which he has fictionalised the idea of a nation state to examine ideas on tribalism and patriotism.  

The film above gives you a sense of his work, and if you are unfamiliar with Harrington, you might want to have a little walk around the web and discover his amazing art.

How Much Is Enough?

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Sam Phillips has a new album coming out and this is the first taste of what is to come. It's called How Much Is Enough? She also has a live concert film shot at Largo at the Coronet in LA, it's available on her website. Sam began her musical life as Leslie, she was a contemporary Christian artist for a while, but felt constrained creatively and spiritually, so she changed her name to Sam and started again. Her final Christian album was produced by record producer, and her future husband, T Bone Burnett, who helped her craft her signature sound. 

Sam is now married to violinist and Section Quartet founder Eric Gorfain, and they collaborate on many projects.

 

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Another musician worthy of mention is Anna Calvi, whose new album, Hunter, comes out today. This album contains a set of songs about desire, gender and control. Calvi's music is both dreamy and menacing at times. She's a unique singer in a sea of overly-familiar sounding vocalists, and her guitar playing underscores the way she sings. Great stuff. Have listened twice today and am enthralled with what I'm hearing

AI Futures

"It is crucial to keep open, the radical ambiguity of how cyberspace will affect our lives: this does not depend on technology as such but on the mode of social inscription." Slavoj Žižek

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Turkey has been in the news for lots of reasons lately, mostly of them political, and concerning, but there are other reasons the country is getting press. The country just recently introduced its first social robot at the International airport. Nely, as the robot is called, is designed to help passengers navigate passport control. The robot is equipped with AI, facial recognition, voice capabilities, a bar code reader, emotional analysis and the ability to greet individual passengers.

The robot can also give information, weather reports and even change travel arrangements. It uses the age, expressions and  gender of passengers to alter emotions and tone of voice. Nely can also remember passengers it has interacted with before and even make small talk. According to creator,  Frank Berk Güler, the robot was designed in collaboration with sociologists.   

Nely is not the only social robot out there, it's just the latest example of how quickly and subtley we are entering a new era of interacting with digital personalities. it is also a reminder that robo-technological innovation doesn't just come from China and Japan. More and more countries are developing technologies that integrate the digital and the social.

 A couple of months back I went to a marketing and branding conference that was centered around the effects and potentials of the digital world upon retailing etc. It was a fascinating day of talks and demonstrations from a wide range of creators and thinkers. One of the central themes was centred around AI and voice-technology. With things like Echo and Alexa, more and more of us are interacting and becoming comfortable with digital devices, technologies that are named and are increasingly becoming conversational. It is estimated that by 2022 there will be 5 billion virtual assistants in use globally and some of those will have evolved into virtual companions with the ability to educate, entertain and provide emotional support. It is also estimated by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company that nearly 800 million human jobs will go to robots by 2030, this should give us pause on a number of fronts. 

What happens when that many jobs are out-sourced digitally has immense implications for how we deal societally with things like unemployment. if you consider the challenges that many people already face in finding sustainable work it would seem that the future looks even more precarious. 

The Italian philosopher, Franco 'Bifo' Berardi, writes in his book, The Soul At Work, that the general form of social existence will be precarious.

"Precariousness is not a particular element of the social relation, but the dark core of the capitalist production in the sphere of the global network where a flow of fragmented recombinant info-labour continuously circulates. Precariousness is the transformative element of a new cycle of production. Nobody is shielded from it."

Technology offers us so much but we should remember that there are losses and gains on any number of levels with any new form. Things do not stay the same and we are often unprepared or ignorant of the potential issues that will arise because of the embrace of a particular technology. Marshal McLuhan wrote about this decades ago and his thoughts on the matter still seem prescient, "we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." We are changed by the technologies we employ, changed positively and negatively.

Nely, and FRAnny, the Frankfurt airport social robot, and may more are just another dimension in the increasing merging of human life and digital technology. It's a wild world and only getting wilder. 

 

 

IGGY EATS A BURGER

The new video Disaster(it's what we're after) by Death Valley Girls, features Iggy Pop eating a hamburger. Its a homage to Andy Warhol. 

In 1981 Danish filmmaker Jorgen Leth made a film called 66 Scenes From America. He wanted to capture the essence of life in the U.S. and one of his hopes was to get Andy Warhol to participate. Leth didn't know Warhol but made his way to The Factory, Warhol's studio space, and managed to convince him to be in the film. He wanted Warhol to be in one of the scenes and also wanted to include the 'symbolic' burger. Having agreed on the time and place, Leth bought a variety of burgers but failed to get a McDonald's (Warhol's favourite), so he opted for a Burger King instead. Leth simply filmed Warhol eating the burger. Why hamburger? Leth liked the idea that in America  people eat the same food and drinks etc. regardless of their social status and wanted to capture that spirit in his film.

When 22 year-old director Kansas Bowling was approached by DVG to direct their video she suggested, Iggy Pop eating a burger as homage to Warhol and 66 scenes. Which raises the question of what song you might put on a suit and eat a hamburger to?

And let's not overlook what a great little song this is from Death Valley Girls.

 

Felt Experiences: a tale of two supermarkets

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U.K. artist Lucy Sparrow spent a year creating 31,000 handmade felt food items to stock her supermarket at the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. 2800 sq. feet of the hotel have been transformed into a market where the handmade items are for sale. It looks like a typical market stocked with everything from soft drinks to pizza slices, the only difference is that all these items are essentially works of art. Sparrow has been working with felt for many years, utilizing its nostalgic and child-like quality. Her first major installation was in 2014 when she created a typical British 'corner-shop' and followed that up with an all-felt sex shop in London's Soho district. 

 

 

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While her work feels fun and light-hearted there is often a deeper intention behind the work, which generally aims to bring attention to cultural issues that have largely been overlooked. her sex-shop was created with the intention of getting people to think about the suppression of certain sexual practices in British law. Her market and bodega installations often focus on the price of gentrification and the use of the felt is to evoke a nostalgia for what has been lost.

There is an entirely different supermarket experience being experimented with in the U.K. This one is not an art installation but an attempt to help people with autism. Morrisons, The U.K.'s number four ranked national supermarket chain recently announced the launch of 'Quieter Hour' to help shoppers who suffer with Autism. The project was launched in consultation with the National Autistic Society. They estimate that around 700,000 britons are on the autism spectrum. Recognizing that the experience of shopping could be difficult for autistic sufferers Morrisons said it would dim the lights, turn music and the radio off, avoid making tannoy announcements, reduce movement of trolleys and baskets and turn checkout beeps and other electrical noises down during the quieter hours.

Morrisons are not the only retailers addressing autism, other retailers have been experimenting with special opening hours and different business practices and the U.K. retailer Marks+Spencer recently launched an autism-friendly school uniform which reduces things like labels, buttons, closures etc, all of which can be troubling for those with sensory sensitivities.

 

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This retail focus is part of a larger drive on the part of the NAS to not only raise public awareness about autism but to bring concrete change in public life for autism sufferers. In 2009 the Autism Act became the first disability-specific law in England and since then more and more public action on behalf of autism sufferers has taken place. In a world that not too long ago barely made room for anyone with disability of any kind, this represents transformative change-there's a long way to go, but ventures like these demonstrate what can be done with a little bit of goodwill, creativty and determination to make the world a better place for all.

Always Tired: The Millennial Cult of Exhaustion

I like tattoos, not all of them of course, but I'm generally in favour of body art. I have recently got two new tattoos, one before I left Los Angeles, and another more recently here in London. When I was doing a field research project as part of my PhD, I focused on a couple of tattoo and body-piercing parlours, interviewing the customers as to why they were getting tattooed or pierced and what the significance of the process was to them. It was fairly evident in a short space of time that most people didn't get tattoos because they were drunk or stones, there was generally a lot of thought and preparation involved in the permanent marking of their bodies. Marking loss, hope, transition, love, death, these seemed to be the central themes mentioned to me over and over.

I must also admit that I am not a big fan of neck and face tattoos. Mostly it's an aesthetic thing for me, I don't like the way neck tattoos 'collapse' the neck, it just makes people look a little strange, but that's just my personal opinion. As for face tattoos, I know there are many tattoo artists who will not do face tattoos, I would hazard that it's seen as the last 'forbidden' or taboo body part. I don't know, it's just not my thing. But I am also a bit voyeuristic about face tattoos, I'm so repelled by the notion that I can't help but look and I find my self fascinated every time.

I'm saying all this because a photo was released recently by Post-Malone the rapper, singer, songwriter and record producer, who came to fame with his 2015 hit, White Iverson. In the image, Malone reveals his new face tattoo, Always Tired in script under his obviously tired and bag-laden eyes.

The response to the tattoos was immediate, and it was largely an acknowledgment that the viewer, like Malone was also 'always tired.' Rooster magazine, in it's weekly round of music news noted that with the tattoo the artists was once "again representing the voice of an entire generation with face tattoos." 

In fact, the Internet was full of comments siding with Post-Malone's facial statement.

Why is a young, successful, popular artist, so tired, tired enough to permanently mark his face, and why does his tattoo resonate so deeply with so many people? Why so tired?

India Benjamin writing in the Huffington Post declares,

"Reasons why tabloids believe millennials are tired: too many selfies, too much crying over how expectations don't match self entitlement, staying up all night doing drugs and getting drunk because we're impulsive af.

Actual reasons why we're tired?

It's an extensive list, in all honesty. We're tired of how our generation has less help than our parents and our parents' parents, yet are expected to be more successful. We're tired of being part of a never-ending rat race, in which there are no real winners. We're tired of reading lies in the press, and of how democracy is turning our country into something we did not vote for.

We are tired of not being heard, or being misunderstood, despite making our point, loud and clear.

We're tired of striving to reach success and having our efforts unnoticed.

We are tired of being seen as a generation, not as individuals.

We are tired of being told we can do anything while growing up, to have that taken away from us when we become adults. Of paying taxes and not seeing any benefit from it. Of living in shit conditions, and paying more than half our fucking wage to do so.

We're tired of contradictions in the media, and having to conform our bodies to fit in with western ideals. Tired of being told we're too short, too curvy, too generic. Too smart, not smart enough. A geek, but not in the cool way.

Tired of reading about baby boomers retiring in their million pound London houses that they got with a 100% mortgage, and their degrees they didn't pay for. Even festival tickets were free once.

Tired of dealing with the shit that older generations have left us in, and having our generation blamed for our attitudes when we didn't raise ourselves.

Tired of having a degree and being unable to get a level entry job. Of fierce competition, and our best not being good enough. Of discrimination against age, gender, race.

Hell, we're even tired of being tired."

Much of the commentary focuses on millennial exhaustion, but I think it extends beyond the generational divides we often use to characterize the way things are. Everyone I know is tired, everyone is exhausted, burnt out. It seems to be one of the marks of our time.

In his book Illness and Culture in the Postmodern Age, David Morris creates a biocultural story of illness and writes that,

"we become ill in ways our parents and grandparents did not, with diseases unheard of and treatments undreamed of by them.

Now, I don't know that always being tired, or exhausted, constitutes an illness, but I do think that the cultural settings we find ourselves in, particularly the increased precarity and uncertainty of life, contribute to the way we feel on a general basis. Things hover beneath the surface of our daily existence like low-grade fevers waiting to break out--the gig-economy, the vulnerability of relationships, the political unrest, the turmoil over race, gender, identity, refugees, on and on, all of them piped to us in a continual stream of endless fear-mongering. Then there is the addictive nature of social media that traps us in a web of comparisons, celebrity, affluence and perfectionism, driving us to think less of ourselves unless we compete with the perfect worlds presented to us via social media.

Is there a remedy? Far be it from me to offer some neat solution but I do think there is at least one option to battle ones fatigue and that would be to find and accept ones limits. I think that part of the cause of all this tiredness is our obsessive thinking about our own status in society and the envy-creating life of our peers who splatter their 'best lives' over the web. The gift of technology is access and connectivity, but it can also cause us to feel that our lives need to live up to the lives of those who we look up to or aspire to be--the hustle of technology and consumer-capitalism has many dark sides and at least one of them is creating an environment of hyper-comparison which few of us are incapable of living up to.  

This is why I am troubled on some levels by the mindfulness/self-help/best life industry, it gives people remedies to help them deal with the stresses and strains of life but seldom takes the time to address the world that people are so stressed by. We de-stress to deal with a life that creates stress, maybe we need to ask ourselves if the 'best life' we get sold is really the best option.

Get some rest.

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I Am My Own Judas

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"I am my own Judas." So declares Oscar Wilde, in a scene from the incredibly beautiful but tragic film, The Happy Prince. The film, directed, starring and from a screenplay written by Rupert Everett, follows Wilde into his exile after his release from Reading gaol, where he served two years with hard labour for "Gross Indecency. Everett's Wilde is a broken man, ostracized by friends and from society he makes his way to France to find respite from the vitriol and the scrutiny.

It's a sad, sad tale, interrupted by moments of desperation as Wilde attempts to make his exile work. But the man, at least in the film, is presented as something of his own worst enemy-hence the 'Judas' declaration. His love for "Bosie," the son of the Marquess of Queensbury, destroys even his post-prison life. Cut-off from a small income from his wife's family because he re-ignites his relationship, he soon finds himself, penniless and alone, a long way from the dizzy heights of his pre-prison fame.

There are flashbacks and moments of reflection about his former life and family, but essentially this film lives inside Wilde's head as he falls deeper and deeper into decline. As I said, it is a tragic tale, and Everett's Wilde is played, as film writer Peter Bradshaw so beautifully notes, as broken yet poignant in his ruined magnificence. In The Happy Prince, we meet a shell of a man, still desperate for fame and acknowledgement, still prone to the same larger-than-life, and potentially destructive, actions that got him into trouble in the first place.

A couple of months back I gave a talk about self-betrayal, and the need at times to enact self-betrayal, when we need to be true to ourselves. Wilde's self-betrayal is another kind, it is self-destruction, something I am sure most of us are familiar with. Wilde's self-destruction was grand and very public, his post-prison life reveals that in spite of the awareness of his own folly that he gained whilst in prison, he is still capable of similar actions. Everett pulls no punches with his portrayal of Everett, this is no hagiography, he gives us Wilde at his lowest. But we are also made aware of the terrible and unnecessary brutality of his punishment. Wilde's crime was to publicly display his homosexual relationships, and particularly the one with the son of a member of the aristocracy. As the film notes at the end, 75,000 men were eventually posthumously pardoned for their crime, all those lives ruined for the 'crime' of homosexuality, tragic indeed. 

A second quote from the film is also both theological and heart-breaking. As Wilde lays dying his last two companions send for a priest to administer last rites and offer extreme unction. The priest asks Wilde when it was that he lost his way, when he 'departed from Christ?' Barely conscious Wilde opens his eyes and says, "Clapham Junction." Clapham Junction was the railway station where Wilde, who had been sentenced for his crimes, was forced to sit in public, head shaven, shackled to a guard and clothed in prison garb waiting to be transferred to prison in Reading . As public awareness grew that Wilde was the prisoner on the platform, a hostile crowd gathered round him. For half an hour he was forced to sit through public ridicule and verbal abuse as well as being spat upon by a number of members of the public. This was the place where Wilde declared he lost his way, where he lost god if you will, and it came at the hands of people who added to his punishment by heaping scorn and abuse upon him. It was indictment of humanity, a telling reminder to all of us that we can so easily be emissaries for evil and not for good. Wilde was already humiliated and about to embark on a prison sentence that would ultimately destroy him physically and gut him emotionally. In a very Christic way, Everett captures the essence of how man's inhumanity can do immense damage to a person's life. We forget so easily that we are all broken, that we all can perform acts of folly, that we can all be our own Judas.

The Happy Prince was a children's story that Wilde wrote and the film is wrapped around that story which only adds to the pathos in front of our eyes. This is not a film to see if you are not in a good headspace, a mistake that I made, but it is a film that should be seen, a triumph for Rupert Everett, but more than that a very real glimpse into the abyss of another person's brokenness. In this age of blockbuster comic book movies and re-make after re-make of movies that weren't so great the first time around, it's good to sit in the dark of a movie theatre and come face to face with oneself and each other in our full humanity.

California Dreamin'--God's Got A Rock Band

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There is a lot of buzz around Wild Wild West, the Netflix documentary series about the Baghwan Sri Rajneesh community that took over a town in Oregon in the 1980s. As crazy as that all sounded I remember the events unfolding and it was as mad as the documentary shows it to be.

There is another documentary worth tracking down called, The Source Family. It's about a restaurant in LA on the Sunset Strip that was an entry point into a cult/community created by an ex-Marine named Jim Baker, one of the early proponents of health food and healthy living in the US, who changed his name to Father Yod, got himself 13 wives and started a commune in LA based on healthy living, healthy eating, utopian ideals and a little bit of rock and roll.

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They had a band, led by Father Yod and played up and down the Sunset strip in the early 70s when the Strip was the locus of all kinds of counter-culture action. This is same area where evangelist Arthur Blessit used to walk the streets puylling his cross and evangelizing hippies and druggies and anyone else who would listen. It was the era when this kind of thing was almost de rigeur. 

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The restaurant was one of the first natural food restauranrs in the US and was at the forefront of the mainstreaming of health food and healthy living that has become such a part of what it means to be an Angelino these days. It was a different world than today's vegan restaurants etc. but in its day the Source was the hippest place to be in LA. 

LA has a rich spiritual history, even Christian history. It is the land of spiritual innovation whether it be Aimee Semple McPherson's Angelus Temple, one of the first media driven mega churches ot the broader Pentecostal movement that also got its start there. And much of contemporary Christianity owes a debt to the dynamics of the Jesus people who emerged from their psychedelic haze and drifted down to the ocean to get baptized and bring their vision of a loving, revolutionary, hippy Jesus into mainstream religion.

California itself is notable for many things in American cultural history. In a remarkable book called, The Visionary State, Erik Davis chronicles the psychogeography of LA and other places up and down California,

"In the American imagination, California’s shores stage both the fulfillment and decline of the West, its final shot at paradise and its perilous fall into the sea. That is why the California dream encompasses both Arcadian frontier and apocalyptic end zone, Eden and Babylon. As Christopher Isherwood put it, “California is a tragic land – like Palestine, like every promised land.”

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Documentaries like these seem so far away from the way we experience religion and spirituality these days, but in many ways they echo many of the dynamics and concerns many still feel towards religion today. The lust for power and control coupled with the desire for some sense of meaning or shape to life that drives so many is a potent cocktail for potential disaster, as these documentaries so evidently show. Of course, it doesn't have to be a 1970s or 80s cult in order for these things to happen. 

Horses: Patti Smith and her Band

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40 years on and Horses, the debut album from Patti Smith is given a visual tribute. As Mac Randall wrote in The Observer, 

"The historical importance of Horses is inarguable, above and beyond any particular aesthetic considerations. It introduced, fully formed, a daring new mystic voice in popular music. It referenced a classic persona, that of the androgynous poet/rocker, and gave it an exciting twist: the poet/rocker in question was a woman. And for listeners outside of New York, it was the first real full-length hint of the artistic ferment taking place in the mid-’70s at the juncture of Bowery and Bleecker. "

I remember when this came out and I recall all of us listening over and over to what was a revelatory musical gift. I've loved Patti Smith over the years for her albums, for her books, for the fact that she walked away from rock stardom to live in domesticity with her husband Fred 'Sonic' Smith, and for returning to music after his death and making great albums all over again.

Live she is electric, her romantic and poet belief that transcendence could be found in rock and roll still firmly held in her outstretched arms and a voice that roars and screams and rages. "before rock and roll you only had God," said David Bowie and you can't help but know that captures some of Patti's perspective as well. It might seem naive in these cynical times where all the ideals and romanticism of the early decades of rock and roll seem trite and silly, but she still believes and she'll make you believe too.

The documentary is fairly straightforward. A few occasional backstage outtakes give us glimpses behind the scenes but this is a documentary about an eight track album that inserted itself into the rock pantheon and still thrills today. "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine," is the opening line and that is not the best one on the album. There are moments in this documentarty where the electricity is palpable. It's streaming on AppleTV.