Cripple of Inishmaan

The Cripple of Inishmaan

I’m secretly in love with Martin McDonagh. I’ve never met the man but I did live in his neck of the woods in London for a while and I like to think that we might have reached for the same carton of milk in a corner shop at some stage. Or perhaps we sat sipping coffee at our respective tables, scribbling away. I like the way his mind works – the quirkiness of his plots and pieces. He got me playwise at the Beauty Queen of Leenane and won me over heart and soul with his movie In Bruges. I saw his play, The Lonesome West in Hungarian (Vaknyugat), with English surtitles, and was blown away at how well it translated and how much the Hungarian actors got him. They could have been Irish. I only recently saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, a movie that set me on the trail of the talented Sam Rockwell – but I digress.

The Cripple of Inishmaan

Passing through Dublin last Thursday night, I scored a single ticket for the Gaiety production of The Cripple of Inishmaan, another McDonagh oldie, and joined some friends who’d had tickets for ages. With no one beside me to chat to, I paid more attention than usual to those around me. A night at the Gaiety oozes civility. You can order your interval drinks before the show and then sit during the intermission at your assigned table, avoiding the crowds bellying up to the bar. The theatre itself, while nowhere near the grandeur of the Urania in Budapest, is steeped in history.

The curtain first rose on 27th November 1871 and since then, the Grand Old Lady of South King Street has been entertaining the masses. I wish the management would ban the sale of sweets, though. Or only sell ones that come in boxes. There’s always someone who needs to rustle in a crinkly bag just when something important is going on, on stage. On the night that was in it, a man behind me lost the run of his maltesers, each one falling to the ground and rolling forward … and forward… and forward. But that wasn’t the only noise of the night.

McDonagh has a way with words. His characters in The Cripple of Inishmaan have a turn of phrase that would make sensitive women blush and I’d a few of them sitting behind me. The nervous titters and the strangled gasps evoked by the crude bantering between parent and child, brother and sister, aunts and nephews, and lines such as this amused me no end.

She was as ugly as a brick of baked shite. Excuse my language but I’m only being descriptive.

First written in 1997 and set in 1930s Ireland, The Cripple of Inishmaan has some topical running themes. References to what priests might get up to in the sacristy other than pouring the wine gave pause for thought and a regular refrain of

Ireland mustn’t be such a bad place if the Yanks (the French, the Germans, the dentists…) want to come to Ireland

had me thinking about immigration. The bits of news traded by the local newsman (gossip) Johnnypateenmike and the efforts he goes to, to get his news, called to mind the tenacity of the gutter press. He delighted in bad news and feuds because, as he said:

What news is there in putting things behind you?

The play opened last week in Dublin and is currently playing, too, in LA. One review says of the US production said that The Cripple of Inishmaan is…

arguably one of McDonagh’s most sentimentalized and obvious works — a blatant misrepresentation of Irish peasantry so reductive that it requires special handling to prevent it from crashing into caricature.

But we had Irish actors with Irish accents, even if they did move around the country on occasion. Funnily enough, had not the great Rosaleen Linehan (she who has seen 81 summers) played the part of Mammy, the rest of the cast would have carried it off. But good as they were, they paled a little in comparison. They played their parts but Linehan played it real.

That said, there’s a new band of actors coming on line. Ian O’Reilly (Padraic in Moone Boy) and Jamie Lee O’Donnell (Michelle in Derry Girls) are worth watching out for. As they come into their own, we’ll be in for a few treats.

For me though, the star of the show was the set designer Owen MacCarthaigh. He nailed it. I swear I could smell the turf fire, the seaweed, and the porter, as we moved seamlessly from the cottage shop, to the beach, to mammy’s bedroom. Magical.

For a country of some 4 million people, Ireland does incredibly well to sustain such a wealth of literature, art, and theatre. I miss it. If you’re in Dublin between now and March, it’s worth checking out.

Cripple of Inishmaan

 

New Year, New Local

The lads have bought a bar. A neighbourhood joint in the IXth district. I was surprised. They’ve put in their time as punters in hostelries around the world, but I’d never figured them for publicans. One’s an architect. Another works in disaster response coordination. The third’s an academic, and the fourth, well, he makes things happen. A Canadian, a Geordie, a Brit, and an American, all have been in Hungary for the best part of 20 years. They speak the language, they love the food, and they get the people. But perhaps most importantly, they have an innate respect for tradition. Read more

Nine Tables

Nine Tables

Corvin Sétány is alive and well. New places are opening on a regular basis. The latest addition that I’ve noticed is Nine Tables, which has taken the spot previously occupied by Bombay Curry Bar, next to Costa. Presumably a Spanish sister to the self-billed American restaurant on Tompa, this piqued my curiosity so much I tried it blind. No sneak peek at the menu beforehand. No price check. No review check. Sadly, I may well have learned my lesson.

True to its name, it has just nine tables, three of which were occupied the night the four of us turfed up, with a reservation. Granted it was early in the week and not a great dining-out night but still, the area has more than its fair share of tourist traffic so I’d have expected more people.

The wine offer was decent enough with a nice array of reasonably priced Hungarian wines to choose from. Interestingly though, the standard glass was 1.6 dl. Not the usual 1 dl or 1.5 dl, but 1.6, I wondered if this was being different for the sake of being different or it if was simply a typo. It must be difficult to divide a 75 dl bottle into 1.6s. But I wasn’t there to do the math. At least I thought I wasn’t.

The menu was limited but enticing. Lamb. Salmon. Prawns. Steak. A little pricey I thought but hey, it’s not every day I see lamb on a menu in Budapest. When we ordered, our waitress cautioned us that the portions were small  – tapas-sized – so we might want to reconsider. Wow. Tapas-sized portions at full-main prices? mmmm…

I like my tapas. I like the idea of sharing different dishes. I like the idea of tasting a variety of stuff. We ordered the lamb, the salmon, the prawns, the chorizo, the croquettes, and some fries, warned as we were that food would come as it was cooked and not all together.

We were four. The first dish up, the croquettes, had three croquettes. We got three prawns, too. And the paper bag with the (cold) bread that came with the chorizo had five slices.

I despaired. Obviously, the whole concept of initiative was missing from the training. Four people sharing a dish designed for three? How difficult would it have been to say – This dish comes three to a plate. Or better yet, this dish comes in threes but we can add an extra one (and charge accordingly)? I felt as if I was back in short socks and mammy was dividing the last sausage between the cousins.

It’s not the first time I’ve wondered whether we’re evolutionizing out of our ability to think independently. Have we become victims to rote training, standard operating procedures, and a blind acceptance of This is simply the ways it’s done. Period. Are today’s service-industry workers allowed any leeway to apply common sense or is theirs simply the job of applying the rules, literalizing the menus, and sticking rigidly to the offer. The last time I remember calling this into question was also on Corvin Sétány in a sushi restaurant that refused to slice its rolls.  Perhaps it’s something in the air.

Nine Tables or no?

The much-anticipated lamb (two cutlets) was bland and overpriced. The whole experience was disappointing. When I wasn’t in conversation and looked around the room, I was drawn to the two skulls on the bar or the TV above it. I’m not quite sure what the game plan is with this restaurant, but it wouldn’t be getting my vote for somewhere to go unless I simply fancied a bowl of excellent fries (really nicely done) and a decent glass of local vino.

 

The gift of art

Nothing makes me feel more ‘of’ a place than running into someone I know on the street. That sense of knowing someone from somewhere else immediately robs the place of its foreign feel. I don’t have to know them well, or even to have known them for long, it’s the knowing that cinches it. I was nearly a year in Budapest before I first ran into someone I knew on the street, before that foreign feeling left me. And even today, chance meetings in the city are a rarity, a symptom perhaps of different lives being lived at different paces. But a few weeks back, while over in Buda, I ran into British artist David Stuart Sutherland. Unusually, both of us had time to spare, time for a quick coffee and a catch-up. It’d been years. Many years. Back when a mutual friend was living in Hungary, we’d socialised a bit.  I’d a faint notion that he painted and took photographs and was into some sort of whacky music, but I didn’t know the half of it.

In the years since we last met, Sutherland has come into his own. Focusing exclusively on his art, his interplay with mixed-media painting, analogue photography, and sound belies an innate curiosity about stuff. Yes, stuff. Plain, ordinary, everyday stuff. Standing one day with the guts of a Hoover bag in his hands, he upended the contents. There among the dust were pieces of his son’s Lego, splotches of colour that greyed out the already grey dust. Where I’d have seen a mess, he saw a pigment. The result was a 25 cm x 25 cm piece called Ash Vacuum: vacuum cleaner dust and paper on canvas, a piece I’m secretly coveting.  Sutherland doesn’t limit himself by paint when he makes paintings. His thing is to mix found materials. A 1966 ledger he found on the street in Budapest, the forerunner of the modern-day Excel spreadsheet, resulted in a series of three pieces entitled Harbor, and heralded his venture into ‘found’ art.

But his work is not just about physical media that can be fashioned into something for people to look at. Sutherland is also into sound as art. In 2014, he founded the audio-visual group m o n o f o g with  Tamás Ilauszky. The pair of them dug out some lo-fi, junk instruments and started playing. Their work looks at acoustic bodies as art objects as well as sound makers. And here, too, there’s the thread of found art and a homage to our disposable world. Imagine a fiddle bow tickling the spokes of a bicycle wheel and you’re one step closer to picturing what they do. If you need to hear it to believe it, have a listen to their track, Dodo do do, on Sutherland’s website https://www.davidstuartsutherland.com/sound-works. It’s heady stuff.

With photography part of everything we do these days, some say that that the art itself is dead. Mind you, didn’t they say that about painting, too? With the millions of photos posted hourly on social media (an average of 95 million photos were uploaded each day on Instagram alone in 2018), everyone with a smartphone fancies themselves a photographer. Digital has done wonders for the democratisation of photography but how much of the art itself has been diluted by editing tools and filters? I wonder. Sutherland is old school, though. He’s analogue all the way. His black-and-white photos of the city are shot on a MicroPress 5×4 Xenar 1:4 camera with a 7/134 Schneider Kreuznach lens. He develops the sheet prints in his home studio and then makes the contact prints. His series Budapest F32 is in Mai Manó House, the Hungarian House of Photography, over on Nagymező utca (signed, dated archival prints are available for sale: my picks are Vajda and Liszt). There’s an old-world feel to these contemporary images that grabs hold of you. It’s like being transported back to a place where people had both the time and the inclination to stop and look and listen. There’s something about Sutherland’s work that resonates; it’s almost as if he’s been around before.

The curator at Rugógyár Galéria thought so, too. Earlier this year, Sutherland was chosen as part of the gallery’s Innen és Túl az érzékelés határain (From here and beyond the limits of perception). He was in good company. Featuring abstract paintings from 1947 to 2018, the exhibition showcased the works of three artists: Tamás Lossonczy (1904–2009), Árpád Szabados (1944–2017), and David Stuart Sutherland (1966–) himself. It sought to find the parallels between the three artists, to find a share visual language, and in doing so to show how even though we come from different places and live in different times, our views of life can be similar. To share the same wall space with Lossonczy, who learned the tools of modern art from Picasso in Paris in the 1930s, had an almost poetic feel to it.  Back in 2005, Sutherland and his wife Judit took their infant daughter to Műcsarnok, a contemporary art museum in Budapest. There, they fell in love with one of Lossonczy’s paintings. They positioned her pram in front of the painting and snapped a surreptitious photo. Little did Sutherland know that some 13 years later, his own paintings would be hanging beside those of Lossonczy in a new gallery on Szarka u. 7.

Sutherland’s work is being exhibited as part of the December Group Show at Rugógyár Galéria, alongside paintings and sculptures by Daniel Horváth, Szilárd Cseke, Tamás Lossonczy, Árpád Szabados, Balázs Veres, Henrik Martin, and Ágnes Hardi. It runs from 11 December.

As Christmas approaches, shopping lists grow longer. Decisions on what to buy for those special people can wreck your head. Consider giving the gift of art this year. I’m making it easy for you; I’ve given you my three Sutherland picks 😊

Nollaig shona daoibh go léir | Boldog karácsonyt mindenkinek | Happy Christmas to you all.

Published in the Budapest Times December 2018

Ether Tide (acrylic on canvas 50x50cm 2018)

 

The Fridge is Open ( acrylic on canvas 70x70cm 2018 )

 

Sputnik 1000 (acrylic on canvas 70x70cm 2018)

2018 Grateful 4

Sometimes I amaze myself.  I really and truly amaze myself with my ability to get things mixed up. I knew Francis Bacon was around in Elizabethan times. I had a vague memory of him being some sort of scientist-cum-philosopher. I had thought he was a lawyer, too. But I didn’t know that he apparently died from pneumonia contracted when he was researching the effects of freezing on the preservation of meat.  And I had never, ever, thought of him as a painter.

So when himself mentioned going to see the Francis Bacon and the School of London exhibition currently running at the National Gallery in Budapest, I was all on for seeing a side of the man I’d not encountered before. But the dates didn’t add up. I’d gotten my Bacons confused. This Francis Bacon was Irish, born in a nursing home in Dublin in 1909. He lived over the road from me at home, near the Curragh in Kildare. [How come I didn’t know this?] His website is a fascinating read. I was particularly taken with this description of his parents:

His father, while not unintelligent, was a belligerent and argumentative man; his mother, a gregarious hostess inclined to self-absorption.

And this belligerent man threw young Bacon out of the house at 16 when he caught him trying on his mother’s frillies. Bacon moved to London and when, in 1927, he saw some of Picasso’s drawings at the Galerie Paul Rosenberg, he thought art might be his thing. But first, he’d serve his time as an interior decorator and furniture designer. His bio really is quite enthralling. I was surprised to see that he only died in 1992. We walked this earth at the same time. His studio was donated to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin where it was reconstructed and opened to the public in 2001. The Irish boy had come home.

I won’t pretend to understand his art or how he was influenced and in turn influenced so many. That’s beyond me. I found some of his paintings disturbing and there wasn’t one I’d want to hang in my hallway. But his life – his life was quite something.

I really should have done my homework, though.

Amidst the dominance of the late 1970’s abstract, conceptual, and minimalist art, a number of artists focused their creative energies into the examination of the painting of the post war period. The term School of London was coined by R.B. Kitaj in order to refer to the group of artists and their preoccupation with figurative painting whom he gathered for the 1976 exhibition The Human Clay at the Hayward gallery. The chief artists associated with the idea of School of London, in addition to Kitaj himself, were Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Howard Hodgkin, and Leon Kossoff. In the face of the avant-garde approaches, these painters pursued both drawing and painting focused on the examination of the form of the people and the world around them.

A little embarrassed that I’d gotten my Bacons confused, I kept my next addlement to myself until I could test it. You see, another of the painters in this exhibition was Freud. And yes, I’ll fess up. I did wonder how come I’d never known that man was a painter either. I’d gotten my Freuds confused, too. That said, Lucien’s work was more to my liking than Francis’s. I’d happily hang his painting Two Plants on my wall and stare at it for hours. It took him three years to finish this amazing piece of work.

I’d never really appreciated how much work goes into one painting. Seated Nude by another artist in the show, Sir William Coldstream, took sixty 90-minute sittings. He only painted in the presence of the model. Modelling has to be hard work. Sitting still for 90 minutes sixty times?  Juliet Yardley Mills  (JYM) modelled for another featured artist, Frank Auerbach, each Monday and Wednesday for 40 years. Such dedication. Incidentally, his Head of E.O.W. I was my second pick of the exhibition – the picture I’ve linked to doesn’t do it justice. The colours are quite something. It’s a painting of his long-time model, Stella West.  Freud painted a series of 18 portraits of his mother that took 1000 sittings, each lasting anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. I’m telling you – these models are unsung heroes. I can’t help but wonder how artists today fare out. Can anyone sit still, sans phone, for 90 minutes, let alone 8 hours?

I love my art but I’m not an art lover per se. I’ve never studied art history. What I know about style and schools and techniques could be written on a banana skin. But I am a fan of learning, of exploring, of trying something different. For my birthday earlier this year, I received a Friends Membership for the MNG which gets me into these gigs for free. And as I loathe waste of any kind, I intend getting full value out of the investment.

Half-way through, though, I was conscious that I was racing ahead.  If I didn’t watch myself, I’d be waiting outside for himself to catch up. So I slowed down a little and instead of reading the captions first, I looked at each of the abstracts to see if I could guess what it might be. Leon Kossoff stumped me. I spent an age with his Building Site, Victoria Street, 1961 and came up with everything but. I finally fixed on cliffs and mudflats. But I was wrong again. That said, his Christ Church, Spitalfields was my third pick for the day. Given my angst at the institutionalisation of religion and what it can lead to, this held me up for a while.

The exhibition runs in Budapest till13 January. Tim Adams reviewed it for The Guardian when it opened in London earlier this year and gave it 5*s, calling it a ‘thrilling and thoughtful exhibition’. I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about [2015 One World award for newspaper journalist of the year, and the Foreign Press award for arts and culture writing]. My lack of ‘fine’ education causes me no end of insecurity. That I had never heard of the School of London and had confused my Freuds and my Bacons is mortifying. I know I should know more than I do, but I’m grateful that I’m getting to remedy the situation, art-wise, one exhibition at a time. And I’m grateful, too, for my new-found appreciation for the unsung heroes of portraiture – the sitters.

 

2018 Grateful 21

Sometime last year I booked tickets to see Ed Sheeran play in Warsaw. I knew nothing of his music. I thought Galway Girl was a song he covered rather than wrote. But the hype that surrounded the announcement of his European Tour – which by the way sold out in record time with extra nights added in a number of cities, including Warsaw – made me curious. And I had friends in Warsaw whom I hadn’t see in a long time so it all worked out.

Fast forward through the intervening months and it came time to book train tickets and make the trip. My friends, in the meantime, had absconded to Zanzibar and had it been easy to sell the tickets, I’d have done so. But our names were on them. And transferring them to someone else had to be done in person – so I’d have to go to Warsaw anyway. So we went.

The National Stadium (PGE Narodowy) is a massive venue, holding some 58,145 (official for football matches) / 56,826 (UEFA capacity) / 72,900 (concerts) punters. The back half of the seating wasn’t open but the floor was rammed with teenagers who had queued since 1 pm for a 5 pm admission and an 8.45pm appearance. They wanted to be up front and centre. Us? We had seated tickets in the rafters and were in no rush anywhere.

Had I done my homework, I’d have known his stage time was 8.45 to 11 pm. I incorrectly assumed he’d appear at 8 pm (it was a Sunday night), so we got there about 7.30 pm in time to catch the last of his warm-up acts, a gal by the name of Anne-Marie. To give the girl her due, she can carry a tune. But when she brought out the vodka (Polish of course) to do shots with her band to mark the end of a very successful tour, I was less than impressed. Really? With a multitude of impressionable teens in the audience, what was the message? Cool to do shots? Okay, I know they’re probably all drinking anyway, but I’m of the mind that stars with a young following have a responsibility to show some decent example. Yep – I was one of the oldest there.

When our boy Ed didn’t show to my schedule, I started to get a tad upset. And when he eventually sauntered on, without a care in the world, I was on the verge of seething. But then he started to play.

Now, as regular readers will know, I can’t hold a tune to save my life so I’m won’t even begin to comment on how good, bad, or indifferent he is as a musician. But as an entertainer, he has it nailed. Just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation, coupled with some funny insights in to the 2% of the audience that were there under duress (reluctant boyfriends and super dads) endeared him to my cynical self. The guy has class. And he described me to a T. We’re quite alike apparently when we’re at gigs. Ed and me. Everything goes on in our heads – not a hint of enjoyment shows on the outside. But, hey, anyone who can quieten a crowd of 72k screaming teens gets my vote for audience control.

The National Stadium doesn’t have the greatest sound system in the world – either that or Ed’s diction is a tad off. Some of the lyrics were difficult to make out but the crowd didn’t seem to care. They sang along. Every word. Every single word. Except for that one quiet song when he told them to sssh. And I think it was during that song (whatever it was) that some young lad up in front got down on bended knee and proposed to his girlfriend. It takes all sorts.

Ed Sheeran Concert WarsawCigarette lighters are a thing of the past. Now it’s flashlights on mobile phones. And the Warsaw lot were organised enough to have white lights on the top tier and red ones on the lower one – creating a waving Polish flag. The flashlight effect was given a flickering look by holding up sheets of white A4 paper in front of their phones. From my vantage point, it was quite spectacular (ok, so not everyone was in on it, but it did look great). When he had them wave and pump their arms, the mosh pit looked like a sea of worms. For a minute, I felt queasy.

Knowing Poniatowski bridge (Most Poniatowskiego) over the Vistula River would be closed before the gig ended and that 72 000+ people would flood out of the stadium starting from when he played his last song, we left early. Just two songs early, mind you, but that didn’t stop the wave of sympathy from the young ones. No matter. The music was so loud, Ed followed us across the bridge towards the Centre so we missed nothing but the hassle.

I enjoyed it. Our Ed’s done well for himself. I like the fact that his first support band were some Polish friends he’d roomed with when he was 18. I like that he’s engaged to his high-school sweetheart. And I like the fact that it’s him, his guitar, and his customised looping machine that makes all the noise. Everything we heard, he assured us, was live. The bit about him being homeless has been exaggerated. In his book, he explains:

There was an arch outside Buckingham Palace that has a heating duct and I spent a couple of nights there. That’s where I wrote the song Homeless and the lines ‘It’s not a homeless night for me, I’m just home less than I’d like to be.’

I caught Jamie Fox talking about him on the Graham Norton Show. And I liked his story, too.

It worked out well. It was a fitting end to a good weekend. I won’t be buying a CD or downloading him any time soon, but I will be in danger of singing along. For a young fellah who struggled like many others to make his mark on the world, the boy’s done good. And he’s still a nice lad. Lots to be grateful for there.

 

 

Manifesto

We have a saying in Irish  – cuir ar an mhéar fada – which is what we do when we put something on the long finger, i.e., put it off till whenever. I do this a lot – too much. And as a result, I lose out on vouchers and gift certificates. Despite my best intentions, 9 times out of 10, by the time I get around to it, they’ve expired. I’ve been meaning to go see Cate Blanchett in Manifesto for a few weeks now, ever since it opened at the Magyar Nemzeti Galéria back at the end of May. It only runs till 12 August, so I was cutting it fine, but I finally got my act together this week. And went.

I had a vague notion of what it was about. From German artist Julian Rosefeldt come 13 short video clips of Blanchett playing different roles, reciting from various manifestos that had a huge impact on art and politics. Think Dadism, Surrealism, Communism and a host of other isms perhaps less well known (to me, at least) like Vorticism, Stridentism, and Situationism that have shaped our today. Shot in just 11 days in and around Berlin, each of Blachett’s characters speaks English but with different accents. She appears as a homeless man, a stockbroker, a mother, a punk, a eulogist, and more, each role convincingly played. Years ago, in another life, I remember being fascinated seeing a closeup of Kevin Costner in some movie or other and wondering why, with all his money, he didn’t get his teeth fixed. Seeing the 12 very different sets of teeth that Blanchett’s characters wear (we only hear her voice in the prologue) has me now thinking that those teeth belonged to his character and were not his own. Will I ever know?

I was pushed for time and had figured just over two hours to see all 13 vids, so I didn’t spend as much time as I might have reading the timeline of the various manifestos Rosefeldt read (said to be 50 in all) when he was researching this piece of work. I went straight for it, expecting to walk between 13 separate rooms or semi-closed spaces. Or perhaps we’d each get headphones. But no. The videos played side by side with no signalling as to when they’d started. That really upset my sense of orderliness and from the outset, I was out of sorts.

I can multitask with the best of them but when it comes to listening, I have a hard time drowning out background noise. I work in silence. No radio or music playing in the background. I read in silence. No music or TV. I walk in silence. No headphones or other distractions. I like my silence. One of my most jarring memories is stepping outside the airport terminal in Chennai, India, at 2 am and recoiling from the wall of noise that met me. Another was opening the door into FunGalaxy and hearing the screaming kids inside. I really have a hard time with noise.  So I skipped the first two videos (I came back to them later) as both were going at what seemed like full blast and I couldn’t focus. I found one that I could actually hear.

Once I got into the swing of it, though, I enjoyed it. But I can see why some people might give up trying in the first 10 minutes (and admittedly, by the end, I was flagging). That said, it’s worth persevering. Especially if you can get in the groove and catch the videos as they start (all bar the first one are about 10.30 minutes long). This isn’t a must, of course, but if you veer towards pedantry like I do, I suggest you try it.

That Blanchett is a multi-award-winning actor, I had no doubt. But I hadn’t really appreciated how talented she is. Each of the 12 roles she plays is as convincing as the one before (in the first, we don’t see her, just hear her voice). I was particularly taken with her portrayals of a homeless guy, a punk, and a newsreader where she interviews herself.  Blanchett’s personal make-up artist Morag Ross worked miracles. Even if you’ve no interest in the spoken word, just seeing the 12 different faces and hearing the 13 different voices is worth the entrance fee.

At one stage, each character starts chanting in a strangely monk-like fashion. This happens at the same point in all videos so the rooms are filled with intonation. At other points, the narration from a video showing beside the one you’re watching will seem to eerily fit the film unfolding before you. It really is all very clever. Confusing and confrontational, certainly, but really very, very clever.

I’m with Glenn Kenny of the New York Times: As an installation, it may seem like a sensory onslaught. Yes, Glenn, it does. But now I want to see the movie and I really don’t think I’d appreciate it without having seen the installation. If you’re in Budapest between now and 12 August, it’s worth the money. Curated by Zsolt Petrányi at the National Gallery up in Buda Castle district, it’s definitely one to see. Love it or hate it, you won’t be able to not talk about it.

Julian Rosefeldt: Manifesto

[As an aside, I went to read an article in the LA Times = The 13 faces of Cate Blanchett: How Manifesto went from art to ….. – and got a note: Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries. We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism. The long reach of GDPR, no doubt. If anyone’s reading in the USA and can send a PDF, I’ll admit to being curious.]

 

2018 Grateful 32

Wednesday. May 23rd. The day John Malkovich came to Budapest and taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. Right now, I’m trying to decide if it was worth the experience.

In true marketing fashion, I made a rash purchase (4 tickets) and am now trying to rationalise my decision. Apparently, this is what we consumers do all the time. It’s what keeps the marketers in business.

The facts I had at the time were:

  1. John Malkovich was coming to Budapest for one night only.
  2. He was performing what was billed as one of the top 10 shows in the world (I can’t recall where I read that snippet)
  3. If I didn’t see the man this time, I was unlikely to cross paths with him again.
  4. The cheapest tickets I could get were 20 000 huf (~€60 / $70).
  5. We were expecting visitors and I thought it would be night for them to rememeber.

And it was, but probably not for the reasons I imagined.

We rocked early to Budapesti Kongresszusi Központ, in plenty of time to have a pre-show drink and take our seats at a leisurely pace. I was all excited. I’ve had a thing for the bould JM for just about ever. What a voice. The 26-piece string orchestra – Danubia Orchestra Óbuda took their place. And the show started. No sign of the man himself. But I didn’t panic. Perhaps, I thought, he’d enjoy a grand entrance. Above the stage, rain was being projected onto a white screen. I quite fancied that I saw his face in the droplets and given the title of the programme – Report on the Blind – my imagination began to run riot.

Maestro Dirk Brossé was conducting and violinist Ino Mirkovic also made an appearance. Now, had I done my homework, I’d have been all the wiser. But I hadn’t. And I wasn’t.

Psycho Suite by Bernard Herrmann and the Adagio (To the Unknown Soldier) by Dirk Brossé and still no sign of John. My blood pressure began to rise, slowly. I could feel the anxiety setting in. I began to wonder if we were in the right place. I drew a map of the venue in my mind and decided that there were no other gigs on that night (and it would have been strange, anyway, not have to have been ousted from our seats had we been in the wrong place). The rain at this stage had turned to snow and the images of frosted glass and the ice patterns provided only a mild distraction. The avalanche footage was quite compelling though. But 45 minutes in and still no John.

Then a man appeared on stage – and I breathed a sigh of relief – a short one. On closer inspectection I saw a face that was too round, a body that was too slim, and a hairline that wasn’t quite far back enough. Not John. They danced. At one stage he blindfolded himself and hope rose within me briefly – I was grasping at blind straws. I tried to control the angst. And then came the intermission.

I left my company inside and went outside to calm my nerves. Everyone seemed to be wondering what was up. I wasn’t the only one. Then I heard that this was just the prelude. The warm-up. The man would make his appearance in the second half. And he did.

Accompanied by pianist Anastasya Terenkova, Malkovich took us on a rollercoaster ride, his voice doing more than the 26-string orchestra could have done. He was quite something. He posited some theories:

  1. God does not exist
  2. God exists but he is a bastard
  3. Good exists but falls asleep and his nightmares are our existence

I quite liked No. 3. I thought ‘wow – he wrote this stuff. Amazing.’ But he didn’t. It was a chapter from Ernesto Sabato’s novel On Heroes and Tombs. Malkovich played the protagonist Fernando Vidal who reckons that blindness drives the world. It was mesmerising. Mesmerisingly short. Just 30 minutes, if that. And it was over.

It’s taken me a week to process it all. Am I glad I got to see and hear the man in person? Yes. Am I glad I didn’t pass up the opportunity? Yes. Do I reckon it was worth the guts of €250 – which is a plane ticket somewhere – I’m not sure.

But I learned a lot about myself. If I have no expectations at all – which is generally the case – I can’t be disappointed. My mother tacked that one on as the ninth beatitude. But if I have expectations, and I’m thrown off course, then I get ansty and anxious. I let it consume me. I tried to enjoy the music in the first half, which was stellar by the way, but my heart was racing and my mind was all over the place. I had brief moments of enjoyment but peppered as they were by a sense of being utterly lost, I barely remember them.

I wanted to see him so badly that I didn’t think to check what it was he’d be doing. I could have. It’s out there. I could have done my homework, perhaps before I bought the tickets. But I was blindsided by fame. Still, though, as a lover of oratory and the spoken word, I think Malkovich would be hard to match.

I’d like to see  Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters. The interview with photographer Sandro Miller makes for fascinating reading. And I never knew that JM owns a restaurant in Lisbon, speaks fluent French, and lost millions in Bernie Maddoch’s Ponzi scheme. For the background reading, I’m grateful. For the opportunity to hear the voice in person, I’m grateful, too. I only wish he’d spoken for longer and that I’d known what I was letting myself in for.

 

In a state of shock on Mars

I’m not sure what I expected, but I didn’t expect this. And when I read today in the Hungarian Spectrum that a ruling politician had declared that “our goal is to achieve a stable, absolute majority with 100 seats to establish a government. Above that number every seat is only a gift, a sign of the voters’ trust,” I had to wonder. A two-thirds majority was some gift indeed. I’m deflated. Completely deflated. Friends who voted spoke of the palpable excitement and anticipation of change at the polling booths. The other guys were being better people and standing down in favour of stronger counterparts. It seemed as if the planets were aligning and while I never thought that the 100 seats would not be achieved, I was sure the other guys would fare better. But I was wrong.

I dug out this poem I’d read last year in the aftermath of another disappointing election – and it just about sums it up for me.

An Election Tale: A Poem By Tarik Günersel

Once upon a time, on Mars,
an election took place –a farce:

A profit promising guy was promoted
for imperial goals; twice his followers voted.

The Electoral Board: “It’s been a good race;
here’s the official result we realistically face:

A post-modern synthesis of kingdom and republic.
Despite infidels, God’s Law conquers the public.

We proudly present this legal innovation,
which is naturally the best for our obedient nation.”

Thus the selected leader declared “Victory!”
A journalist dared to ask: “Is justice history?”

Public reaction was professionally tested;
“Fraud!” –some opponents protested:

“Booo! Look at the voting lists: We’re excluded,
but some dead were secretly included!”

On TV, the financed misleader announced:
“All those traitors must be denounced!

Evil circles keep sponsoring their acts,
I speak the truth, supported by alternative facts.

In our new democracy, which patriots promote,
dead citizens can also vote

as the revival of our passified [sic] nation.
Down with foreign agents! We need fair aggression!

I do have an idea about sports:
Attack is the best defense, as echoed in the courts.

My leadership proves that ‘evolution’ is wrong.
To my faith in God your lives now belong.”

All such stuff was not without reaction;
some with conscience attempted action:

Two girls, on hunger strike, stood up
and were given free poison in a cup.

A few more utopian objecters [sic] joined in the story
for a happy ending –a deserved glory:

“It’s high time for a revolution
for Martian rights, devolution!”

The outcome on Mars remains unknown,
but your life on Earth is a path of your own.

No gods can build a future for you.
No solution can rise out of the blue.

 

The great wave

A few months back, in a workshop I was running, a participant included an image of The Great Wave by Japanese artist Hokusai in their presentation. I was the only person in the room not to have seen it before and thereby not to recognise it. The shame of it. Where had I been? Coincidentally, that same week, I saw an advertisement for a screening of a documentary from the British Museum about the artist and his work. The first two were sold out but I managed to get tickets for the screening in March.

In the months that followed, I forgot all about it. When the day dawned, I was up to my tonsils – a litany of meetings strung together like beads on an abacus all totting up to a controlled frenzy. But we had tickets. So we went. To Várkert Bazár, billed as ‘a renovated 19th-century Neo-Renaissance complex of exhibition halls, theaters, gardens & restaurants. I’d not been before and the venue was another reason I’d chosen to go. But wow… Hokusai! Where have you been all my life?

Hokusai was painting right up till his death, some four months after his 90th birthday (depending on which page you read on the WWW). And by his own reckoning his best work was the work he did shortly before he died.

From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.

Interestingly, a variation of this translation also appears on the web. Or perhaps he was paraphrasing himself.

When I am 80 you will see real progress. At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvellous artist. At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age.

There’s a good biography of his life on the Katsushika Hokusai website, which says that he changed his name more than 30 times during his career, a practice common to artists of that era in that part of the world. My favourite was Old Man Mad (Crazy) about Art (Drawing): Gakyō Rōjin Manji. The Guardian ran a piece on him last year and included some pictures of his prints. It’s worth checking out.

It’s said that Claude Debussy was inspired to write La mer after seeing The Great Wave, and while it’s arguably his most famous print, I was more taken by Poppies. I can feel the wind as I look at it. Amazing stuff.

Of course, I changed my mind a million times as the documentary went on. And then, when we got a virtual tour of the exhibition in London, I changed it yet again. I was very taken with this one but I’m not so sure I’d like it on my wall. But how alive it is. Those eyes. Still, after all the back and forth, I’m sticking with Poppies as my all-time Hokusai fave.

If you get a chance to see the documentary, make the time for it. If you’re one of the lucky ones who got to see the exhibition somewhere in the world, I’m suitably envious. It’s possible to order hand-painted reproductions of all his work from Japan, and with a 365-day return policy. Once I’ve decided what size I want my Poppies, I’ll be doing just that. What a man.