Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Jerusalem Show 2010

It's terrible that I no longer have time to write on my own blog but what I have been doing instead is writing on other blogs...

I have just come back from a two week long trip to Jerusalem where I reviewed and documented the Jerusalem Show and it was great. It's the culmination of an archive project I've been working on for about 6 months. It starts with the history of the Al Ma'mal Foundation in the Old City of Jerusalem and concludes by being right up to the present with reviews and documentation of the 4th Jerusalem Show which finished on October10th.

It's an amazing thing especially given the fact that the situation in the city is so difficult. After the opening of the Show there was a visit to the gallery from Israeli security to check there was nothing too provocative on the walls. Another partner venue also had a visit from the police for the same reason and the visiting international artists got ten tons of shit from security at the airport on their way out.

The only 'democracy' in the region? What a joke. It's as brutal and reactionary as any other and even more paranoid. It's truly bizarre to see the situation on the ground and try and connect that with the absurdity of 'peace process' diplomacy. Most of what happens on the ground happens fast and is invisible to the outside which means that policy is always years behind reality... as well as being flaccid and irrelevant :) Thank god for small mercies .........

Click for link to The Jerusalem Show

Friday, 20 August 2010

Get out more...

Noticing things are really going quite weird recently. While I am aware of the obvious causes of frustration like a) being owed (lots of) money b) only one member of my family has visited or called me in the last 15 months c) I have to leave the country in order to see my friends and d) I appear to be having about 50% of the menopause symptoms listed on Wikipedia… the net impact of it all passes me by.

However, given the fact that I am owed (lots of) money and needed to generate some urgent cash flow, I agreed to copy edit a book on the perennially sexy subject of global terrorism which seems to provide a rather more circumspect and less political analysis than much of what has gone before. One point reiterated in relation to mindset was that rejectionism during youth is common but is usually followed by a 'mellowing' in subsequent years, particularly as the demands of work and family force individuals to negotiate with and accept their social environments. However, itinerant existences ranging across the Middle East, Asia and Europe not only mitigate against this shift but also erode any true sense of collective identity.


I find it deeply disturbing that an academic paper about terrorism is actually providing me with a useful framework for understanding the current state of my own life. In some cases all I have to do is provide one qualifying insertion and everything makes perfect sense:

"The prison experience [ie. months stuck in house working from home] cemented a worldview which a former leader of Islamic Jihad said, is 'not just politically "unhealthy" but it also distorts reality and leads to hasty and reckless decisions."

Never was there a better reason to get out more… which I duly did. Last night I went to an exhibition opening for the first time in months. It was a show of new work by Iraqi artist Rashad Salim called 'Soundbase'. I felt a bit like I’d been let out on a ‘care in the community’ programme at first but after a nice chat about setting fire to pianos, everything suddenly seemed perfectly normal again.

So the moral of the story is a) if you work at home don’t forget you also need a life other than occasional visits to the supermarket and b) employ terrorist tactics with people who owe you money (This is a joke... I think).

Friday, 30 July 2010

European Summer - Part II

Given the extravagance of last years 2-month road trip, our holidays this year were rather more modest. In fact, thanks to some good friends, it was almost free. Said friends have an organic smallholding in Corsica so we got a cheap flight and then spent a week in a tent, under some trees, next to a stream, halfway up a mountain.


All we did was go on short hikes where we found abandoned houses and trucks to play in and amazing Cork Oaks to climb. We laid on beaches, saw old mountain villages, cooled down in the chilly waters of the stream, basked under the solar shower and contemplated life from the composting toilet.

At night we watched the moon, listened to the Skops owls and the sheep bells and ate great food grown almost exclusively on this piece of land:.

We also learned all about the wonderful world of WWOOF ......... 

WWOOF stand for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms - people who are interested in learning about permaculture, organic farming and in this case, Corsica, come and stay for free in return for working on the land and doing a few other things related to the business (The source of income here is from four cabins that are rented out in the summer).

We learned some organic and permacultural stuff too, got some great tips on how to improve our composting and came back determined to start growing a few veg of our own in the back garden. We also learned a lot about Corsica: it's really not France - they speak a dialect of Italian and love the English! 

Given that spouse and I were a) on holiday and b) there to catch up with said friends we were not assigned any hard labour We did volunteer to cook one evening and did a few other minor chores but most of the week was spent with our feet up, sipping the local wine and watching other people work.

The friends have been here for most of the past 10 years and I really wish that we had got round to seeing them here sooner because this could be their last year. They are planning to come back to the UK and the whole place is now up for sale. So if you want a new life half way up a mountain growing your own food let me know and I'll pass on your details! 

Thursday, 29 July 2010

European Summer - Part I

A couple of weeks ago spouse was asked to speak at a conference in Germany. His flight was paid for so we concluded that we would get another flight and have a long weekend in Koln after the conference.

It was spouse's birthday that weekend and an old friend of ours, who lives in Berlin, also came up to Koln for the weekend. As usual when the three of us meet, a riotously drunken night was had by all. In fact spouse and I never get so completely inebriated as we do with this particular friend. I think there is a kind of mutual nihilistic chemistry that is only activated when we are in close physical proximity in European bars and spouse and I always seem to end the evening by dancing to whatever live music happens to be on. In this case it was a piano man in a hotel bar possibly playing 60s soul but could just as easily have been Barry Manilow or Rachmaninov. I really can't remember. A rapid exit followed.

The next day we got up very late and did very little except wander around town and eat. It is a long time since I have been in an historical environment like this (not counting London) and it was great. Koln Cathedral is a masterpiece of European Gothicity and its free - everyone has to pay to go into historic church buildings in London these days. What was also nice was taking short flights. I always forget just how close the rest of Europe is. The bizarre thing about the UK is that the continent of which it is a part seems to get less news coverage than others much further away. Can we still blame the empire for this?

There's always some historically referential graffiti....

Monday, 28 June 2010

World Cup deficit

Here are some pics of the Canary Wharf towers which survived a month outside in a local nature reserve. Unusually there hasn't been much rain recently so they only had to cope with sunshine and curious children. Not sure what to do with them now but have had several suggestions including: setting fire to them outside Citigroup, selling them to the FT, donating them to Alan Sugar or just abandoning them on random street corners in London. I think I like the last idea best.

Went to see Jawad al Malhi's new show in London and even got paid to review it for Nafas Magazine which was an unexpected treat. This is first serious review I've done in a while and I really enjoyed it. Made me think about a lot of stuff I haven't thought about for a while.

The other Palestinian writing project is going well and a new job has just come in from my favourite emirate - Sharjah.  The Sharjah Art Foundation is creating an ambitious website that serves both as information portal and archive resource. It will link all the people, artists and organisations who have been connected with the biennial and its associated projects and gatherings since it began in 1993. The plan is to launch later this year with the lowdown on the last two biennials, and then work backwards gradually adding archive material.

Apart from the unusually hot weather the other local news is of course the world cup. It is a patriotic duty to watch England's humiliation every four years,usually at the hands of a far superior German team. But what do they expect? They couldn't even beat Algeria! Perhaps each of the England players could donate their salaries to the nation as penance. That would clear a substantial chunk of the deficit.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

More Towers of Trash..

In June I am part of a group exhibition that takes the Lee Valley as its subject. This is an area about 15mins walk from my house. It is a marshy nature reserve adjacent to part of the old East London canal network. It’s great to walk or cycle along the towpaths with the brightly coloured narrow boats, swans, geese and ducks all drifting by on the canal. It’s a strange part of London where the City and its natural and industrial history meet. From certain parts of the Valley you can see the towers of Canary Wharf and these are my focus for this show.

So the Towers of Trash are back! This time, however, they are all made of newspaper or more specifically, the Financial Times. Given recent events, it's a lot of fun re-creating the buildings that stand in Canary Wharf, and which represent bastions of banking and finance. As with the 2007 Creek Art Fair in Dubai, the Towers will stand outside for the duration of the exhibition so it is quite possible that they will have disintegrated by the end. I am sure this metaphorical abandonment of financial institutions to the elements will entertain as will many of the FT headlines featured. Perhaps it will also prompt some interest in the FT which I am beginning to think is the only intelligent newspaper left in the country. Unfortunately, even that is showing signs of thinning and as the cost per square inch goes up, the incidence of daily investment goes down. That said the weekend edition is a bargain by comparison.

Will post images of new towers in situ when the exhibition is up and running but in the meantime here’s a preview of HSBC in progress...

Other news is that I got an invitation a few days ago to participate in the 2011 Florence Biennale. I got very excited about this and naturally assumed that my diverse creative output and consummate professionalism had finally been recognised. I would now be lauded internationally and have bundles of cash thrown my way......

Yeah, right! After extensive research I discovered that it actually costs loadsa money to participate in Florence! I am still not entirely clear on how you end up being selected but it seems that zillions of invites go out anyway. Invited artists then either pay for themselves or get sponsors if they want to do it. Overall the reviews from people who had participated in previous editions of Florence were very mixed. Some said it had been one of the best experiences of their lives while others suggested it was merely a prestigious scam. Verdict came out at about 50-50 but unless the Euro slumps to about 100 to the pound I will not be going to Florence. 
I actually went to Florence in 1992 but didn't make it very far. Pre-spouse and I got off a train at Florence station intending to spend a few days there. We had a blazing row as we sat on the station steps and ended up storming back in and getting on another train. We still regret that especially seeing as neither of us now has the remotest recollection of what the argument was about!

(Thanks to Valeria Bateson for photo of narrow boats on the canal).

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

OMG It's Almost May ..

Have just realised that it's almost May and I have done precisely 6 blog posts for the entire year so far. That's an appalling average of 1.2 per month. Granted, I haven't had a life since I left the UAE, BUT....   that has just changed. I have now acquired an almost proper job!  What's more it's a writing job that involves a lot of things that I either a) know about or b) love. In relation to the first category it's the Middle East, and in relation to the second it has art, politics and history.

Given the cultural .. dare I say it... renaissance ... in this region over the past 10-15 years, there is a now an urge to start archiving. The project I have been asked to do is essentially an archive project about the Al-Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary Art in Jerusalem.  As a consequence I just came back from 2 weeks in Jerusalem doing research and interviews and going through lots of lovely dusty old boxes.

The trip was supposed to be 10 days but when nature strikes back, there's not a lot you can do so thanks to the delightful volcano in Iceland, I got stranded in Jerusalem for an extra 5 days. This was fine because I have a lot of friends there and as usual the social schedule was harder to deal with than the work. It's not just the friends to see but all the family members of the friends as well.

Anyway, the first stage of the project is now well under way and is here if anyone's interested:

Al-Ma'mal Retrospective 

Once this has been brought up to the present (and funding permitting) the material will be expanded and turned into a book. 

Bizarrely this has coincided with several offers of gainful employment coming spouse's way too, so seems like its back to the life again yo... .. er... to quote Eminem. It also means we can replace a few of those garden plants that sadly didn't make it through the last two years ...... I might even buy a bird table....

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

What i really missed..

Now that spring is well and truly upon us I am discovering that what I really missed in the UAE was getting my hands dirty. Yesterday's marathon stint in the neglected back garden left me with dirt up to the elbows and a potent mix of crushed slug, worm and centipede pieces under my fingernails. Weeding and pulling up the dead stuff inevitably raises pieces of broken Victorian glass or china and there are always some new plants that have been blown in from elsewhere. We also discovered that the fox who spends most sunny mornings asleep in our neighbour's garden, actually lives behind our fence.

Despite compulsive itinerancy resulting in various stages upon which to play the global village idiot, my basic Britishness is confirmed.whenever I commune with my back garden The springtime delight of looking out every morning to see what new bud or blossom or bird or insect has appeared, never fades with time and this spring there was the added excitement of the compost. After two years of festering untouched, what we pulled out of the compost bin was so rich and lovely I could only feel deeply sorry that I wasn't a plant.

Of course this doesn't mean that I didn't look at all the coverage of Art Dubai but I have to say I was a bit disappointed. As always, the majoarity consisted of the hagiographic delights of the local press, with a smattering of largely usual international suspects. Sharjah seems to have upped its game generating an impressive amount of column inches for the new Al Maraya Foundation and Barjeel Art Collectiion but I couldn't find any new writers or new points of view. The most disappointing thing was the almost zero coverage of Al Bastakiya Art Fair. I did get a few live texts from friends visiting Art Dubai saying 'too much ****ing calligraphy' and 'don't think the Saudis have been this hot since Osama'...... which is arguably not funny, but it made me laugh!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Sharjah (and RAK) to the rescue

Have been happily reminded that it's the arty time of year in the UAE. First I got an email from a friend in Sharjah asking if I could do a quick edit job. Then completely out of the blue, another friend asked if I could do a job related to a RAK event. So have actually been doing some work for a change which is brilliant. It's good to be involved in this again too and it reminded me to start checking out the coverage of Art Dubai, the March Meeting, Al Bastakiya Art Fair, Tracking the Emirates and all the other stuff that happens around this time. I just hope that there are a lot more reviews this year than there used to be because obviously I won't be writing any! I will definitely miss being there for all this though, it was the highlight of my UAE year.
Other than these bits of work, I have been mostly on nurse and nephew minding duties after my sister got kicked in the head by one of her horses.  Not nice. 19 stitches, crooked neck and two black eyes. I'd stick to smaller and more predictable animals if I were her. I'm not willing to risk anything more serious than a kick in the head from a tortoise.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Sick of being sick

This is going to be another moanfest so if you don't want to know the score look away now....

I am really feeling the effects of my first winter in 2 years. The snow was great and then some more snow was nice but now that the cold and the wet and the grey are going on and on and on and on, my body is having problems coping. I have been ill in one way or another since the beginning of 2010 and the last straw came this weekend. On top of the 3 week sore throat and bizarre cough that only strikes once a day at precisely 3.10am, I suddenly got gout. Yes gout!! What is going on?? I thought this was a disease of overweight, rural, port drinking old money landowning types and bon viveur farmers? Apparently not. It seems that my complete absence of lifestyle is contributing to extreme dehydration. ie. continuous cold symptoms plus continuous central heating plus zero physical activity which results in an apathy that makes putting water in a glass and drinking it seem too much like hard work.

On the job front there was an announcement last week that the Cultural Olympiad (cultural programme to accompany the 2012 Games), had been quietly dropped. So no more prospects there then! Since my last post I have filled in two proofreading tests for a part-time job on a school leaver's salary, applied to work freelance for an online business that proofreads (?) student essays and sent desperate emails to various people trying to generate some interest in my unique skills set. Resounding silence all round so far.

It's grim. Reminds me a bit of Thatcher's 80s which is doubly disturbing. I managed to leave the country for much of that but leaving again now is out of the question so I guess it's payback time. Rather appropriately the Linton Kwesi Johnson song, 'Inglan' is a Bitch', has been thrown up on random a disturbing number of times recently. Unfortunately no one I've come across seems to quite relate to that sentiment. Everyone has their own more specific bitch - the immigrants, the politicians, the banks. In some cases I've been the bitch and  have already offended several (now possibly former) friends by culturally ill advised comments relating to burn up on re-entry to this sceptred isle. Maybe I should stay in more...

PS.   If anyone in the UAE still reading this drivel is considering coming back to the UK in the near future, DON'T!! 

Monday, 1 February 2010

Double dips

I am still unemployed but am becoming rather more philosophical about it now. In fact am considering myself fortunate for being able to retire in my 40s. My social life has definitely improved and although I don't have the lifestyle that I would like to accompany my early retirement, I do have a PhD in living well on a budget so it's not too bad.

I will of course continue to tout my ass around the market place even if it is just to reassure spouse that I still have earnings potential to contribute to the marriage. However, my prospects are looking grimmer this week because the UK is apparently in danger of a double dip recession. I know all about double dips. Having not had a cold for 2 years I am now getting double dip colds all the time. One ends and within 24 hours of leaving the house that telltale sore throat is with me again.

Apart from double dips the other main conversational trends in the UK these days seem to be migration (more hysterical than 2 years ago), the 'broken society' (political shorthand for election on the way) and paganism (challenging Islam and evangelical Christianity for the fastest-growing-religion-in-Britain prize). Of course some things stay the same and the old favourites as always are the weather, sport, paedophiles and the property market.

Tony Blair's appearance at the Chilcot enquiry caused a conversational ruffle even though everyone knows it's a waste of time and public money. It is very interesting to see just how raw the Iraq issue still is and how much anger it still generates.  The appearance and subsequent press coverage meant there were about 24 hours where it felt like the last 8 years hadn't happened which was very odd.

On the art front I gave a talk this week about the UAE art scene which was fun and have a couple of potential shows - one in May and one in October - so those should keep me occupied. I really need to risk the triple dip cold and venture out into the wilds of London exhibition land too....

In the meantime, here's a pic that encapsulates the contemporary British weekend....

Saturday, 9 January 2010

No news but snow news and still no job..

It’s the coldest snowiest winter for decades and the whole country has ground to a halt as has news reporting about anything else. I don’t care because I am loving every flake that falls. After two years in the UAE getting a winter like this is an absolute treat. Of course if I had to do anything, other than the 5 min walk to the gym or the supermarket, I am sure I would not be enjoying it quite so much.

However, I am starting to get very frustrated about my unemployed status. It seems that my last two years of experience in the UAE is completely irrelevant to any job I apply for here. The cultural and arts sector in London is huge and I am sure that most jobs advertised are oversubscribed. So I assumed that some recent international experience covering policy, production and publication would actually give me an advantage but of course it doesn’t work like that. Employment seems to be on the basis of committed insularity which means that potential employees know how best to operate within the UK network. I know this makes sense and it’s the same everywhere. All that really changes is the size and depth of the pond but this experience of coming back to the UK is markedly different from my two previous re-entries.

On returning from Japan it was easy to find work, partly because I spoke Japanese but also because there was a big Japanese community in London so there were plenty of places to look where my experience was likely to be valued. When I returned from Jerusalem it was also easy to find work. I was there during an interesting period and had also managed to pick up a whole bunch of very useful new skills. As is usually the case with the Middle East I had also met people who knew other people who made sure that I met the right people when I got back to the UK.

This time, however, there is really nowhere to go. There is such a strange and complete disconnection from the UAE. It’s as if it only exists when you are physically there. It feels like I dreamed the whole thing and then woke up with some new but completely useless knowledge that I cannot apply outside of that environment. The UAE embassy doesn't even have a cultural desk which is quite ironic given the amount of energy spent promoting it over the last two years!

I just hope something comes up soon otherwise I can see myself heading to the refuge of the eBay shop. By the time I’ve flogged all the stuff I’ve accumulated from everywhere over the years, I’ll probably be in the market for an environmemtally friendly eBay coffin.