But is it Art?

 

See modern art?  See Glasgow?

 

An empty gallery has been unveiled as the latest work by an artist who “cancelled” her exhibition at one of Glasgow’s leading venues.  Marlie Mul asked for no exhibition be held in the city’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) on Royal Exchange Square. Instead, Gallery 1 at GoMA will lie empty. 

 

The massive billboards outside the gallery advertising the exhibition states “Cancelled” – and the sign has caused much infuriation for the staff at the GoMA, who since the banner went up, have had to patiently explain to the public that the show is indeed going ahead, and unfortunately for the staff, it is called “Cancelled”.

 

The show opened on Friday and runs through until the end of October.  People are being invited to “visit and interact with the space – and suggest alternative uses for the gallery during the five months set aside for the show. Apparently, the Dutch artists’ “conceptual gesture” was to act as an “implicit critique of what is displayed within museums and galleries”. 

 

GoMA curator Will Cooper adds: “By removing what would traditionally be considered an art object we are instead presenting the gallery as an empty space, giving us a moment to question the value in turning over exhibition after exhibition after exhibition.”

 

Yes, but is it art?

 

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That wily, irascible old bugger Chuck Berry has passed away at the ripe old age of 90. His contribution to the music we all love in its myriad forms is incalculable. And as they would say in Corrie, “Ta-ra, Chuck!”

 

Berry was the true sound and spirit of rock ‘n’ roll who put more into his songs than many a Hollywood director has put into film. It’s said that he wrote the soundtrack for American teen rebellion in the mid-to-late 1950s – and indeed, such was his influence, that he even got a nod from the cult movie Back to the Future, as Marty McFly parodied how he got his trademark sound and famous duck walk. 

 

I was lucky enough to see Chuck Berry perform in Seattle in 2002 alongside Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard as part of a legends’ farewell tour. He played ‘My Ding A Ling’. I really wish he hadn’t. But he also played ‘Johnny B Goode’ and ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, and it was outstanding.  He was 76 then but easily outshone the other two.

 

And amazingly, unlike Motor City, Seattle’s funky and bohemian Capital Hill neighbourhood has a bronze statue of Chuck Berry (in mid duck-walk), created by local artist Daryl Smith, which is one of a group of three he was commissioned to do, the others being Elvis and Jimi Hendrix that I’ve written about in blogs passim.

 

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Poor America. Such a tough choice of who to vote for today: a lying, misogynist, racist, dangerous, unpredictable narcissist who can’t even be trusted with his own Twitter access let alone the nuclear codes, or a woman who might as well be reading her top-level-security emails off the jumbotron at Yankee Stadium?

 

It’s little wonder they are pissed at everything and not enough cardboard to list their many complaints, as the photo shows. And no, we are not taking you back…hell, as if we haven’t enough problems of our own right now trying to fathom out the self-inflicted mess we voted ourselves into with Brexit.

 

It all reminds me a little too much of Paddy Chayefsky’s wickedly wonderful 1976 satirical/black comedy Network that I recently watched for the umpteenth time, as TV news anchor Howard Beale (fantastically played by Peter Finch, in a true Oscar-winning performance, albeit posthumously), takes a nervous breakdown live on air, ignores the teleprompter and lets out all of his frustrations of the world in which he lives before ranting “I’M AS MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” and then urges all the viewers to open their windows and do the same.

 

It’s all getting to be strangely prophetic – where’s Wolf Blitzer when you need him most of all?  

 

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Another one from the Seattle back-catalogue, showing a ferry shot in the evening dusk from Pike Place Market as it heads out across Puget Sound towards Bainbridge Island  – and the apt title of When The Boat Comes In, comes from the BBC classic drama with the same title that this year celebrates its 40th anniversary. 

 

When The Boat Comes In was British TV at its very, very best – they don’t make shows like this one anymore.  So memorable and in so many ways. When it started in early January 1976, I was an innocent 14-year-old (well, 14 anyway!) and becoming more and more politically aware – and this cult drama from the BBC (and only the BBC then could have made this) showed the struggles of the working class between two World Wars, a General Strike and the Great Depression. 

 

I knew back then that this drama was well-done – it’s only after rediscovering the joys of it again on YouTube, have I realised just HOW well done this had been. And aye my bonny lads and lassies, all in its full-on Geordie accent and lingo.  The great James Bolam heads the cast alongside a host of North East actors, and almost all of the filming done on location in the South Shields region.

 

It was a time of economic depression and also charted the growth of union power and with it the rise of the Labour Party, as the Liberal Party of David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill began to implode.  Its nothing short of a wonderful social drama, and you can watch all four seasons (13 episodes each of 50min!) uninterrupted on YouTube by clicking here.

 

But be warned though that it is very addictive, and you’ll be prone to lengthy sessions of binge viewing following  the exploits of Jack Ford and the Seaton family – including schoolteacher Jessie, played by Susan Jameson, Bolam’s real-life wife – in the (fictional) poverty-stricken town of Gallowshield in the North East of the 1920s. Also be warned that, like me, you’ll soon be humming the memorably distinctive signature tune ‘Dance Ti Thy Daddy’, which is very, very catchy and will quickly grow on you…

 

Come here, maw little Jacky

Now aw’ve smoked me baccy

Let’s hev a bit o’cracky

Till the boat comes in…

 

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No matter what Wizzard catchily sang in my youth, we have ruined Christmas by allowing capitalism to tell us we should be buying ourselves into an orgy of goodwill and glamour. What am I talking about, you might be asking yourselves? It is, in fact, the sad news this week that Selfridges’ in London have already dedicated its fourth floor into a festive winter wonderland – and here we are in the first week of August!

 

Yes, that’s right, with some 140 shopping days before the big day, they got Santa out of his hibernation sleep early to launch their Christmas shop – and typically, the shop’s first customers were Americans visiting London on holiday. I say ‘typically’, because – although I do really like them – I blame Americans more than anyone for the blatant over-commercialisation of Christmas.

 

Last year the TUC published a study that showed the average British adult borrowed £685 over the festive period, grinding them into a debt that would take until June to pay off – hey, just in time for the opening of Selfridges’ Christmas shop! We have ruined Christmas, without even trying. Perhaps, if we really do want to spread comfort and joy this year, we should accept it for what it is; a day. Just a day. Whatever Roy Wood or Selfridges tells us.

 

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Unlike our last blog entry, Here Comes Summer, it’s not just the kids who have a ritual of cooling off at the Seattle Centre’s International Fountain on a very hot day – this young lady spent nearly an hour doing her callisthenics in the refreshing cool of the fountain spray, all of which certainly made for the guys watching even hotter under the collar than they would normally be.

 

And for some reason or other, nearly all of this roll of film is devoted to her stretching performance.  I can’t think why.

 

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It’s not just the 45 rpm vinyl single that turned 60 this year. It seems that one of the most iconic instruments in producing most of those wonderful vinyl singles, the Fender Stratocaster, beloved the world over by rock stars, bluesmen and garage bands alike, also turns 60 this year.

 

Some of the most famous (and infamous) guitarists have embraces the American cultural icon, that’s become best known in the biz as a “Strat”. The first Strat, a 1954 Fender Stratocaster, serial number 0001, is owned by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. They can sell from anywhere between $800 and $24,000 – a mere bagatelle compared to the estimated $2m the Seattle Seahawks owner and former Microsoft squillionaire Paul Allen paid for Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Stratocaster used during his legendary Woodstock gig of 1969.

 

And I suppose this gives me yet another lame excuse to show a close-up photo from the legendary Hendrix bronze statue by local Seattle artist Daryl Smith, which sits pride of place outside the Blick Arts Materials building on Broadway and E Pine.

 

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‘Tis the $eason to be anti-consumerist and agit-shop — especially as a camera crew follows the Reverend Billy across the USA the month before Christmas, as he preaches in malls against our shopping-hungry culture as families suffer from the rise of debt attributed to the Shopocalypse.

 

He is happy to throw himself on the floor in a fit of religious ecstasy, perform cash register exorcisms or go carolling with the 35 members of his Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, who sing anti-shopping and anti-corporate seasonal songs, such as Fill the Malls With Wealthy People, to the tune of Deck the Halls. He does all this and much, much more in the hilarious 2007 documentary, What Would Jesus Buy?

 

The film takes the viewer into the homes of families as they max out their credit cards to live up to the Consumer Ideal of Christmas, while also telling personal stories from those who remember the holidays as a simpler, less commercial, and more joyful time. Interviews with labor rights experts, historians, and spiritual leaders reveal how the consumerization of the holiday season over time taught Americans they can only show love for their children by purchasing toys made by other children in overseas sweatshops.

 

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Hundreds of cinemas across America have been switching over from their usual fare of romantic comedies and blockbuster action flicks to make way for a more unusual show: The Nutcracker ballet. Nearly a thousand cinemas, including at least one in all 50 American states, is expected to broadcast a high-definition live showing of New York City Ballet’s production of the classic Christmas ballet, which is set to Tchaikovsky’s famous score.

 

And whether traditional,  jazzed up or semi-nude, The Nutcracker is now firmly entrenched in the American seasonal landscape; much in the same way pantomime is to the British celebration of Christmas. There are 12 separate stage versions in Los Angeles alone, plus five in New York and seven in Chicago – and the number of stage production across America could also hit the thousand mark once all the small-town and amateur shows are included.

 

But The Nutcracker comes far from being uniform across the country. There is several jazz versions, and at least four have taken their inspiration from 1950s Harlem. A remarkable 33 productions feature live horses (what was it someone said about working on stage with children and live animals?). Even here in Seattle, apart from the traditional offering, there is the all-productions sold-out Land of Sweets, a burlesques version featuring semi-nude dancers and advertising itself as a “bawdy makeover” of the original – all a far cry from the ballet’s first performance in Imperial Russia in 1892, when it got its premier in St. Petersburg.

 

 The Nutcracker has come to dominate America’s Christmas experience. For this reason, shopping malls and high street shops are usually surrounded by giant toy soldier figures from the ballet, such as this one standing guard to one of the floors at Seattle’s downtown Pacific Mall.

 

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As I recently walked past Nordstrom’s, Seattle landmark department store, they had their perennial festive frontage of one of the main window displays taken over with the arrival of Santa Claus and kids waiting to be photographed alongside the Big Man. It’s a time-honoured Seattle tradition: Grandparents and parents did this at Nordstrom’s when they were kids, and now they take their own kids – though times have changed, and along with getting the traditional photo, one of the parents can usually be seen taking their own instant family Santa selfie with the iPhone.

 

All of which led me to wonder what goes into someone wanting to be a Santa in the first place. Turns out I didn’t have much research to do, as I found a wonderful 2011 documentary streaming on Netflix called Becoming Santa, about a regular guy who decides he’s going to take on the role of Santa Claus for a season. Don’t be mistaken in thinking that this is some sort of dire Tim Allen festive frolic. But that’s almost what it is, minus the dire part and Tim Allen.

 

Instead, this festive crowd-pleaser is all about Jack Sanderson, a former producer’s assistant, writer and voice actor for Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place, who takes on the part of the Christmas mascot and finds out just exactly what it takes to represent him to the kids (sorry, I mean children – you need to watch the doc for this one). Sanderson gets his hair and beard dyed pure white and groomed much in the style of the Coca-Cola Santa; he then invests $600 on a made-to-measure Santa suit; and then enrols in Santa School. When he graduates, he’s given his certificate (which, if it were British, you could say he had three Ho! Levels – sorry, I couldn’t resist that pun) and then embarks on playing Santa for special events and charities.

 

But along the way, this is where the documentary comes into its own, as it sprinkles about the history of and facts on the said Big Man. Think you know all there is to know about the origins, controversies and cultural depictions of what was a very black Turkish monk called Saint Nicholas, aka Sinterklaas, aka Father Christmas? Believe me, there is much you’re unfamiliar with, particularly the bounty of info provided by a jolly old Civil War historian Santa, the racially controversial colonial holdover of the “blacking up” (think golliwogs and a certain brand of British marmalade here) of Black Pete in the Netherlands, and details of the first department store Santa.

 

Sanderson is hilarious, intelligent, honest and just sardonic enough to pull this off by being a perfect observer and participant in the whole affair without veering towards the Grinch/Scrooge territory. And it turned out not just to be a documentary one-off Santa experience for Sanderson – a year after the film was released, he ended up getting the best Santa gig in the world. No, not at the legendary Miracle On 34th Street Macy’s in New York. He became Santa for the Tiffany store in Hong Kong, earning himself $16,000 for working from Dec 1-24.

 

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