Courtauld: Georgiana Houghton

Some days I’m very efficient: I hit the Tate Modern, the Tate Britain and the Courtauld in the same day to catch the Georgiana Houghton Spirit Drawings exhibit. If you’ve not been, the Courtauld is a small gallery but has some interesting medieval pieces as well as more modern works. Here’s the description of the Houghton pieces:

Georgiana Houghton (1814-1884) was a Spiritualist medium who, in the 1860s and 70s, produced an astonishing series of abstract watercolours. Detailed explanations on the back of the works declare that her hand was guided by various spirits, including several Renaissance artists, as well as higher angelic beings. In this exhibition The Courtauld Galley explores this astounding series of largely abstract Victorian watercolours and offers visitors a unique opportunity to view remarkable works which have not been shown in the UK for nearly 150 years.

I haven’t quite decided how I feel about this show, so here’s some pictures!

You can see more photos here.

Tate Britain: Conceptual Art

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The only way to travel between the Tates is via boat. The only fun way to travel in London apart from shank’s mare is by boat. You see a different side of the city. If i were to ever win the lottery, I’d want to live on the river (maybe in the next life). But on a warm June day I left the Mod behind and with the Eye of Sauron at my back headed to Millwall.

Though my aim was to catch the Conceptual Art show I decided to veer off into an indulgent lunch because it was a lovely day and I could sit outside. It was the right choice as I had a superb soufflé, lovely salmon and perfect potatoes.

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I associate the Tate B with my first real conversion to modern art, but also with Blake, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites. Yet I still tend to think of it only after the Tate Mod, admittedly my fave museum maybe anywhere. Nonetheless there’s a consistent surprise in the offerings at the original location (not to mention impromptu amendments in the loo):

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The exhibit was good; I bought the book because I intend to make my senior seminar students create conceptual art (because it requires no trained draftsmanship of any kind). I took an orange from Soul City. I thought about a lot of potential projects. I remembered my timid attempts at conceptual art in grad school. I thought about the vast difference between what we can be and what we are and how that makes people feel.

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And then I watched a dance performance in the main hall with others who happened upon it. Art sometimes needs stealth to find an audience.

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I never know what art will appeal to me; I trust my instincts in general, though sometimes I wonder what it tells me, like I think this Michael Sandle sculpture appeals as much to some inner fascist impulse as much as it does to my drummer side.

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But maybe it’s just the brain responding to patterns…

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In any case, my orange was delicious.

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Review: Radio Girls

9780749020682RADIO GIRLS
Sarah-Jane Stratford

The Great War is over, and change is in the air, in this novel that brings to life the exciting days of early British radio …and one woman who finds her voice while working alongside the brilliant women and men of the BBC London, 1926.

‘If we have the sense to give [broadcasting] freedom and intelligent direction, if we save it from exploitation by vested interests of money or power, its influence may even redress the balance in favour of the individual.’

Hilda Matheson, Broadcasting (1933)

Did you know talk radio was started by a woman? Did you know she wrote a handbook for radio broadcasting in 1933? And was also an agent of MI5? And worked with Lawrence of Arabia and Lady Astor? Does it sound like too much to pack into a novel? Are you now shouting aloud, ‘Why has no one told me about this amazing woman before!’ because I certainly was. Hilda Matheson was a pioneer, a visionary, spy, writer, insightful revolutionary, lover of Vita Sackville-West — well, it’s all gilding the lily a bit. If she hadn’t existed, you’d have wanted to invent her.

In this novel Stratford does a very wise thing: she looks at Matheson through the eyes of a young Canadian-American expat whose life is transformed by working with her. In so doing she gets to use all the fun of a novel (adventure, romance, intrigue, friendships) to show the glories of the beginning of the institution that is the BBC. It was once full of women who were over time systematically driven out. As I’m also immersed in early electronic pioneers Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, it’s easy to see how women keep getting nudged out of history by neglect because men are trumpeted for genius and women are loathed for it.

Stratford’s protagonist, Canadian-American Maisie Musgrove, is gauche and a bit overwrought at first, but this allows us to see the peculiarly British system that makes up the BBC. It’s one that has the latitude to offer opportunities to women — when everyone thinks it will fail — and then squeeze them out casually once the power of the institution becomes clear.

Musgrove’s transformation is gradual and affecting. Though desperate for a job, any job, at the start she soon comes to realise the power of sound and voice. She begins to listen to the people on the trams, the click of heels on lino, and appreciates the artistry but also the science behind the broadcasts. When an emergency requires use of the old 2LO transmitter, Hilda introduces Maisie to its intricacies and she’s captivated by its magic ‘but it wasn’t magic. It was better. This was the result of endless questions, the search for answers.’

The pace is breezy: I read two-thirds of it in one evening, but there’s a lot of history and information here too. In the lead up to the second world war, there are a lot of people who want to commandeer the power of the new medium and very real intrigues went on behind the scenes. Matheson’s determination to keep the plurality of voices represented is something, alas, the BBC seems to have lost.

I appreciated the author’s note at the end and just ordered Kate Murphy’s Behind the Wireless: An Early History of Women at the BBC which Stratford recommends. The book is out in the US too (though the cover isn’t as pretty, as usual). A very fun read that’s also chock full of interesting history.

Tate Modern: June 2016

Tate Modern and the new Switch House with loads of new stuff: see more here.

TOA/V: The Living and The Dead

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 13.32.25This programme aired last month but in the midst of the Brexit madness, it seemed to miss its audience. Folks in the Folk Horror Revival group mentioned it enthusiastically so having caught up with series three of Black Sails we were casting about for a new show and decided to give The Living and The Dead a try. Five of the six episodes in, I’m intrigued and crossing my fingers that they’ll be able to bring it to some kind of satisfying conclusion. Not necessarily that I expect all the answers, but — well, there’s a lot going on.

Great cast of folks familiar and new. It does have a terrific folk horror vibe. The Hallow’s Eve costumes were dead creepy! There are great eerie moments in every episode. I can’t remember when I last had so many moments of genuine hair-raising spookiness! There’s an unexpected element in the late 19th century setting that really intrigues and I’m not sure how it will payoff, but I can’t wait to watch the last episode tonight.

Also? Fantastic soundtrack by The Insects which you can get now. As always, check out all the overlooked gems at Todd’s blog.


Back from Leeds

2016-07-05 12.43.18I am back and will be catching up with more London posts, but in the meantime you can see a bunch of photos from Leeds here. Thanks to Another Damned Medievalist for making me be more social than I was inclined to be without prodding; great to finally meet Dorothy Kim (yes, living an hour or so apart in New York, we finally meet up in Leeds). Met lots of folks, some I’ve been following online some completely new to me, but all terrific encounters.

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Exiles: An Outsider Anthology

Exiles return!


exiles artizan

The all new version of Exiles: An Outsider Anthology – now published by Artizan– is out now!

‘A powerful short story collection was edited by the Bukowski of Noir, Paul D. Brazill. Exiles features 26 outsiders-themed stories by some of the greatest crime and noir writers, K. A. Laity, Chris Rhatigan, Steven Porter, Patti Abbott, Ryan Sayles, Gareth Spark, Pamila Payne, Paul D. Brazill, Jason Michel, Carrie Clevenger, David Malcolm, Nick Sweeney, Sonia Kilvington, Rob Brunet, James A. Newman, Tess Makovesky, Chris Leek, McDroll, Renato Bratkovič, Walter Conley, Marietta Miles, Aidan Thorn, Benjamin Sobieck, Graham Wynd, Richard Godwin, Colin Graham, and an introduction by Heath Lowrance.

Grab it from, and every other Amazon.

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