Posts Tagged ‘2015’

Simon Martin

Simon Martin is an artist living and working in London whose work explores ideas of subjectivity and the built environment. During his Stanley Picker Fellowship Martin aims to undertake an area of research around Objecthood, sound and memory.

Martin has previously made videos and exhibitions looking at how we might experience a range of cultural artefacts including buildings, images, artworks and furniture, reflecting on how the codes and commands of such artefacts press into our consciousness and play with memory. Recently he has said ‘I have moved from looking at particular objects and thinking about them in social terms to looking at how object image and place coalesce and seep into us in more indirect ways’.

Working with sound is an attempt to engage more directly with the modalities of production and distribution in contemporary art and technology. This together with a deeper investment in the possibilities of aural culture has been the main focus of his recent attention. Reflecting on the Internet Martin asks ‘Where does this vast accumulation and super fluidity of instantly callable images together with their simple replaceability leave us in terms of production as artists? What does it do to knowledge? What form of productivity effectively sidesteps this machinery without losing essential drives?’ Sound, proposes Martin, offers one possible way forward.

Martin will develop a new body of work for the Stanley Picker Fellowship built from the sonic ghosts offered up by the recent past, the city and our technological selves.

Martin has had numerous exhibitions in the UK and internationally, including Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Camden Arts Centre, Chisenhale Gallery, Tate Britain, White Columns, New York and Bass Museum of Art, Miami.

Yemi Awosile

Yemi Awosile is a textile designer who lives and works in London, with a special interest in materials, technology and the visual arts which she expresses through textiles and material processes. Her research builds on a sound project involving the use of acoustic textiles and multi-media print techniques presented at the Royal Festival Hall in Autumn 2014, featuring urban Nigerian city soundscapes by Lagos based artist Emeka Ogboh. In her research Awosile looks at the emergence of new sub-cultures created through virtual space and imagined proximity, enquiring into the migratory movement of people, exploring unexpected parallels through textiles, technology and audible soundscapes.

Awosile’s Stanley Picker Fellowship project is informed by African sub-cultures rooted in an urban village in Delhi. Like most urban environments it is in a constant state of flux. The principle motivation for the project being to explore the social significance of textiles and its capacity to express collective narratives. The aim is to create a textile collection which reflects creative dialogue between different social groups. The process of developing the collection will entail a study of cyclical patterns of activity from within the garment trade. Many of the Nigerian social groups are involved in the garment trade so the project includes a wider look at the African Diaspora. Part of the research will be recorded through audio soundscapes presented through experiments using acoustics. The second strand looks at the social implications of cross cultural unions connected to the notion of identity.


Dora presents works by Russian sculptor, artist and designer Dora Gordine (1895-1991), personally selected by a group of major contemporary artists. Each artist presents works of their own alongside that of Gordine, to reflect upon her artistic legacy, whilst considering her fascinating life story and the impressive studio home Dorich House that she designed for herself in 1935 on the edge of Richmond Park along Kingston Vale.

Almost a century after first establishing her name in Paris, the range of works presented in Dora offer a subtle and intriguing dialogue around the political, social and artistic challenges facing Gordine as she developed her career. Whilst Dorich House Museum stands today as testament to the creative vision of an enigmatic and ambitious individual, Gordine died relatively forgotten, her own personal style of figurative sculpture long out of fashion. Over the last decade, a revival of interest in her work has resulted in an international retrospective, a major monograph, and her present inclusion in the public displays of the prestigious national collection at Tate Britain.

Nicole Wermers’ selection draws attention to Gordine’s singular achievements designing the architectural environments in which her artistic production could best flourish. Before Dorich House, Gordine had designed a striking circular house in Singapore, which she never saw completed having returned to Europe after the breakdown of her marriage to Dr George H. Garlick. Prior to this, Gordine had commissioned renowned French architect Auguste Perret (1874-1954) to create her very first studio-home in Paris. Although her hand in its overall design is less acknowledged, certain elements were adopted later by Gordine for Dorich House. A model of the Paris studio-home, from the Musée des Années 30s (Boulogne-Billancourt, France), is shown here together with the original drawings of the Kingston Vale property, and a selection of archive images of the Singapore house. The circular layers of Wermers’ Untitled Ash Tray (2010) echo the motifs of Gordine’s own modernist designs. The sculpture’s apparent function seems to demarcate the architectural threshold of the gallery, whilst acknowledging transitions in the social customs of smoking within public and private spaces.

Hilary Lloyd has chosen to exhibit Gordine’s painting of her husband the Hon. Richard Hare. An eminent Russian scholar, Hare was hugely supportive of Gordine’s practice, introducing her to his social circles in London and donating four of her works to the national collection at Tate. The couple affectionately combined their two names to call their Kingston Vale studio-home Dorich House. Gordine’s gentle portrait of her husband is shown alongside Lloyd’s Untitled (Cut Outs) (2006), projected collections of male crotches and postured hands, the amassed images extracted from fashion magazines. Accompanying this highly distinct pairing of their chosen male subjects, Princess Julia Slide Projection (1997) is a documentary-portrait of the London-based DJ who has carved out an influential career in a still heavily male-dominated creative discipline.

Fiona Banner’s Black Blind (1999) is a monumental graphite drawing, vertically sliced and draped from the rafters of the gallery. Together with the immense drawing the artist has positioned two of the largest works by Gordine from the Dorich House Museum collection; one female and one male nude figure. The lustred layer of graphite on paper provides a dramatic screen between the textured mass of the solid bronze forms. Banner has placed the two figures in close proximity either side. This intimate encounter enhances their duality and highlights the distinctions between Gordine’s two subjects. The characterful posture of the female figure Javanese Dancer (1927-28) exudes a light confident ease, whilst the more stylised headless male torso Dyak (1931-2) is cropped below the knees, inhibiting any sense of movement or personality.

The hybrid architectural environment created by Gordine at Dorich House generously prioritised her studio production, and a gallery to present her completed sculptures, over a relatively modest arrangement to serve the couple’s domestic needs. Cullinan Richards’ diverse collaborative practice includes running a small shop called 4-Cose from their East London studio. The street-frontage, interior display, shop stock and packaging all form part of an expansive artwork involving a range of invited producers, artists and designers. For Dora the duo have used a scaffold structure that functions as both display and storage, incorporating a collection of Gordine’s bronze busts – packed densely onto shelving as found in the Dorich House Museum archives – combined with other Museum items, stock from 4-Cose and artworks from their own studio practice.

Kingston University’s Dorich House Museum reopened October 2015 with a new specialist  remit as a centre of excellence for the support and promotion of women creative practitioners. As part of this new programme, Hilary Lloyd was invited to be the very first Dorich House Fellow, and will be making new work inspired by the house and its collections over the coming year.

Many thanks to: Frith Street Gallery & Alice Walters, Herald Street, Sadie Coles HQ, Musée des Années 30s (Boulogne-Billancourt, France) and Kingston Museum & Heritage Service

Fabien Cappello

‘I don’t want to design solutions…I want to design possibilities.’

Streetscape Offsite: Locations around Kingston upon Thames throughout Summer 2015.

Streetscape seeks to explore how street furniture inhabits and relates to its surroundings. Designer Fabien Cappello is inspired by the everyday and how we negotiate our urban spaces. From bollards, bike stands to public benches these generally anonymously designed, often unnoticed, objects are the workhorses of the built environment.

For his Stanley Picker Design Fellowship Cappello has researched the objects around Kingston town-centre. Taking into consideration the provenance, uses and contexts of the existing street furniture, in consultation with the Royal Borough of Kingston, Cappello has created a series of prototypes that aim to sit comfortably amongst what is already in situ whilst making an interesting improvement on what was previously there.

The Gallery installation includes an audio-visual collaboration with the filmmaker Rachel Davies, whilst all of the working prototypes commissioned for Streetscape will also be sited outside of the Gallery in the streets around Kingston upon Thames for the duration of the exhibition.

Fabien Cappello (Paris, 1984) is an award winning furniture and product designer working across contexts from commercial objects to limited editions and the public space. He studied at the University of Art and Design (ECAL) in Lausanne, Switzerland and in 2009 obtained a Masters degree in Design Products at the Royal College of Art, London. Cappello was appointed Stanley Picker Fellow in 2013.

Edition: To accompany this exhibition Fabien Cappello has produced a Stanley Picker Gallery Edition in the form of a key ring, based on his bike stand design which will be seen in the Gallery and on the streets around Kingston town centre. This limited edition key ring of 100 is made in steel with a dipped plastic coating in blue, yellow or grey, and is available for purchase directly from the Gallery for £15.

Launch Event: Thursday 23 April 6-8.30pm / All Welcome
Streetscape Walking Tour with Fabien Cappello: Saturday 16 May 2-4pm / Free Event / Booking Essential
Evening Salon with Fabien Cappello & Dr Catherine Rossi: Wednesday 27 May 5-7pm / All Welcome

Streetscape is supported by Kingston’s Mini-Holland Programme – A cycling vision for everyone.

RBK_COAT_OF_ARMS_RGB72h        TfLMark        Mayor-of-London_rgb-152

The House of Fairy Tales

The House of Fairy Tales has flown through time and space and all 15 dimensions to take up residency on the Stanley Picker Gallery Island, as part of a programme of events and exhibitions happening across the Borough of Kingston throughout February and March for  Histories in the Making: Celebrating 140 years of Kingston School of Art.

During their residency the Characters, Philosophers and Boffins of this universe-famous space-ship have inspired, cajoled and google-blasted the students of Kingston University into making a series of curious museums and exquisite troves of learning. These are receptacles, coffers and cases of whimsy and miniature worlds, caskets of jewel-bright objects, models and artefact and moving new-streams of fabulous, fascinating ideas and information, surreal and poetic treasures guaranteed to inspire the youngest and the oldest of minds. Each Trove will be a living 3-dimensional mood-board of inspiration and creative innovation: a giant Lilliputian collaboration with a thousand authors.

Let your imagination run riot in The Misplaced Museum! Investigate the clues and the mysteries of the dream world from the sleepwalking detectives at The Somnambulant Detective Bureau, conjured up by the brains of Oliver Wallace, MA History of Art and MA Creative Practice students.

Discover the power of light at the workshop bench of Olaf The Lofty an eccentric inventor, designed by Mark Bayley. Be beguiled by The Mouse House, a living sculpture by artist Dmitri Galitzine, which has travelled in all 15 dimensions the House of Fairy Tales for the past 6 years.

Feast your eyes upon the marvellous automata pieces. With exhibits from Keith Newstead, Ron Ruller, Peter Markey, Fi Hensall and Matt Smith and enter through the secret wardrobe to immerse yourself in the magical crochet world of recycled rubbish, crafted by Anna Kompanients and crochet plastic-eers from Foundation Diploma and BA Fine Art.

The House of Fairy Tales residency was preceded by a ‘Take-Over Day’ where the children of Kingston and beyond descended upon the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture to follow a magical trail around this inside-outside building and its very special Gallery on the island round the back. The culmination of this day of thinking-through-making swarmed, all knowledge, like busy bees, onto the Stanley Picker Gallery Island where the experiment continues for the eight weeks of the exhibition.

The House of Fairy Tales is a National Children’s Arts Charity established in 2006 by Kingston Alumni Gavin Turk and Deborah Curtis to inspire creativity and imagination in children and their families.

Associated Events:

Gallery Breakfast Club: Sat 14 Feb 11am-1pm
An opportunity for visitors of all ages to meet Gallery staff for coffee, juice and a pastry (if you get here early enough!) to look around our current exhibition and find out about our upcoming programme. Includes creative activities for children.

The Somnambulant Detective Agency is Open!
Tues 17 Feb 2-4pm, Wed 25 Feb 3-4pm & Wed 4 Mar 1-2pm & 4-5pm
Join The House of Fairy Tales Somnambulant Detectives on a journey through time, space and The Misplaced Museum. Interactive Performance for ages 5 to Adult

Meet up with Fellow Terrestrials: Wed 18 Feb 5-7pm
Join members of local Meetup groups for conversation, refreshments and shared exploration of The Misplaced Museum. All Welcome

Lunchtime Talk + Evening Salon with Deborah Curtis: Wed 25 Feb 1pm /5-7pm
Take a trip into all 15 dimensions to talk about the serious art of play to inspire creativity and imagination in children and adults. All Welcome

Report for The HoFT Examiner: Sat 14 Mar 11am-5pm
You are invited to investigate and report for The House of Fairy Tales Newspaper, The HoFT Examiner with artist Vicky Willmott. All Welcome / Drop-in Anytime

Lobby Display – peek into the Time Capsule: Launch Tues 17 March 5-7pm / Open until 21 March
A showcase of new work made by local residents and school children which has been inspired The Misplaced Museum and the vibrant history of Kingston School of Art – part, present and future! All Welcome

All Event Enquiries: / 020 8417 4074

Oreet Ashery

Revisiting Genesis is a web series being developed by Oreet Ashery  for her current Stanley Picker Fellowship, exploring some of the philosophical, sociopolitical, practical and emotional implications of the processes surrounding death, particularly in relation to digital legacies and the importance of friendships. Revisiting Genesis is supported by The Wellcome Trust, public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and by The Gallery at Tyneside Cinema and waterside contemporary.

Oreet Ashery is a UK based interdisciplinary visual artist born in Israel, whose personally and politically charged exhibitions, performances, videos and writings are highly regarded internationally. Often presenting her work in the guise of fictional characters, her most consistent being ‘Marcus Fisher’ an orthodox Jewish man, Ashery works on public, community, educational and participatory projects that are both politically and socially engaged, and is particularly interested in gender, race and religion, ethnicity and identity.

Ashery says of her ongoing practice:

“My practice incorporates the performative and fictive, the potential group, the body in deterritorialised public contexts, objects and assemblages. I am currently interested in the ways in which somatic experiences in life and in art produce unexpected politically charged moments and the subjectivities that emerge in self-knowledge forming and knowledge-formations, as part of the making process of working with groups or individually.”

Recent works include The World is Flooding at Tate Modern (July 2014), working with a group of participants to write, produce and direct a performance and the solo exhibition  Animal with a Language  at Waterside Contemporary, London (Sep 2014) as well as many other group exhibitions in Vienna, New York and London.

Onkar Kular

British designer Onkar Kular’s work investigates how contemporary design practice, its processes, methodologies and outputs, can be used as a medium to engage with and question understanding of cultural and popular issues. His work uses a range of different media, appropriate to the particular research project to include new objects, films, events, performances and installations, and is disseminated internationally through exhibitions, workshops, lectures, film festivals and publications.

Recent exhibitions include I Cling To Virtue,  with Noam Toran and Keith R. Jones, an installation at the Victoria & Albert Museum which presented a mixed-media collection of objects, narrative texts and videos that reveal the intricate trajectories of the Lövy Singh clan, a fictional East London family of mixed descent, and Risk Centre,  a solo show at Arkitekturmuseet in Stockholm on constructed environments used for risk and safety education.

In May 2014 Onkar Kular designed and curated The Citizens Archive of Pakistan together with Sanam Maher, bringing together a wealth of personal stories, memories and objects. Whether exploring the building of a nation, the drawing of a religious line, the voice of the collective or the experience of an individual, the items included a range of critical perspectives on Partition and considered what it means to revisit this history today.

Fabien Cappello

Fellowship Exhibition: Fabien Cappello  Streetscape 23 April – 13 June 2015
Stanley Picker Gallery and various sites around Kingston upon Thames

Since graduating from Design Products at the Royal College of Art in 2009  Fabien Cappello has created a diverse body of work that explores creative applications of local resources and local manufacture, his work exploring the disciplines of product and furniture design with a strong consideration for both craft techniques and light industrial production.

Cappello’s Stanley Picker Fellowship project is an investigation into the notion of local manufacturing in which he asks:  “What does ‘made locally’ mean when it is about the production of our built environment, and can a designer intervene in or activate that process?”

Research will focus on the public realm, using a series of case-studies representing differing scales and definitions of what “Made in London” might actually mean.  The project’s concentric geographies and associated publics will include the immediate University Campus environment of the Stanley Picker Gallery, the wider locality of Kingston upon Thames, and South West, Central and Greater London. Each case-study will comprise an inventory of local resources, and the design and production of a piece of work that highlights new possibilities in manufacturing our shared environment.

Cappello describes his principal motivation as an attempt “to draw links between the action of manufacturing and the ‘raison d’être’ of an object, motivated by a critical reaction to global material culture”.  His Stanley Picker Fellowship project will aim to propose new economic and social systems for objects to exist in the public realm. Whilst some of the individual research solutions may find an echo in wider commercial context or in global systems, some will remain small and local, focusing more on the cultural value of the objects produced.

Laura Grace Ford

Laura Grace Ford (formerly Oldfield Ford) is a London-based artist and writer concerned with issues surrounding contemporary political protest, urbanism, architecture and memory. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2007 she has become well known for her politically active and poetic engagement with London as a site of social antagonism. She is the author of Savage Messiah.

Her Stanley Picker Fellowship project involves undertaking an investigation into the sociogeography of the suburbs, specifically within the old boundaries of the county of Surrey, examining marginal political and counter-cultural groups in an attempt to ascertain the affects of landscape on the collective psyche.

Grace Ford aims for the project to be an “investigation into the marginal, a process of burrowing under the heritage version of England to uncover the repressed psyche of a land.  I want to ask how far are the marginal political ideologies that emerge in the fraying edges of our cities a product of that environment and what new discourses are fomenting in the liminal zones of the commuter belt.”

The artist will undertake a series of short journeys through specific sites of cultural and socio-political significance relating to radical counterculture, land contestation and marginal political ideologies within the old boundaries of Surrey. These walks will form the basis for a new series of paintings and accompanying written text looking at  Surrey’s contested spaces  including  derelict airfields (Wisley), abandoned military sites (Deepdene Bunker, Dunsfold Aerodrome), land-grabbed commons (St. George’s Hill, Cobham), islands in the Thames (Ham Island, Eel Pie Island, Swan Island, Alcott House), and housing schemes (Cambridge Road and Kingsnympton Estates).

The project will ultimately aim to “seek the traces of marginal lifestyles and political ideologies from the Diggers and Winstanley in St George’s Hill to the premonitions of Ballard in Kingdom Come. The walks and subsequent studio work will serve as examinations of physical marks in the landscape, of folklore, collective memory, and the politics of contemporary protest.”

Grace Ford will be participating in a number of exhibitions around the country in advance of her Stanley Picker Fellowship exhibition this coming Autumn. Bluecoat Liverpool is currently exhibiting her work as part of Soft Estate (until 23 February and travelling to Spacex Exeter in April 2014), the title derived from the Highway’s Agency description of the natural habitats of motorways and trunk roads, the liminal zones around Britain’s motorway networks. Tate Britain will be showing works by the artist as part of Ruin Lust, an exhibition of a wide-ranging interpretation on the subject of ruins in art from the 17th (reviewed in The Guardian) century to the present day (4 March-18 May 2014). Forming part of a V&A touring exhibition entitled Recording Britain, Grace Ford will present a series of drawings made while documenting the area cleared for the 2012 Olympics; the artist judging the John Ruskin Prize Recording Britain Now, showing at the Millennium Galleries Sheffield (3 April-2 Nov 2014). Finally, the artist will be presenting work in Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK at the British Library (2 May-19 Aug 2014) exploring the full range of the genre from mainstream to underground.


Exhibition: Boudicca  The Liquid Game 6 Feb – 22 March 2014
Q&A Event: 6pm Wed 5 March Boudicca In Conversation with Jonathan Faiers
Author of Dressing Dangerously: Dysfunctional Fashion in Film

Fellowship Statement:

Outside, no boundary, allow the screen to tear and potentially find questions still unanswerable but close to something we do not as yet understand or know.

After being caught in a cycle of fashion as an industry for many years, we find ourselves at a point where possibly there could come a moment when all that we have found is allowed to roam, become part of a new way of working.

Outside, no category, allow the dress to tear and potentially form new opportunity.

We worked last year within the field of chronophotography, which in itself is a very old technique invented by Etienne Jules Marey, who with the use of intermittent mechanisms similar to those used in sewing machines later went on to be one of the many catalysts to the recording and screening of moving image.

Outside, still strangers, that may even return to the cycle, the symbolism of the repeat and contrarily find a beauty in order this time around, of repeated times and connection within the chaos of it all.

Coding and connective technologies add to the mathematics within the work; sequence and storytelling could still lead us to the game.”

Zowie Broach & Brian Kirkby

Previous Fellowship Activities:
Introductory Residency: 1-16 May 2013 (extended from 8 May)
Launch Event: 5-7pm Wednesday 1 May Stanley Picker Gallery Project Studio

Suggested Reading & Viewing: “Leave no maggot lonely…” Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett
Listed below are a few moments of exchange, dialogue, debate that lead you into a world that we cherish and continue to develop and constantly update and ask questions around. Some of these links lead to what we call masters, that eternally stand as teachers for us all; those that align your thoughts and remind you of truths.

1. Pinter on Beckett –
2. Sopolsky –
3. Gaming lecture Jesse Schell –
4. All Machines of Loving Grace 1 , 2 & 3 directed and produced by Adam Curtis –
5. Jonathan Lethem – see text below with link to bootleg LeXture sound file.
6. Solar sinter in desert –
7. WG Sebald – Rings of Saturn
8. JG Ballard on Burroughs –
9. Roberto Bolano “I am dying now, but I still have many things to say” the opening lines of ‘Night in Chile.’
10. Gaming article The Journey –
11. Holy Motors –  a film by Leo Carax
12. Aaron Schwartz –
13. Dead Man – Neil Young

Appendix to 5. (above):
Confidently donning a pair of sneakers with green laces, a white striped shirt, professor glasses and a beige jacket, on Saturday April 21 2012 Jonathan Lethem delivered the tenth State of Cinema address at the 55th San Francisco Film Festival, a honor he shared with the likes of Tilda Swinton (2006) and WIRED magazine Senior Maverick Editor Kevin Kelly (2008). Click here to listen to a bootleg recording of the event.

Lethem opened his talk with a joke “About a French magician… Actually the most celebrated stage magician in France”, a prelude to his own act, “A six-plate spinning performance”. Lethem justified his presence in the packed Sundance Kabuki movie theater by explaining that, like the American woman of the aforementioned joke, he was once “cajoled into a dark room to stare at ghosts on a screen”. The magic of cinema quickly became an “object of devotion that would destroy my life” as any reader of The Disappointment Artist and his masterful new collection of essays, The Ecstasy of Influence. Nonfictions, Etc. (reviewed here, in Italian), knows. Lethem described his movie going fascination as “A long, uninterrupted continuous daydream, a telescoping of a culture I could live inside, one that could help me explain what it was like to be conscious, nervous, mixed-up, hungry… To be born, involuntarily, a body, hurling into history, hurling into time”. Thus, cinema became a generator of role models, explanations, paradigms… A perpetual Lacanian mirror stage. In short, cnema provides narrative that help us remediate the existential trauma of “being-thrown-into-the world”.

His six plate-spinning acts of bravura – all spinning at once on broomsticks – required an attentive audience, an audience that was expected “to connect the dots” between “something embarrassing,” “the mumblecore genre” which Lethem finds both “arresting” and “vital.”, with the state of media. A second topic was “The Occupy Wall Street movement [which] derives its power by its lack of inarticulation”. Third, “neotony, a concept borrowed from evolutionary science”, which Lethem cogently applied to the arts, and cinema in particular. Subsequently, as a corollary, Lethem explained “the role of cinema as an aging character in the new media realm”. “Cinema has no present,” claimed Lethem, who then concluded his talk by illustrating two key dichotomies: “true vs. real” and “Sponge listening vs. Obedient listening.” Et voilà.

“Cinema, like art itself, has one goal and one goal only: to defy time”, he said, paraphrasing Bob Dylan. “The purpose of art is to stop time”. “Every moviegoer recognizes that standards as a sensation recorded in the body, a literal suspension of our lives in the medium of cinematic life”.

1) “Mumblecore is both an arresting and important genre”, Lethem argued. The comment section for the typical mumblecore film on IMDB will likely include remarks like “This is like a John Cassavetes’ movies about boring dumb rich kids with shitty tastes and everything,” (“Real comment grabbed at random,” assured Lethem). “These fierce words encapsulate every piece of resistance against that grassroots movement otherwise known as mumblecore.” The term itself, mumblecore, like “queer” and “quacker”, derives from someone else’s scorn, thus was openly derogatory, but, with an act of cultural transcoding, it was first appropriated by the scorned subculture and then subverted, until it became legitimized, so to speak. “Everything about these movies is embarrassing”. “The embarrassment has potential for reciprocity, with cinema itself and with us”. In fact, “It is embarrassing to embarrass others and it is embarrassing to witness embarrassment”. Therefore, mumblecore is really about “The ecstasy of embarrassment”.

Lethem confessed his obsession for the “mumblecore character”, the mumblecore type, a pantomime that he simply “Cannot stop watching”. He is not a fan of the “Shaky camera aesthetics [and the cellphone, and YouTube] which define the very essence of this art form”, a convention that he compared to “Writing in the present tense,”, itself “An abdication of formal tools the artist could cling to”. And yet, he finds mumblecore absolutely fascinating, to the point that these films are “slightly rewiring” his synapses”, he said. Lethem auggested that “Andy Warhol, and not John Cassavetes, is the real father of the genre.” Both Warhol and the mumblecore directors, “Introduce characters that seem barely willing to perform. In both cases, the viewer’s attention floats in a medium of sporadic arousal”. According to Lethem, “a fictional scene in a movie is an inadvertent documentary of the actors’ lives”. “If there is one thing certain in 21st century art making, is that to present one’s vulnerabilities is to call forth the haters”. He added that, “It is typical lately to dismiss a generation’s prototypical artists by suggesting that their susceptibility to congenital pre-adolescence disqualifies their claims on our grown-up attention…. As if any of us can safely claim to be watching with ‘grown-up attention'”. “The counter-argument is that late techno-capitalism has made spoiled children of us all. Or at least, wants to.” “We gaze into the mumble. And the mumble gazes back at us”. The demands of the mumblecoreans remind Lethem of the demands of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

2) The strength of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement consists in their “Deliberate indeterminacy”. The refusal to address the reasons of their protest is the ultimate form of resistance, suggested Lethem who was as befuddled about their sudden appearance as anybody else, “Including probably the protesters themselves”. OCW is really about “bodies in spaces.” The protesters at Zuccotti Park were repeatedly asked to “State their demands”. Instead, they miraculously simply decided “To remain, on strictly political terms, inarticulate”, and by doing so, “They refused to be compromised and to become like any other political movement in history.” Thus, “Their own existence… Their own presence… became a declaration of intents”, a comment that echoes a similar remark previously made by Slavoj Zizek. “They did not take any hostages. They became the hostages,” said Lethem. Quoting philosopher Judith Levine, the novelist argued that “The movement does not have demands, but desires” and “It successfully rejected any attempt to commodify and objectify the protest”. Therefore, their act must be considered “A declaration of inchoate expressiveness […] An admission of vulnerability…. A thing the marketplace tells us should be contemptible because unworkable, because it is uncommodifiable”. Thus, the OCW protest showed us “the very possibility of a critique of our complicity and tolerance for the System” aka market capitalism, that is often confused with a concept like America. Thus, “OWS was a triumph, one impossible to revoke,” said Lethem.

3) Neoteny, “a mildly esoteric term that […] comes from biological, evolutionary sciences […] refers to the possibility of seeing the retention of some infant forms of a previous species in a later, more advanced species”. In neoteny, Letham explained, “A species advances by retaining characteristics typical of adolescents.” For instance, “Human beings are a neotenous version of some apes species”. Physical anthropologist Barry Bogin considers Betty Boop to be an example of neoteny: “A fully grown-up woman who presents elements of a child,” as Lethem put it. The same applies to Japanese manga, which represent a “Window into the future of man”. Lethem argued that neoteny could be used to explain the evolution of media and arts, including popular culture genres. For instance, rock and roll can be regarded as a neotonous development of jazz, insofar it remediates elements of jazz, but “With a new tempo, style, and purpose”. “The transitional genre that connects jazz to rock and roll was derisively called ‘clown jazz’, a term used to describe transitional figures such as Cab Calloway”. Lethem also mentioned Pablo Picasso’s fascination for early African art, adding that such reinterpretation of primitivism could be explained in neotonous terms as the persistence of playful, lusory, childish attitudes in the so-called grown-up artist. Neoteny can be also seen in the “Preference to the sketch over the finished painting, the demotape over the finished track or the rehearsal over the final performance on the stage”. The “preliminary form” is, for Lethem, the very site of neoteny.

According to Lethen, several film directors, e.g. Orseon Welles, Chris Marker, Michael Almereyda, clearly show neotonous traits in their “essay films”. The neotenous aesthetics revolves around the idea of leaving some “Unresolved elements or problems inside the works,” that is, to showcase the nature of the problem without necessarily come to any solution. So why is this phenomenon important? According to Lethem, neoteny is particularly true in our age, an age “We call postmodernity, apocalypse, globalization, hyper-connectivity, hyper-velocity”. The common denominator of all these definitions is that they identify a problem, a problem requiring “an unprecedented level of playfulness”. Thus, to survive today one must adopt a neotonous attitude: embrace hesitation and indecisiveness. “The Arts as a whole can be seen in a neotonous relationship to our world”. According to Lethem, like play “Art is largely not utilitarian, and uncommodifiable activity, deeply typical of children”. Thus, “All arts are a form of play”. Huizinga would certainly agree.

4) The next spinning plate is technology, and new media, or better, the relationship between technology and cinema. Lethem, who lived in the Bay Area in the Nineties, described the state of hyper-excitement that accompanied the so-called “virtual reality revolution,” prophesized, among the others, by Jaron Lanier. “It was supposed to generate a complete media convergence, which, in turn, was going to eradicate the difference among all media. None of these phenomena happen.” Lethem, as a novelist, compared himself as a time traveler, a voyager from approximately a century ago, “Aa time when novels were supposedly ruled the world, before being thrown into obsolescence by the arrival of new media forms like radio plays or cinema”. `”We all know the script, we have all taken it into our bodies… New forms and media arrive and destroy the earlier ones: painting destroyed by photography, theater destroyed by radio, radio destroyed by cinema, cinema destroyed by television, television destroyed by the internet, home taping is killing the record industry and so on… But such technological apocalypse never took place.”

New media never truly annihilate old media, says Lethem, who confesses that still owns – and uses – a fax machine. He also noted how supposedly new forms of communication like Twitter are being used to deliver old media content, like “Gossip” about why the Pulitzer committee – a bunch of old newspapers editors – could not decide on a winner. If there is one thing that we tend to overestimate, says Lethem, is the newness of new media. Lethem suggests that the appearance of a new medium produces two main effects on the older medium that it will supposedly replace. First, the old medium becomes “Even older”, that is, it further and deeper develops its “specificity”. For instance, “When cinema entered the scene, writers experimented with new styles of writing that could not possibly be emulated or replicated by other media, e.g. stream-of-consciousness, unreliable narration, multiple subjectivities and so forth.”. The same applies to painting which explodes with Impressionism, Expressionism with the emergence of photography and cinema, as the documentary Picasso and Braque go to the Movies perfectly illustrates.

A second consequence or effect is that the novel “Started borrowing elements from cinema,” that is, they emulated new narrative convention and tactics, a process that Richard Grusin and David Jay Bolter called “Remediation” in their seminal 1999 book. In short, the emergence of cinema “re-energized the novel, rather than killing it”. Examples include Joyce, Nabokov, Greene, Robbe-Grillet… Lethem notes that the prevailing rhetoric of “apocalypse” and “disruption” that is, media are allegedly competing with each other in a Darwininian media landscape although in reality they appear to co-exist, interact, and influence each other. “Moral panics” vs. utopian views (“The new medium will free mankind from the chains of the pre-existing conditions”). Lethem talks about the “weird persistence of delivery systems and narrative frameworks that refuse to be dislodged, as if they were part of our own bodies.” “New media bunch up” says Lethem, who considers himself as an “emissary from his own undead medium”.

In a sense, all media are like zombies, they refuse to go away and rest in peace even after they are declared ‘dead’. In this sense, “cinema is the ultimate undead,” as it has been called “finished” so many times in history. Ditto for the novel. And yet, Lethem marvels at the fact that, in the multiplex of his suburban small town of Pomona, he was able to watch independent and foreign gems such as Joseph Cedar’s Footnote and the Dardenne’ brothers The Kid with the Bike “on large screens in dark rooms” and catch on his couch Police, Adjective on Netflix. If there is one thing that new media has produced is a new form of cinephilia. We live in a “festival era”, concluded Lethem.

“Cinema has no present”. Lethem briefly discussed – and dismissed – the stereotype that today’s youth is drowning in a sea of information. As a teacher of undergraduate he finds himself “on the frontlines of a generation which came to age with the cultural shift introduced by the digital access”. On the contrary, Lethem argues that “Today’s kids are swimmers rather than drowners”. They are able to navigate the flow of data much better than we think. “Their appetite is strangely diligent”. Thus, “the digital divide is highly overrated”. The truth is that we have always been facing information overload. And we have always survived thanks to filters, such as critics. Lethem quotes the legendary Village Voice film critic Andrew Sarris. “We have always been able to find the things we love”, which is to say that “We have always been postmodern,” concluded Lethem subverting Latour’s claim that “We have never been modern”. Even more, “post-modernity is a description, nothing more It has the same characteristics described in T.S. Eliot’s poems, and James Joyce’s or Julio Cortazars’ novels…” [Additional details here]. What does that mean to cinema? “When I look at them [teenagers immersed in digital media, Ed.] I realize that cinema has no present, but multiple pasts and multiple futures”. There’s more: “Cinema is closer than ever to a new beginning. Not because of arrival of new media… Cinema is constantly reinventing itself. It is not close to its end.” Rather, it is simply restarting, rebooting, ever changing.

As an interesting aside, Lethem warned the audience of “Any time you hear a major media corporation – either an old and decrepit one or a bright and shiny new digital one – telling you that the imperatives of that media corporation coincide with the needs of the Artist, the Future survival of an art medium, or with the needs of the Individual, or the Collective, the Commons… YOU ARE HEARING A LIE”, You are hearing… TOTAL FUCKING BULLSHIT” he concluded. Lethem did not explicitly mention Google or Facebook, but it is clear he was referring to companies that pretend “To organize the world’s knowledge” or “Connect everybody in a frictionless way,” etc.

5) To explain the difference between “the true vs. the real,” Lethem referred to a novel by Samuel Delany, Dhalgren. “We define what is True by a process of exclusion,” he said. “True is what is not false,”(think Ferdinand De Saussure’s explanation of ‘language as a relational process’, e.g. the cat is not a dog; signified > signifier). “The real, on the other hand, is inclusive. So inclusive, in fact, that it includes what we call the Surreal, the Trans-real, the Hyper-real, the Intangible…” The real, according to Lethem, includes ideology, power, language (notices that for Lacan, these belong to the Symbolic, not the Real, which, by definition refuses symbolization).

What is filmmaking, then? “Art is a pursuit of the real, not of the true, for all art consist of artifice […] The manipulation of symbols. Film language is a language despite of being made, usually, of photographic chunks, of photographic evidence of the actual. It is in every sense a construction of gestures, impulses, suspicions, evocations, and dreams. A compilations of fragments…”. However, “If we consent that what appears as real in Art is actually instructed by plastic materials with deeply arbitrary properties we make ourselves eligible to consider the notion that what is consider as natural of everyday life could be a construction as well”. Echoes of Michel Foucault, but also Philip K. Dick.

6) Finally, Lethem illustrated the differences between what he called “Sponge listening vs. Obedient listening”. He did so by describing his own experience as a father of two, a four year old and a two year old. “Obedient listening is when you ask somebody to get into a bath and they do not get into the bath or even acknowledge your presence or that you even said any words at all”. Sponge listening is the kind of immature listening that absorbs all the information one comes in contact without fully understand its implications. “It is a kind of childish, playful, infantile behavior, the kind of behavior we see when a kid discovers a new toy.” Cinema is not very good at obedience listening. “It does not actually bother with it at all. No matter how many times I say, ‘Hey studios, don’t mess with my toys, and comics books, and board games and sexual fantasies, they inevitably screw them up”.

During the brief, but very interesting Q&A session, Lethem argued that internet culture brought the “closet into the open”, that is, it gave ephemera, trivialities, and everyday activities “A new kind of visibility”. “People have always been producing weird stuff and have always been engaging in arcane activities,” Lethem remarked. “What is really new is the fact the now we can see it. We can see it all.We can quantify what we do – or not do – online.” Lethem mentioned the uncanny ability to track, in real time, “how many books I am not selling on Amazon”. “Reality has acquired a new level of measurability”. “The activities we perform in our digital age are not necessarily new. What is new is that. We. Can. See. Them. All.”.

This has created surprising situations. He mentioned the case of his four year old kid who was obsessed by whales and started watching a bunch of whales videos on YouTube. The kid incidentally stumbled upon John Huston’s Moby Dick, “Which is available on YouTube in its entirety,” and subsequently “became obsessed in Moby Dick rather than whales in general,”. Lethem has not told the kid about the book upon which the film is based, but that “will eventually bring the novel into the picture, so to speak”.

Asked about the possible future adaptations of his novels, Lethem mentioned that David Lynch was once interested in his novel Amnesia Moon. “He was not planning to direct the film himself,” Lethem said, “He was going to ask Tim Hunter, who made River’s Edge, to do it”. He also mentioned that David Cronenberg had optioned As She Climbed Across the Table [which incidentally is my favorite novel of his]. So far none of these projects has seen the light of the day, but “things could change”. Lethem also confessed that he sent a copy of Fortress of Solitude to Pedro Almodovar who once “Expressed interest in directing a movie based on a contemporary American novel”. “I guess mine was not that novel,” Lethem joked.

“I really admire those directors who are able to completely reinvent a novel they adapt for the big screen […] Using those parts that work in a cinematic context… Those who suffocate the book, drowning it under water until it becomes a mass of wet pulp. At that point – and only at that point- the novel – or what remains of it- can be turned into a movie”. Et voilÃ