Love the Tate Modern

This is a guest post by Bonnie Golightly.

Yes, I love the Tate Modern in London. It lifts me up and makes my little beating heart sing.

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Alexander Calder, Triple Gong c.1948 Photo credit: Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY

I went south of the river to see the current Alexander Calder exhibition. I now understand why people say he redefined the notion of sculpture. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful stuff. Trademark hanging mobiles turn slowly and majestically in imperceptible drafts. The lighting is brilliant; each mobile casts a complex evolving shadow on the high white walls and those equipped with mini-gongs let out the occasional calming chime.

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Alexander Calder, Antennae with Red and Blue Dots c.1953 Photo credit: Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY

I was mesmerised. As were many others. One lasting impression I have of this gorgeous exhibition is the vast Tate Modern rooms full of people, jaws agape, gazing up at Calder’s fabulous works. I would love to re-visit with a reclining chair to rest a while and soak it all up.

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Fernand Léger and his portrait, Photo: Walter Limot. © Limot / Bridgeman images 1934

Room by room, I stepped though the creative history of this fascinating man. He was one original thinker! In the 1920s, he created a toy circus comprising little mechanical people and animals hence his interest in wire and mobility as a medium. He became fascinated by abstraction after visiting the studio of Piet Mondrian. However, his most astonishing early works were his cartoony wire portraits. He described this as drawing in space. It is beyond me how anyone could consistently achieve effective three-dimensional portraiture with only wire. One such portrait is of the painter, Fernand Léger. I love the contrast between the smooth facial outlines, the tightly coiled eyebrows and the stiff little bristly moustache!

Bravo, Tate Modern! I said to myself. Then I thought I would have a look at what else was on show and I found myself in the heart of the building, the enormous “Turbine Room” O….M…..G…..!!!!

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Abraham Cruzvillegas “Empty Lot” Scaffolding and soil boxes, Hyundai Commission 2015

Now the Tate Modern blows me away with two huge scaffolding structures together supporting hundreds of what looks like triangular seed boxes. This is “Empty Lot” by Mexican sculptor, Abraham Cruzvillegas. The soil in each box is taken from parks, commons, healths or other sites all over London. They are watered and lit by a variety of whacky lamps. But not a single seed has been sown. What grows – and in some boxes nothing obvious is growing – is what is simply there. Just like an empty lot! Cruzvillegas has always had an interest in alternative means of building. He is inspired by the popular Mexican “self-construction” approach to home-making. He says “Empty Lot” is about hope and expectation referring to what may be constructed or what might grow spontaneously. The originality, grandeur and vision of the whole concept takes my breath away. I adore it.

I have a hope and expectation that somebody will send a photo of “Empty Lot” to Talking Beautiful Stuff in a few months time. Pleeeeeease!

Love the Tate Modern too!

A Letter to Tracey Emin

This is a guest post by Bonnie Golightly.

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Tracey Emin “My Bed,” Installation, 1998

Dear Tracey,

I know you’ve come in for quite some stick for “My Bed.” Is that really art? Anybody could have done that! How was that shortlisted for the 1999 Turner Prize? etc. etc. I have to admit I was a bit baffled myself. (Was it really worth that much?) But as I tootled happily around Tate Britain the other day, I happened upon “My Bed.” I found myself intrigued, then mesmerised and ultimately quite moved.

The blurb on the wall says “By virute of bringing the domestic into the public sphere without directly representing specific events, the installation is forcefully and compellingly suggestive of personal narratives.” I’ll say! I stood and looked. I walked around. I then realised that “My Bed” was boring into my heart. The mess of the soiled sheets together with the bedside scut of discarded underwear, fluffy toys, well-worn slippers, vodka, cigarettes and KY recalled a whole raft of good, bad, sad and indifferent moments of my life. So many things and times I might – or might not – want to leave behind! And then, to my surprise, I found the sad, saccharine squalor of it all quite eye-watering. In fact, it made my day. So, thank you, Tracey. I hope you’re doing OK now.

Lots of love,


PS I really went to Tate Britain to see the Frank Auerbach exhibition. Not my cup of tea!

PPS As you know, “My Bed” is installed next to two Francis Bacon paintings and a series of your own drawings. I’ve never liked FB’s paintings.

PPPS I need help with your drawings.

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Tracey Emin “I could feel you” Gouache on paper, 2014

Big Bang Data

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If you visit only one exhibition this year, make sure it’s Big Bang Data at London’s Somerset House. Believe me! You have to go! I struggle to find the words to describe it. I get half-way there with “brilliant,” “admirable,” “vitally informative,” “challenging,” “jaw-dropping,” and “mind-boggling.”

The central theme is “big data.” It really is BIG! (Or should I say, they really are BIG?) The digital data universe is massive, globally connected and expanding exponentially. The ingenious and interactive displays of this beautiful exhibition focus on the technology and implications of what will prove to be one of the most important developments of the twenty-first century. The exhibition demonstrates how corporations, authorities and hackers can collect and analyse data about the environment, businesses and particularly us. It is at once wonderful and concerning. Big data has arrived uninvited and unannounced but is here to stay. It is already transforming our society, culture, security and politics. It is the human future as was electricity, air travel and television.

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Telegeography, “Submarine Cable Map” 2015

A floor map shows the undersea cables that connect thousands of vast, impeccable and impersonal data storage banks. The cables and databanks are each the property of different corporations. Voila! “The Cloud!” (As the exhibitors point out, this is a misleading term. A cloud in the sky cannot be divided up according to different owners. Except for satelites, most of the physical infrastructure of The Cloud is on the ground or under water. There is no clear blue sky on the other side!)

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Thompson and Craighead, “Horizon” Digital collage from on-line sources 2015

An elegant and benign manifestation of the possible is given by Thompson and Craighead’s “Horizon.” This displays a narrative clock made from real-time, constantly updated images from webcams around the world.

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Rafael Lozano Hemmer, “Zero Noon” Software 2013

Rafael Lozano Hemmer’s “Zero Noon” is an unconventional digital clock fuelled by internet-refreshed statistics. It tells the time based on metrics such as hamburgers sold in Detroit or the number of animal species becoming extinct per day. At midday, the clock is reset to zero with display of a new statistic. At 14.30, it tells me that prostitution in the UK has turned over the equivalent of US$64,210 in the previous two and a half hours.

Among the 51 other displays, “Unaffordable Country” by the Guardian Newspaper is an interactive data visualisation that exposes the UK’s dire housing crisis. On entering their salary and postcode, around 96% of participants find that there is no affordable property in their vicinity. Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico use “Face to Facebook” to show how they stole a million personal profiles on Facebook to create characters on a false dating website,, classifying them by their facial features. With “Stranger Visions,” Heather Dewey-Hagborg has 3D printed human faces based on DNA that she obtained from objects such as chewing gum and cigarette butts collected in public places.

What I learn is that the volume of data generated by our everyday lives is booming in lockstep with the capacity to analyse it. Those who are in a position to harvest and use this data are in an increasingly powerful position to influence us individually and collectively. A fundamental physical tenet is that power without control can only be dangerous. Does it apply here? Do we have the wisdom to harness the power of big data responsibly?

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EasyJet, Safety On Board, Laminated plastic card

I am on an EasyJet flight out of London and can’t help reflecting on what big data will mean for future generations. Next to me is a little girl of about three years. What will she make of it all as an adult? Unwittingly she tells me. From the seat pocket in front of her, she picks out the laminated Safety On Board card. She looks carefully at the shiny surface and stabs her little index finger into the icons assuming that the card will come to life and reveal something more interesting. She tries again. “Not working!” she cries out to her mother. I realise that big data will be a part of her life and that she will be no more concerned about it than I am concerned about electricity, air travel and television. I wish her well.