Tuesday, April 30, 2013

All Ears

End April to mid May is birthday time for the female side of our family. A is 11 today. And what did she want? Her ears pierced. So with lobes lanced, there's a feeling, for me at least, that she's leaving her childhood and is moving inexorably towards teenagerdom. But enough paternal trepidation. They look very nice!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Making Light of the Matter

Last day in London. Walked across Waterloo Bridge to the Hayward Gallery to see this spring's hot ticket, The Light Show, just in time before it closes this weekend. 
It's good. I mean kind of obvious, a bit of a crowd pleaser, and why not?  I really like Antony McCall's You and I, Horizontal (right) which felt almost solid, Olaffur Eliasson's equally solid-looking water fountains (achieved by strobes), Conrad Shawcross's Slow Arc Inside a Cube, and Lee Villareal's Cylinder II - the first thing you see on entering the exhibition. Others were rather less impressive, mainly the older artists strangely, including James Turrell's underwhelming Wedgework V (I've seen much better from him) and the ones involving florescent tubes. There's a Chinese museum interested in the exhibition. Let's see.
Then back across the river for last minute shopping before catching the tube out to Heathrow and the flight home. As always, a packed, interesting trip, and all too short.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ziggy played ukulele

London looked its absolute best today. Gorgeous day, blue sky, late blossom, people eating en plein air. There may be a recession, but restaurants, cafes and pubs seem to be doing good business. 
Amongst all the meetings, I managed to see the Bowie exhibition at the V&A. It's good, big and mad - a cluttered riot of screens and costumes and just tons of stuff. I had to race through it rather, but there were some nice surprises, like a rather good oil painting he did of Iggy, and the huge multi-screened room near the end which reminded me of their famous Japan exhibition of 1991.
Nice drink with Simon later on. Leaving the public for the private sector has been brilliant for him. And then dinner with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Well, not all of them. I was aware of them back in the 80s when a colleague of mine joined their ranks and I still have their debut LP. Since then they've slimmed down to about eight and in the last few years have become amazingly successful, playing sell-out concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall etc. We are hatching a plans...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Skidoo Connection

Meetings, meetings, meetings... nine of them back-to-back. Then a drink with the London-based contingent of the UK Now team. Good to reconnect, out of context in a Trafalgar Square pub.
By a happy coincidence, Patrick's down from Edinburgh for work. Couldn't dfind a pub showing the Borussia Dortmund / Real Madrid match, so we ended up having dinner at BAFTA, using the BC's very useful member's card. Great to catch up - and funny how our worlds are meshing. There's the possibility of a sculpture exhibition at a new museum in north-west China, and today he's been with the family of William Turnbull, the sculptor who died a few months ago. His two sons, Johnny and Alex, are in the band 23 Skidoo. I was quite a fan of them in the early 80s and am almost certainly the only person in China to have their first six records.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

China Arts Forum

A truly dynamic speaker
The main reason I'm in London is to co-present a forum for the UK's arts constituency. Basically, it's an afternoon of context and advice for museums, performing arts companies, tour promoters, cultural institutions and anyone else who's interested in working in the Chinese arts scene... and how the British Council can help. 
It went well. We squeezed about 80 people into a room in Spring Gardens, and aside from me there were presentations by my Director Joanna Burke, Xiang Xiaowei from the Chinese Embassy in London, Tony Trehy from Bury Art Museum, Nick Barnes from Blind Summit theatre company and some moderating by Graham Sheffield, our global Director of Arts.
Some difficult issues came up like: Can you do more to introduce us to sponsors in China?and Can you advise on the contracts we sign with Chinese partners? and surprisingly little on censorship.
It was good to connect with everyone and share a few drinks afterwards. But a relief also to forget work and meet up with Andrew Hulme and Paul Schutze for dinner at Andrew Edmunds in Soho. I remember Paul introducing me to this tiny little restaurant on Lexington Street back in the mid-90s - and it's still great. 
Good to catch up. Andrew's on the verge of directing his first feature film while suffering from lack of sleep with two young children around, and Paul's getting back into music while looking after his & Chris's new offspring - Gilbert, an Irish Terrier.

Monday, April 22, 2013


The start of a busy week of meetings, two of which were at BAFTA. I'd never been here before. It's opposite the Royal Academy on Piccadilly, behind a big grey door which stays locked until they buzz you in. There's a nice bar-cum-lounge which members (there are 6,500 of them) use for dining and meetings. I never realised they did so much other stuff besides the annual Film & TV Awards: lectures, education, gaming awards etc. 
Anyway, glam done and rendezvous with Julie and Peter in a regular pub. Both seem very well and great to catch up. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

To London

Off to London. Amazingly, the first time since last summer. Eleven hours on a plane. Bliss. Worked, read and watched just one film, Django Unchained. Typical Tarantino. Irreverent, slightly surreal wit, good music, blood & guts. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Elgar at the Egg

Tonight Liz and I enjoyed an all-British programme (Britten and Elgar) at the Egg by the National Ballet of China's Symphony Orchestra. All very Last Night. The only thing missing was the bunting and silly antics.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

After the Storm

Storm Thorgerson, graphic designer extraordinaire, died today. He'd been ill for some time. From 1968-83 his small design agency Hipgnosis (which also included Aubrey Powell and later, of all people, Peter Christopherson) were the go-to people for prog, heavy metal and clever pop groups - think Pink Floyd, Led Zep and 10cc. After that, he dabbled in music videos and then set up Storm Studios returning to what he did best. 
More than most, I'd have thought that the shrinking of the sleeve from 12" to 5" met with disgruntlement. But maybe not - he was always the optimist. I met him twice: once in London at a talk, and then in Tokyo at the opening of one of his many exhibitions at which I pointed out the little-known cover of Ashra's Correlations. He couldn't remember who they were.   

Monday, April 15, 2013

Oöphoi RIP

Who? Oöphoi was the pseudonym of Giuanluigi Gasparetti, an Italian musician who made very minimal, monolithic, ambient music and released a ton of albums from the mid-90s onwards. He was also the editor of a magazine called Deep Listenings. Beyond that, I know very little about him, nor even how he died (the day before yesterday, at the relatively young age of 55) except that it was apparently after a long illness. But recently I started listening to his stuff on YouTube while writing. Nothing much happens in them. It's like the aural equivalent of the black slab in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mysterious, dark, alluring, impenetrable… and just there.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Oi! (Chinese style)

There are plenty of skinheads in China, meaning plenty of men with shaved heads. But not many who worship English skinhead culture down to wearing wear lace-up DMs and braces and changing their name to Oi.
I'd met Oi Mark and his two-tone girlfriend last year at our Rockarchive exhibition, and again yesterday. He gave me a stylish tin box full of 50+ photos he'd taken of skinheads both in Britain and China. Between my bad Chinese and his bad English, we managed to have a half-decent chat. Not a subculture that's dear to my heart, but this particular angle was something new.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Three Shadows

Sam, Annette & Zoe left this morning. It's been nice having them stay. Meanwhile I attended the opening of the 5th Three Shadows Photography Award out in Caochangdi. Beautiful day with cherry blossom everywhere and everyone gathered outside for the opening ceremony. 
We'd invited Brett Rogers, Director of the Photographers Gallery in London, to join the jury. Brett and I go way back when she was a colleague in Arts Dept. Nice to see her again. 
There were 504 entries, whittled down to 28 by the time the jury had to decide the winner, who turned out to be Li Jun, a guy of few words and whose shots of minimal dusty interiors were equally minimal and, on the face of it, a bit boring... until Brett told me that it was of the photographer's own home which he hadn't cleaned for a year. That's the thing with art: the story behind the work is sometimes more interesting than the work itself. 
I preferred Chan Kai Chun's portraits of overworked students (left) and Chen Xiaoxuan's study of the last living Chinese women who'd had their feet bound. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Today we bid namaste to colleague Haining in a nearby dumplings restaurant. He's taking a year-long career break to continue his studies in Buddhism - in Cumbria of all places. 
The idea of a career break is tremendously appealing, but - for me, right now - sadly impractical.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Time Out

This afternoon I had a meeting with the editor of Beijing's edition of Time Out magazine. Like all the international city versions of TO - and there are now 66 of them - it's published under license. There's also one for Shanghai and they do separate English and Chinese-language versions, and of course it's on-line too. They look identical to the London one, though nowhere near as much content.
But on that subject, I hadn't realised that TO London has gone freebie and slimmed down. Shame really, it used to take a good week to get through it.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher RIP

Margaret Thatcher died today. What can one say? Love her or hate her, she certainly played a major role in shaping Britain as we know it today. As a naieve 18 year-old still at school I voted for her in 1979. The country was a mess, Heath was gone, why not a woman PM? Of course she turned out to be stubborn, domineering and - by the end - didn't listen to anyone except her husband. But was she a good thing for Britain? I think the jury's still out on that one.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Big Goose

Pottering around Xi'an... First to the fabulous Shaanxi History Museum, forgetting that today is a public holiday and there was one almighty queue (and, by the way, an amazingly long kite which stretched several hundred yards up into the sky). But a bit of quick (and devious) thinking resulted in us joining the end of a Canadian tour group and we were in. Have already described the excellent collection here. 
Then to the Big Goose Pagoda (built in 652AD) to house the Buddhist sutras brought back from India by the monk Xuan Zang (he who inspired one of the best-known works in Chinese literature, Journeys to the West). The building itself is a tad dull, inside and out. 
Finally we ended up at the Drum Tower for a bit of a drum demo and a zip round a dark & dusty collection of furniture, and the Folk Museum for tea ceremony and shadow puppet show.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Terracotta Cyclists

Not wishing to be a killjoy, I kept my Terracotta Warrior thoughts to myself and let Alyssa do the enthusing. Anyway, of course we had to go. When I went two years ago, I was taken there as guest of Shanghai Art Museum and was slipped in through a VIP entrance. This time, as mere mortals, we had to enter via an interminably long pedestrian avenue lined with tacky souvenir shops and bad restaurants. Once through the gate we watched the 360-degree film which looked like it had been shot on 16mm in the late 70s (they seriously have to do something about this). 
And then, finally, we entered Hanger No.1 for the famous vista of 2,000-year-old statues stretching into the distance... Except that there are 'only' a few hundred, filling less than half of the enormous space. The rest are either still buried or in fragments being worked upon by white-coated conservationists. In the similarly huge Hanger No.2 they're virtually all buried, while the small Hanger No.3 just has a few warriors and horses - though these are quite impressive. For me, the whole thing remains somewhat disappointing.
Much better was the 2-hour cycle ride round Xi'an's city walls. Naomi and I chose a tandem, possibly the first time I've ever ridden one.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Taoering Heights

Headed east to Huashan, one of Taoism's five sacred mountains (there are four sacred Buddhist peaks too but that's another story). You can do the 5hr hike up from the bottom but we took the cable car as once you reach the top it turns out there's not one summit, but five, with stiff hikes between each one. 
Once upon a time it used to be the lair of hermits but now of course it's full of tourists with all the creature comforts that go along with that: paths along knife-edged ridges, impressively carved out steps which seem to ascend into the heavens, toilets, cafes... even hostels where you can stay the night and then watch the sun rise. 
That said, it's still wild and you have to watch your step. Naomi gave me the heebie-jeebies. There's one amazing section - which we didn't actually get to, thank god - which is a series of narrow wooden planks and a chain, both somehow attached to a vertical rock face. I think you're clipped onto the chain, but someone told me that's quite recent. And people inch across it. No thank you...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Dumplings

Off to Xi'an for an Easter break with Sam, Annette and Zoe who are visiting for a fortnight. My April Fool "Oh no, the flight's cancelled!" worked, but backfired a bit. Not cancelled, but delayed. So by the time we got there we only really had time for a quick wander around the muslim quarter including the mosque and narrow streets full of arabic script, posters of Mecca, stalls laden with dried fruit & pastries, and hooks hanging with halal meat. At times you could imagine yourself in Syria. OK, not Syria... 
Great dinner of dumplings in a crowded 5-storey restaurant near the Drum Tower.
We're staying in a nice 'boutique' hotel with exposed brickwork inside & out, but only one of the staff speaks basic English which could be interesting...