Much has been said about the 20th anniversary of Nevermind by Nirvana. Yep, it was influential, it ushered in the mainstreaming of Seattle culture, and without it we would never have had the pleasure of getting to know Courtney Love. Repeatedly. I love[d] it.
But, was Kurt Cobain ever capable of wearing white speedos in a music video about Club Tropicana? Was he ever one of the first white guys to rap in a Wham! Rap???
Did he ever sniff his arm pit from under a leather jacket on a record sleeve? Did he ever bring hope to an entire generation of woggy guys? He most certainly did not.
It's coming on 24 years now since George Michael released Faith. Twenty four years on from I Want Your Sex, Faith and Father Figure. He had already had amazing success with Wham! but more importantly, he had already established himself as a major songwriting talent; he wrote and recorded Careless Whisper and watched it become a global smash by the time he was just 21.
Six of Faith's nine tracks were singles, a seventh was released in a remix form and they were all corkers; all different, and famously he became the first white artist to top R&B charts with his pretty white boy soul.
Kurt Cobain was a troubled soul; amongst his issues were those with the relentless recording industry machine, but lest we forget that by the time Cobain kinda took on that battle, Yorgos had already been there and done that; using supermodels in his videos instead of using his own face to promote his product was the first of his retaliations against the machine; but he must have been devastated at the fallout of his lawsuit with Sony who turned away the mighty support and promotion they had previously furnished, which had helped produce four or five US #1s from Faith. Talent doesn't do that alone kiddies. But he seemed to have a good sense of humour and his later reference to Prince being ''daft'' for scrawling ''Slave'' on his cheek seemed to suggest he hadn't yet lost perspective.
George, like Cobain, didn't always handle his fame well; his was one of the most spectacularly documented falls from grace during a particularly puratanical time, after all, the 1990s were not all about Starbucks lattes and emancipation, and they most certainly were not supposed to be about propositioning hotties in public bathrooms. But at least he had a sense of humour about it, and hell, he even landed another hit with the tongue in cheek Outside.
George Michael has never come across as a slave to his commercial desires; at least not since the 1990s when he seemed to genuinely question the desire to be in the spotlight. Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1 was a pretty remarkable offering, not quite as accessible as Faith, and later releases Older and Patience seemed to define sophisticated, adult pop, but by then any reference to George seems more concerned with making note of his social transgressions and of how his life seemed to be going off the rails.
In recent weeks my Facebook newsfeed has been full of updates and photos of concert goers; Georgie has been touring European cities and staging his music with the assistance of assorted symphonic orchestras across the continent. Photos of the concert goers paint an audience of mixed ages, and by all accounts, its been a successful and well executed show. Interviews and reports suggest he is off the grass and back into functioning mode.
I'm always gonna be fighting the fight for GM. I think he is exceptionally talented, has an incredibly soulful voice, and whilst he is prone to a bit of indulgence and that dammed inclination towards heavy balladry, I've always felt the love for him, way back to those first posters I put on my wall; you know the type, him and Andrew Ridgely sitting on a plinth against a photo backdrop that looked like an eighties inspired camoflauge print. Those daft poses, the blonde tips and the white knitted jumpers. Man, if you can make that look sexy and stylish, overcome the speedos and get away scot free from the responsibility of later inspiring every second european guy to maintain a goatee (guilty) AND occassionally get your ass into a studio to make some of the best pop around, then you get my loyalty!
Oh Georgey, you don't know it, but I've been in a relationship with you almost as long as I have been with Madge. And that's been pretty much all my life. And here I was always thinking I was afraid of commitment. I think its amazing. I think you're amazing.
So I'm not going to mind the fuss about Nevermind. It deserves it, but, as autumn sets in and I get to start thinking about wearing my leather jacket again, I'm gonna be all about the faith.
Visitors to the FotoGrafia festival at Macro Testaccio would be best advised to visit the international pavillion after the Italian, for it is here that the unfortunate disparity between the local and the international offerings are most evident.
Here, photography is again exciting, moving, and artists use it as a medium to tell stories, share experiences and clearly articulate concepts in a way that unfortunately doesn't happen often enough in the adjacent pavillion.
Willem Popelier's __and Willem (2010) gets the ball rolling in a complicated, yet visually simplistic style. Here, Popelier constructs a photographic genealogy of twin brothers separated at birth. Relationships become hard to follow, convoluted and impossible to keep track of; its a conceptual process brought to life in a cold, scientific, yet graphic way, augmented by the more thorough accompanying book which further delves into the subjects and takes you beyond the often hilarious headshots that you cling to as you try to follow the upheaval of relationships and family over the years.
Mizu no Oto (The Sound of Water), curated by Rinko Kawauchi, features the work of Japanese artists, broadly linked by a tribute to the power and symbolism of water. Beyond the catastrophic potential of water which we have seen the worst of in the past year, Asako Narahashi delves into a world in which sight is still possible, but sound is distorted by submergence in water; images in which the photographer documents the shore from deep water are powerful and atmospheric where the horizon line is no longer relevant, orientation is distorted and our sense of involvement is heightened. Elsewhere, Kawauchi's Illuminescence images seem to be in line with this year's theme at Venice, though thankfully they seem to belong here.
Elsewhere The Place Where I Belong, curated by Marc Prust convincingly spells out the dualities and difficulties of those who have grown up in bicultural environments. In particular, Katherine MacDaid and Rania Matar's photo essays on life in the Middle East are beautiful excursions into texture, pattern and design, whilst at the same time offering up intimate portraits of life and the subjects that make up their second worlds.
Datascapes by Matthieu Bernard Raymond switches the direction around, using GIFs to integrate our obsession with graphs and charting into environmental settings. Here natural phenomena become living charts plotting everything from productivity to profit; in these modified black and white images we are forced to contemplate our modern life and its often diammetric opposition to the environment and our surroundings. The temptation to fill the large space with an elongated series is resisted; the point is clearly made with the half dozen or so images that are chosen for the exhibition.
Leaving this second pavillion with the same friends I left the first with, the conversation became one of confused jubilation. This is what a good international photographic festival should leave you feeling. Here, the objectives of the exibits were clear, their execution sharp, and the images varied and compelling. In short, this half of the festival was a celebration of photography and not an excuse to be self indulgent or to treat audiences with a form of contempt in which its simply enough to plaster walls with images as if they are some kind of wallpaper.
Exhibition runs into October, so if you are in Rome, make sure you head there, but follow my advice!
FotoGrafia, the International Photography Festival is on again at Macro Testaccio in Rome.
This is the tenth edition of the event, presented at one of Rome's most evocative exhibition spaces, Macro being the site of the ex slaughterhouses of the city.
As I am an absolute sucker for good photography, I felt I simply had to attend, pushing aside the underlying concerns I have in regards to photographic festivals that seem to be in every city, every town, every village of the world these days. My initial concern that such a spread of events spreads the talent even thinner seemed to be borne out at first when I visited the first of the two pavillions, that being the work with predominantly Italian pieces in them. It was a sense of dejavu that made me recall my visit to the Venice Biennale where the Italian pavillion left me decidedly underwhelmed, and a little frustrated. Here again are works which may be occasionally strong at a technical level, but in terms of aesthetic and ambience are lacking. There are two overwhelming problems in the Italian pavillion; the separately curated exhibits don't sit well with each other and there seems to be no interplay here; the exhibits make for uncomfortable bedfellows. The other problem is editing. Unfortunately, even the curated pieces here are lacking in editing; curators in this section of the festival seem unwilling to help their artists in thinking about what is vital, what fits, what will a viewer need to walk away with visually?
In one exhibit, Giorgio De Finis gets so caught up in his concept of the Space Metropoliz that we are left with eighteen (!) images that even in their entirety fail to capture the heart and soul of the project's stated aims. The project instead relies on the didactic text to explain that the photos were taken at a centro sociale on the Casalina, a district in the impoverished Eastern region of Rome, in a bid to document not only the trying conditions in which the immigrant subjects of this piece live, but to also achieve the photographer's aim of bringing the (faded) lustre of space iconography to the commune in order to elevate their spirits. What we are left with are too many large format images on a single wall that are only linked because of their repeated use of the lunar icon and a few well placed astronaut outfits. What's lacking are real studies of the subjects and a visible documentation of the effects of the visit, and what could have been better said with perhaps six images is instead spread too thin across eighteen.
Much better in this pavillion is Salvatore by Lorenzo Maccotta (curated by Giovanna Calvenzi). Here, an attempt by Maccotta to better understand his father, with whom he has a strained relationship, takes him on a six month journey to the north of Africa, across Sicily and the southern islands of Italy. At the end of this, Maccotta and Calvenzi choose no more than eight or so images, each striking, simplistic and evoking the dry, arid areas in which Salvatore's life has played out, and the gradual warming of the air between father and son. It's a well thought out and deeply personal project which bears real fruit.
An underwhelming series by Pablo Lopez (in Rome) and a hit and (mostly) miss affair by Alec Soth compound that tendency to over populate exhibitions, but the same approach is more successful when adopted by Valentina Vannicola, whose elaborately staged and produced L'inferno di Dante, imaginatively brings to life fifteen of the differing hells espoused in Dante's Inferno, a text with which all Italians are familiar with due to the required reading and study courses that even elementary school students here have to take.
Overall that first pavillion is very underwhelming. As I left it with friends, they told me that they didn't know how to feel, given that they normally were accustomed to visiting artist specific exhibitions. I explained, a good collective exhibition should leave you feeling challenged; challenged in the sense that your feelings should be competing with each other to help you determine which works you felt most strongly about, rather than leaving you feeling tired, apathetic and wondering why you mostly bothered when there were a handful of really touching and provocative works in a stable full of otherwise voiceless images.
I have mixed feelings about Haruki Murakami. I have read many of his books, sometimes loving them immensely, as I did with Norweigan Wood and A Wild Sheep Chase and other times, I haven't really loved his work (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles).
What I find interesting with Murakami, is how his work in translated form manages to resonate, not just in English, but also in a swathe of European languages.
1Q84 is coming up for its release, and is being touted as an impending blockbuster. The publishing industry is foaming at the mouth at the prospect of its English language release in October. This against a backdrop of bookstore closures en masse in some countries. A recent article in The Age, the Melbourne broadsheet, highlighted that in one eastern district of the city, home to approximately 140,000 people, there was no longer a visible presence of bookstores. The area is home to a mix of socio-economic groups, large and small commercial complexes and shopping strips, and whilst the article was pointing out that the chains had abandoned the area, it overlooked the fact that there are still a handful of smaller stores scattered around the greater area. I am sure that a Melbournian reading this article would at some point have thought about the traditional view of this part of the city, of how it was always considered to be culturally bereft, true or not.
Australians, mostly for economic reasons, continue to buy their books online, even from overseas retailers. Major book chains like Angus and Roberts and Borders have struggled in Australia, but not before gouging consumers with their prices, especially when you can visit the book section at a Kmart or Target store and pickup a new release for 30% less. Books are an expensive business in Australia, and the onslaught of online retailers and their success has more to do with the foolish approach Australian retail has of pushing out small business in favour of the chainstores. If you walk down any high street in an Australian capital city you will find the same stores, the same brands and the same options, who use their buying power to control pricing and to destroy the smaller businesses in the process. Then, when the chains decide that a location is no longer viable, they pick up and leave, leaving consumers with a huge void. Aside from supermarkets, Italian streets are mostly filled with small businesses, and small bookstores along with the handful of larger chains such as Feltrinelli do a good business here. Books are often cheaper here than in Australia, and with the incredibly unreliable (putting it kindly) postal service, internet shopping is not considered a viable alternative for many. So what you have here is a market place filled with options, and that leads to these bookstores small and large to be constantly full of people browsing and purchasing when they can.
My goal is to now start reading in Italian, and purge myself a little of my reliance on English books and literature. Maybe I won't start out reading a Murakami translation, but, I will head down to my local bookstore and enjoy those languid moments of leisurely leafing through books until I find something that I think I am going to love sufficient.
Kunstpedia is an online resource run by a Dutch based not for profit organisation. The goal of the organisation is to help stimulate the public interest in art and organisations with the hope of raising consciousness and public participation in the artworld.
To this end, Kunstpedia have a number of correspondents in different parts of the globe who cover events, exhibitions and related literature and share their experiences with readers in the hope that it inspires them to visit a gallery or pick up a book or basically reconnect with the cultural heritage.
The first of my pieces was published last week on the website which you can check out here.
I'm being trialled out for a new gig here in Rome, acting as a sort of Rome correspondent for a European website.
It's a good opportunity for me to seek out and explore some of Rome's more under rated and lesser known art spaces.
Last week, I met with one of the curators of the Museo Nazionale d'Arte Orientale who is charged with the management and promotion of one of Rome's little gems.
It's a small collection, a boutique kind of space, but one of the very few in all of Italy to focus on international art. There are a handful of boutique spaces that grew out of private collections in Genova, Milan and the North East of Italy, but this space is the only one that I know of in Central or Southern Italy which is completely comprised of Asian Art (it too began as a private collection which was later bequeathed to the state).
It's a little bit of an underdog, competing with other Roman spaces; oriental art is not something you probably have in mind during a visit to Rome, but its well worth a visit, especially as a respite to the endless array of Roman art and archeological sites that are already on offer in the city.
As far as underground acts go, Blonde Redhead read like something out of a rock bands 101 class. Pair a couple of very good looking Milanese twins, obviously very talented musicians, with a kooky Japanese art school graduate and hey presto, you have a band.
Blonde Redhead are full of surprises though. They evolved in the 1990s and continue to play full houses, releasing music that is equal parts poppy, electronic, with a touch of underground sass. Every time you hear an interlude you think you know what to expect, but then they just seem to have this knack for adding the unexpected into each song. Check them out as I did last night at Rome's Piper Club.
As we continue to hurtle through 2011, popular culture continues to move forward at break neck speed.
A decade or so ago, a new release by an artist might have been accompanied by a couple of print interviews, some syndicated TV one on ones and maybe a little bit of advertising along with the usual music videos and radio promotion.
But today, in the advent of the MP3 (or MP4), we are no longer helped by the slow build. Now its instantaneous. We need to be assaulted with worldwide promo tours, deluges of blogs and online appearances, and general saturation style promotion in order to get the next big hit on its way, or to keep an artist in the limelight for another month or so.
If you think about the way Lady Gaga is kind of everywhere today compared to how her predecessors made the odd, special appearance now and then, you get an idea of what I am saying. People in pop culture are chewed up and spat out now more than they have ever been. We have shorter attention spans than we have ever had before, and we're a lot more unforgiving. Things are reviewed before they are released, and if they are on the receiving end of a bad review, there is no clawing back there after. Janet Jackson was one of the first high profile victims of this approach.
Yes, there were some mitigating factors. Let's see, she made the same album over and over again; Damita Jo, 20 YO and Discipline were all basically copies of 2000's All For You, which in turn was nowhere near as special as her Velvet Rope album that came two years earlier. Then she had that unfortunate nipple gate episode, which was blown way out of proportion, really. It was a nipple. Walk on a beach in the Mediterranean and you will sometimes wish for a far more dramatic backlash to occur.
But for over a decade, she was right up there, at least in the States, where she was on par with her brother and Madonna in the hearts of youth culture. Part of her problem with longeivity is that she never really held the same international appeal outside the States, and thus, didn't have that wide support net when things started to go a bit nipple cripply for her.
The tide also changes in the pop culture world. A hot director or model or artist is only hot until the next best thing comes along, and then its up to the adoring fans and fanbases as to whether or not they are worthy of longterm support. Unfortunately, long term support has gone the way of pensions in most countries, severely diminished, reduced in length, and not much in the way of distinction between the poverty line and a government payment.
JJ was loved. Her videos were cool, she was a little dorky, but also knew how to turn on the edge when it suited her, and she made the best of her talents. She won't ever be in the league to compete with the Gagas or Rihanna or even Katy Perry again, and her current small venue world tour is probably more likely to be a farewell tour than anything else, but, I'm gonna hold on to the love, fondly remember the Rhythm Nation and all those super punch dance moves, until the next of the newbies gets relegated to a has been, and then I will have to reconsider her place in my heart.
Sometimes I wonder if these days the Americans are the new Romans.
In their day, the Romans had a political hand in almost every geographical area they touched, and because of this they were in equal parts feared, respected and despised. Their presence was always felt.
In recent weeks, a lot of the international media's coverage has focused on America's culpability in the international arena. Time magazine recently published an article in which it posited that the US must bear some responsibility for the famine that is crippling Somalia, borne of its policies in the war against terrorism. Its foreign policy in the wake of prolonged campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, its uneasy relations with China and the still felt repercussions of 9/11, as we near its tenth anniversary, have absolutely hurt its international standing.
Tariq Ali's column for the Guardian makes a lot of valid leftist points, that, along with the Time article, along with the usual China Daily coverage, just goes to show how now we are far quicker to our criticisms than we have been for a long time.
Generally, culpability is something that has been widely protected with Freedom of Information acts that have sought to insert decades between documentations being made, and documentations being made available. Under the prism of Wikileaks, the empires are falling, and the information is increasingly cynical, sharpened, published.
I abhorr politics. I find it nauseating, repetitive and stagnant; more an arena in which politicians are serving themselves and their re-election hopes than the people that voted for them. That said, I find international politics fascinating, because unlike domestic politics, international politics is not very forgiving; new world orders rise and fall in the blink of an eye, and it can be like watching the zeitgeist, basically trying to plot where the energy, where the mood, where the new interests and power are going to be.
The price of a high profile is increased scrutiny. Check out the Guardian's 9/11 coverage to see what I mean.
I just finished reading Scarlett Thomas' Our Tragic Universe. Firstly, I have to say I am incredibly relieved to have finished it. It was, I discovered as I read, designed to be a ''storyless story", kind of like the aim of Seinfeld in that it was supposed to be about nothing in particular, but the cheeky minx added an intellectual layer to it by throwing in talk about metafiction, plot structures, and anything else she could think of to deconstruct the constructed. I found it thoroughly annoying, although I will also say it was occasionally witty and overall well written.
As I am in the process of writing my own novel at the moment, it got me thinking about all types of things from a technical writing perspective.
And then, I got to thinking about all the online news I have been devouring in recent weeks, about archetypes, icons (good and bad) and about how we are conditioned to think about things through typical stories and ways in which they are put to us, especially through the media. All of this has left me feeling a little weary, but thank god for the soundbytes that all these archetypes are reduced to. Away from the realities, the underlying horror of stories that float out of Libya and Syria at the moment, or the just as you would expect kind of coverage of things like the Venice Film Festival or the latest political scandal, sometimes a little bit of personality edges through. Good or bad (or, in the case of Gaddafi, absolutely bonkers and seriously f*&ked up kinda bad).
Travel anywhere in Italy and you are likely to be bombarded with Catholic iconography of all sorts. Icons can be found on street corners, in front of apartment buildings, in advertisements and free flyers for music and aperitif events...anywhere really.
I love a good spin on the classics, especially when things are done with tongue in cheek.
As someone who grew up outside of Italy, I have a sense of detatchment about the iconography and the church. I studied art history at university and can marvel at the beauty of art and architecture which was created in line with religious purposes and idealogy, but that is where I draw the line.
In Italy, Italians aren't as religious as the world would have you believe. It's just that the ubiquity of imagery, centuries of tradition and the looming influence of the Vatican continue to hold what is ostensibly a political hold over the country.
A recent furore here erupted with the widely publicised ''news'' that the Vatican, even during these times of financial crisis, receives tax breaks and benefits that estimates amount to up to 3 billion euro per year. This is largely because as a ''non commercial'' entity it is free from taxation. Sounds good in principle, but the non commercial business activities go far and beyond what one might expect from a religious organisation; beyond the schools, churches and clinics, a little searching will reveal that the Vatican's fortune comes largely from revenue deriven from commercial leases of its extensive real estate portfolio; retail stores, apartment complexes, hotels...all of which are done tax free.
There is a resentment that the Vatican profits from a portion of what taxes Italians actually do pay, especially when the Vatican is seen to use its economic and social might to help control and steer government policy in the same way that Conservative groups do throughout the Western World.
How this will turn out, no one knows. A rather brilliant editorial piece in recent days spelt out the machinations of the government's current approach to its economic woes. When commerce and spirituality meet, things usually get ugly, same for when they collide with government.
Thank God (sorry), that we always have the stand alone nature of icononography to fall back on.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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