Tag Archives: art

Bad parenting and TO THE LIGHT: Yoko Ono and Ai Wei Wei at the Serpentine

Somehow, supermum had managed to convince herself that the Princess Diana Memorial Playground was in Hyde Park as opposed to the best part of a mile’s trudge across Kensington Gardens. I was grumpy and still weirded out by various work-related miseries. Dudelet was on a mission to annoy everyone and little elf was taking full advantage of this with a sickening display of decent behaviour. Sarcasm is instinctively written in her bones. I just wanted utter silence and to contemplate the abyss of my working life. Supermum was probably quite happy to be where we were but no doubt devoutly wished the whole crew of us on Pluto.

Then we realised that we’d accidentally parked outside the Serpentine. So we wandered over to look at the Ai Wei Wei/Herzog & de Meuron pavilion. It was twenty metres away and I managed to squeeze in two more instances of appallingly bad parenting along the way. Dudelet burst into tears. I burst into tears and simmered at the same time. Little elf skipped obliviously into the pavillion’s shady depths and I followed her, hoping it would swallow me up.

In a way, it did, a little. The photographs available don’t really do its odd presence, at once chthonic and airy, justice. A flat round roof overlays a partly below ground-level space full of curved walls and gently stepped levels heading in different directions and rather ugly IKEA lights. It’s like a deconstructed amphitheatre. Cork stools shaped like giant button mushrooms or champagne corks – champagne being something at once rooted in earth, permeated with air and emblematic of all things playful and extravagant – are scattered here and there. Little elf and dudelet ran back and forth and dudelet ran over and hugged me. I hugged him back. We all peered over the edge of the pavilion’s flat roof. It was covered in water and mosquito larva but one sense of it was clear. Earth, sea and sky.

Then we went in to see the Yoko Ono exhibition. First, dudelet and little elf had their pictures taken to join her #smile project then they attacked the all-white chess set which was attracting a large quantity of equally puzzled young people. I asked dudelet why he thought it was white.

“So that people don’t know if they’re winning,” he decided. Little elf, showing a flicker of little goblin, then tried to win by knocking all the other pieces over and we made a hasty exit for the galleries.

In there, we queued to walk around a perspex maze after watching other visitors wander around it, arms outstretched like blind men or women. It’s a simple maze and (I think) a simple point – how easy it is to see how others are on a wrong path and taking the wrong turn, not so easy for oneself – but one that’s made quite powerfully. Dudelet and I went in together and we found our way to the centre. Once inside, you forget that other people are watching you. We reached the centre, a simple square plinth, hollow, with a still pool of water at the bottom. It was inside a small, private enclosure. I told him I was sorry and kissed the top of his head. Then he led the way out and we watched little elf lead supermum around the small labyrinth looking absolutely delighted with herself.

There were other pieces (“Look! Bums!”) but the maze meant the right thing at the right time, as did the Ai Wei Wei pavilion. Later, we were all grouchy with each other once more – it’s been a long summer with too much change – but at least we all know how to make up when we need to.

Anselm Kiefer at White Cube Bermondsey – “Il Mistero delle Cattedrali”

Anselm Kiefer’s large exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey – Il Mistero delle Cattedrali – is something of a re-engagement for me with this most hermetic of artists. Kiefer’s always worked through allusion and suggestion and much of his work depends on readings of other artists and writers re-contextualised and re-written in his monumental paintings and sculptures.

I use the word ‘monumental’ advisedly – he’s not creator of intimacy by any means. Like Rothko, there’s a dialog with the sublime going on. Unlike Rothko, the sublime is continually open to question at best and in a constant state of entropy and unstable decay at best. Another layer of irony and one I’m sure the artist appreciates is the equally monumental subject of the largest set of works – massive, uncanny representations of the enormous Templehof Airport, Albert Speer’s intended gateway to Germania, Hitler’s envisaged European super-capital, and scene of the Berlin Airlift.

Anyway, long terms fans will recognise a lot of familiar tropes – lead books, lead aeroplanes, objects embedded in thick layers of weathered paint and so on. Some of it brings fresh associations, some of it doesn’t. What follows are unedited lists of images and references taken from the notes I was making as I slowly made my way around the airport terminal-like space of White Cube.

Fulcinelli: Finis Gloria Mundi

A long, squashed cone of oxidised lead, like the envelope of a squid. Huge sunflowers, transmuted or coated in lead cascade from one end.They could be giant, spindly psilocibin mushrooms. A kraken? Or the body and folded tail of a peacock? All the eyes are blind and turned to lead.

(Fulcanelli’s alchemical texts are a key referent throughout).

Dat Rosa Miel Apibus

More lead books, a model ME262 (but no Blue Öyster Cult soundtrack) in the signature lead. Roofing thieves could make a fortune in here. Not rotting but decaying, achieving a unity in decay over Lovecraftian lengths of time. Is Kiefer a Lovecraft fan? Probably not. Though his work is suffused with the aura of At The Mountains Of Madness et al. “That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.” (Lovecraft)

Each piece here is a clock ticking in aeons.


The salvaged, decaying bicycle made for three turns out to be a thin facsimile. Hung with scale-pans of salt, sulphur, still mercury, each labelled with the appropriate symbol. Going nowhere.

Notoriously within my family, I can’t ride a bike.

Sprache Der Vogel: Fulcanelli

The mysterious Fulcaneli’s assertion that the language of the Freemason’s was derived from the speech of birds. The wings seem to rise imperceptibly on unseen currents of air. One turned down corner of a massive book forms a beak. A squat golden eagle of lead books, collapsed folder chairs and a massive block of stone. Red ochre. Alchemy in progress. Time speeded up and slowed down by intense scrutiny.

The wings continue to rise.

A serial number and an unknown rune-like formula adorn the cover of one book.

(The curtains are drawn. It is night at the airport in here.)

The Templehof

An immensity overlaid by memory and history. Shut finally in 2008. Attritioning greys and muddy greens. Weather.

Alchemical scales suspended and unbalanced in front of primordial chaos. Thor’s hammer lurks nearby on a stone anvil. Ginnunginap?

Come closer. The paintings are a mosaic of cracks. They have been dug up and preserved. Preservation itself is a form of alchemy – look at any book binder at work in Trinity College with their little tray of unguents and chemicals.

The masonic compasses have marked out, drawn and engraved the relentless geometry of the airport.

(Does the Templehof only exist because of this painting?)

A satellite dish receiving unheard, unseen, unread signals for thousands of years as the city accretes at the feet of its shambolic brick tower.

There is a world in monochrome where Germania is the whole of the continent of what once was Europe.

The satellite dish awaits signals from this hypothetical Germania. The city below has stopped listening.

This is the Zone of Tarkovsky’s Stalker.

Thin, giant sunflowers/psilocybin swarm from the ceilings of the abandoned departure halls and hangers. Swimmers drown in the oceanic cement runways.


Chemical reactions


Mjönar left to rust, long after Ragnarok. Somehow, the rebirth of Líf and Lífþrasir never happened.

Wrong. Everywhere in the room, the mushrooming fleurs du mal of the lead sunflowers. Roots and hidden eggs are everywhere

The rue morgue. An impossible machine frozen in mid-stitch. The child’s coat abandoned on the anvil. A doll wrapped in lead.

(Books read by the gallery attendants. Dressed in black, tight. Young, under-nourished looking.

– 1Q84, Haru Murakami

– Something by Gide

– Music For Chameleons, Truman Capote)

Sigurd achieved the speech of birds.

Straight Into Darkness – Dudelet, Balka and me

Dudelet and I have been having one or two issues lately. Actually, supermum’s had one or two strained moments with dudelet this week, as has little elf. To be honest, I think we’re all taking chunks out of each other on a regular basis. The flat is too small, the neighbours are regularly complaining about the noise of the children running around above their heads (and as luck would have it, they seem to be constantly working from home) and my search for a new job, the deus ex machina supposed to engineer an escape from both small flat and increasingly anally retentive neighbours, keeps running into rejections or deadends. There’s a bit of an atmosphere, a sense of ‘between stations’ and children pick up on that sort of thing.

More disturbingly, dudelet’s had a few sleepwalking incidents, something classically associated with stressed children. Little elf seems relatively untouched but her insistence on doing everything herself and ‘owning’ particular bits of floor or furniture, or the whole of our bed is driving the other three of us to distraction.

So supermum took LE swimming this morning whilst dudelet and I stayed behind. I initially banned TV – we were going to find more creative outlets – and we built railway tracks, raided the freezer, made smoothies and drew. Then dudelet, who refused to countenance leaving the house, went into pester overdrive to at least play on the GameCube. After some debate, we struck a deal. He’d get to play Zelda for 45 minutes then we’d pack up and head for the Tate Modern where he’d spend an equal amount of time trekking round the exhibition of my choice.

And that’s exactly what we did.

I wanted to see the Van Doesburg exhibition but before that, we tackled the current big installation in the cavernous space of the Turbine Hall – Miroslaw Balka’s monstrous steel box of darkness, 13 metres high and 30 metres long.

Dudelet wanted to see it (he loves the big exhibits and Louise Bourgeois’ Maman is a touchstone for both of us) but was scared – it literally feels like one is walking into a wall of darkness. So I carried him and we slowly walked up the ramp into the immense steel box, a giant’s freight container. To me, it was nowhere near as scary as it might have been. It was too crowded and after a while, one could make out white shirts or scarfs hovering like after-images in the blackout. But the sense of lost or incalculable space was intense. I couldn’t see or sense where the darkness ended in walls and the ceiling might as well have been a night sky devoid of stars or light pollution. We were at the bottom of a huge well, surrounded by other blinded, shuffling, giggling denizens. I moved forward slowly, dudelet in one arm with his legs wrapped around my waist whispering a running commentary, and my other arm stretched out ready to encounter a wall or The Other. When I finally met the end of the box, I almost jumped. The wall was velvelty, almost warm. Dudelet could see a faint crack of light from an imperfect seal to our right so we made our way south untill I met another wall with the same faint shock at the unexpetedly soft texture I encountered. Then we turned east, looking back the way we came. The illusion vanished instantly. It was a dull light but all the people entering the open end of the box were silhouetted against it. Dudelet let me put him down and we made our way out.

It’s a piece of art that references many things – the cattle cars and gas chambers of the Holocaust, the simply unknown – but on a crowded Saturday afternoon, it offers more simple lessons about the tricksiness of the spatial and how my beautiful boy still trusts me enough, despite all the shouting and strife of the last couple of weeks, to let me carry him into darkness and out again.

Dad Who Writes. By Dudelet.

I finally got around to taking up the challenge laid down by Tara over at Sticky Fingers, of getting your appropriately aged sprog to do a portrait of you and post it.  Perhaps the result is a just punishment for querying whether she really had no neck.

Dudelet's masterpiece. Note grey stubbly hair. Accurate. And enormous stomach. Inaccurate.

Dudelet's masterpiece. Note grey stubbly hair. Accurate. And enormous stomach. Inaccurate.

So there you go. Snigger who dares.