It’s safe to anoint 2016 as the Year of the Illuminations, as this marks the third major lights exhibition following on the very recent heels of London Lumiere and the Winter Lights Festival at Canary Wharf in January. Celebrating a thousands-year-old tradition from China, the very beautiful grounds of Chiswick House host London’s very first Magical Lantern Festival from 3 February-6 March, the gardens of which will be transformed into a radiant trail of stunning life-sized figures and shapes, everything from a 66m long dragon to a 10m high replica of Beijing’s Temple of Heaven-even a recreation of the Terra Cotta army! This year celebrates the Year of the Monkey from the celestial calendar, so the emphasis is on the playful and mischievous. Organisers have carefully choreographed a 75-minute journey along the pathways of the event, and there is an international food market available on the premises to satisfy any pangs of hunger or thirst. Time Out is now offering reduced tickets (£12) on their website for the first week of the event. Commuting to Chiswick is a bit more involved than, say, a trip into central London, but this looks like an event with the potential to produce very generous dividends, both socially and in memory-and if you haven’t been to Chiswick House, it will be a wonderful introduction to a Neo-Palladian gem of a property.
More info @ http://www.magicallantern.uk/
I wanted to highlight these two new arrivals on the smart-casual café spectrum. Yum Som is an Asian-inspired emporium specializing in tantalizing salads and small pot dishes in the heart of the city, on Leadenhall St. Although quite spacious inside, with fairly ample seating, the drive is on-the-go, most options enthusiastically constructed with fresh ingredients while you wait. I opted for the Tofu-Yoyo salad, a seductive blend of sesame-encrusted tofu pieces with avocado and Asian herbs with the final kick of a bed of savoury soba noodles dizzyingly drizzled in a creamy peanut sauce. I found myself consuming it with increasing careful measurement, as I didn’t want to have it end-I wanted it always available. I could certainly have this salad drench my palette weekly-other options range from prawns to beef to pork to chicken, all I’m sure just as radiant, but I’ll be hard pressed not to limit myself to another hit of the same salad when I return. There are breakfast items, as well, with slight twists on traditional porridge and omelettes, and a selection of daily dishes. If you’re in the area, this is well worth a visit.
Lundenwic is a Nordic-themed café in Aldwych, located next to the Aldwych Theatre, delivered in clean, modern style, white-tiled walls and minimum design fuss. It’s a long, narrow space, with the counter dominating the length of the wall just inside the entrance. A simple menu of toasties, salads and sandwiches is served up by a friendly staff-I can vouch for the sinful charms of the broccoli, chili, almond and cheddar toastie, most likely not to appear anytime soon on any official list of heart-healthy items, but it does exert a long-lasting chemical buzz in the brain. I’ve walked past the door several times since, and even if I’ve eaten recently, I feel a pull towards the area of the glass-fronted counter that invitingly displays the toasties. I await my next opportunity to visit.
Reflections on Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant
In this gripping, ultimately overextended film, vengeance is certainly posited as a sustainable life force, as poor Leonardo DiCaprio’s besieged Hugo Glass has no less than three rebirths throughout its running time, each sequence a heightening of visceral impact. The film opens to the omnipresent sounds of the natural world, humans only gradually introduced into the frame, spears and bodies thrusting in from the sides, closing in on prey. This nicely presages a more massive attack about to take place as the group of fur traders to which Glass belongs are suddenly descended upon by a rival Indian tribe-the quiet, deadly arsenal of arrows that assault the troop, the sheer, blunt, hushed inexorability of their violent trajectory, the spatial inability to identify enemy position, calls to mind the opening of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, the storming of Omaha Beach, in its absolutely savage confusion and disarray, its ragtag immediacy of death. It’s a startling, queasy passage. The problem with this film as it progresses is that it increasingly settles for a mythic tone, which prevents the viewer from identifying emotionally in a specific sense. Glass increasingly takes on the form and bearing of a beast, and seems almost preternatural-Inarritu risks pushing the film nearly into farce in the latter stages as he escalates the misfortune and misery to which Glass is exposed. The stark, essential conflict between Glass and John Fitzgerald, a fellow trader and agent of villainous betrayal, is momentarily lost amid a superfluous subplot of the Indians’ business relations with the French, and far too many hallucinations of Glass’s former familial peace, which feel indulgent. A final battle along a riverbank snaps the film back into focus-you only wish you had reached the location a bit sooner. A few shots intriguingly break the fourth wall, as it were, where breath and blood are allowed to invade the camera lens (in the case of the breath, it leads to a remarkable transitional shot, linking Glass, the world and Fitzgerald). And Glass’s concluding look is to the camera, and the audience, whether in defiance or resignation up for interpretation. I wish Inarritu had been a bit more ambiguous with the ending, in any case. Most of the time I think I was responding not to Glass as character but DiCaprio as actor, ferociously dedicating himself to a sadistic catalog of physical demands and labours.
Available via internet in most every country, this is an innovative platform, now in its sixth year, that curates a selection of ten feature and ten short films to watch at leisure from any device for very modest costs. The festival runs for a month’s period (from 18 January-18 February), and is an exciting opportunity to become conversant with choice offerings from recent French cinema, in many cases works that have bypassed international distribution altogether or been exhibited only on the festival circuit. As a host, I’ve used the Curzon Home Cinema site to access the programme, itself a wonderful tool (requiring no subscription fee, allowing purchase on a per-film basis, in many cases releasing same-day as in the cinema for a fraction of box-office price). Thus far I’ve watched the congenial, if slight, IT BOY, which coasts favourably along on the charming, sexy energy of its lead couple, gently and perfunctorily addressing serious topics of sexism in the professional industries and issues of age within relationships; and HENRI HENRI aspires to be the French Canadian AMELIE, a voyage given over to whimsy and fancy as a beatific innocent (a perfectly cast Victor Andres Turgeon-Trelles), a lighting technician, wanders into the lives of a series of isolated, lonely, drifting individuals, mounting a steady campaign to bring shafts and shivers of joy into their existences-it’s admirably optimistic in perspective, but finely tuned to an underlying poignancy in human interaction. The selections are a nicely balanced mix of the comic and the sober, the lighthearted and the extreme. It’s my hope that similar, smartly packaged online festivals from other regions become available (and perhaps, with a bit of research, indeed do exist), as they offer invaluable opportunity to view films otherwise inaccessible. In the time of Netflix and AmazonPrime monopolies, the bespoke online film festival is nice counterprogramming. Further information can be found at: http://www.myfrenchfilmfestival.com/en/
Here is an event about which to get very excited: an interdisciplinary arts programme that runs from 27 January-6 March in the atmospheric and labyrinthine tunnels that run beneath Waterloo Station. Incorporating everything from theatre to improv comedy to dance to spoken word, the six-week long extravaganza is an absolute smorgasbord for the senses. In addition, the venues play host to many workshops and symposiums centered around issues in the fields of the arts. As each evening progresses, the vibe cranks up to bacchanalian proportions as the djs begin their sets, and the three venues given over to bars kick to life. Most of the featured events run for five-day residencies, so it’s not as if a potential audience member has only one chance to catch a piece in which he or she may be interested. There is a specific weekend matinee strand for kids and young adults, so no one is left out of the equation.
The organisers stress this as a new business model for performers, who pay no rental fees to stage shows, but do relinquish 30% of the door proceeds to cover costs of the festival-an artist gets an affordable space and platform for expression, and the guarantee of a slight profit, while the administration funnels all money generated directly back into the venture. Most shows are priced modestly, between £10-£12, the average length is an hour, and with a restaurant and the aforementioned bars, you could easily spend an entire evening feasting on all that is available. I’ve had a look at the schedule, and I can’t imagine anyone not discovering some piece that is appealing or intriguing to taste. Could this be London’s answer to the estimable Edinburgh fringe?
Find out details at: http://www.vaultfestival.com/
From 16January-13February, 8 London studio spaces across the city (Central, East, South) will host peers from similar small-scaled galleries from across the world in a collaborative art event that means to circumnavigate the increasingly unfeasible cost demands of major art fairs and to give exposure to favourite artists with less exposure to or sponsorship from pedigreed institutions. Fronting this very commendable venture is Vanessa Carlos, co-director of participating gallery Carlos/Ishikawa- in this equation, everybody wins, the greatest beneficiary being the public.
With a manageable number of spaces, and nearly a month-long schedule, the avid art lover will have more than enough time to cover the entirety of the event, in the process discovering some diverting and spectacular independent galleries, most likely unknown to the majority. My pick of the Central spaces would be Southard Reid, located in an unremarkable mews just off the busy Dean St., which, with the exception of a small acting school, would seem to be nothing more than the back service entrances to businesses or restaurants. Once inside, what could be a cramped space has been beautifully and carefully curated to offer selections from three artists, each of whose work is able to breath individually on the walls and floor despite the small space. It’s Lea Cetara’s pieces that most beguile- the powder coated steel cages and shelves with glazed porcelain coffee cups posed in them or on them with great, precarious melancholic weight; the playful, perplexing plastic cups with colourful resin suggesting hallucinogenic bubble tea contents that lay dotted throughout the gallery, as if thoughtlessly left behind by builders or staff. My pick of the pieces at Rodeo, an impressive first floor space on Charing Cross Road, would be the collages ( and one video ) of Rokni Haerizadeh, in which scenes of great strife and possible violence ( in the case of the video, centered around some footage of a protest against the suppressive representation of the female body in a subsuming patriarchal society ), are overlaid with primitive-like animal head drawings, speaking of a continuing mythic battle with the forces of hatred and aggression, the worst behavioural aspects continually erupting with asp-like speed from individuals in startling cartoon squiggles.
I’m convinced no matter what sector of the event you explore, there will be some art on display that will be of great value or resonance. It really behooves us to see as much as possible, if not all. Enjoy.
Find out more at: http://www.condocomplex.org/
Quick thoughts on a selection of new music singles
“Born Again Teen” by Lucius
Driven by the somewhat larcenous and anarchic vocal energy of its female duo, this sonic sugar rush of a song propels itself along a barely contained surface. Someone has clearly inspired the singers to amorous, sensual distraction, bringing them back to a halcyon time of unregulated emotional outburst. It’s the sound of individuals about to go out of their minds, but in the most luscious, satisfying way-an infectious, high-spirited blast.
“Most Definitely” by Kins
Dark and sludgy, this brings the listener terrifyingly close to the uneasy nocturnal restlessness of a troubled young man apparently in the stormy throes of sexual unease and yearning. Great squalls of guitar and washes of anxious synths continually disturb any moment given to reflection, in which vocalist Thomas Savage’s fragile voice nearly breaks apart against the unrelenting insistence of desire. It’s an atmospheric smother of a song, which offers no resolution-you sense this man is stuck in a closed erotic loop. One caution: the song is resolutely explicit lyrically.
“Last Words” by Isaac Gracie
This is artist Gracie’s sole offering presently, but it already feels like the work of a fully accomplished and seasoned talent. With no overdressed production, and with a calm, unhurried vocal, Gracie hypnotically and compellingly rivets a listener’s attention as he details a life that has seemingly gone tragically off-course, abandoned to mistake and failure. There is great careworn focus in his voice, and the song puts me in mind of dusk and dust, for some odd reason-a stunner.