Metaphysical

I managed to brave the cold and wet today to head out to go to the Estorick Collection’s De Chirico exhibition. Although the collection does hold some of the paintings he’s known for, like The Revolt of the Sage, most of it is given up to his post-war sculpture. The classical influences in the sculptures are evident, with titles like Hector and Andromache or Castor; the presence of broken classical columns rather reminds me of Mitoraj. Equally though, much of the sculptures remind me of Dali, with their faceless egg-like faces and mannequin like figures.

A few weeks later I go the cinema to watch the Lon Chaney version of The Phantom of the Opera with a live soundtrack performed by Minima. I tend to feel that their combination of ambient electronics with guitars works rather less well here (where much of the film revolves around opera or organ music) than it did with the last film I saw them perform at, Aelita Queen of Mars. Later that week, I go to Two Temple Place in London for their Discoveries exhibition; essentially a form of wunderkammer it features Ammonites, Dodo skeletons, Moore sculptures, Gaudier-Brzeska drawings, Japanese prints, Icthyosaur skeletons, Greek sculptures of Hermes, Apollo and Aphrodite, Muggletonian critiques of Newtonian discoveries opposed by allegorical representations of his achievements, an egg taken from the Galapagos by Darwin, telescopes, Indian snakes and ladders boards, Yemeni lion sculptures and an Orrery. I also visit the Romanticism exhibition at Somerset House, with paintings by David-Friedrich, Palmer and Turner. There’s also a small exhibition of Iraqi arts, featuring ironwork from Mosul at the time of Mongol occupation.

The British Museum’s Vikings exhibition inevitably tends to dwell on the surviving metalwork left by the Vikings in the absence of many other surviving artefacts; swords, a weathervane, metal animals, brooches, coins in Viking hoards from Anglo-Saxon England to Baghdad, charms in the shape of Odin or Thor’s hammer, bear teeth emblems, stolen christian reliquaries, snake pendants, jewellery, cups, axes, torcs, spears and helmets. Most impressive is a Danish crucifix, showing christ triumphant. But there are some other objects; the remains of a longboat from Roskilde, the Lewis Chessmen, a painted replica of the Jelling stone, crosses with decorated knotwork, wooden shields, picture stones as well as raw materials like amber and walrus tusk.

The V&A’s exhibition on William Kent is perhaps most notable with its inclusion of a lot of his un-built designs, like the plans for a new Parliament modelled on the Pantheon or a model of a palace at Richmond intended to replace Whitehall. Otherwise, it includes a range of his history paintings, Italianate furniture, silverware and chandeliers, models for the Royal barge, plans for his monuments at Westminster Abbey and houses like Holkham, Chiswick and Houghton. Considering the relative austerity of the Palladian architectural style I find myself taken aback by the rather kitsch opulence of his interior designs, something satirised by Hogarth, for whom Kent seems to have been a particular object of dislike.

A few weeks later, the Tate has an exhibition on ruins, showing how the interpretation of ruins has altered over time. Initially, the exhibition focuses on ruin paintings by Turner, Piranesi, Gandy, Dore and Martin, with the subjects ranging from classical to Biblical and Gothic. Themes such as the fall of empire transmute in World War Two paintings by Piper, Nash and Sutherland to a focus on the fall of England itself, while later works focuses on the ruins of World War Two fortifications in the photographs of Jane Wilson and Tacita Dean. More contemporary work by Jon Savage focuses on ruined brutalist estates, an elegy for the decay of post-war socialism. Perhaps more interesting are works like Gerard Byrne’s 1984 and Beyond, with its focus on ‘ruins in reverse’ in a sixties discourse between science fiction writers like Asimov on their vision of the future, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s re-interpretations of Claude and Inigo Jones or Paul Nash’s photographs of natural objects. The weekend after, I visit the Ashmolean and an exhibition of the private collection of Henry Pearlman, which includes a number of Cezanne landscapes, a Pissarro still life, a Sisley landscape, portraits by Manet and Degas, a street scene by Van Gogh, sculptures by Modigliani as well as several portraits by him, including one of Cocteau.

Reading Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor, I’m struck by how her chosen mode of science fiction seems to conflict with the Sufi ideas she chooses to express in it. The novel is cast in the form of an apocalyptic narrative, with society progressively descending into barbarism, with children reverting to savagery. However, the cause of the collapse is never specified and the novel also sees the narrator transcending through states of being beyond the social collapse around her; the more one sheds the norms of civilisation the easier it is for one to surrender to a higher will than their own. Something similar applies to Lessing’s MaddAdam, where the extinction of the human species is brought about by an ecological terrorist but the final part of the trilogy presents a mixed picture of the outcomes of this; the species he has bred to replace mankind has begun to acquire traits like reading that he had sought to eradicate but the destruction wrought by a small group of renegade survivors goes a long way towards validating Crake’s decision. The likely outcome that humanity and the new species interbreed, thereby replacing both and suggesting an ambivalence about both humanity and the eco-terrorist viewpoint.

Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angel’s presents a view of the Angels that is at least partly a romanticised one of them as counter-cultural outlaws and rebels. Thompson spends much of the earlier sections of the book seeking to exculpate a great deal of the public view of them as middle-class hysteria but it’ rather difficult not to feel rather repulsed by the way he diminishes allegations of rape by questioning whether there can be such a thing, suggesting that it is typically likely to have been consensual. There’s a marked sexism that undermines his case but Thompson is at least partly aware of such contradictions when he describes the Angels as inherently conservative and fascistic when describing planned attacks on anti-Vietnam protesters.

Food cooked: Fish chowder, Roman lamb, Chicken with chestnuts and sharp salad, Valencian fish with peppers, Pad Thai, Chicken mole, Chicken with plums, Pork with prunes and Hasselback potatoes, Persian seafood stew, ribs with egg-crusted rice, Szegedin Goulash with dumplings, Alsace meatballs and pasta, Duck with pate and caraway seeds, Gochujang Stew, Rabbit with red wine and currants, Rabbit with mushrooms, Lobster Thermidor, Spanish seafood with vermicelli, Steak with anchovy sauce, Arroz con Pollo.

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