Monday, 30 June 2014

Relics

Relics
The largest ever retrospective of Damien Hirst's work was held last year, though not in London or New York but in Doha. Relics, curated by Francesco Bonami, was Hirst's first solo exhibition in the Middle East, and was accompanied by a 300-page catalogue published by Skira.

The catalogue begins with an extended essay by curator Francesco Bonami, who discusses Hirst's place in art history: "He is reversing the Picasso paradigm. Everybody knows Picasso, but fewer know his art. Now everybody knows the vitrine with the shark, the butterfly paintings, the Spot paintings, the diamond skulls, the sliced cow and the rotting cow's head, but fewer know their author." There is also a brief essay by Michael Craig-Martin (famous for his conceptual installation An Oak Tree) on Hirst's career prior to the Sensation exhibition, and a Hirst interview by Nicholas Serota (director of the Tate), though these are both reprints from a 2012 Tate catalogue.

Bonami's essay and Serota's interview both emphasise the significance of Hirst's installation A Thousand Years (a self-contained ecosystem, with a cow's head surrounded by flies that hatch and die). Bonami argues: "The paradox is that this work, centered on death and decomposition, is maybe the one that has granted Damien Hirst a slice of immortality in art history." (Arguably, though, the piece is about the life cycle of the flies more than the death of the cow.) In the Serota interview, Hirst says that A Thousand Years is important yet impermanent: "the fly piece was the most exciting thing - still is, possibly - the most exciting piece I made. [But] the fly piece is always something that will need my involvement, need my upkeep - it's high-maintenance."

Relics features many of the signature pieces from Hirst's Natural History series, such as A Thousand Years, Mother & Child (Divided) (a cow and calf, each bisected in vitrines), and Away From The Flock (a sheep preserved in formaldehyde). His iconic diamond-encrusted skull (For The Love Of God) is also included. Arguably Hirst's most famous work, The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living (his shark in a tank) is missing, though there are three other preserved sharks: The Kingdom, The Immortal, and Leviathan.

The first Hirst retrospective was organised by Charles Saatchi in 2003 (with a catalogue titled Pictures From The Saatchi Gallery), though it was curated without Hirst's approval; one of Hirst's greatest solo exhibitions, Romance In The Age Of Uncertainty, was also held that year. I Want To Spend The Rest Of My Life With Everyone, One To One, Always, Forever, Now (published in 1997) remains the definitive Hirst monograph, though Relics is useful for its updated chronology and bibliography.

Hack Attack

Hack Attack
Nick Davies, an investigative journalist for The Guardian, was the first reporter to reveal that News Of The World reporters had hacked the voicemails of hundreds of public figures. The scandal led to the closure of the News Of The World, the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics, and the Old Bailey trials of former News Of The World editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson. (Brooks was cleared of all charges, though Coulson was found guilty of phone-hacking.)

Hack Attack: How The Truth Caught Up With Rupert Murdoch is Davies's comprehensive account of his investigation into the phone-hacking scandal. Davies was motivated by his distaste for the criminality of Murdoch's tabloids, as he makes clear: "inside the walls of Murdoch's castle, there was something like a mass grave full of several decades of buried secrets, so big and so stinking that once you started to dig, there really was no doubt at all about what was down there."

In addition to his chronological narrative of the hacking investigation, Davies examines the recent history of British press crimes and misdemeanours, particularly the tabloid excesses of the 1980s and early 1990s. He also summarises Murdoch's influence on British politics (such as Margaret Thatcher not referring the Times takeover to the Monopolies & Mergers Commission, Gordon Brown's "five tests" preventing Britain joining the Euro, and David Cameron socialising with Rebekah Brooks) and the abortive bid for complete ownership of BSkyB.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger discussed Davies's uncovering of the hacking story in his memoir Play It Again. Davies also wrote the excellent Flat Earth News. Michael Wolff's The Man Who Owns The News is the definitive Murdoch biography.

Friday, 27 June 2014

ေအာင္ရင္ၿငိမ္း

ေအာင္ရင္ၿငိမ္း
An erotic novel, ေအာင္ရင္ၿငိမ္း by Aung Ying Nyein, has been banned in Burma. The novel, set in a world of 'romanbots' (romance robots), was withdrawn from sale by its publisher, Pinlae Thit, after pressure from the government. The author is now facing obscenity charges.

PDF

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites

Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites
Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites, published by Taschen, is an illustrated guide to 100 classic Noir films. At almost 700 pages, it's one of the most substantial Noir film guides, though it's more of a visual celebration of the genre than a work of reference. It has hundreds of large, glossy stills, making it a perfect coffee-table book for cinephiles, though there's no bibliography.

Film Noir was edited by Paul Duncan and Jurgen Muller. Duncan has previously written monographs on Stanley Kubrick (Visual Poet) and Alfred Hitchcock (Architect Of Anxiety), and has edited many other Taschen books, including Horror Cinema, Art Cinema, and Cinema Now. Muller edited Taschen's 100 All-Time Favorite Movies, whose format Film Noir has adopted. Fourteen films are included in both books, with the reviews and illustrations from 100 All-Time Favorite Movies reproduced exactly in Film Noir. (Even the mistakes are replicated, such as the bizarre phrase "smirking toilet seat" in the Psycho chapter.)

The films were selected based on a fairly broad definition of Film Noir. The Expressionist masterpiece Cabinet Of Dr Caligari, for instance, is not usually regarded as a Noir film. (Noir was partly inspired by German Expressionism, though Caligari influenced the horror genre more than Noir.) Similarly, Vertigo, Psycho, and Taxi Driver are all-time classics, though I wouldn't necessarily describe them as Noir films. Nevertheless, the lavish illustrations (particularly for Caligari) are ample justification for their inclusion.

Milestones from the original Noir cycle such as The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Out Of The Past, and Touch Of Evil are all included. The contemporary Neo-Noir movement is represented by films such as Chinatown, Blade Runner, Pulp Fiction, Memento, and The Dark Knight. There are a few surprising omissions: the B-movie Stranger On The Third Floor, the experimental Lady In The Lake, and Citizen Kane (not a Noir per se, but an important stylistic influence on the genre).

There are a few misquotes and factual errors. In Double Indemnity, Walter says "I killed him for money, and for a woman. I didn't get the money, and I didn't get the woman", though the book lazily paraphrases this to "I killed him for the money and the woman, and I didn't get either". In Notorious, the wine cellar was not "an opportune venue" for the famous extended kiss, which didn't take place there. Some mistakes may be due to poor translations from the original German text: Walter's confession in Double Indemnity was made after he was shot, not "at gunpoint"; in Pulp Fiction, the 'Gold Watch' sequence (not "The Golden Watch") happened in a regular family house, not "a children's home", and Vincent revived Mia instead of bringing her "back to life".

Panorama Du Film Noir Americain, by Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton, is the founding text of Film Noir. Twenty years later, Paul Schrader's essay Notes On Film Noir provided a summary of the genre for American audiences. Schrader's essay is included in Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites as an introduction, though it's already been widely anthologised; another introductory chapter, an extended visual analysis of The Lady From Shanghai ("seldom in the studio era has there been a movie with such innovative visual language") co-written by Jurgen Muller, is much more interesting.

Recent Noir scholarship has been dominated by Alain Silver and James Ursini, who co-wrote Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference To The American Style (updated as Film Noir: The Encyclopedia), the Film Noir Reader series, and The Noir Style. Silver and Ursini also wrote Film Noir for Taschen, edited by Paul Duncan, and they are among the contributors to Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

501 Must-See Movies

501 Must-See Movies
The fourth edition of 501 Must-See Movies, edited by Emma Hill, contains only minor changes compared to the third edition. Four films (Troy, Crank, United 93, and The Reader) have been deleted from the list of 501, and four new films (The King's Speech, The Artist, Skyfall, and The Avengers) have been added.

PDF

Friday, 20 June 2014

เสาร์... สะดวก

เสาร์... สะดวก
The Maltese Falcon
The Big Sleep
Sansho Dayu
Unforgiven
Persona
The Purple Rose Of Cairo
King Kong
King Kong
The Killing
A Clockwork Orange
Thammasat University's Tha Prachan campus in Bangkok hosts regular film screenings on Saturdays (เสาร์... สะดวก), and the schedule for the remainder of this year includes several classics. The season begins tomorrow with two of the greatest Noir thrillers, The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.

Next month there will be a screening of Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansho Dayu (on 5th July). Clint Eastwood's Western Unforgiven screens on 16th August. Ingmar Bergman's Person will be shown on 13th September, and The Purple Rose Of Cairo (27th September) is one of several Woody Allen films to be shown in the same month. Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack's King Kong (and Peter Jackson's remake) will be screened on 11th October; two Stanley Kubrick films, The Killing and A Clockwork Orange, will be shown later that month (25th October).

A History Of The Internet
& The Digital Future

A History Of The Internet & The Digital Future
A History Of The Internet & The Digital Future, by Johnny Ryan, is the first attempt to condense the entire history of the internet into a single book. The 200 pages of body text (supplemented by extensive notes) are divided almost exactly in half: the first 100 pages cover the net's Cold War origins (the US military's ARPA Network), and the second half begins with the development of the world wide web.

While the origins of computers and the internet have been documented elsewhere (for instance, in The Information and A Social History Of The Media), Ryan's book is the first to provide a comprehensive history of the web. He describes "the emergence of the Web and the folly of the dot-com boom and bust", including milestones from the 1990s that now seem like ancient history: nascent pre-Google search engines such as AltaVista, Napster and the birth of file-sharing, Amazon and the rise of e-commerce; Microsoft's 'browser war' and anti-trust case is the only major omission.

As in The New Digital Age, Ryan demonstrates how "the defining characteristics of the Internet are now transforming culture, commerce and politics". Like Tim Wu (in The Master Switch), he concludes with the issue of corporate control, differentiating Google's open-source model from the more restrictive policies of "Facebook, Apple, Nokia, Microsoft and Nintendo". It's a sign of how quickly the internet is evolving that two of those corporations (Nokia and Nintendo) have subsequently declined sharply in online influence, while a new player (Twitter) has emerged.

Art Of The Digital Age

Art Of The Digital Age
Art Of The Digital Age, published by Thames & Hudson, traces the history of digital art and features a survey of key works in various related fields, including digital imaging, computer animation, virtual reality, and internet art. Michael Rush's New Media In Art, from the same publisher, also examined the intersection between art and computer technology, though Art Of The Digital Age is more up-to-date and has a larger format. The title is a reference to Frank Popper's Art Of The Electronic Age. HW Franke's Computer Graphics, Computer Art was the first survey of computer art, published over forty years ago.

Author Bruce Wands defines digital art broadly as "the end result of the creative process in which an artist uses the computer as their primary tool". As he points out, the digital age is transforming art, especially for the 'digital native' generation: "many of the perceived differences between digital art and contemporary art become blurred. We are in a period of transition: artists of the future... are unlikely to distinguish between art created with technology and other types of contemporary art."

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Quote of the day...

FCCT
Army spokesman Weerachon Sukhonthapatiphak gave a press conference at the FCCT in Bangkok today. Weerachon rejected the word 'coup', and instead described it euphemistically as an "intervention"; he insisted that people were "invited", rather than 'detained', by the military; and he claimed that former PM Yingluck was free to leave after less than a day.

Yingluck was actually held for a few days before being released, and all detainees are forbidden from discussing any aspect of their captivity. Previous quotes of the day: doublespeak from Prayuth, an Election Commissioner agues against an election, hypocrisy from Suthep, Prayuth discusses the GT200, a PAD leader says Thailand should be more like North Korea, the ICT Minister openly admits to violating the Computer Crime Act, and a patronising Ministry of Culture official.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

คืนความสุข ให้คนในชาติ

คืนความสุข ให้คนในชาติ
Following last month's coup, the military has begun a PR campaign to promote reconciliation. Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha is hosting a weekly television address called คืนความสุข ให้คนในชาติ, broadcast on all channels each Friday evening. (He has even written a propaganda song, titled คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย, in which he pledges to "bring happiness back to Thailand".)

In his first programme, broadcast last Friday, Prayuth devoted most of his speech to a justification of martial law and its various restrictions: "The invocation of martial law, the highest security law, was necessary... We have to strictly enforce the curfew... It was necessary for us to request that certain officials 'report' to the officials... Regarding the prevention of political gatherings of more than five people, this is also necessary... There are reasons why some of the media have to be temporarily suspended." He also outlined his three-step plan for the country's political future: reconciliation, a new constitution (with no mention of a referendum, unlike 2007), and finally an election to be held after a year or more.

In the second programme, broadcast yesterday, Prayuth began with a remarkable piece of doublespeak: "There were many reasons why it was necessary for the NCPO to take control of national administration. The most important is because we respect democracy." Later, however, he reverted to the standard rhetoric of the anti-Thaksin movement: "We understand that we are living in a democratic world, but is Thailand ready? Are Thai people ready?"

Demonstrations against the coup were initially tolerated, though soldiers are now being deployed at likely venues to pre-empt any further protests. Critics of the coup are now using symbolic, less overt tactics, such as a three-finger salute (adopted from The Hunger Games), reading George Orwell's novel 1984, or eating sandwiches, though even these innocuous acts have resulted in arrests. Meanwhile, the military's summonses are continuing, and over 300 people have now reported for questioning and possible detention for up to seven days.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Quote of the day...

คืนความสุข ให้คนในชาติ
Since the coup, Prayuth Chan-ocha has delivered a weekly address each Friday evening, titled คืนความสุข ให้คนในชาติ and broadcast on all channels. Tonight, he began with a remarkable piece of doublespeak, claiming that his coup was orchestrated in the name of democracy.

In another memorable quote, last year Prayuth dismissed criticism surrounding the GT200. Previous quotes of the day: an Election Commissioner agues against an election, hypocrisy from Suthep, a PAD leader says Thailand should be more like North Korea, the ICT Minister openly admits to violating the Computer Crime Act, and a patronising Ministry of Culture official.