Killing People is Easy

At this moment in time I am avoiding turning on the news. To hear of more murders and destruction takes the joy out of life.

Image result for news on tv

This morning I sat and looked out at the part of the planet I am on.

I could see the works of humans. Magnificent buildings and structures.

I am awe-struck that we humans produce such things and I do not use the word ‘awe’ in my conversation lightly (as in: that coffee is awesome, maybe because it is often awful). Awe is something I reserve for God-like actions.

I am also struck by the magnificence of the planet. I am not sure if you can have an objective measure of its magnificence or if humans are so adapted to it that we find home magnificent, but its beauty never ceases to amaze me.

That there are humans that make magnificent structures and have made them for millennium on this wonderful planet, that there are humans that celebrate its beauty, that add to it, these creations make those humans

If you believe in God surely God would be very pleased with them.

So I find it hard to listen to the news with so much destruction and murder. Especially when it is done in the name of a God.

Especially when there is a claim that this is the right thing to do, as if some great intellectual feat had been accomplished by it.

As if this was a clever idea done by clever or sensible people with just cause. Especially when they say it was a hard decision!

You see killing people is easy.

I know there are all those stupid films where they talk about a ‘hard kill’, but it is ridiculously easy to kill people.

We have been killing people for millennia in the same manner that we can kill any living thing.

It does not take brains or brawn to kill.

In fact, the more stupid and weedy you are the easier as there are so many weapons out there for the incompetent.

A child can kill by picking up a gun and shooting it.

How hard it that?

How intelligent is that?

How magnificent is that?

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You can even kill people by accident, in a car crash for example. Without planning. Without intent.

You can kill people perversely or by torture, with much pain and suffering. We all know that this is not justice; it is not on the side of right. It is psychotic. You are not a judge or a righteous person. You are a psychopath.

You can kill people by neglect and abandonment, by lack of care.

Oh it is so easy to kill people, any fool can do it.

Why would I want to watch such childish stupid on the news or on a film? Why would you want to do that? What sort of a pervert are you that you play killing games? Grow up. Leave the base animal behind.

Killing people is easy, it is for the stupid, the dull, the base.

What is really, really hard to do is to help people to live,

It is especially hard to help them to live well.

That takes effort, care, love, intelligence, righteousness.

That is God-like.

That is human.

That is magnificent.

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Venice Biennale 2015

Venice.  La Serenissima. A city so beautiful that adding art to it may seem superfluous. But here comes the Venice Biennale. Lots to see on such a stunning backdrop;  quite a competition for your attention. However, the Venice Biennale is now at it’s 56th show and has therefore had about 112 years of practice of attention grabbing art.

So here is my view:

1)  The Pavilions in the  Giardini

Many nations have pavilions that they pay for and then select curators or artists to fill with works, some are themed and some are Art!

But the British are coming, the British are coming.

Well the English are, as I have rather gone off the Scots since the election.

In the British pavilion Sarah Lucas turned up the volume in many senses. Her pavilion was a huge colour field in yellow and at the inauguration, instead of another bunch of long, boring speeches, she had two brilliant musicians pump up the volume and rock it. Fab.


Sarah Lucas  Venice 2015

The USA pavilion had the fantastic Joan Jonas, I am a big fan and it was great to see a long line of people waiting to get in to such a totally and completely conceived and realised show,


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Joan Jonas Venice 2015

The Belgian pavilion had some great stuff; one of my favourite pavilions. Merged art and ideas.

The Danish pavilion was spare and lovely.

There is also a Giardini group show which had some great works including the excellent Jeremy Deller being very political.

2 In the Arsanale

Then over to the Arsanale. This is a huge place with many artists being chosen from around the world by the curator of the event, which changes each time.

The theme of the show this time was based on Paul Klee’s Angel of History painting and Gershom Sholem’s poem (who they managed to call Gerhardt Sholem !). But this theme been done before in 2006 at the Arnolfini’s opening show, which is a bit naughty.

But some brilliant work:

Adel Abdessad with a fabulous performance piece and the result of the work.

Daniel Boyd aboriginal painting

Sonia Boyd with a film of a performance at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London which was so alive, current, engaging and modern but with undercurrents of identity and politics. Great stuff.

Theaster Gates film of the destruction of a church in Chicago. You needed to know the context to see it and then you can see the layers.

Steve McQueen’s film-great stuff. Great art.

Hiwa K from Iraq

Chris Ofili, wonderful paintings, especially the Green one. I walked in and almost out at first as they were very overwhelming. But when the room emptied I went back and fell in love. Not at all my taste, but I ended up just wanting to live in the room!  Total convert. Loved them.


Chris Ofili Venice 2015- this image doesn’t do it justice!

Christian Bottomski film of wheat sheaves and bells on the sea shore, really simple and really everything

Jumana Emil Abboudthe drawings, beautiful

Chantal Akerman film, which was fantastic as film and as installation. It made you walk among the screens and it was all sped up with a sort of road movie feel, but with no people, just landscape.  I loved it.

Some duds and lack of credits including a work called the Botany of Desire. Now I know the book of that title and the book is much better than the art work of the same name.

3 Then into the best in showsssss!

My favourites were not in the official biennale. They were in other galleries, or Palazzos, which are pretty amazing places to show art.

‘Slip of the Tongue’  with some brilliant pieces by Nairy Baghramian, Nancy Spero, Henrik Olesons (nails) and Petrit Halilay. Curated by Dan Vo who did the Danish pavilion too.

Jimmie Durham: this was almost best in show as I was totally absorbed and could have stayed all day/week. It is in a beautiful setting which helps, but he really used that and there is a wonderful book that accompanies the work- worth reading. The show is at the Fondazione Furla which is worth going to anyway, but with his work there, spend the day. Perfect use of some Morano glass.Really wonderful work

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Jimmie Durham

We were about to go back to visit the Jimmie Durham as it was so wonderful, but it was closed on the Monday so we went to the Fortuny Museum instead to see a show there, Pro Portio. What a place and what a show . Some amazing works including Marina Abramovich (sound work), Sol le Witt, Agnes Martin, Carl Andre and Fred Sandback, juxtaposed with the odd Botticelli and Durher anatomy books! Wow, The Italians are not precious about their wonderful art collections. Totally wonderful show and place. Brilliant curation. I could live there too! So it ended getting my Best in Show (a bit like Crufts I guess). I loved all the juxtapositions of ancient and modern at both this and the Jimmie Durham shows.

Ellsworth Kelly Red, Yellow, Blue, 1963 Olio su tela, 231 x 231 cm Collection, Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, Sant Paul-de-Vence Cliché Claude Germain, ©Ellsworth kelly

Ellsworth Kelly “Red, Yellow, Blue”, 1963, Collection, Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, Sant Paul-de-Vence Cliché Claude Germain, ©Ellsworth kelly-  at the Pro Portio show 2015 Venice


Sandro Botticelli (Firenze, 1444-1510) "Ritratto di donna", 1485, Tempera su legno 61,3 x 40,5 cm Private Collection, Bruxelles

Sandro Botticelli, “Ritratto di donna”, 1485, Private Collection, Bruxelles – also at Pro Portio Show 2015 Venice!

Also, I should mention the ‘Venetian Blind’s, a series of concerts by bands led by artists in the amazing Palazzo Grassi  with free cocktails to cheer the spirits. Martin Creed played- I shall ignore the Scottish bit and claim him for good old Blighty! Fab.


Michal Rovner-Panorama. Pace Gallery, London

On the whole I don’t like Video Art. If I want a moving image I can watch TV or a film. I want a picture or an object that stays still for long enough for me to look at and engage with it.

So when a friend at a gallery opening said you must go up the road to Pace and see a show by a video artist I was in a mixed mind. The friend has a great eye so that sort of recommendation is to be taken seriously. So off we went.

Thank you friend!

These works are barely, but beautifully, video art. They look like landscape photographs and then you realise that the skinny little figures, reminiscent of a Lowry painting, are moving in a choreographed way. They appear almost to be dancing, performing a folk dance, and then again to be wandering. These moving human shapes evoke many possible lives,  migrants, guerrilla combatants, concentration camps prisoners, agricultural workers or the ghosts of previous lives. They appear as part of the landscape, coming out of the earth; Adam. They are us.

This is also seductive to look at and very high production values have gone into fabricating the work.

I didn’t know her work at all and as I said, video art tends not to be my thing, but this captivated me. We often elevate the individual as our heroes, but here the slightness of the figures in the landscape made then all the more human, all the more vulnerable, all the more noble, even as, perhaps, they, the figures, may represent the victims of mad ideas, mad people, mad regimes.

Collective lives, lonely lives, vibrant, sad; many ideas and emotions evoked by this beautifully thought through, beautifully crafted work. If this is video art I am now a convert.

Great stuff. Go see.


Bridget Smith- Focal Point Gallery, Essex


We arrived in Southend to see this show a bit early giving us a chance to have a walk around the town. It is a bit like Folkestone in Kent, but this is in Essex, facing out to the estuary and the North Sea. Nice seafront, very 1950’s British.

The Focal Point Gallery is next to a couple of colleges so we thought that this would get some students in, but no, a whole load of people who looked like the Art Crowd, had come to see the show. A very large turn out of people.

No wonder.  I did not really know her work. Wow. What fabulous pieces. Smith has moved from more documentary works to more abstract works. From works with interesting objects to the objects as the subjects. Wow.

The first room had lights like globes and large blue works on aluminium, with the outline of what turned out to be cinema chairs in white, echoing seascapes. Here we were, audience and participators by our absence in the work, by our presence, viewing the work. This image is repeated in another room which contains a similar image, but on just one wall, on draped materials, partly like a curtain, a cinema curtain, and partly a tapestry draping down onto the floor. Where does the art stop and the observer begin? What is being observed, the cinema image or the art? I loved it.



And then, in a corridor facing the glass front of the building a series of Perspex works with a colour pattern engraved onto each piece and a hole in each through which a spotlight falls creating a contrasting colour shadow. Light and shade. Stunning stuff. Completely Original. An artist hits her stride. Confident, vibrant, forceful. Deceptively simple, but so much more, Intellectual, aesthetic, minimal.

Go see. Fabulous.


Bjork at MOMA

I love Bjork. I have loved her music since her Debut album. I still find it fresh and current. I don’t know about her persona as I am not that kind of a fan. Usually I hate anything that smacks of ingénue, that awful fakery of childishness and sexuality. Yuk.  But Bjork does a different thing, not ingénue, but openness. There seems to be an innocence, but she knows her craft, she knows music. She is her music.

So to be in New York when MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) were putting on a Bjork show was a great opportunity to see/know more. And we got to see it early without the crowds. I say this not to show off, but as I couldn’t imagine how to see it with many people at the same time. The tickets are timed as it takes a while to go through one of the ‘displays’, but there are other displays of videos that are running in loops. The curation seemed lacking, the exhibits were on three floors. Too much and too many and too unfocussed.

I love Bjork, but I couldn’t really get the ‘show’. The music videos are brilliant and great to see. Her latest one is raw emotion. Very brave and beautiful.

The narrative room, the main new part of this show uses her albums to make a journey. It is done by playing a track or two from each album in sequence with a story over the top of a girl creating a world and becoming part of that world. There are displays alongside of outfits, clothes worn for concurrent videos or album sleeves, which link the display to the music. There are notes from her lyric book, costumes from the video of that particular album, sets for all of this to sit in and music from the album playing alongside the narration.  I found it hard to take in, narration, notes, costumes, installations, music, everything all at once like an assault of the senses. As if the music wasn’t enough. It wasn’t an immersive space like an art work; it was documentary, but with too much evidence presented all at once, more like a nightclub than an art space. The narration made it feel like a story had been constructed and the albums fitted into it. All the wrong way round.

The David Bowie exhibition in London was at the V & A, a museum of culture and Bjork needed to be in a similar place.. Not an art gallery.

I still love Bjork. In the end I don’t really know what I saw in this show. It wasn’t art and it wasn’t fanzine. I’ll stick with the music.

On Kawara – Silence – Guggenheim NY

Guggenheim Museum, New York is a museum known as much for its architect, Frank Lloyd Wright as for the artists it displays. It was originally conceived to display Guggenheim’s collection of Kandinsky’s works. Nowadays it has many and varied exhibits to see.


The Guggenheim Museum New York

It is a difficult and challenging space to display works in as it ascends from the central atrium in a spiral opening up as you ascend. It is a beautiful space, with many references to spiritual ideas, but due to its curvature and openness, you can see across the spiral to all the spaces, hard to hang works of art in.

Not for On Kawara. It was as if the space was designed for him, Unfortunately, like Mr Guggenheim and Mr Lloyd Wright, he died before his show opened. But he knew it was happening. I don’t know if that is comfort or irony.

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On Kawara

His pieces are so (deceptively) simple you would pass one by if it was by itself. They are like markers, mainly grey with white writing, like a tombstone, but in landscape rather than portrait shape. They have the date they were painted. Just that. And because they are just that they are also everything.

He painted a date like that each day, every day. If it was not completed by midnight he destroyed it. Although that is not the apparent part of the work, I love the diligence, the attention, the mindfulness. They place him, and you the viewer, in the here and now, but also in the then and there. As the viewer, you complete the picture of course as you fill in what you were doing that day in your mind. They open that conversation of remembrance at the same time as being present, realising the gift of every day.

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On Kawara

His other works are equally magnificent. His postcards, his collections and his messages.


On Kawara: I got up

I had to buy the t-shirt ‘I am still alive’. How perfect an expression.

Perfect art in the perfect place for it.

Wherever you are Mr On Kawara; thank you. You made my day.


Jon Thompson

2014 was a difficult year and keeping going was the main thing. As the saying goes, ‘when you are going through hell, keep going’. So it was a while ago that I went to see the wonderful Jon Thompson’s show at Anthony Reynolds Gallery in London.

Jon Thompson is no youngster and when he makes something it is the thing itself imbued with years of both knowledge and experience. His Toronto Cycle, almost music for the eyes, contains a group of works referencing famous painters, for example Van Gogh. VG1 and VG2 are works that reference Van Gogh early work (1) and later work (2). Interestingly, the later work has the brighter more vibrant colours. What Thompson has done is analyse the colours in Van Gogh’s work and the proportions they are used in and then made his work using those colours in those proportions. He has done similar works with Gaugin’s palette of colours. Vibrant, Melodic.

The Toronto Cycle: Cadence and Discord  (VG1)

I think they are stunning. That he has made the horizontal (as in say Mark Rothko) look also vertical (as in a Barnett Newman ‘zip’) is brilliant. That he has divided the two halves like tablets of stone, commandments of colour, is inspired. This is the work of an artist.

His latest works contained some blinding colours, oranges that almost fluoresced, blues that illuminated the space. My particular favourite was a deceptively simple  green cross of colour.

I love deceptively simple. I am deeply suspicious of making something that should be simple over-complicated.  I think that shows a lack of real understanding and basic communication needs, masked by jargon and processes.

Thompson strips things back like a revelation. Not only do you see his work, you can hear and feel it. Magic.

Piet Mondrian

Just back from Margate, a coastal town in the UK with a wonderful art centre, The Turner Centre. They put on some brilliant shows. Right now, they have on a show of Piet Mondrian’s work (Liverpool Tate also have a show of his later work for which he is more famous). In the Turner show you see the progress of the artist from his early work to the work that he is famous for and that features in the Liverpool show.

We managed to walk through the show backwards. I seem to do that a lot, turning the wrong way in the gallery. So we went back in time and then retraced forward in time. It was amazing. I say this as a big fan of Mondrian’s later work. I have loved it since I was a teenager. I can’t say why; it just has a really pure feeling about it. It is it. I like things that are it rather than things that are about it.

So here is this man who tries out different ideas- he’s very good at each thing he tries.. He tries Impressionism, very nice and sellable (he needs to eat). He tries Pointilism, Fauvism, Cubism. He works his way through the ism’s of the early 20th Century art movements. And then he tries Mondrian-ism.

It is fascinating to see the change. He starts painting these large flat plains of colour in a recognisable landscape, but more backlit than front lit as in the Impressionists. The Impressionists are interested in how things look under light. He is interested in light and colours. Then suddenly you get a red and blue windmill. And the next year a checkerboard. And one year later you get Mondrian, full blown and in his stride. By then he is about 48 years old. How wonderful, still trying, still finding himself and his ideas.

I’m a scientist and I love contemporary art. For me it is an experiment in a studio. And here are some results. Beautiful, aesthetic, complex, deceptively simple:

And even less and more:
These are the results of a middle-aged man who has experimented all his life. He has dared to leave the safety of the known; the tried and tested. Seldom do we have the experience or ability to create something new.
Like any great science result, I wish I had made this.

Folkestone Triennial

Just back from the Southern Coast of England in a town called Folkestone which sits in the county of Kent. Every three years they have a triennial art event with international artists. Great idea and great stuff. The theme of this year’s Triennial, curated by Lewis Biggs is ‘Lookout’.

I spent most of the time in ‘Green/Light’.  It is designed like a hop garden, which was a common agricultural space in Kent for beer brewing, but it also references the gas-works that were on the sight that produced the first electricity for the town.  The work captures the light with its reflective elements and because of that, when you walk around it you become part of it. It is an immersive Cathedral-like space which, while referencing hop-gardens, becomes more like Standing Stones which you find in places like the Orkneys Islands and of course Stonehenge. It contains a circle within a square, with the outer part made of old hop-poles and the inner of modern shiny material, all held together with twine, the string used in hop fields.  I saw lots of people just standing there enjoying being in the space, smiling and relaxing. It gave me a great sense of calm; a spiritual moment. Sublime.

Folkestone Triennial 2014 opens

Jyll Bradley’s Green/Light sculpture in a disused gasworks

Other highlights for me were Krijn de Koning piece, a cave-maze structure with various views and  Amina Menia’s sound-piece on Bread, a subject dear to my heart, where she had recorded various people’s feelings/recipes/cultural meanings of bread. Folkestone is a very mixed town economically with many migrants coming in from across the Channel. There is a tribute to some along the ‘Leas’, the seafront promenade, where many Belgians arrived during the First World War to escape the invasion of their country. Another piece I loved was Alex Hartley’s. where he has put a hanging balcony arrangement out of the rooftop of a hotel on the seafront. It reminds me of protests and sit-ins and acts as a Lookout. I love the endeavour of the work; precarious and earnest, authentic and true.

So if you are in the area, check it out. It takes about 4 hours to get around the entire place, but you also see Folkestone and the sea and can just choose one piece, like Green/Light to sit in, stand in and just calm down in. I love bi/triennials where you get to see so much art in one go. With so much horror and childish nonsense as usual dominating the news, that human beings make this stuff we call art is very humbling.  Oscar Wilde says ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. Well for me, art dignifies humans and fascism denigrates us. Most of what is happening or what is given attention to in the world is fascism, denigrating humans with childish notions of power and immortality, so lets instead be with the art.

Martin Creed

I just went to see Martin Creed’s ballet (Work 1020). Brilliant.

He doesn’t do about art. He does art. So refreshing. He stripped music and ballet back to the basics, scales and movement back and forth. First position, second position, first, second, third note etc.

He also had what could have been a very rude film of the pelvis of a naked male. While he played chromatic scales on the guitar going up and up the fret the penis went up  and up and when the penis started going down so did the chromatic scale on the guitar. It was very funny, but also very meaningful. I just thought, ‘is that it?’. All these wars. All these rules about what men and women can do. All this macho crap. All for this bit of flesh and its up and down movement. Is that it? Great stuff.

When I looked at his YouTubes there were the usual rude comments. They were much ruder than a limp/erect penis, which just is limp or erect or moving between one of those states and is possessed by 50% of the humans on the planet. All 100% of people on the planet should see this work and reflect on how much politics, economics and culture rests on so little and have a laugh at something that is kept so secretive and when revelaed as it is, it is just what it is. Something that goes up and something that goes down.