“A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but,
most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.” Albert Camus
“A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but,
most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.” Albert Camus
The world’s most expensive pocket watch recently went on sale at auction in Genève. The 80 year old time piece commissioned by New York Financier Henry Graves, one of the greatest watch collectors of the 20th century. Graves Pocket Watch was listed at a starting price of $15.6m. At the time it was made in 1930 this watch cost its maker today’s equivalent of a quarter of million dollars.
The 18 karat Gold time piece was Swiss watch makers Patek Philippe’s Mona Lisa of Horology; not only did it convey the time, it did so in two different time zones; it could measure Sunrise and Sunset throughout the year, alongside a perpetual calendar, displaying the phases of the Moon it would chime out the hours, the quarter and half hours in the same melody as London’s Big Ben. Its crowning glory however, is the celestial chart that accurately plotted the night’s sky above Henry Graves’s apartment on 5th Avenue NYC.
It was described by the auctioneers Sotherbys as the “Holy Grail” of watches. But why? Although it fetched far more than the asking price, it was still just a watch. Well, for the first 50 years of its life it was the most complicated watch in the world, later surpassed by technicians aided by computers and modern technology. In fact, it is still the most complicated handmade watch ever. Tin Bourne, Sotherby’s head of watches said after the auction that fetched up $24m “This evenings’ Stella results confirms the “Rock Star” status of the Henry Graves Supercomplication, a masterpiece which transcends the boundaries of horology and has earned its place among the world’s greatest works of art”
It told the time.
Any watch maker will tell you that a time piece should just keep time and all these deviations of functions are a “complication”. The Henry Graves watch had 24 of them – a huge distraction for an Horologist. The more complications in a watch, the more difficult it is to design, machine, assemble, and repair. A typical date-display chronograph may have up to 250 parts, while the Graves Watch has 920 components. Which explains why it took three years to design and assemble.
The Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 is actually the world’s most complicated time piece, although not a pocket but a wristwatch. It has 36 complications, 25 of them visible, 1483 components and 1000-year calendar, but its design and manufacture was computer aided and relied on laser technology. When this watch is allowed to stop, the owner is unqualified to accurately to get it reset and started again with all the complications in concert.
In these days of Android and Apple watches that have instant and direct access to a huge amount of human knowledge, sidereal or otherwise, and that can inform us of our bodily conditions of heart rate, body mass, oxygen level, exercise spent or required the one function of the watch can be forgotten. Time passing.
It reminds me of us. People.
We too have complications. Our complications, just as with the time piece, detract from the main purpose. What that purpose is, I wouldn’t presume to say. But life is made much harder by the bothersome bits of baggage we carry round; be it jealousy or anger, racism or distrust of those who are different, a bloated sense of self-importance or a debilitating lack of esteem. There is an inexhaustible list of impediments that can complicate our passage through time. Those passing seconds, denoted by the soft click of the second hand as it glides round the face on the watch soon add up to a lifetime.
Here’s a poem by Edwin Brock
A Moment of Respect.
Two things I remember about my grandfather:
his threadbare trousers, and the way he adjusted
his half-hunter watch two minutes every day.
When I asked him why he needed to know the time so
exactly, he said a business man could lose a fortune
by being two minutes late for an appointment.
When he died he left two meerschaum pipes
and a golden sovereign on a chain. Somebody
threw the meerschaum pipes away, and
there was an argument about the sovereign.
On the day of his burial the church clock chimed
as he was lowered down into the clay, and all
the family advanced their watches by two minutes.
I have taken a step sideways from usual (long winded) story telling and bring to my reader’s attention a project that is in urgent need of some support.
Ask any Hollywood Producer and he will confirm the age old dictum of “never put your own money into a film” well, a film maker friend of mine, Christine Booth has done just that. For the past five years she has been traveling from the UK to India at her own expense to film the work of a very special clinic in Jaipur. She began a “kick starter” campaign to secure the final funds needed to do all the post production on her remarkable documentary, adding the music, recording a voice over, colour adjustments and grading etc.
Forty five years ago in Rajasthan, a young Indian Government officer, Devendra Raj Mehta, suffered a near-fatal car crash. Among other injuries, his left leg had been broken in 43 places – and it was only the skill of his surgeons that saved it from being amputated. As he recovered, his gratitude made him think about the many people who aren’t as fortunate – and he vowed to someday help them. Just five years later, he founded the BMVSS, to give artificial limbs free of charge to anyone who needs one, and to help restore dignity and self-esteem to people who would otherwise be forgotten by society. So far, it’s helped to transform the lives of over a million amputees all over the world.
Please visit her Kick starter page to see the full story. If you can contribute or at least redistribute the page that would be a great help.
It may be me. Perhaps I am getting older and the policemen younger, but wars seem to be lasting a lot longer these days.
A century ago this month, the armies of many nations across Europe marched off to war all expecting to be home by Christmas. Four years later, what was left of them, crawled, limped and stumbled back home.
Of course, it had been the war “to end all wars” but unbeknown to most people the treaties and settlements made at the end of that conflict laid the seeds for the next World War and most of the ailments of the Middle East that we see today.
So now the jets are in the air again over Iraq, this time to hold back the advance of a bunch of maroarding savages that are rampaging across a country, itself an invention of the First World War; rushing into a political vacuum created by one of the longest and most idiotic conflicts this century. A conflict started by buffoonery and arrogance, based on lies, misinformation and vested interests much like the first Great War.
There have been about 48 significant wars fought in the last century that have dragged on too long; there was the Vietnam war at 9 years, the Israeli – Palestinian conflict 63 years, the Afghan Civil war at 13 years and lest not forget the Cold War that lasted 45 long desolate years. We won’t even mention the war on drugs or Terrorism.
If you have to have wars, and many people believe that you do, then can’t we make them quick ones? It is possible. It’s been done before. I don’t mean the Six Day war between Israel and Egypt, Syria & Jordan.
No! It was the Anglo- Zanzibar War, a fight between the British and the Sultanate of Zanzibar that broke out on the morning of the 27th August 1896. Zanzibar is a small island nation off the East coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean and strategically of importance to the British Empire..
The immediate cause of the war was the death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini on 25 August 1896 and the subsequent succession of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash. The British authorities preferred Hamud bin Muhammed, who was
more favorable to British interests, as sultan. In accordance with a treaty singed 10 years earlier, (I hope you are keeping up with this) a condition for accession to the sultanate was that the contender obtain the permission of the British consul, something that Khalid had failed to do.
The British delivered an ultimatum to the Sultan’s Palace – stand aside in favour of Hamud bin Muhammed or face the consequences. The ultimatum expired at 09.00 that morning, and it was clear that a state of war existed; Khalid bin Barghash had hunkered down in his Palace with his Palace Guard and several hundred servants and slaves armed with a couple of machine guns and a canon, two Dow boats and a Royal Yacht.
At 09.04 the British began their assault on the Palace, they fired from two navy vessels in the harbour and immediately disabled the Sultan’s guns, and sunk the Royal Yacht, then the British land forces did the rest. At 09.40 the shortest war in history was over, the Sultan Barghash was granted safe passage to German East Africa, and by lunchtime the Sultan Hamud bin Muhammed was installed in the ruins of the Palace.
As far as I can research, our two countries have been friends ever since. That is my preferred kind of war. There was no “unfinished business” afterwards, no historical fault lines left in the sand that would, in the late 20th century, come back to haunt us. Goodness knows, we are dealing with enough of those fault lines recently and probably will be for years to come. So it is comforting that know that one bit of that unfinished business was finally taken care of this week.
There’s nothing more British than the sound of “Leather on Willow” as cricket is being played in the month of August on the village green.
It is Sunday August 3rd 1914. The Lee Cricket Club are playing the local Manor House Team from nearby Missendon. But just as it looked like the game was to reach it’s conclusion, typically for an English summers’ day, the clouds appeared from nowhere and rain stopped play. Manor House Captain Ivor Stewart-Liberty, son of Sir Arthur Liberty, founder of Liberty’s of London and opposing Captain, fast bowler Albert Phillips, swore that they would finish the match at the next opportunity.
The following day Britain declared war on Germany and all concerns about unfinished cricket matches were quickly extinguished.
Neither man returned from the war. Along with 30 other people from that small English village they perished in the trenches..
Then as now, cricket had its superstars and the David Beckham of the early 20th century was W.C.Grace, considered the greatest cricketer of all time. He availed himself to the War Office to help in the urgent recruitment drive for volunteers to replace the fallen in the trenches.
He appealed to the cricketers of the nation and they joined up in droves, many never to return. He wrote in the Sportsman newspaper “The time has arrived when the county cricket season should be closed,” he wrote. “It is not fitting at a time like this that able-bodied men should be playing day after day, and pleasure seekers look on. There are so many who are young and able, and still hanging back.
I should like to see all first-class cricketers of suitable age set a good example, and come to the aid of their country without delay in its hour of need.”
The unfinished business was concluded last week when the two crickets teams, Manor House and Lee Cricket Club played out the unfinished game from 100 years ago. I wont bother you with the score, as it is completely unfathomable to me what the numbers mean.
Again under the threat of rain stopping play in the impending wake of the remnants of Hurricane Bertha that hit our shores, a truncated game was played. Liz Stewart-Liberty, who married Ivor’s son Arthur and is the Club’s life president, read a couple of poems at lunch. Teenage club members read out the names of those lost to the village and a one minute’s silence was held followed by the last post.
If only all the unfinished business from a century ago could be so easily dispatched what a better world this would be.
No one is really sure on the numbers, but it was recently estimated that of all the pictures ever taken around the world over the last 200 years, fifty percent of them were shot last year. This is not so surprising when you consider that there are 1.5 billion smart phones in use today each with a digital camera built in. Over 200,000 pictures are uploaded to face book every minute of every day.
Standing on my desk is a silver frame that houses a small black and white grainy photograph that I took of my long departed mother on the beach in Tramore, Ireland nearly 40 years ago. Every day that I look at it the more distant, the more faded it looks. I took the picture and presumably 11 others on a cheap box brownie camera, although what they were of and where those others are is lost to history.
I have less than half a dozen pictures of my older family, whereas I have countless hundreds of my new family whom I see every day. We used to keep our pictures in albums – like stamp collections. Today, we keep our pictures on memory sticks. Perhaps they should be called History sticks. A vast proportion of photographs taken today are hardly looked at.
This is of course a result of the digital camera where it costs nothing to press the button and take yet one more image. This trend actually started before digital when people were still using rolls of film. I would have taken that roll of 120 film with the picture of my mother on it, into the local chemist shop and I would collect the results a week later, often accompanied by some thwarted expectations as to the results. The domestic camera, ever evolving, ended its days as the “disposable camera” After firing off 36 pictures one would take the whole camera to any shop on any street that might have a minilab out the back and collect the prints in the time it takes a Starbucks Barista to make a latte.
I have been to weddings where at each place setting was a disposable camera so that everyone could do their own versions of the wedding pictures to be gathered up by the family to go into the wedding album. In Japan I saw the pinnacle of the throw away image. You cannot go out eating and drinking in that country without the whole occasion being documented with countless group photographs in which everyone is making the two fingered peace signs at the camera. At one such gathering someone put a disposable camera in the middle of the table. When anyone proposed a toast with a lofty glass of beer or Saki, everyone else would shout Kampai!! (Cheers in Japanese) and the camera would swivel on a little turntable towards the loudest noise and take a picture. On rowdy nights the film didn’t last very long. This devise was known as the Kampai Kamera.
When historians look back on this digital generation they will remark on the phenomenon called the “Selfie”. David Bailey thought that he probably took the first “Selfie” of him and Andy Warhol lying in a bed in the 1970’s. But the “Selfie” really predates that picture. Here we can see some old gentlemen on the roof of the Marconi Building in New York in 1921 using a full plate camera that would have demanded a half second expose doing a “selfie”
The modern “selfie” is meant to be seen, mainly by those in it and then by whomever they tweet it to or Facebook it. In this year two “Selfies” became see by most of the world’s population within minutes of them being taken. The first was Obama with David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt, which drew criticism partly for it being done at Mandela’s memorial service but mostly because they were politicians and everybody hates them at the moment.
This global viewing was soon dwarfed at the Oscars when Ellen DeGeneares wrangled a bunch of “A” list stars and did the famous “Selfie” that had circled the globe before breakfast, being re-tweeted over 3 million within a day.
When I was on holiday in Ireland all those years ago I had to wait a lifetime to see my pictures. It was like that for generations, although the waiting period was reducing all the time; so that by the demise of roll film, you could get your prints in under an hour. During my life time there was brief period when instant photography became available in the form of the Polaroid instant camera. Press the shutter and immediately a sheet of film would roll out of the camera and we could watch the blank page slowly reveal the image. Often you would just hand the subject the picture to keep.
Today we have Instagram – an electronic polaroid camera on your phone. Instead of handing a print to your subject, by means of the elelctronics, you can hand that picture to the world.
If, between the early 1930s and the late 1980s, you happened to be on O’Connell Bridge in Dublin you might have had your picture taken by Arthur Fields a seasoned Street Photographer who would snap anyone within earshot. When they wandered back curious, he would then take their real picture. He would hand them a ticket, and if they wanted to, they could collect a print from the office where his wife would process the films. After she died he got a Polaroid camera, the Instagram of its day. Walking across the bridge one afternoon with a friend Arthur Field took our picture. We stood with him as he watched the agonisingly slow image appear. As the colours filled out he beamed a huge toothy smile and shouted “Ah – will ya look at that – it’s a Topper!”
Probably no man in history has stood so long on that bridge as did Arthur Fields, and during that five decades when he was there 365 days a year he took over 182,000 photographs of strangers who he would never meet again. Perhaps for a brief time the pictures were souvenirs of a well loved holiday or a snatched day out, and then became lost in a draw somewhere, having faded in the memory until one day a grandchild might uncover them in a box and staring into those bright happy faces wondering where they were snapped. They might remark that Grandma looks so young not realising that’s because it’s an old photograph.
Passing by Arthur Fields on the bridge the next day, he was holding a freshly taken Polaroid print with two young female back packers. Each side of him they stood excited and delighted at their images slowly cooking up before their eyes. “Ah will ya look at that!” Arthur said as though for the first time, “It’s a topper!”
Something strange might happen at the Oscars this Sunday night. At some point during the evening, as the Hollywood glitterati are giddy on the excitement of the awards a sober moment will come. That is when the Academy will remind everyone of those who are no longer part of the cast, the famous actors who have died in the past year.
The Screen Academy have tried for years to stop the audience from applauding after each actors face appears because some get louder appreciation than others and it was turning into a kind of popularity contest. So now they have a big name singer who performs as the visual litany takes its course up on the big screen – with a huge round of applause at the end. The sober moment is short lived, there’s a lot to gallop through during the evening.
There is always some speculation about who will be included, given the short space of time. They have Philip Seymour Hoffman, James Gandolfini, Peter O’Toole, Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, Joan Fontaine, Roger Ebert, Ray Dolby, Ray Harryhausen, Paul Walker and Elmore Leonard among others to choose from.
The cherry on the icing will be whoever the Academy decides will be the last face in the slide show. This is not as easy as it may seem. Hollywood is so petrified of making a mistake, that this decision will have been examined in minute detail. Shirley Temple is probably the front runner in most people’s minds; but you just never know.
The problem with the glitterati is that a word wrong, a seating arrangement miscalculated and egos can be damaged sending publicists and agents into apoplectic panic. The Academy probably made their minds up a week or two back and all the technical arrangements will be in place.
But now they have a PR problem.
Last Thursday a film crew were on the first shot on the first day of filming a movie called “Midnight Rider” a biopic of the Allman Brothers rock band, staring William Hurt when something utterly terrible happened.
The scene was a dream sequence involving a bed on a Railway Trestle bridge near Savannah, Georgia. The crew, it seems, had permission to be near the tracks, but not on them. After two trains the crew were expecting rolled through they set up the bed and their cameras in the middle of the rail track on the enclosed bridge and began filming.
At some point a third train whistle announced its approach and in less than a minute, several hundred tonnes of freight train came rumbling onto the bridge at 60 mph. The engineer saw people and objects on the track, he hit the brakes and brought his shuddering monster to an agonising slow halt half a mile further up the track.
When the crew saw the train bearing down on them, they frantically tried to haul all their stuff off the line and try and get off the bridge. As the train smashed through bed and equipment on the rails, debris hit members of the crew, injuring some of them and knocking one young woman into the path of the train. 27 year old Sarah Elizabeth Jones, the 2nd camera assistant was killed, and the makeup girl was seriously injured just escaping with her life.
Sarah’s last words were “I can’t carry all this stuff”
The County Sherriff and medics arrived and took control – the bridge is now a crime scene. Over the days it is emerging that the production company had asked for permission from the railway company to do the scene but it was denied to them. So someone high up in the crew decided they would do it anyway.
Normally if you shoot on a railway track, there would be whole raft of safety measures in place and technical personnel from the train company in charge. Every detail would be discussed and agreed in advance. There would be an on-set medic and an ambulance. None of that happened. When the producer was asked by the sheriff if he had permission to film on the tracks, he replied “that’s complicated”
This was not some independent fresh out of college production, it had LA money with Stars to match. The truth will out in due course and it’s as clear as the words of the Eagle’s song: Somebody’s going to emergency. Somebody’s going to jail.
Sarah’s death has galvanised film crews across the world and the entire industry to air their grievances about safety and working conditions. The industry press and social media are buzzing. It is quite usual for us to be working 12 to 14 hour days, six days in a row for weeks on end. There are now calls for new safety rules across the film industry, which may even include shorter days, and people want it to be called Sarah’s Law. A film crew are people who are thrown together to bring to the screen stories that enrich or enrage our lives. We put up with all manner of undesirable conditions to finish the job – because we love what we do. But nobody should die for it.
Many Industry people are requesting that Sarah be in the Roll call of the departed at the Oscars, just like the big names. Of course, it would be a hell of a thing were it to happen but it probably won’t. It would upset the horses. There are two things you never want to see made; sausages and movies.
Sarah Jones was the 2nd Assistant camera operator. Her job is to run the camera for the Director of Photography who will be busy looking down the view finder. The frame rate, the aperture settings, the smooth running of the camera is her responsibility. When the DOP needs to change focus quickly, as characters move around a scene, Sarah would be helping with that. Before each take she holds up an electronic slate in front of the lens which contains the Scene number, Shot number and Take number. This information is vital to logging the growing material that the editor must assemble later on. They used to be called a Clapper Board, but things have moved on.
Friends of Sarah Jones started a Facebook page four days ago called “Slates for Sarah” where film folks are invited to put her name on a slate, photograph it and upload it with a message.
Well ! The response is ballistic. At the time of writing, over 60,000 people around the world have contributed. The crews of major TV shows and feature films in production have put Sarah’s name on their slate. The outpouring of sadness and solidarity is overwhelming.
When, at the end of a film the warm glow of the house lights fade up, you walk away as the, seemingly endless credits of people doing jobs that no one has ever heard of by people you will never meet roll up the screen, remember this – they are all just like Sarah and the 60,000 people who have joined her posthumous Facebook page.
The film industry has some strange habits and rituals. At the end of the day, the last shot is known as the Martini shot, because the next shot will be out of a glass. The last shot before lunch is the Orson Welles, and the penultimate shot of the day is the Abby Singer.
Abby was a very efficient Assistant Director in the 1950’s who would be able to anticipate when the Director would be finished on a scene; he would already have mobilised most of the crew so that the move would be half done before the director even knew it. When asked by the crew how many more shots today Abby? he would invariably reply, ‘This shot and one more‘ He was always right. Hence the 2nd to last shot.
The ill-fated dream sequence on a rail track in Georgia, when feckless producers allowed the crew onto that “live” Railway track last week was the first slate, the first shot and the first take of Sarah’s last day. Many in the business want the first shot of the day to be known as the “Jonesy”
Nobody knows now what the ramifications of Sarah’s death , but there will be some and for the better. Crew members who used to trust that the execs had everything covered will be more cautious in future and maybe be more confident in challenging orders that put them and their friends in danger.
On the Slates for Sarah page one cameraman quoted her last words “I can’t carry all this stuff” and followed it with “we will take it from here” – Let’s hope so.
It must have happened in the middle of the night. One day it was there and next day it was not. A Banksy wall mural had been removed from the side of a commercial building in Wood Green in London and only the brick work remained.
Banksy, an anonymous guerrilla street artist has been adorning random walls of London (and now New York) with his stencil-like black and white images that make people question things. One day last February a mural depicting a small boy hunched over a sewing machine making Union Jack Flags, that had become a land mark in the area, was removed by the owner of the building and put up for auction in Miami.
There was a huge hullaballoo with the local residents and soon the wider art world. Who owned Banky’s work ? The building owner argued that it was painted on his property and therefore became his. But having established itself as local art, and increasingly important example of modern urban art; a wider ownership was claimed.
Pretty soon afterwards, because of the outcry the auction house in Miami got cold feet and withdrew it from the auction. It later sold in London, once the legal niceties had been sorted out.
The company that handled the sale of the mural, the Sincura Group issued a statement on their website which in part read:
It should be noted that both Scotland Yard and the FBI have issued statements that there is no evidence of criminality involved in the removal of this illegally painted mural and therefore no case to answer.
Of course it was illegally painted, that was the whole point of his work. He is anonymous – he strikes (paints) when no one is looking. Suddenly a subversive message appears before our eyes one morning and puts that little nagging
doubt into our minds for the rest of the day.
Now they are offering up another Banksy for auction. Like its predecessor it was removed from the side of a building, this time in the nearby area of Tottenham. The Sincura Group chairman said “it had not been appreciated in situ.” He obviously had never met any of the locals who have been bemoaning the loss of the Banksy works these last few weeks. I think what he actually meant by that was the people in the area were bit too poor and therefore couldn’t really appreciate such art work.
Sincura said it was being restored “beautifully” but returned – no, instead it was to be auctioned off and moved to a place where it could be really appreciated and afforded. Eventually it will be “owned” by a collector, possibly in New York. Although the company claimed they are trying to keep it in the country, conjuring up an image of grappling with an alligator in a swamp. They won’t lose any sleep losing that particular battle.
Banksy started his wall Murals about 15 years ago in Shoreditch an area of run down warehouses, cobbled streets and social housing. To the south it is overshadowed by the ever increasing Steel and Glass Towers of the banking district not half a mile away. The warehouses, long since empty of their wares, became home to artists, alternative living and the vibrant hopefuls of the new media. Attracted by low rents and a bohemian environment they were the vanguard of the transformation of Shoreditch
It is now the center of internet start-ups, design studios and fashion houses. What were once corner shops selling Asian foods and general provisions have become art galleries and Tapas bars. A Jewish tailor’s workroom has become a chic fashion store where if you have to ask the price you can’t afford it.
Before all that, when Banksy was starting his “illegal” craft, there opened a gallery who’s owner quickly discovered the meaning of art ownership on it’s opening night.
To call this room a gallery was a like calling a passport photo booth a studio. It was a tiny wooden building squashed between two other properties. Twenty feet across along the front, six foot deep at the narrow end of the triangle and 15 foot at its deepest. The owner, Adam Dant, lived on the top floor that enjoyed the same dimensions. Adam was one of those new artists attracted to the area. He was a cartoonist very much in the Hogarth tradition. He produced a daily pamphlet called “Donald Parsnips Daily Journal” a photocopied comic that he gave away to strangers on his
way into work at a Gallery in Bond street – very posh. He did this, every working day for four years or more. I dare not stray in the daily ramblings of Donald Parsnip, this would require a blog of its own, but enough to say that his wit and wisdom can be summed up in his notion that “There’s no time to lose like the present!”
Adam decided that he would open the downstairs cupboard as the “Gallerette” to have art exhibits without the art. So in April of 1996 he set about looking for his first non exhibit.
One night when walking with a friend Simon Tyrell, a local furniture designer, down a local street they passed a big skip at the side of the road. (A skip in the UK is a big steel bucket into which building waste is deposited and then taken away). Sticking out of the rubble and broken wood was a rolled up canvas. Unrolling it they found a painting that looked remarkably like one of those Damien Hirst famous Spiral paintings. Of course! Adam realised. They were standing outside the old workshop of Damien Hirst. He had recently moved to a larger property.
This was it. This was the opening exhibit of the Shoreditch “Gallerette” So – plans were made and the word went out that an opening night was approaching, but not on the serious art word grapevine, but on the more tongue in cheek fun arts network.
The show was to be called “ I found a Damien Hirst in a skip” with the accompanying statement that “You can find a Damien Hirst in a skip, but you won’t find him in the National Gallery!”
Adam stretched the canvas on a wooden frame that took up most of the gallery and leaned it against the wall. I doubt that we could have squeezed more than twenty people – elevator tight – into that small room. This was not going to be the art event of the century.
Or was it?
A couple of days before the opening night Adam Dant got a phone call from Damien Hirst’s “people” They wanted to know everything about the painting. Where he had got it, and for how much, was there a signature? what was its provenance and so on. They demanded to see a copy of his press release. He hadn’t made one. But he agreed he would send one over.
He wrote an account of how he found the painting in a rubbish skip and that modern art was being ignored by the establishment – or some such guff and just to make it easy for the Hirst “people” he went to the local Asian grocer shop and got it translated in Bengali; which he then faxed over to them (remember faxes?). By the time they had translated it back, they had become most alarmed.
Adam then got a call from Hirst’s “people’s” lawyers. Under no circumstances could this exhibition happen! they proclaimed. He was not to go ahead – on pain of death or in their parlance; court injunctions raining down upon his head from the heavens etc etc. .”This was not a Damien Hirst painting and could not be exhibited as such. That’s it! The wiry, talented Adam Dant on whose wit you could cut a tanker’s mooring rope saw a way out.
It was game on.
Two nights later about 25 of us managed to squeeze into that tiny room, our wine glasses held tight under our chins as we stood and appreciated a very large brown paper parcel leaning against the wall. It was a great evening, we all drank the free chilled white wine till it was gone and we went home with a nice smile on our faces having attended the opening night of “This is not a Damien Hirst Painting”
small “tut tut” pieces, but on the following Saturday morning, it being a slow news day, The Guardian devoted one third of its front page to the story, complete with a large colour picture of the offending painting. The news that Hirst’s “people” wanted to keep this under wraps had been exposed as surely as Wiki-leaks.
Interestingly enough, after the story appeared another local artist; Andy Shaw called Adam and said that the picture was infact done by him in his studio in Shoreditch and that he wanted to come along and sign it. Which he did, and after the exhibition, he was allowed to take the spiral painting away. This painting has recently gone into auction with a reserve price of £4000. In the brochure Shaw wonders why Hirst should have started doing spiral paintings after he had been doing them for some time. There are others who have made such comments – but we won’t go there. I am not in the mood for somebody’s “people” ringing me up.
During the opening night, a video of Orson Welles’s “F is for Fake” was playing – a documentary portrait of Elmyr de Hory the great self-confessed art forger was playing in the room.
Elmyr de Hory was an Hungarian born painter who had great difficulty in selling his own work. But what he found really easy was to imitate other contemporary artists. It could take him months to sell a painting of his own but only
a few days to paint an authentic Picasso. This he did to great profit, for years, roaming Europe and America. He claims to have sold his pictures to some of the world’s major Galleries who have exhibited the works as originals. He then progressed to Matisse, Modigliani and even Renoir. He claims rich private collectors have many of his fakes in their vaults.
Orson Welles travelled to Elmyr’s house on the Spanish Island of Ibiza to film the documentary. During the filming one house guest became woven into the story; who was none other than author Clifford Irving who wrote the fake autobiography of the reclusive newspaper magnate Howard Hughes. Irving also wrote the genuine biography of de Hory called “Fake”
Irving served a jail sentence for the Howard Hughes fraud whereas Elmyr de Hory evaded all prosecution right up to the last days of his life when, finally the Spanish agreed to extradite him to France. The aging ailing painter, who by now had given up forgeries and was at last seeing modest sales of his own works, took an overdose to avoid capture,. Later Irving said that he thought his death was probably faked.
Orson Welles of course directed “Citizen Kane” a film about a fictitious recluse newspaper magnate; and he could be said to be the original media fakers with his broadcast of “War of the Worlds” on New York radio in the 1930’s that convinced listeners that a real Martian invasion was happening which produced city-wide panic. He remarked that it was strange that he, a faker should be interviewing Irving another faker who had written the real biography of Elmyr de Hory the master faker of all time.
In the film Elmyr whipped off a quick Modigliani and said to Wells “this painting is worth nothing unless everyone believes it to be a real Modigliani and if they believe it to be real, then it is worth millions!” He then signs the painting. “For this” he says directly to camera “I could go to prison”. He throws the canvas onto the open fire place and what is worth millions goes up in flames.
After his death, Elmyr’s own paintings started to rise in value, sought after no doubt by Art collectors with a sense of irony. There are stories now that even some of his own work has been forged – by another faker.
You can probably find an Elmyr de Hory Modigliani in a National Gallery somewhere in the world, but pretty soon, you won’t find a Banksy on a wall – anywhere.
Lazy Christmas week – I didn’t finish my new posts so I thought for the new readers who have joined since last year I would repost this.
To those who already have read it, put your feet up and have a glass of mulled wine on me. Happy Christmas.
Originally posted on matteringsofmind:
Tonight, miraculously I had got my three children into a church for the first time in I don’t know when. Normally it would be easier to get them into a cold shower. Their mother was singing in a choir at a Christmas Carol concert in St Andrew’s central church in Plymouth; foregoing the Xbox and the Facebook they came out to support her.
The church stands on a spot in the city, where there has been a house of worship in one form or another since the 8th century.
In March 1941, the Church was bombed and badly damaged. Amid the smoking ruins a local headmistress nailed over the door a wooden sign saying simply Resurgam (Latin for I shall rise again), indicating the wartime spirit, a gesture repeated at other devastated European churches. That entrance to St Andrew’s is still referred to as the “Resurgam” door and…
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So we are back on the moon again.
I say we as in the Human Race, but in fact it’s the Chinese who have landed the first craft to touch down on the lunar surface for 40 years.
This mission, Chang 3, touched down this afternoon and immediately went to work. For three hours after the probe landed, its descent slowed and controlled by a powerful miniature rocket engine, the craft began to unpack itself, revealing a small 6 wheeled rover emerging from the craft. Already the rover has driven forward a few meters, its on board sensors and radar scrutinising the lunar surface. Data is being sent back to Earth already.
This little fellar that is roving around the moon is called Yutu – which means Jade Rabbit. In ancient Chinese stories Yutu was the pet rabbit of Chang – the moon Goddess after whom the whole mission is named.
I don’t suppose The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has ever heard of Robert Anton Wilson and his writings. If they had, they might have thought twice about naming the rover Yutu.
Robert Anton Wilson was the co author of the Illuminate Trilogy. A Science fiction tongue in cheek romp through conspiracy theories, Illuminate, the masons and ancient Egyptians UFOs, Alien visitations, crop circles and the whole rag bag of the alternative zeitgeist of the late 1970s. In the book, which was advertised as “a fairy tale for paranoids” the main character – Joe Malik – gets abducted by aliens and is processed and brainwashed and given a new name “ U Wacky Wabbit” and sent back to Earth.
Later in the book Wilson postulates that Rabbits and UFOs are inextricably joined in their purpose. He gave this notion a name: Lepufology and today there are several social networks who devote themselves to explore the link between rabbits and Aliens. They even have a Facebook page (although there’s not much activity)
You know how Bugs Bunny is always getting abducted by Marvin the Martian right? Bug’s in his rabbit hole and a UFO lands on top, and he climbs up into its shaft – then he runs around on Mars. You probably have never given it much thought. I wouldn’t even bother now – except – it’s the rabbits, you see.
Throughout the late 50’s and 60’s when in the new age of rockets and strange new test aircraft there were many UFO sightings and in a lot of those accounts farmers would report that rabbits were in abundance, or found dead in large numbers or were running away from the spot where the alleged spacecraft landed. Then there was the 1950’s film “Harvey” with James Stewart whose character “Elwood” had an imaginary friend “Harvey” and he was a giant Rabbit who he regarded as his guardian angel. He alone could see Harvey. The Giant 6 foot 3 inch high Rabbit had the ability to stop time just by looking at a clock.
Did you ever watch E.T.? Look at it again, the opening scene, rabbits run around in front of the camera. In “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” there are rabbits all over the area where the alien craft lands. Rabbits, Lepufologists claim, are the advance party for the visiting aliens to Earth.
All this and more was the basis for Robert Anton Wilsons assertians that UFOs and Rabbits go hand in paw. It should be also noted that Wilson, before becoming a science fiction writer was an editor at Playboy magazine, who’s logo is the loveable bunny.
There’s more. President Jimmy Carter, the only American President to claim to have seen a UFO, was attacked by a ferocious giant rabbit as he sat in a small river fishing boat in Plains, Georgia in 1979. That was enough for the Lepufologists – there was at last incontrovertible proof of a link.
Thirty years later Jimmy Carter explained that the story was mostly untrue. He fought off a terrified giant rabbit that was swimming away from dogs that were chasing it on the opposite bank. It jumped into the creek where he was
fishing from the boat and swam right towards him. He shooed it away with his oar. By the time the story had done the rounds of the local bars that night amongst the secret service and the locals, myth had become legend.
So Yutu the Jade Rabbit is busy advancing man’s knowledge of the moon in preparation for a manned mission in 3 or 4 years time.
Meanwhile, back on Earth in the Hunan province of China, some residents are not so happy about the missions. Every time a large space mission is launched debris from the separating rocket stages fall back to earth and land in their area. The Chang 3 mission is no exception as you can see in this picture.
Lastly, here are some tourists at a festival in Hunan Province, home of Chinese space debris, having their picture taken in front of a giant Rabbit.
You couldn’t make it up boys and girls, you just couldn’t.
Of course, it was on the cards. He was a very, very old man who had spent the best years of his life in political prison. I remember that bright and hopeful day in February, 1990 when Mandela walked out of prison and into the world again. He brought with him a dignity and poise, the like of which we hardly ever see in this world. He brought no bitterness through those gates. Together with F W de Klerk he broke the stranglehold of Apartheid in South Africa for ever.
One day I was walking past the entrance to the Guildhall in London. I stopped as a big black limousine drove out and paused before entering the traffic. I looked and then did a double take. Nelson Mandela was sitting in the back, his face close to the window. He saw my surprise; he grinned and waved. Then he was gone. I didn’t meet him, but he did smile at me.
Tonight in London was the Premier of the film Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom.
He said “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”