There is a BC (before Coronavirus) and a brief break I shall call PL1 (post lockdown 1). In that brief re-opening, when we all knew that Lockdown 2 was on its way, we ventured out. We ventured out twice, in fact. Both times to Tate Modern and both times we saw wonderful shows without the BC crowds.

Ashes- Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen without the crowds was phenomenal. We almost had the show to ourselves. And what a show. He has the ability to include the viewer into the work. It feels like you are in it; in the helicopter circling the Statue of Liberty (but without the worry or expense) or in the boat with Ashes (but without the splash). To see Ashes again was wonderful. I remembered it from the Venice Biennale. There was so much joy and life in this simple, visceral moment of being on a boat in a beautiful sea by a beautiful island. Then the flip side. So many wonderful works with real emotion dealt with raw, without lapsing into pity, but remaining true, allowing the people to own their story. The hotel room with a man just illuminated by the tv was also engrossing. I have loved his work since I saw the Turner Prize piece with the falling wooden building, sort of Buster Keaton without the slapstick. With the Ashes piece I have finally worked out why I have loved, since the age of 14, the Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesco. The work makes space for me, the viewer, to be in it because of its angles and size and proportion and other artistic know-how. It creates a holy space, a sacred space, because it is not cynical or knowing. And seeing Steve McQueen’s work I realise is the same. He makes space for the viewer to share the work. Magnificent.

Disappearing acts – Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought it might be heavy on intellect rather than art. How wrong I was. The exhibition was not done chronologically (hurrah) but in themes. The room I loved first was using a film from his young self with his current self walking into it. This was so well done with shadows and size that you think a real person has just walked into the piece. It is beautiful, speaking across time and generations and artistic practice. There was plenty to see that just made you want to sit and be. Art for arts sake. Not about something, which seems to be the prevalent mood at the moment, a bit like some very weak sociological essay with lots of platitudes, but the thing itself. Just the thing. Fab.



A lot of stupid and misinformation has come out lately.

Covid 19 is a virus.

  1. Viruses can live outside the body on stuff. They can live a while on cardboard/paper; but less time on metal/plastic. So you need to clean stuff transferred from outside to inside. Soap/ washing up liquid and water work well against viruses and bacteria (it’s to do with osmosis!).
  2. Testing people is not the same as Treating people. So just assume everybody is Carrying the virus even if they are not Affected by it. Stay Home so all of us cannot infect you! They cannot test the entire population nor find everybody you have met in the last few days so just act as if we all have it and stay home to prevent speading it.
  3. It’s a virus- like many other viruses. Think about it. Some people get severe flu and some don’t. We cannot predict who. Assume you could get it badly and act carefully (see 1 and 2 above)
  4. It’s affects the respiratory system (lungs, trachea) and therefore it is probably spread by aerosol- sneezing, coughing. Masks are a good idea (clinicicans are wearing them!) to stop you sneezing/coughing droplets out of your moist lungs (gas exchange needs your lungs moist) containing virus. If you sneeze onto your hands the virus will live on your hands (see 1 above!) and you can then spread it onto other surfaces.
Science & Health

Evidence: What Evidence?

You probably are aware of ‘Likes’  on places such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These ‘Likes’ are put into an algorithm and then advertisements come up due to what you apparently ‘Like’.  I love to confuse and add in random ‘Likes’, bell-ringing, star-gazing, flower arranging, shoe repairing etc. My favourite response was from a computer scientist on an Open University programme about computers and statistics. He said that when he bought a book online a recommendation would come up telling him: ‘People like you like the following books…..’ To which he said to camera, ‘I don’t like people like me’!

My mother used to tell me that one day they will tell you that Salmonella is good for you. They will produce statistics to prove it. They will say that this is scientific proof. But statistics are not scientific proof. Statistics are mathematical proofs.

Statistics measure the correlation between two events. How likely they are to occur together. Statistics tries to remove confounding variables; things that also happen at the same time, but are not really correlated. But they do not prove cause and effect.

Science is interested in cause and effect. It is not empirical, another mistake made by non-scientists. Empiricism does not measure cause and effect.

Science measures the link between cause and effect. It does this by experiment. That is why most other disciplines are not scientific. They call themselves scientific (Social Sciences, rather than Sociology, for example) but they cannot do the experiment to test the theory. They can only do the stats.

Example A: If you want to prove that ‘watching violent television makes children violent’, you would need to

  • take two groups of children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and
  • put those two groups of children in exactly the same environments (food, clothes, rooms, etc) and
  • let one group watch violent TV programmes and
  • not let other group watch violent TV programmes
  • for a number of days/weeks and
  • see if there is a difference in behaviour afterwards.

This experiment would never be allowed, it is unethical; so you cannot do the experiment to prove the link. You can do the stats on children that watch violent TV, but you cannot be sure other things have not had the effect.

Example B: If you want to say that the ‘killing of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo started the First World War‘ you would have to

  1. travel back in time to Sarajevo 1914 and
  2. ‘un-shoot’ Archduke Ferdinand and
  3. see if the First World War still happened.

Good luck getting the grant for that research!

A number of academic disciplines that say they are using scientific methodology are not doing so and a number that say they are using statistics are still not doing scientific methodology.

The example I give my students are two excellent papers by very good teams.

  • one paper says that feeding babies on breast milk makes them more intelligent and
  • one paper says that feeding babies on breast milk doesn’t make them more intelligent.

How do they  find opposite results? By statistical analysis. There is no experimental proof to either claim. There are a lot of confounding variables which get in the way of the correlation between milk and intelligence.

All the scientific evidence points to Salmonella not being good for you, so whatever the stats say, please don’t try the Salmonella.



Taryn Simon- An Occupation of Loss

A bizarre place in Islington, part rotunda, part underground caves, not even suitable for garaging with restricted entrance. A large curve looking down onto a central arena. And from the sides emerge ‘Professional Mourners’ singing the chants of their homeland practices or playing the instruments or reciting the poems as they disperse to their allocated spot allowing us to walk around and down the spiral to stand before each group.

The conception and realisation of this piece was astounding. Immersive art/theatre/performance at is superb best. All of us coming out slightly overwhelmed by what we had been in.



Taryn Simon


Taryn Simon


Tyondai Braxton et al – QEH London

Just come out of the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the South Bank Centre, London having heard three world premiers of astonishing quality.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, who was the only one we knew and like a lot, performing one of her works. Qasim Naqvi in the audience for his. And Tyondai Braxton performing his work.

Tyondai Braxton live.

Tyondai Braxton

All three works were astonishing, imaginative and beautiful; enveloping and spacious. So clever. If you get a chance, don’t miss it. Sheer luck that we heard all three only knowing one of them and witnessed such sound.



Fake Fashion- Laurie Simmons at Amanda Wilkinson Gallery

If you get a chance to go down to old Soho (the London version, not the Manhattan acronym) you can see the wonderful world of Laurie Simmons. These are historic photographs of museum quality that have not been seen in the UK before.

Fake Fashion alludes to feminism, capitalism, advertising and marketing and much more, but done beautifully. The subject/object of each shot is in ‘studio’ light while the backdrop is in darker tones. They remind you of much older landscape/portrait paintings and because they were shot on analogue film, they have a painterly quality to them.  She is part of a wonderful group of artists that emerged in the USA at the same time, Cindy Sherman being among them.

In Soho, in among the old photo labs, the film processing plants, the film production, editing suites and post production suites,  these gems.



Lumiere- more light on its feet than usual

The Lumiere festival ran over the weekend of 20th Jan 2018 around London. Having a bit of a cold and it being very cold out did not make me feel the urge to go and see much. I guess the point of it in the mid-winter is the idea of festival of light such as Hanukah and Christmas, lighting up the darkness. The festival is the secular version, but we are fools if we forget origins or dismiss them as primitive.

So, with a head full of cold we set out on Saturday night to go to the Rambert ballet company’s building in Waterloo to see the illumination on the side of the wall- ‘Light on their feet’ for Rambert by the wonderful artist David Ward. It was worth it.

High tech projections, high resolution photography and highly technical ballet combined to make a vision of extreme tenderness and vulnerability. The feet of the dancers, their soles/souls. The source of their performance, suspended in flight, like angels about to take off, back to their own world.

In the midst of so much glitter and spectacle with no content, this is one work that should become permanent. Superb.


David Ward- Light on Their Feet; for Rambert


A New Year- catch up

Until the renewal notice came in I forgot that I had not written for so long. The last six months I have written for work (academic papers) but this is for pleasure.

We went to the last week of the Munster Sculpture Show (in Germany- that Munster). It was my first trip there. The show is only on every 10 years so I did not want to wait that long! It was fabulous. I saw some fantastic art.

Pierre Huyghe’s sculpture was superb. We spent ages there, luckily having arrived before it opened that day as the queues when we left were 2-4 hour waits.

Pierre Huyghe

Ayse Erkmen’s submerged bridge, On Water got people crossing from one side to the other, looking as if they were walking on water. Simple and very effective.


My other favourite was a performance piece again simple and funny and profound:

Alexandra Pirici’s ‘Leaking Territories’

A small enough town to walk around and see most of it. A wonderful way to spend a few days of your life seeing such wonders.

See you there in 2027!



Emma Hart – Mama Mia! Whitechapel Gallery

Quite a while ago I wrote a blog on whether the Max Mara prize for women artists was still needed in these days of supposed equality. Well, judging by the output of one recipient, Emma Hart, it was money well spent.

Emma Hart used the time to be in Italy and learn some new techniques with clay, a speciality of some Italian regions, with techniques such as Majolica. The results are simply stunning. They are recognisably Emma Hart’s work, but on another level.

The room at the Whitechapel Gallery  is in darkness apart from the works. There is a calmness to it, even though the works are full of life.

The works are a series of ‘lightbulbs’ that look like faces and cast shadows like eyes. They have, on many of them, measuring marks making them into measuring jugs. And as you look up and into them a whole world appears, joyful and playful. Some have fans going round by them; shapes of knives and forks and spoons somewhere between domestic and scary.

At the after show dinner Hart gave her speech in Italian. It showed further that she had immersed herself in the experience, which few of us really do when offered such an opportunity. The effect has been to make even bolder work; work that moves from one experience to the experience of a much larger place, pushing back the boundaries. These pieces are museum quality.

The photographs I took do not do them justice. If you can get to the Whitechapel, go see.


Venice Biennale 2017

Just back from Venice Biennale 2017 opening. It continues until November.

La Serenissima, as Venice is known, is a beautiful, magical place, which has slightly lost its way. No longer a vibrant trading post, it is now more a museum piece and tourist spot. It also has some of the worst and most expensive pizzas and pasta in Italy. And more pizza then anyone could possibly want and very few decent restaurants that can cook anything well. Of course there are some, but you have to search for them and we were there for the art!

The Biennale is huge, with a large garden area (the Giardini) with pavilions from countries around the world as well as a large mixed show in one Central Pavilion, and a huge show, curated by Christine Macel, ‘Viva Art Viva’ on the next door site (the Arsenale) as well as other sites around town.

It is usual/pseudo-cool to say ‘not as good as the last venice biennale’, but in fact, I thought it was! But then I think being cool can sometimes turn nasty. The German Pavilion  also thought that with ‘cool’ performers in a sort of indifferent haze, a dystopian  world. A very brave piece of performance work by Anne Imhof called ‘Faust’.

Faust by Anne Imhof






Anne Imhof- Faust


The British Pavillion however, really rocked it for me. Phyllida Barlow’s Folly played on the word Folly, which turns up as bits of falling down ‘ancient’ monuments in the grounds of stately homes as well as folly, being the stupid things we do. It had decay, recycling and play all in one. In spite of it all there was joy. Brilliant.

Folly by Phyllida Barlow

Phyllida Barlow- Folly


In the Arsenale, Lee Ming Wei’s Mending Project, which is quite an old piece, set a wonderful tone. It looked great and had a relational interaction to it.

Image result for david medalla venice a stitch in time

Also in the Arsanale was my old favourite David Madella. Going back in time to the 70s he ran ‘Exploding Galaxy’ on Parliament Hill in London on Sunday afternoons. If anyone has documentary photos of this he would love to have them.

Image result for david medalla venice a stitch in time

David Madella- A stitch in time


Another stand out pavilion was from Taiwan with the artist Tehching Hsieh. Again, it was piece from his youth of endurance and also of commitment to art. It had been shown at the Fruit Market in Glasgow, but I had not seen it there. It was wonderful. He wrote a contract to himself that he would clock in every hour for a year. There are photos and a time lapse film of it as well as the object with which he clocked in. It said everything you need to say about work and capitalism in one incredible event.

Tehching Hsieh

Tehching Hsieh- One year performance

Many people were praising the Welsh pavilion. It was a film inspired by finding photos of a German man who had been in a concentration camp for being gay. On his release he started tattooing and piercing himself and taking photos of it. He looked like a normal bloke (actually, he looked like how you imagine an old Nazi) when dressed, but had the most ‘altered’ genitals I have ever seen when undressed. Not for the faint -hearted. The photos were intercut with a very slick film, which I found very old fashioned and all of which left me cold. But if you are thinking of tattooing yourself or piercing your genitals, this may change your mind.

At our favourite off site spot, Fondazione Querini Stampalia,  where last time they had Jimmy Durham, this time they had Hadassah Goldvitch ‘The House of Life’. In fact, running among the tombstones as recounted in the tale here prepared me for the Phyllida Barlow piece, where you are reduced to child-like proportions running between elephant legs.

Hadassa Goldvicht, The House of Life

Hadassah Goldvitch ‘The House of Life’.

Many life enhancing moments and time to be amazed by the many creative outputs. Who knew humans could be so wonderful?