Schiphol Clock

I am, once again, in transit at Schiphol airport. It is 3.54 pm. I have a few minutes for a coffee and a snoop about before a connecting flight. There’s always something interesting to discover here like big luggage people.

Schiphol Clock 1

I see a guy cleaning a big clock suspended from the ceiling. He seems to be wiping the clock-face from the inside. I can’t understand why so many people have their smart phones directed upwards.

Schiphol Clock 2

He’s obviously taking the job seriously as he’s removed the minute hand to give that frosted glass a good polish! I go to find a coffee.

Schiphol Clock 3

At 4.03 pm I am striding towards my departure gate and pass the clock again. The guy is still cleaning away. People are still fascinated. He then serves up a surprise!

Schiphol Clock 4

With a rubber window-cleaning blade, at 4.04 pm, he scrapes off the minute hand …..

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….. and repaints it one minute later with a small roller. I grasp what this is about. He has been doing this all along minute by minute. This is a performance in real time. Lordielord! This is brilliant! I am riveted.

Schiphol Clock 6

Entranced, I watch him wipe away and repaint a slightly advanced hour hand. Inevitably, a series of questions run through my head. Is there someone really inside that box? How does he get in there? Is he an “artist” or an employee? Does he get a break? Is there a change of shift every hour or so?

Schiphol Clock 7

I am now late for my flight but I have to satisfy my curiosity. I look up at the back of the massive clock. Sure enough, there is a ladder and a door. It seems the guy really is inside. I run grinning like an idiot. My heart sings. I have just witnessed creative genius on a grand public scale. This makes my day.

Later internet research tells me this is the work of Dutch designer Maarten Baas. It is one of his “Real Time” series. For his “performance,” Baas wears a blue overall and uses a red bucket and a yellow cleaning cloth all in solidarity with all those folk who keep the airport spotless.

Inevitably – and with only a little disappointment – I learn that this is a precisely synchronised 12 hour-long video performance projected within a stainless steel box. The ladder and door into the “clock” build an illusion of reality; the viewer is led to imagine the guy descending from a hatch in the ceiling and locking himself into the box to do his job.

I just love how Schiphol goes to such lengths to bring beautiful stuff to travel-weary passengers. Admirable! Fabulous! Thrilling!

Watch the video!

All the American fun of the fair!

American fun 1

It’s that time of year! The Fête de Genève. The main event of the annual civic calendar. The Cartoons for Peace exhibit is removed from the lakefront. Articulated lorries swing into the centre of town loaded with the unlikely metal constructions of a hundred shows and rides. Shouting in a dozen languages, muscled and tattooed young men bolt and hammer the whole scene into place.

American fun 2

It is a couple of days before the Lake Festival begins. It is mid-morning but there are already thousands of tourists ambling about. Selfie city. Rock music blasts out. Hotel California. Johnny Be Good. Spicy smoke from Asian food in preparation stings my eyes. I notice a small 116 year-old carrousel. In this setting it is rather understated and dignified. The decoration has a by-gone charm. There is even a hand-painted and quite passable landscape of a Swiss lake with famous centuries-old boats. So cute!

I decide to look more closely at the artwork on some other attractions. Maybe not so cute but fascinating nevertheless. The circus theme is predictable.

American fun 3

Most are decorated by spray paint. There is beautiful stuff to be found here. I can’t help wondering who these master aerosol-painters are. Is this the day-job for hooded graffiti taggers?

American fun 4

A panel with a hundred bulbs is bolted into place. Jacko! Then I spot Elvis!

American fun 5

In a moment of giddying perception, I realise that, in fact, the main visual theme of the whole show is Pop Americana!

American fun 6

Why American objects such as big American trucks or American football helmets should excite us to the point that we dig into our pockets and spend hard-earned money on being turned upside down at high speed and nauseated is difficult to comprehend. But it’s all part of the atmosphere… I guess!

American fun 7

Above all, the dominant theme of these technically brilliant works is Disney. The origins maybe American but the appeal is global and the images universally associated with good times, fun and laughter. This must be America’s biggest cultural export ever.

American fun 8

I couldn’t resist snapping Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear, my favourite Disney character. He’s just so duty-bound and lovable but poignantly dim. He invites us into some cosmic whirligig. Subliminal message: even if you are scared out of your wits, good old Buzz will look after you!

American fun 9

Right next to Fun City Vegas Super Nevada Paradise is Ali Baba. I am not sure what Ali is offering as the construction is, inshallah, ongoing. Somehow, given the current state of Americana, I just don’t think a fairground stall with a middle-eastern theme including camels and bedouin tents (but Disney-style treasure chests!) will have a great success. I’ll go back soon and bring you an update.

If you go down to the lakefront in the next days, you really don’t need to take a ride. Just take in some of the decoration! Send us a photo or two!

Cartooning the big issues

Geneva. It’s a wealthy, safe and pretty place that is, at times, surprisingly left-leaning especially when it comes to issues such as freedom of speech. Every year, the city sponsors a lakeside exhibition of “Cartoons for Peace” from all over the world. Beautiful? Maybe. Brilliant? Absolutely!

Cartooning 1

One hundred huge panels display the best of cartoons that accuse, taunt, embarrass and blame the powerful, the corrupt and the cruel. The pencil-wielding warriors don’t pull the punches. Those war-mongers must really cringe! However, the exhibition has mission creep. It’s no longer just about peace. Other subjects that reach us daily via global media get a caustic drenching from these observant graphicists. For the viewer, the slick images fire an intriguing alloy of emotions.

Cartooning 2

Boligan (Mexico)

There is a universal desire for peace. There’s an app for everything now. Hey! You military guys! It really could be that easy!! This makes me feel a kind of pity for humanity.

Some people can think up jokes. They have the ability to merge different elements of a narrative into a timely punch-line. I guess a cartoon is a kind of visual joke. A few disparate observations or notions are drawn together into one arresting and complete visual concept. At first glance, a cartoon is simple; but the viewer is invited to examine the image, refine its elements and then “get” the interaction of those elements in a mental join-the-dots exercise. There is then an emotional impact. What fascinates me more is that by “getting” a cartoon about a big global issue, I feel I am actually doing something about it. Ha! Slactivism!

Cartooning 3

Cristina (Belgium)

A major car company. Guilty smile. Lies. Children’s toy. Innocence. This amuses me.

Cartooning 4

Joel Pett (USA)

Superior American military technology. Unthinking citizens. Anonymised “collateral damage” (especially children.) Killing at a distance. Unknown and unseen perpetrator. This makes me very angry. Too close to the bone!

Cartooning 5

Hani Abbas (Syria)

Writing not possible although it should be. Erasing is the norm. Censorship. I feel a kind of objective concern. I’ve never lived for any length of time in a country where I cannot say what I think. I admire the simplicity of the image.

Cartooning 6

Shahrokh (Iran)

Sinister anonymity of a man of violence. Juxtaposition of delicate flower and ammunition. Making a wish. Wind blowing right to left (east to west?) I am afraid.

Cartooning 7

Firoozeh (Iran)

Migrants from islamic countries. Families about to drown. Only possibility of survival is Europe. I feel sad and enormously lucky to live where I do. I also feel a responsibility but I am not sure what I can do.

Cartooning 8

Brandan (South Africa)

A compass. Is it worth undertaking the journey? Stark choices for Africans. Desperation. I feel totally helpless.

A cartoon may work in our minds like a joke but is not always amusing. Unlike the verbal equivalent, a cartoon on being propagated can identify its talented creator. Let’s not forget that in many countries, the emotional reaction to these clever drawings might end in a prison sentence or worse for the cartoonist responsible.

“Révélations” at the Musée Rath

I visit “Revelations” at the Musée Rath in Geneva This is that rare kind of exhibition that you can just get lost in. It is where the cultural, scientific and political history of this extraordinary town meets photography. Archives have been searched, venerable institutions have collaborated and local photographers interviewed. The exhibition is beautifully designed. No surprise that Philippa Kundig had a hand in it!

What an extraordinary invention photography is! In a week of troubled politics on both sides of the atlantic, I am reminded of just how powerful images can be. Here, I limit my self to three photos indicating the diversity of what’s on show. I hope to whet your appetite.

Revelations 1

Jean-Louis Populous, La rue du Marché, 1848

Yes… 1848! What an amazing image! Down-town Geneva nearly 170 years ago. I am fascinated by this photo. Where was the photographer positioned? What kind of camera? Where are the people? I imagine the taking of such a photograph was such a big event that the whole street was cleared.

Revelations 2

Anne-Julie Raccoursier, Remote Viewer 3 (part of), 2007

Anne-Julie Raccoursier’s contribution is two huge juxtaposed photos. One shows an aerial view of a graveyard for military aeroplanes with a road running through it. It is simply mind-boggling. I guess we understand that fighters and bombers are built and sold and maybe used in armed conflict but I am not sure we give much thought to what happens to them when they are redundant. Well, now we know!

Revelations 3

A. Stephani, Radiograph of a giant Dolium (Tonna Galea), 1971

My absolute favourite is an x-ray image of a sea shell. I try to determine why it appeals so much. There is something very beautiful about the rhythm and progression of the lines and curves of this creature as revealed by radiography. It speaks of the mathematics of natural forms; of fractals and the Fibonacci sequence. But there is something else; a fleeting, gorgeous pop image. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit to it, but it reminds me of Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grate. Now, that’s a photo!!

Everyone is a photographer now and “Révélations” has something for everyone. This dazzling exhibition reveals the importance of photography in our lives and how it has advanced humanity. Go to Musée Rath. Take your time.

Northumberlandia

Northumberlandia 1

I have a meeting with a lady. She is, apparently, very beautiful. She is called Northumberlandia. Although we have not met before, I know I am about to become one more admirer. I drive a long way to our rendez-vous in Northumberland, England. The weather gods have served up the vilest of British weather for our first encounter. I emerge from a dripping beech forest and catch my first awe-inspiring side-view of her face and breasts. She takes no notice of the lashing wind and rain.

The full extent of her beauty is revealed when, later, I go on-line and find an aerial view taken in unimaginable sunshine.

Northumberlandia 2

Ol Batten’s award winning drone photo of Northumberlandia, 2015

Northumberlandia, seen from above or explored at ground level, has the air of some ancient pagan queen. She is immense. She exudes fertility. Her coy pose and raised right index finger indicate that she is at once inviting and admonishing. Her vital statistics are impressive. She is four years old. She is 400 metres frown crown to toe. Her nose is 40 metres above the ground. She weighs 1.5 million tonnes. Her features are drawn by six kilometres of sandstone paths. She is beautiful stuff on a grand scale. I am smitten.

This is one more dazzling project conceived by architect-sculptor Charles Jencks who took inspiration from the feminine forms of the distant Cheviot hills. Today, these hills are lost to view.

Northumberlandia 3

Big public sculpture doesn’t get better than this. The whole enterprise was sponsored by the BANKS Group. They run the adjacent Shotton surface coal mine from which the rock and clay for the construction were transported. DEFRA provided additional funds. The land was donated by the Blagdon Estate. The site is co-managed by the Land Trust and the Northumberland Wildlife Trust. It warms my heart that such co-operation is possible in the spirit of creativity and environmentally conscious development.

Northumberlandia 4

I stand atop her right breast. I can’t help thinking that the undulating green of her right hand could have been the work of Old Tom Morris.

I am alone. The wind blows harder. I struggle unsuccessfully to keep my camera dry. I decide to take cover in the visitor centre. I meet Wayne, Northumberlandia’s warden. Today, he has time to chat. Nice guy. He makes me a warming cup of coffee. He is justifiably proud of his charge. When the weather is fine, he tells me, the place is heaving. Last year saw 90,000 visitors. I buy a post card, say goodbye and trudge soddenly back to my car.  I am cold, wet, enthralled and enchanted. I am determined to see Northumberlandia again.