NYC with the QoE

Spring break has mostly been work but I did manage to make another escape to spend the day with the fabulous Stephanie down in the city. Just before another collaboration escapes on Monday, Respectable Horror, which I edited and she supplied the wonderful cover art featuring cover model Poppy. She’s not just skin and bones either!

More photos in a FB album — they’d take up too much of my storage space here — but here’s a few highlights which included stops at the NYPL, Society of Illustrators and the Met as well as fine Belgian and Thai food. Click to embiggen any of the images.

Reflections on Celts

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I dropped by the McManus to check out what was on and caught the Reflections on Celts exhibit which combined a few of their own treasures with borrowed items from the British Museum and the National Museums of Scotland. You can see my pictures here (along with the other two exhibits on) and read more about it here. I was unable to resist buying things in the shop but mostly kept myself to buying cards to send off to other people and a book on medieval Scotland because that is a woeful lack in my knowledge (and a potential site of new research). As you can see, Duncan’s Riders of the Sidhe has come down from the upstairs gallery to gallop through this exhibit.

Viktor Wynd’s Wunderkabinett

The last time I was at the Last Tuesday Society it was to attend a night featuring tales of ghost trains and the music of Sarah Angliss. I got to play her theremin, which was enough of a thrill that I finally did have to get my own theremin. I also wrote down the phrase ‘luminiferous ether’ which led to my writing White Rabbit (in concert with a lot of other strange head explosions).

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I had not visited the Viktor Wynd museum, however. Drawn by the occult theme of the week, I decided I really needed to see its ‘largest collection’ of Austin Osman Spare works on public display. The south London artist has long occupied that strange niche between occult and art, cultish devotion and imperious neglect, which makes it difficult to see more than isolated pieces at any one time (cf. the Language of Birds exhibit).

Crowded into the back room of the establishment are indeed several works by the artist which are difficult to get a good look at both due to the lighting and the profusion of other curiosities about (thus the poor pictures here). It would be great to have a proper exhibit that allowed better access, of course. Yet I’m grateful nonetheless for the opportunity to see these. Handily, they had copies of Phil Baker’s bio of the artist for sale so I picked one up.

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The museum itself is a mad jumble of nigh-on Victorian gloom, down a vertigo-inducing spiral stair, full of beasts, freaks, monsters, dandies, dead things, a little occult & magic, and some pulps. The dandies include not only Stephen Tennant‘s ephemera but also Sebastian Horsley‘s red sequined Savile Row suit. There are lots of skulls and bones, fossilised things, an ‘alchemists toolkit’ and all manner of weird and interesting curiosities crammed into a very tiny couple of rooms. It’s all a bit overwhelming. You can’t possibly take it all in in just one visit. So if you’re in Hackney or need an excuse to be, you should drop by.

British Library: Punk + Bard

My last full day in London I headed over to the British Library to catch the Punk exhibit. On the way, I nodded to Saint Jerome‘s holy place:

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It was quite gratifying to see PUNK emblazoned across that bastion of quiet intellectual historicism, though it reminded me of the line from that much-treasured film which I think was called What is Creativity? that we saw in 6th and 7th grade and then I have not been able to locate even though it has John Astin in it.

In the sequence that shows the history of art, there’s an exchange between two snakes (or maybe worms?) that goes something like:

Snake 1: Do you realise that radical ideas that threaten institutions eventually become institutionalised and in turn reject radical ideas?

Snake 2: No.

Snake 1: Oh, for a minute there,  I thought I had something.

This film has stuck with me. That idea, too, has stuck with me.

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It was kind of glorious to see this in the lobby gallery of the venerable British Library. On the other hand, there was nothing much interesting that you hadn’t seen a millions times (well, I hadn’t anyway) and yes, the overarching impression was that punk was white and male. Here’s the ‘chicks’ corner:

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I want to see that documentary on the women in punk. The snippets were tantalising. But the rest, meh. The shop — well, there was nothing there you’d want to buy. It was kind of embarrassing really. I was so glad to hear that Viv Albertine took it upon herself to make some corrections. Rahr!

So feeling dispirited — even the Beowulf manuscript was not on display! — and it being too early to head to my next destination, I decided to go to the ‘Shakespeare in Ten Acts’ exhibit in the main gallery. And I’m SO very glad I did — how energising!

This display focused on the performance history of Shakespeare’s works. Coming from the lit side of things, there is so much I don’t know about the practicalities of performance. I remain grateful for sitting in on the course at the Globe back in ’99 because I learned so much (besides, the Globe remains the only theatre where I have trod the boards). It starts with the Globe and Greene’s famous sneer, then moves to Blackfriars. I am sooo longing to see a show at the restored indoor theatre. And it was a real epiphany to realise that The Tempest was at Blackfriars, not The Globe as I’d always pictured it, which in many ways makes it more amazing.

Even more now, I wish I could be there for one night (in case the Doctor reads this).

It’s exciting to see how the plays rippled out across the world: Hamlet on an East India Company ship anchored off the coast of Sierra Leone in 1607, in India, in Russia. The first woman to play a woman’s role (Desdemona in Othello) in 1660 broke one barrier: the first black actor, Ira Aldridge, played Romeo briefly in NY in 1822, then sailed to London in 1825 to debut as Othello. He was just 17.

The exhibit details the bard’s censors, forgers, actors and visionaries, including a room that recreates in small part Sally Jacob’s astonishing design for Peter Brook’s 1970 intoxicating incarnation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It really is inspiring.

Go if you can: it runs through September. You can get yourself an Elizabethan ruff necklace.

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Preston Manor: Doreen Valiente

During my London week I took one day off to run down to Brighton: the first set of pictures from the Doreen Valiente exhibit at Preston Manor can be found here. Next to the exhibit itself, I enjoyed the gardens where I was waylaid by a couple of cheeky magpies (two for joy). Here’s my self portrait with Doreen’s mirror.2016-06-22 12.02.10

Digital Britain & Harvard Art

2016-03-26 08.57.10.jpgI ran off to Cambridge over the weekend to attend the Digital Britain conference and happened to run off from that to wander through some art at the Harvard Art Museums. I put some photos up on a Facebook album because that’s the easiest thing to do (it’s public so you don’t have to belong to Facebook). It was a good weekend. A lot of great ideas, some good conversations, terrific art and reacquainting myself with the city where I lived for some years.

Much has changed: the Harvard Book Store is still there, but few others. Chain stores fill a lot of space in the Square, but it’s still a mad rush of people on a Saturday night. I enjoyed strolling through the campus that used to be so familiar. I even thought I saw an Easter bunny scamper under a hedge but looking closer of course I saw it was only a rat.

I’ll write up the conference itself a bit more for the Digital Humanities Initiative when I get the time. I loved this candelabra because I am immersed in Hannibal at present; there was a sculpture in the same vein which you can see in the album.

Orkney: Maeshowe & John Rae

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The wonderful mesolithic mound, raided by vikings and other adventurers, but still containing treasures.

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A brisk day indeed, but we were prepared. Of course by the end of the day it was clear a storm was on its way. A wild night of wind!

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Maeshowe is one of the greatest treasure troves of runes; bored vikings + a long storm = a fantastic collection of runes and a dragon.

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Of course you can’t take photos inside, as our guide Sarah reminded us, so you’ll have to imagine it – or go to maeshowe.co.uk and see how the winter solstice light shines through the entrance.

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All the cats in Stromness seemed to be ginger; maybe there’s a single ginger matriarch a few generations back…

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John Rae’s Close, commemorating the Arcadian explorer, whose effigy can be found in St Magus Cathedral. Vilified by Lady Franklin and celebrities like Charles Dickens, Rae has been proved right by history.

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The Stromness Museum featured an exhibit of Rae’s artifacts on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth including this bear claw crown. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Rae met the Inuit and other first people with respect.

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Rae learned from the Inuit of the failure of Franklin’s foray to find the Northwest Passage; his wife didn’t appreciate the news or its source and fought to send numerous expeditions to ‘prove’ his discovery all of which came to nought of course.

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I had to share this one just for the initials 😉 From a bootlegger ship that went down; ‘spirits’ that were poisonous to drink but sold during Prohibition causing blindness and even death.

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Stromness is a lovely town with houses jumbled close together for warmth and protection against the wind. Be sure to lunch at Julia’s Café when you get off the ferry.

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We drove to Orphir to see the area where Rae grew up, which he described as a boy’s paradise of hunting, fishing and rambling. A rainbow showed us it was truly golden.

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Dramatic skies; the weather was about to change for the worse, but it was lovely nonetheless.

More on John Rae

Maeshowe Official Site

Be sure to drop by A Knife & A Quill to read my Allan’s latest review