Sunday 22 September 2019

Venice Biennale 2019 - art for Instagram

Having returned from Venice we’ve already made a mental note for next time - we need four days. Travelling on Tuesday (arriving in the evening) and travelling home on Saturday, meant we had three full days for taking in the art, and it’s not enough. That’s one day for the Giardini, one day for the Arsenale, one day for various pavilions scattered across town, and not enough time. I’m looking at the Biennale map and there’s fifteen or more pavilions that we didn’t get to, let alone those museums and random exhibitions that you bump into along the way. And shops and bars, we really should make time for those. And the Lido, never been there yet. Honestly, after our third year of visiting we should realise these things by now.

These small considerations aside, it was a great short holiday in Venice, and we saw tons of stuff. Though I did find myself worried that the Biennale experience does tend to become an Instagram event. That is to say, there is so much stuff to see in so little time that it is inevitable that it becomes superficial. You find yourself whizzing past works, and remembering those pieces that made a good photo. I’ve just put the Blurb book together and, coming in at around 200 pages, that suggests there was a lot of photogenic art in town this week.

Scouring the memory, the work that has remained most memorable would be: 

The Iran Pavilion, in the academy of music. The artwork itself was okay, but lost in the competition against the architecture and the soundscape. Whereas lots of (too many) exhibitions play “the sort of sound you hear in exhibitions”, usually an ominous rumbling noise, an off-tune radio, or music played backwards, the Iranian pavilion was in a genuine music school. Not only was it the most impressive Venetian interior you’ve seen, with courtyards overlooked by serried ranks of classical verandas, peppered with sculptures, and dotted with doors and windows of wholly unnecessary detail and diversity (and murals, and whatever you call murals when they’re on the ceilings, and all at least 300 years old), but also there was music. From one room we could hear a pianist rehearsing Romeo and Juliet (aka the Theme from The Apprentice) while simultaneously from another someone was rehearsing something equally classical on the trumpet. The sort of visual and aural experience you simply can’t contrive, dwarfing the efforts of most of the thousands of artists and curators who’d spent so much time putting this city wide event together.

Azaerbaijan - a fabulous wide-screen animation that was a classical tapestry brought to life.

The Philippines pavilion - big tanks of stuff receding into the depths through an arrangement of one way mirrors and lighting. Was it more set decoration than art? I don’t know, it worked.

A two-screen video by Stan Douglas about a space traveller who gets duplicated. Shown on screens that showed a similar film but mirrored from the other side, it was possibly more an episode of the Outer Limits than the sort of piece one usually sees in a gallery, but again it worked.

The Russian Pavilion, Heather’s favourite. Elaborate, painterly, atmospheric and classical, including full size figures that jumped up in the air every 5 minutes. Again more set decoration than work with something to say? Hard to say.

Canada won the prize for country who really didn’t understand how the Biennale works. Their installation in the Giardini mostly comprised a 90 minute movie. A 90 minute movie? They were one of 28 different countries with individual pavilions in the Giardini, which is open from 10am till 6pm. Who the hell do they think has 90 minutes to devote to any one pavilion? 

USA - Interesting to see the reviews, in the Guardian and the NY Times, raving about this as the high spot of the Biennale. I commented that it was the exhibition most like what you’re expect to see in a regular gallery. A reminder that there were so many areas where, had they been the only art we’d seen that week, we’d been raving about them for days after. But as it is, the next pavilion came along and before you knew where you were you’d forgotten what you’d seen. 

Also from the reviews, which I didn’t read until we were home, I discovered that the boat stood beside the Arsenale’s outdoor cafe was a boat in which 800 migrants had died trying to cross the Mediterranean back in 2015. No signage told us this, and had I not read the reviews I’d have been none the wiser. An impressive and controversial piece, if you got the press pack. But if you didn’t, it was rather an ironic selfie experience that will have been Instagrammed infinite times by people woefully unaware of how inappropriate that was.

Belgium - amusing figures in their own fanciful universe. Might have been less impressive if they weren’t the first pavilion we saw.

Hungary - 3D models of photographic contraptions that looked like they’d sort of work (I love it when there’s a work you can’t describe and that you didn’t get a photo of. You had to be there).

Venice's installation was one where you had to take your shoes off (always a worry) then had you wading through a plastic tunnel, through which you could feel Venetian water. More theme park than art piece? After a while you do stop caring and just enjoy yourself.

Japan had a big inflatable traffic cone sticking through the floor that made noises when you sat on it; Germany was really really German, ie there was nothing about it you could even describe but it definitely involved concrete; Brazil did a good dance film, with non-conforming dancers from diverse backgrounds making a point about their country not being represented by their government, one of many politically straightforward pieces, but one that made its point more touchingly than most; A big robot arm constantly swept up a tankful of blood, not far from a marble throne where an air-filled hose whipped around every few minutes; Poland’s artist had turned a private jet inside out, one of those conceptual sculptural pieces that impresses because it’s so large, very much an Instagram moment; and there were a lot of miniature roomscapes, ie dolls houses by any other name, good for a snap but a bit of a cliche. Oh and Britain’s pavilion was easily the most forgettable. 

Overall we found the work thinner on the ground than in 2017, with the Arsenale being less packed (with art that is, it was way over-filled with punters, many of whom looked like they’d got their tickets with a cruise ship package and had no idea what they were looking at. In the most impressive Phillippines pavilion visitors book someone had written “Is This Art?”. Sigh.) and possibly fewer exhibitions across town, though maybe we just missed more. Certainly what we saw was good.

There were only a couple of poor exhibitions, falling into the Foundation Level “will this do” category, or the Advert Masquerading As Exhibition section (and, you know, some of those things aren’t bad. There’s a sculptor who does bronze figures with half their body missing, whose work is essentially an advert for luggage, and he’s quite good fun), and mostly the experience was satisfying to the point of being overwhelming. At the end of every day we were well and truly “Arted Out”, and glad of the fact that there’s sod all to do in the evenings in Venice, cos we were knackered.

The Venice Biennale remains the greatest art experience I’ve ever encountered, very much visual art’s equivalent to the Edinburgh Fringe, with as many idiosyncrasies and foibles. And we love it. I come home bitten to buggery by mosquitoes, but as sure as ever that we’ll be back.

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries & art centres. email for details. Facebook, Twitter. Promo video here

September, a month with not much to say

I've really not been inspired to write much blog-wise throughout the entire month of September. It's not like it didn't have as many days in as every other month (okay technically it has one fewer than average, but still) and I didn't do something every day. It's just that, when you've finished a month at Edinburgh and when your month includes the highpoint of Venice, there doesn't seem a lot left to say.

Gigwise - the Socks played just once in September, for Hazel's Mum's birthday party, in Allerwash. You can see the set-up above. We did an hour of request material, lots of which hasn't seen the light of day for years - like I Change The Key and the Saint Patrick routine, which may both find themselves revived soon. A fun gig, and so weird to go from 30 shows in one month to just one the next. I'm not the only act to experience that.

Schoolswise - another slow start to the term. I had a class in Weston, working with locals, which didn't happen cos no-one turned up, then two classes as part of Chagford Film Festival, and an over-priced under-attended class for adults at Prema in Gloucestershire. Hardly a punishing schedule.

However fishing for schools for the next year has been much more fruitful. I've sat for days on end, first emailing every school in my list (something which runs the risk of having your email stopped for 24 hours because you've sent too many in a day, oops. The lesson you learn is you must send to no more than 500 addresses in any 24 hour period), then scouring the interwebs for more emails. I have, in the past couple of weeks, found the emails, for the first time, for such areas as Cornwall (who responded in the biggest numbers, as if nobody ever emails schools in Cornwall), Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Dudley, Plymouth, North Somerset (but, ironically given they're my nearest schools, they all bounce even when mailed individually, so I can't play any of them), and a few more. About 15 schools have replied having been emailed for the first time, which is making my 2020 diary look nice and full.

I did a driving training speed awareness course, which you don't want to hear about, and we had a fair bit of sorting out to do for the building work that's being done on our house. It's the most extensive work we've had done for ages, bigger even than the porch that was done two years ago, and the negotiations that have been needed between the four collaborating flats has been harder work than before. But you don't need to know about any of that either.

And I got back on the eBay. Having been obessively shovelling my comic collection onto the auction site for the first 6 months of the year, I took a break over August, then resumed this month. So far I've taken about 700 quid and shifted about a quarter of the comics I've put up there. Most, like for example Batman Legends Of The Dark Knight, turn out not to be wanted by anyone, as is usually the case.

Meanwhile the selling of Windmill Gardens goes as slowly as ever. We reduced the asking price to £375,000, which has seen four viewings since, the most in any month since it went on sale, so hope springs eternal. And we bought a new lawnmower for Kibworth (which we'll hang onto obviously, in the hope of eventually getting a garden of our own) having bust the last one on the jungle-lengthed grass that had sprung up over the summer.

And I really wish I had more to say about September. A month taken up, largely, with admin, and four days in Venice (and days out in the likes of Exeter and Cardiff, as per usual). Here's some of the nonsense I've put on Facebook in that time...

A photo I've never seen before, featuring me aged 10 or 11. Can you spot me?

Got an Only Connect for you. What's the connection between these four records?
James Bond - Iggy Pop
Dizzy - Vic Reeves
If I Was - Midge Ure
Jet - Paul McCartney

(Answer: James)

Paradoxically, on the very day The Testaments by Margaret Attwood gets released, we just gave up on the last season of The Handmaids Tale.
Every week nothing happens, reeeeeaaaaallly slowly. And in such low out-of-focus lighting that, I swear, if it got any darker it might as well be radio.
Sorry Handmaids Tale. Your first 2 series were great honest.

My contribution to the Rees Mogg meme, you're welcome.

Sept 11: While people are remembering the Twin Towers bombing, 18 years ago today, who still remembers what happened 17 years before that (on Oct 12th 1984)? The Brighton Bombing.
Slightly closer to home for most of us, it seems to get way less coverage that the American event. And what did we do to prevent it happening again? That's right, we talked, we co-operated and we came to an agreement, the Good Friday Agreement.
Thanks heavens no-one would dream of doing anything politically that would put that at jeopardy, and lead to this sort of thing happening again. Would they?

While we're all busy doing amateur-hour Who Do You Think You Are? I'm a Tinker.
Looks like, going down our family tree, we've been travellers. And in particular, on the east coast of Scotland, Tinkers. So stick that up your pipe and smoke it.
NB: Don't ask me to do any day-to-day metallurgy, cos it seems to have faded with the passing generations.

I'm nostalgic for all the years Annie Lennox and Kate Bush kept winning cos there weren't any other women (and Bananarama didn't count). Won't be a problem any more, now women have been abolished.
This week's victory for feminism. Next stop: no need for token women on comedy panel shows.

I'd like you to call me they. For I am Sam Smith and also Tom Petty.

What is this travesty? I come home to find BBC has wiped the Radio iPlayer and replaced it with this hideous app. Where’s the home screen? Where are the schedules? And what happened to all the shows I downloaded last week?
Not happy with #bbcsounds at all!

Just watched the Batman Lego Movie, and I've got to say it's the most enjoyable Batman movie I think I've ever seen!
The relationships - Bats & Joker, Bats & Robin, Bats & Alfred, Bats & Barbara, Bats & his parents - are better written than in any of the other movies. Plus it has Daleks, what's not to love?

And you wonder why sometimes Venetians might get a bit tired of tourists? This happened on the day we arrived in town.
(To the tune of Spitting Image's 'Never Met A Nice South African').

Re: The undoing of the Prorogation:

Suddenly Boris Johnson wakes up, goes to the bathroom, and finds all of Parliament in the shower.
(Dallas. We were doing Dallas.)


Got an Only Connect for you. What time of day* connects these four records?
It's Only Love - Lenny Gamble
Highrise - The Trainspotters
I Wanna Be A Winner - Brown Sauce
Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini - Bombalurina

(The answer was breakfast, cos I thougt they'd all done the Radio 1 Breakfast show (as Tony Blackburn, Mike Read, Noel Edmonds, and Steve Wright. Then I was reminded that Bombalurina was Timmy Mallett and felt a fool)

Happiness is reading a comic strip you wrote 26 years ago, and finding out it's not at all bad. Ace Rimmer in Ace Of Black Hearts from Red Dwarf Smegazine. Niiiice.…/red_dwarf_smegazine-1993-03/…/n21

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries & art centres. email for details. Facebook, Twitter. Promo video here

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Socks Roll Up Superheroes Tour 2020

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre 2020 ROLL UP SUPERHEROES TOUR!


The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre are touring into 2020 and we’d love to come to you, will you have us back?

We’re taking out a Double Bill of our last two Edinburgh shows - 2019’s circus-themed ROLL UP! And 2018’s award-winning SUPERHEROES. Neither has had a proper tour yet, so we’re taking out a 90 minute show, with 45 minutes from each.

Superheroes won the Bath Comedy Festival Best Joke Award last year and enjoyed a successful mini tour in Denmark, but has only played in half a dozen towns in the UK to date. Roll Up previewed through the Spring but the full show is only now making its tour debut, following the Socks’ biggest sellout Edinburgh Fringe ever.

The full show is coming out for a guarantee of just £400 against a door split. 

After May we’re also booking one-hour previews of our new Edinburgh show POP, if that’s more your style.

The Scottish Falsetto Socks’ comedy shows are suitable for age 12 and over. We supply posters and flyers.

Hoping you can take us on board and that we’ll deliver a sellout audience to you. Please get in touch 

All the very best

Kev F Sutherland

Monday 2 September 2019

Martha, Mary and Jonah - new Bible strips

I'm back on the drawing board and it's the most marvellous feeling. These two jobs were awaiting me from just before the return from Edinburgh, and it was the most satisfying thing to be able to turn them round in two days from start to finish. They're the artwork to be given to two prize-winners in a Bible Society schools competition that I helped judge.

A young lad called Joe did a brilliant Jonah comic strip, in commemoration of which I've written and drawn my own version. Yes, that's Ken Reid's Jonah out of The Beano 60 years ago. This strip's not for publication, so I figured an homage was the way to go.
A girl called Grace had written a poem based on the story of Martha and Mary which, I confess, wasn't one that I remembered. It's actually just a throwaway half page story in the Gospel Of Luke, but some people have made it into a thing. So I read it again, and here's my take on it. Quite what everyone else is supposed to take away from the story I'm not sure. As you can see I've homaged the Martha outfits from Handmaids Tale*, as apparently those characters' servile role is based on Martha from this anecdote. Again, the morality of this is a minefield that I have yet to fathom.

(*NB: I have actually used the more distinctive red Handmaids costume, not the khaki Martha costume from the TV show, cos it looked better. Just to confuse matters.)

I'm hoping there'll be more Bible news forthcoming. We do now have a 100 page Tales Of The Bible book produced, which I'm dying to see out there in the public arena. Under his eye.

Kev F Sutherland, as well as writing and drawing for The Beano, Marvel, Doctor Who et al, runs Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, libraries & art centres. email for details. Facebook, Twitter. Promo video here
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