Sunday, December 09, 2007

Catching up: four things I haven't posted about

I'm on a blog go slow at the moment. I don't know what about but I'm sure it's a worthy cause. Over the last couple of weeks I've intended to blog on the following four stories... so I'll present them here as stubs, otherwise it will never happen.


I attended the excellent Hands Off Venezuela conference a couple of weeks ago and even started writing a report on it. Oh well. I think there were about 150 to 200 people and the speakers were almost without exception excellent. In particular Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union was on fire over the needs of international solidarity.

As you might expect there were some caustic comments about the King of Spain. I think the two key points that stand out were that ex-colonial masters don't get to tell the independent nations to shut up and that Chavez was elected by the people and the monarch was appointed by Franco so it seems a little odd for the King to become a symbol for democracy.

The other key discussion was on the (then) up and coming referendum. Personally I found this very useful as I'd been quite sketchy on what the actual proposed amendments to the constitution were. Obviously the mainstream media had just banged on about the fact that one proposal was to allow the Venezuelan head of state to stand for election more than twice (or become indefinite dictator if you are of a dishonest inclination) but there was a whole raft of decentralising amendments that just don't get a mention - like the fact that 5% of the national budget was to go to the new community organisations. Alas it was not to be although the narrow margin of the defeat should not be a cause for derailing the entire process.

Liam has his report up too so you can read what he has to say, and there is also a report on the HOV site which includes details of the motions passed, etc..

Turner Prize:

Then we have the fact that the Turner Prize was won by a man who wandered about in a bear suit. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of chutzpah, and if you can get away with it please do. However, it did not escape my attention that the winner was also responsible for the reprehensible piece of rubbish in the Tate where he piled up placards from Brian Haw's long standing protest outside Parliament and sent in the invoice for one piece of art. I've mentioned this before I believe.

I also caught the announcement live on Chanel Four news which was hilarious as the first thing they did when they called him up to the stage was to give him the cheque. No little statue, no certificate, not even a huge symbolic cheque - just a cheque. Nothing says more about the art world than this for me - they don't even hide the fact that it's all about the cash - even journalism isn't that crass.

What was particularly notable was when the artist tried to explain his work in interview. Like many of his generation of artists he was completely unable to utter even one coherent sentence about what he'd done. I can't help feeling that if artists appeared to have more idea about what their work meant the public would be more receptive to it. For my money only Anthony Gormley is able to produce decent work and give a cogent explanation of what he's produced.


Talking of bears we have the horrific tale of the woman jailed for allowing a teddy to be named after the prophet. I think everyone agrees that this was a bonkers decision on the part of the Sudanese authorities and was, no doubt, part of the negotiations surrounding UN troop displacements to the Darfur region.

It does raise other issues for all of us who oppose Islamophobia as it provides yet more ammunition for all those who are unable to distinguish between the specific actions of a particular regime and Muslims more generally.

What's frustrating for many on the left in this country is there seems to be little middle ground between out and out Islam baiting and simply turning a blind eye to oppressive practices where they exist. As internationalists we should not be concerned whether a homophobic execution takes place on this side or that side of a line on a map - but we need to be aware of the political realities surrounding these debates and the purposes towards which they are put.

Clearly it serves the neo-con "let's bomb Iran" elements in the West to demonise and vilify the Iranian government, for instance, to make it all the more easy to bomb the people into submission - but does that mean we should refuse to show solidarity with those who are victims of reactionary legislation in that country? I don't think it can, not least because it discredits us to oppose one injustice whilst ignoring others that do not serve our purposes. I think that kind of thing is the hall mark of machine politics not genuine political principal.

Golden Compass

Went to see the Golden Compass this week and have been really torn as to what to say about the film. I'm a big fan of the books and the Daily Mail had essentially described the film as a manifesto for atheism, which of course builds up expectations rather.

However, as manifestos go it's rather underplayed, which is all to the good, but it's never good to go into the cinema expecting a great film because it is likely to fail to live up to expectations.

There are lots of good things about the film. The fact that it doesn't talk down to the audience despite the fact that many watching will be children. It has enormous bears and some shocking moments of violence too, excellent. But I couldn't escape the feeling that it was a little, well, clunky - possibly due to the fact that they seemed in quite a rush to squeeze everything in. That doesn't explain the clonking music throughout though which, in particular, spoiled what could have been a really chilling moment near the end.

I'll just quickly mention three little things to represent my generalised feeling of clunkitude. Firstly the film kicks off with an extended voice over explanation of the world we are about to step into. I'm pretty sure we could have been shown this information in the process of the film without being given an info sheet at the start.

Secondly, Christopher Lee *again* in an almost identical role as the one he always plays, how lazy. Sometimes I wasn't sure if I was watching the Golden Compass or Star Wars such was the unoriginal way that the Magisterium was portrayed. The uniforms, the lighting, the hushed secretive tones - it was all too painting by numbers for me, when in the book it feels far more nuanced.

Thirdly, I think they didn't quite catch the intimacy of the pairing of each character with their daemon (soul) which meant that when Lyra's daemon was seized there was no fission of social rules broken and the whole process of intercission didn't seem quite horrific enough (I'm trying desperately not to give anything away here for those who don't know the plot so forgive me if I'm a little oblique).

In essence I felt there was something missing, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it - perhaps I wasn't in the mood as others who've seen it seem to be quite taken with the Golden Compass. Anyway, I shall await with enthusiasm unabated for the sequel - let's see shall we.


Simon said...

I think what was disappointing about the Venezuela referendum was that an awful lot of positive stuff was throwing in with some quite worrying stuff. It came across as an attempt to grab control in exchange for economic concessions, which I'm not surprised split the left, and gave a united right leverage.

Agree about the golden compass - was particularly annoyed that they'd scrubbed the crosses out of the Magisterium buildings!

John Mullen said...

Oh come on, Jim, the piece at the Tate by the Turner winner, reproducing the peace camp was pretty cool. It was built so as to be half in and half out of the 1 mile around parliament where protests are banned, and was for lots of more complicated reasons a fine piece of art. You sound like my mother!

Jim Jay said...

RE the referendum - i think there was a mix of centralisation and decentralisation - and to be honest the vast majority of it seemed okay to me... although i'm sure there's detail i don't understand never having been to venezuela.

RE Turner prize - I stand by my total opposition to any art that smacks of agitprop or could be said more clearly in a guardian article. If your mother is a great fan of obscure modern art then I'd like to chat with her - if she says things like "oh, that's not really art" when confronted with tracey emin then she and i will sadly always be strangers.

Louisefeminista said...

Arggh! Bloody Turner Prize. It is a load of elitist and pretentious tosh presided over by that schmuck Serota and other pompous humourless sneering snobby individuals...

Ahhhh, feel much much better I got that off my chest. Cheers!

Louisefeminista said...

PS: Forget to say, why the hell doesn't Wallinger donate his cash prize of £25,000 to Brian Haw.

Jim Jay said...

Louise: Well quite, but artists like Wallinger are just like most other workers - they want to do the minimum possible to get the maximum possible reward. The fact that he appropriated the objects themselves without actually making them puts him in a long tradition of artists who get other people to do the work for them and then take all the credit (and money) for having the vision to call it art.

Haw might have been given something by Wallinger already, for his services, I don't know - but the thing that irritates me is that this is nothing more than two fingers to the government, fine in itself but not exactly a worthwhile artistic endevour.