Witness the first rays of the dawn of the Age Of Aquarius breaking through your LCD screen in part one of Mark Pilkington’s journey through the New Age, and towards the great beyond.
Watch the first instalment of Crystal Voyagers: A Journey Through The New Age. Charting the rise of the Age Of Aquarius and its effect upon music over the past two centuries, this three-part, illustrated lecture is adapted from a talk by Mark Pilkington, given at London’s Cafe Oto in December 2012, as part ofThe Wire Salon series of talks and discussions events.
I’ve got a two-page article in the June 2013 issue of film magazine Sight & Sound, looking at artists’ moving image, how it’s being made for online, and how online is changing it. The article features a wide range of artists and groups – including Mark Aerial Waller, Ben Rivers, Benedict Drew, Heather Phillipson, Auto Italia, LuckyPDF etc etc etc – and represents an attempt on my part to see how artistic forms are directly informed by the context – the super-non-non-place – of the Internet. In hindsight, I’ve been too UK-biased… simply because I’m far more familiar with the UK scene; despite the Internet theme, where you’re at is where it’s at. Anyways, this is more of a start in writing about this theme, especially how online and so-called net-art find precursors in TV and artistic interventions in that mass media continuum.
There’s also a review of mine in the new June issue of Art Review, covering Carsten Nicolai’s recent exhibition at Ibid Project Space in London, with a brief critique of his particular style of 90s digital realism and infatuation with cold laboratory faux-objectivity. Though the show was mostly similar to his previous work, I think his Thermic piece from 2011 was a nice surprise (pictured above). It’s simply a bashed-up old spotlight framing a part of a wall in a rectangle of light, showing the heatwaves creeping upwards from an electric heating element on the floor. Like a junk-shop, high school science fair demonstration of the invisible world made visible: by Carsten Nicolai -2.0. And I wrote a blogpost for AR about the opening weekend of Malmö Nordic 2013 at the start of May.
I’ve got another review, this time of a book, In The Field, a collection of interviews with contemporary ‘field recordists’ (people who wander the hills recording the sounds of nature) in The WireJune 2013 issue (on sale next week). It covers a mixture of old and new practitioners in this field, but seems to really hold back some of the new, interesting ideas that were hinted at in the interviews (esp those by Davide Tidoni and AGF). Worth a read if you’re interested in this branch of documentary/sensory ethnography.
Expert on cave acoustics, Iegor Reznikoff imitating sounds of animals in a recess. Arcy-sur-Cure, France.
I’ve done an interview with the media historian and broadcaster David Hendy about his new 30-part series on BBC Radio 4, Noise: A Human History, just going out from yesterday. It’s online now at The Wire.
Daniel Farson investigating modern British witchcraft
Recently, as part of research I’m doing at the BFI’s TV Unit, I watched a selection of episodes from a variety of series made in the late 1950s by the photographer, writer and broadcaster, Daniel Farson. Farson – who is probably now better known (if at all) as having written a biography of his friend the painter Francis Bacon, The Gilded Gutter Life – began making television shows right near the beginning of ITV, specialising in human interest programmes and documentaries with titles like Out Of Step, People In Trouble and so on.
Some of these series’ programmes still exist (though a six part one by Farson on “The English” has all sadly disappeared). At first instance of discovering a series like Out Of Step, which looked at unconventional ideas like nudism, UFOs, witchcraft and Spiritualism, I was excited to see such esoteric topics addressed on mainstream national television during a period that is generally looked at (by me at least) as a time of conformism, austerity and self control. It seemed surprising to me that there was possibly a more open minded spirit prevalent in the 1950s than I was given to believe. Open minded in some circles… Alongside being a man-about-town and Soho mainstay, Farson was homosexual at a time when it was illegal to be so, which gave him a more distinct (yet hidden in plain view) angle, if not circumspect approach, in trying to understand what people do, and why.
Out Of Step: Witchcraft, in Yorkshire, as seen from a Steenbeck
These Out Of Step shows, on subjects like kleptomania, poverty and witchcraft, are interesting artefacts and programmes in their own right, but at 15 minutes length only ever scrape the surface of complex topics; a glossing over of difficult subjects that’s far too typical in so much television. Though some of the programmes have quite dramatic and sometimes simply over-the-top cinematography. But compare Out Of Step: Witchcraft [the BFI also have the odd screening of it, as reported by Stewart Home] – a show looking at the reinvention of magick in Britain at the time, and including characters like Dr Gerald Gardner talking about dancing in the nude and Louis Wilkinson reminiscing about his good friend Alistair Crowley aka The Great Beast’s wit and humour – with the immediately subsequent series’s first programmeKeeping In Step: Winchester School and the chronology, and reasoning, of Farson’s investigation into ‘otherness’ and marginal identities becomes a bit more evident.
Gerald Gardner, wizard. Still from Out Of Step: Witchcraft
Title sequence graphics from Keeping In Step: Winchester School
This latter programme looks at the long-lived Winchester public school and the eccentric customs that it accrued over its 700 years in the education business. Segments look at how the pupils there must learn specific ‘intonations’, a special language deeply rooted in the long history of the place; the austere, even ascetic conditions the pupils live in, the regimen and routine that they must live by. Throughout, Farson maintains a sceptical and critical stance towards the public school system and its place in British society. He politely grills the headmaster, asking about the difference between a smart grammar school graduate versus a stupid public school graduate with the right accent, eliciting an embarrassing fluster from the headmaster as he becomes aware that he is unable to robustly defend the institution in contemporary society without resorting to some ugly aristocratic, even feudal, ideas. Several of the pupils, when interviewed on-camera question why they themselves might be deemed to be so special.
By the end of the programme Farson has neatly sketched out (with his signature “light ent” touch) a picture of these steadfastly serious character-building institutions as quite eccentric, anachronistic and impenetrable places. By looking at a public school and its esoteric traditions in the same way as he would witchcraft, he has gone about revealing something of the occultic nature of conformism itself, that by keeping in step, one agrees to participate in some very strange rituals and beliefs – where witch covens and public schools are equally strange and deviant.
Installation shot of a speaker in Florian Hecker’s Chimerization installation at Sadie Coles HQ, London, 2012
This month, I’ve got a review of Florian Hecker’s show at Sadie Coles HQ in the March issue of Art Review. I’ve also written about an exhibition in the control tower of a lifting bridge – Knippelsbro, in Copenhagen – called Listen To Your City, in The Wire‘s March issue. That group show was organised as part of Copenhagen Art Festival by SNYK, who were also involved in putting on Wundergrund Festival (where I saw a performance by Jacob Kirkegaard and the amazing Else Marie Pade). There’s several more exciting things coming up, including a couple of videos and long form texts, mostly centering around sound archives, and artists…
A new event that I’ve helped to organise takes place Thursday 7 March at Cafe Oto: “This month’s edition of The Wire Salon takes a look at the emerging art-science of sensory ethnography via a panel of contemporary film makers, sound makers and theorists. Participants include the writer and theorist Alex Rhys-Taylor, and Nina Wakeford, an artist, film maker and course leader of the Visual Sociology MA at London’s Goldsmiths College. The event will also include a specially recorded audio-visual introduction to sonic ethnography by the sound recordist and manager of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, Ernst Karel.”
A Salon on the aesthetics of the New Age that I put together: “For this edition of The Wire Salon author and Strange Attractor founder Mark Pilkington presents an illustrated history of the key themes, ideas and influences that have shaped New Age music, from George Gurdjieff to James Ferraro, AR Orage to Genesis P Orridge.
Along the way we’ll meet Ascended Masters on Himalayan peaks, vibrate to the sounds of the universe within, dive ketamine oceans with cetacean choirs, tune in to the Harmonic Convergence, communicate with Higher Intelligences across Time and Space, and all the while experience the unboundaried bliss of the infinite YOU.
The talk will be accompanied by a special New Age audio-visual mix by The Wire‘s Nathan Budzinski.
London’s Cafe Oto, 6 December 2012, 8pm, £4 on the door only.
In a more educational follow up to last week’s edutainment extravaganza at the South London Gallery, I’ll be taking part in the Second FIAT/IFTA Television Studies Seminar at BFI Southbank on 28 September.
The short presentation is about my research so far into television and entertaining educational broadcasting. As the parameters that the term ‘edutainment’ creates are broad and vague, I thought it best to try and focus in on a particular subject. So here, I’ll try and look at John Grierson’s late 1950s–60s television programme, This Wonderful World (see the wonderfully wonky title card above at top) and Grierson’s attitude towards telly – especially as a documentary film producer. More details here.