Wednesday, October 26, 2016

2010 / Books of the year


Books of the year

Jonathan Franzen's family epic, a new collection from Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin's love letters, a memoir centred on tiny Japanese sculptures ... which books most excited our writers this year?

Saturday 27 November 2010 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In Red Dust Road (Picador) Jackie Kay writes lucidly and honestly about being the adopted black daughter of white parents, about searching for her white birth mother and Nigerian birth father, and about the many layers of identity. She has a rare ability to portray sentiment with absolutely no sentimentality. Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns (Random House) is a fresh and wonderful history of African-American migration. Chang-rae Lee's The Surrendered (Little, Brown) is a grave, beautiful novel about people who experienced the Korean war and the war's legacy. And David Remnick's The Bridge (Picador) is a thorough and well-written biography of Barack Obama. The many Americans who believe invented biographical details about Obama would do well to read it.

John Banville
William James, brother of the – in some quarters – more famous Henry, was that rarest of beings, a philosopher who wrote clear, elegant and exciting prose. In The Heart of William James (Harvard University Press), James's biographer Robert Richardson has put together a dazzling selection of this great thinker's work, with perfectly judged short pieces to usher in each of the selections.
Tony Judt, too, had a wonderful prose style, and his little book The Memory Chalet (William Heinemann), a collection of autobiographical essays, is beautiful and moving. Although Judt, who suffered from motor neurone disease, died earlier this year, this late work is more sustaining than sad.
Death stalks the pages of Seamus Heaney's collection Human Chain (Faber), but as we would expect from this most affirmative and celebratory of poets, the book in the end is really a meditation on life in all its fleeting sweetness.

Julian Barnes
Unfit for life, unsure of love, unschooled in sex, but good at washing up: Philip Larkin, in Letters to Monica (Faber), lays out his all-too-self-aware catalogue of reasons for being uncheerful. The reader is made slightly cheerful by the thought of not having had Larkin's life, but very cheerful that poems of such truth, wit and beauty emerged from it.
If Larkin represents native genius in its costive English form, Stephen Sondheim represents the fecund American version: Finishing the Hat (Virgin Books) is not just a book of lyrics (with cut and variant versions) but an exuberance of memories, principles, anecdotes, criticism and self-criticism.
Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes (Chatto & Windus) unexpectedly combines a micro craft-form with macro history to great effect.
Mary Beard
The most moving book of the year for me was Tony Judt's Ill Fares the Land (Allen Lane) – a powerful "living will" written as Judt succumbed to the complete paralysis of motor neurone disease. It is a marvellous denunciation of modern politics ("Something is profoundly wrong with how we live today"), written with all the grace and intensity that only the dying can muster.
On a cheerier note, I have only just caught up with Reaktion's series of books on animals. Robert Irwin's quizzical investigation of the Camel (one hump and two) and Deirdre Jackson's elegant exploration of the frankly rather dull life of the Lion will appeal even to those who would never normally pick up a book on the natural world.

William Boyd
Stephen Sondheim, who has just turned 80, is the unrivalled genius in the world of musical theatre with five or six masterworks that have redefined the form. A superb, generous melodist and a lyricist up there with Cole Porter and Noël Coward, Sondheim has now given us Finishing the Hat. His detailed commentary on his wonderful songs is honest, shrewd and fascinating. The ideal fix for Sondheim addicts.
Poetry addicts, meanwhile, should swiftly acquire Oliver Reynolds's latest collection, Hodge (Areté Books) – poems of beautiful precision that reveal their secrets slowly. And Samko Tále's Cemetery Book (Garnett Press) by the Slovak writer Daniela Kapitánová offers us, in a superb translation by Julia Sherwood, one of the strangest and most compelling voices I have come across in years. Muriel Spark meets Russell Hoban. An astonishing, dark and scabrous novel.

Anthony Browne
I was fascinated by the fattest book I read, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (Fourth Estate), an epic novel that tells a funny and moving story of an American family unravelling in the first few years after 9/11. It's about the problems that come with liberty, seen through the lives of what at first seems like the perfect couple.
In contrast, my second choice is a small, exquisite picture book, Eric by Shaun Tan (Templar). This is the tale of a strange foreign exchange student, told from the point of view of the host family. Eric is drawn as a tiny, shadowy figure living in a world of giants. The narrator hints at the "cultural things" that divide them. This is a true picture book in that the illustrations tell as much as the words do, and is that relatively rare thing: a picture book appealing equally to both adults and children.

How I became a convert to the cult of Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović
How I became a convert to the cult of Marina Abramović

'The grandmother of performance art' had people openly weeping at New York's MoMA. Zoe Williams spent a whole day in her presence at her long-anticipated London show. Did she break down?

Zoe Williams
Saturday 14 June 2014 08.00 BST

obert is a 46-year-old psychiatrist and Elisa is 28, and from Italy, and they both arrived outside the Serpentine gallery at around quarter to six on Wednesday morning. They were waiting for the opening of the Marina Abramović exhibition – Elisa had seen her three times already: on London's Southbank, in Milan and in Madrid. "I think she expresses something that was already inside of us but that we couldn't express." At last year's retrospective at MoMA, The Artist is PresentAbramović sat in a chair; people came and sat opposite her. Many were openly weeping during it. Lars, 36, a fine artist who is joint first in the queue, having arrived at 4.30am, explained: "In that show, she was just a mirror, as if you were facing yourself. That's why so many people got so sad and started crying. Because they couldn't actually face themselves."

Robert saw someone cry this morning as the artist walked past the queue. "I'll be keeping all my inhibitions intact," he said. "But what if you have a profound emotional reaction?" I asked. "I won't. I know that already." Why a man would get up in the middle of the night in order definitely not to have an emotional reaction, I do not know. He may have been treading that British tightrope between wanting to abide by a law (Hyde Park is closed at night) and wanting to be first in a queue.

"The British are sarcastic. They make fun of everything." Marina Abramović, in advance of her show in the Serpentine, was quite calm and open about her anxieties. "You just arrive in the gallery, are you not surprised there is absolutely nothing here? There is no work. This gallery has never been that empty. What do you think? I never made anything so radical as this," she said in an interview onNewsnight. At the summit of a four-decade career of peerless illustriousness – people have started calling her the "grandmother of performance art" - she arrives in London with her most immaterial show ever.
Just by coincidence, this week has seen a national conversation about "British values", whether they exist, and whether they can, according to education secretary Michael Gove's wishes, be taught in schools. It's asinine, and everybody knows it: the qualities we'd be proud to claim are those that every nation cherishes; when anything is demonstrably, exclusively British, it's almost certainly something to be ashamed of.

And yet I do think there are British traits, characteristics relating to immersion, not race, hovering underneath the jokes about queuing, somewhere on this territory of sarcasm. It's not making fun of everything, or it's not only that – rather, a tendency to be pre-emptively embarrassed, followed by anger at whoever is around who doesn't seem afflicted by this hypothetical shame, which comes out in sarcasm. (I do not think it either necessary or desirable to teach this in schools.) Everything I read, hear and see about Abramović brings out some Englishness in me. Every question in my mind is related to social awkwardness rather than art. The artist stands in a gallery. There is nothing around her. We, the audience, experience it as art simply by being around her. But how will I know when she wants me to leave? What if she can tell from across a room how much it would make me uncomfortable if she held my hand? They're like cats, performance artists: they can tell when you don't like them.
You wouldn't say this was the most challenging show of Abramović's career: in 1997, her piece Balkan Baroque featured more than 1,000 cow bones, complete with blood and flesh, the artist sitting atop this death assemblage, scrubbing. In 1974, she performed Rhythm 0, with herself as the object, and a table of 72 things – a thorn, a gun, a rose – to use on her. She remembers it for the aggression it generated in the people who came: one of them stuck rose thorns in her stomach, another held the gun to her head. And she posits, furthermore, that when you challenge an audience in some important way, some of them will react as violently to you as they would if you'd punched them.

Marina Abramovic
 512 hours explores 'the first solidarity, the delight of sharing'. Photograph: Ik Aldama/Demotix

So, 512 hours, which is the name of her current programme, may not throw down the gauntlet in that way, but naturally it is an affront of a different sort, a challenge to the people who think art ought to be, or do, or mean something, people whose number is considerable. Others think she's too rock star, too much of a glamour puss, to be an authentic artist. She has inspired an episode of Sex and the City, and taught Lady Gaga a technique to give up smoking (it involved counting grains of rice). "I love fashion," she said to Emma Brockes in this newspaper. "Who says if you have red lipstick and nail polish you're not a good artist?" I only remember it because my mother actually did tell me when I was a kid that women who wore red lipstick and red nail varnish wanted to look as though they'd just eaten someone. Others accuse her of plagiarising Mary Ellen Carroll, the US performance artist who has apparently made the creation of art about nothing her life's work.

These accusations, which distil down to a lack of substance on the one hand and a lack of originality on the other, simply won't stick. They misrepresent the history of performance art, how central Abramović is to it, what copying means and doesn't mean: in 2005, she remade Vito Acconci's 1972Seedbed at the Guggenheim, and masturbated under the floor that people were walking on, claiming afterwards to have had nine orgasms. "A copy is never just a copy," said Elisa.
Dylan Stone, a 47-year-old lecturer in art and film and storyboarding, was in the queue with his sister, Alexandra, and a student, Rory. Dylan says: "Her work for the last 20 years has been about coming from a country, Serbia, that's been trampled on and raped. The horror of rape, the horror of having your community destroyed, the horror of any love you had having been ruined." Alexandra is a film producer, and says: "Her stuff is just so intense. She's very present." The trauma of Serbia's history is matched by her personal story, living with a mother so controlling that Abramović didn't go out after 10pm until she was 29 years old. "In one performance," Elisa told me, "she wanted to dress up in the way her mum always wanted her to dress. And then put a bullet in her head. She said, 'This performance can have two endings' [she would either survive, or she wouldn't]. Obviously no gallery would allow her to do it."
The terms Abramović uses of her work are utter presence, meditation, a kind of channelled shamanism to engulf the whole room.
Along with Lars, some art students are at the very front, minutes away from going in. Daniel, 22, is studying fine art in Camberwell. He seems anxious. "I do feel anxious most of the time," he admits, "but not particularly now." "It's like jumping in to an ocean," Lars adds, "and you don't know whether it's going to be warm or cold. It's that kind of anxiety. But you just have to jump in."
Inside, I am mainly struck by what a religious experience it is; I am as sure as I've ever been of anything that this would have been what it was like in the earliest days of Christian mysticism. One charismatic, 20 or 30 devoted disciples; maybe 100 people who are ready, respectfully silent, waiting to be convinced; a few sceptics, there on purpose to ruin things; some people who are perhaps there by accident.

Abramović moves through the room. She takes people by the hand, one by one, leads them somewhere in the room, directs them to stand against the wall, whispers something, leaves. The crowd watches. There are three spaces in the gallery, and as she moves from one to another, nobody is quite sure whether they're allowed to follow. One person decides it's OK; then the whole lot moves. A woman in red lipstick is taking people by the hand, acting as a kind of freelance deputy artist. "Did she actually ask you to do that?" my inner voice asks, angrily. Immediately I'm angry with myself, for being so rulebound. Then the freelancer approaches a stranger, trying to hold her hand, and is rejected; her hand-holdee doesn't want to pass up the chance to be stood against a wall by the artist herself. The moment had everything I hate in human intercourse. A misplaced boldness, pretentiousness, rejection, humiliation, haughtiness, hierarchy, a horrible, exquisite social awkwardness, I was squirming. I spent the rest of the hour just trying to avoid the freelancer, so I didn't even notice when Abramović took my hand. She likes to do it in a particular way – an interlocking clasp, rather than a passive, childlike hold; I gathered this by observing, very closely, how she did it with other people, so I didn't get caught out. It was a bit like being in an aerobics class. She walked me across the floor, her step urgently slow, like a heartbeat. I tried and failed to match her impossible pace, while she held my hand, and my shoes clipclopped like a policeman with a limp. "Close your eyes," she whispered. "Listen to the silence. Be in the present. Nothing matters." Then she said a fifth thing that I didn't hear, because I was thinking "of course things matter. You can't just stop things mattering by saying they don't matter." "Stay as long as you like," she continued. So anyway, there I was, against a wall, with my eyes closed. Thinking, I'm still not a disciple. But nor am I here just to be sceptical. Think of me as one of the passers-by of early Christianity, neither for nor against it, just happening to be in the area. I wouldn't say I remained detached.
Even faces whose openness is maybe a tiny bit contrived are bizarrely transparent. Although the naked, expressive emotions of the MoMA crowd perhaps won't be replicated here, it did strike me, looking around, that a lot of young people are quite anxious, and a lot of old people are quite sad.
Then I caught sight of Alexandra, beaming enormously; initially I thought it was at a wall, and she was having a transcendent experience. Then I realised that she was smiling at her brother. "Isn't it amazing?" she mouthed. It was like a pure snapshot of siblinghood, the first solidarity, the delight of sharing, the assumption of being understood. How ironic, I thought, as a tear streaked down my face and hit my collarbone. I only came to take the piss out of the crying people, and I'm the only one crying.

Marina Abramović in new Australian tour / 'She's like the Beatles'

Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović in new Australian tour: 'she's like the Beatles'

Serbian superstar artist will return to Australia, more than three decades after a transformational trip to outback Western Australia

Nancy Groves
Thursday 19 February 2015 21.47 GMT

It was the place where she first fixed her famous Gaze. Now Australia is preparing to welcome Marina Abramović for a double season of art in Tasmania and Sydney.
The “superstar” Serbian performance artist will visit Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in June to launch a major four-month exhibition of her work, before travelling to Sydney to personally administer the 12-day residency at Pier 2/3, revealed in late 2014 by Kaldor Public Art Projects
The announcement was made jointly by John Kaldor, longstanding arts philanthropist, and David Walsh, the enigmatic founder of Mona. If the meeting in one room of two of Australia’s most significant private art funders wasn’t enough, the artist was also present – via video, at least – to speak of her imminent visit.
“I have been many times in Australia since 1979 to study Aboriginal culture, to do residencies with different academies, to work with students and do different research,” she said. “But this time I’m coming for a completely different thing.”

Abramović’s Mona show, Private Archaeology which opens on 13 June, will combine some of her earliest performance pieces made with one-time partner in life and art, Ulay, with more recent work in which her most significant collaborator is the audience.
Marina Abramović: In Residence, in Sydney from 24 June to 5 July, will see the artist “conduct” visitors in the Abramović method, famously taught to Lady Gaga at the Marina Abramović Institute in Hudson, New York, but also the focus of 512 hours at the Serpentine Gallery, London in 2014.
Kaldor, who spent a week experiencing the Serpentine show, said of Abramović: “She holds Australia very dear to her heart – like her artistic, spiritual home. Spending six or seven months in the outback really transformed her art.”
The Gaze, the work that ultimately brought Abramović celebrity status (and celebrity friends, including the rapper Jay-Z) was first performed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1981, Kaldor reminded us, under the title Nightsea Crossing. “[So] Australia in many ways was an anchor to her artistic development.”

The two arts organisations initially approached Abramović separately to suggest a return to Australia, Kaldor Projects after her work Luminosity featured in its 2013 group show, 13 Rooms. This time, alongside her own project, she will also tutor a group of emerging Australian performance artists during her residency in full view of the public.

When Walsh and his team first visited Abramović in her Amsterdam studio, she shared photos and memories of her time with the Pitjantjatjara and Pintupi people of the Western Desert from October 1980 to March 1981.“I had a profound experience in the country. I then left for a long time in order to create works that could communicate my experience there,” she told curators.
Speaking of the Abramović double-header in Sydney and at Mona, Walsh said: “Marina is like the Beatles, except when Lennon was still alive. She’s a superstar and there’s no surprise we both approached this superstar because even though we come at art from different directions, we often think about the same things.”
Walsh admitted that, while as “an atheist and a materialist and a pragmatist”, he wasn’t so taken with the artist’s spiritual side, Abramović’s acute self-study did fascinate him.
Most art is unconscious or self-conscious, he said. “Marina takes it a step further – she engages self-awareness ... It’s a powerful place to be and Marina, of all the artists in the world, is the one that can take us there – perhaps the only one who wants to take us there.”
 Private Archaelogy is at the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, from 13 June to 5 October. Marina Abramović: In Residence is at Pier 2/3, Sydney, from 24 June to 5 July

Marina Abramović / Quote

Marina Abramović

by Marina Abramović 

I change houses like I change socks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top 100 women / Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović

Top 100 women: art, film, music and fashion

Marina Abramović 

Yugoslavian performance artist famed for her gruelling, intimate works that are legendary feats of endurance, self-exposure and risk

he daughter of high-ranking officers in Tito's Yugoslavia, Marina Abramovic makes gruelling, intimate performances that are legendary feats of endurance, self-exposure and risk. She has invited audiences to manipulate her body, providing whips, knives and a gun loaded with a single bullet. She has sat among rotting cow's bones, scrubbing them clean while singing a tragic lament, a performance that reflected on the civil wars in the Balkans, and won her a Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Biennale. Her alarming art is leavened by great humour and tenderness. Abramovic is inspirational in setting the bar almost impossibly high for performance art.


Top 100 women / Emma Thompson

Emma Thompson
Top 100 women: art, film, music and fashion

Emma Thompson

Oscar-winning actor and human rights campaigner, recently working to raise awareness of sex trafficking

Emine Saner
Tuesday 8 March 2011 00.05 GMT

n activist since the beginning of her career, Emma Thompson, 51, is a longstanding supporter of the anti-poverty agency Action Aid, chair of the human rights organisation The Helen Bamber Foundation, and has been raising awareness of sex trafficking.

Refusing to be grand, she has rejected cosmetic surgery and talked about her IVF and post-natal depression – and is the first person to win an Oscar for both acting and screenwriting.

Top 100 women / Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney

The designer who has carved out her own successful career on her own merit, not just her connections
Stella McCartney's graduation fashion show might be remembered more for roping in famous friends Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell to model, but since then she has carved out a successful career on her merit, not just her connections.
Admired for staying true to her principles – it would have been far more commercially savvy to use fur and leather in her collections, but McCartney, 39, a lifelong vegetarian, has always refused – her clear vision for clothes that suit women of all shapes and sizes has won her loyal customers.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Top 100 women / Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman

American artist and photographer, famed for her self-portraits in disguise, subverting notions of identity and gender

Emine Saner
Tuesday 8 March 2011 00.05 GMT

he work is what it is and hopefully it's seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work," says Cindy Sherman about her art, "but I'm not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff." But feminists were eager to claim her, inspired by her photographs that were not self-portraits but spoke of gender, identity and power.

In her early Untitled Film Stills, Sherman, always her own favourite muse, appears as B-movie cliches – as sex object or domestic drudge. In her Centerfolds series, she appears as a seductress and in another as terrified and vulnerable. Sherman, 57, has become everything from career woman to clown, beauty to hag, doll to dead, playing with disguise and stereotypes.
Her work, spanning more than 30 years, has made her one of the most important, and collected, female artists in the world. Last year, a 6ft photograph of Sherman as a muddied corpse sold for a record $2.7m (£1.7m).

Top 100 women / Paula Rego

Paula Rego

Paula Rego

Portuguese painter who broke boundaries at the Slade School of Art and was nominated for the Turner prize in her 50s

o look over Paula Rego's body of work is to look over the landscape of women's experience: desire, abortion, rape, female circumcision, childbirth, family relationships, dominating and being dominated by men; her masculine female figures are sometimes lonely, but usually fierce and often bent on revenge. Success came relatively late in life – a graduate of the Slade School of Art at a time when female artists were taught how to support and inspire their "superior" male artist partners ("women were good either for going to bed with or making good wives – particularly if they came with their own money and could support the men".)

Rego, now 75, was in her 40s before her first big solo exhibition, and in her 50s when she was nominated for the Turner prize. Although she was made a dame last year, Rego was born in Portugal and in 2009, Paula Rego – House of Stories, a gallery dedicated to housing her work, opened in Portugal. Germaine Greer, whose portrait by Rego hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, says, "No other artist has ever come close to capturing Rego's sense of the phantasmagoria that is female reality."

Top 100 women / Patti Smith

Patti Smith

Patti Smith

The pioneering punk musician, poet and political activist broke through the male punk movement without chasing fame or money

t was the most electrifying image I'd ever seen of a woman of my generation," Camille Paglia said of the cover of Patti Smith's debut album Horses, which was released in 1975. That photograph, taken by Smith's friend and sometime lover Robert Mapplethorpe, revealed her as defiant and without pretension, with an unkempt masculine beauty – and she has remained that way ever since

She is inspirational, not only because she broke through the heady male punk movement, but because she has integrity and loyalty to her art, resolutely never interested in chasing fame or money. Smith, 64, is a poet, photographer, artist, mother, political activist and a voracious reader and writer. "All I've ever wanted, since I was a child," she says, "was to do something wonderful."

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Suzanne Vega / How we made Tom's Diner

Suzanne Vega: how we made Tom's Diner

‘It’s a real place and I’m mentioned in their menu now. But they call me Susan Vega – and I still have to pay for coffee’

Interviews by Dave Simpson
Tuesday 18 October 2016 07.00 BST

Suzanne Vega, singer-songwriter

When I was at college in Manhattan in the early 1980s, I used to go to Tom’s Restaurant on 112th and Broadway for coffee. I liked its ordinariness: it was the kind of place you’d find on any corner. One day, I was in there mulling over a conversation I’d had with a photographer friend, Brian Rose, about romantic alienation. He told me he saw his life as if through a pane of glass. I came out of Tom’s with the idea of writing a song about an alienated character who just sees things happening around him. I was walking down Broadway and the melody popped into my head.
The line about the actor “who had died while he was drinking” was true: William Holden’s obituary had been in that morning’s paper. The “bells of the cathedral” were those of St John the Divine up the street, though I made up the bit about the woman “fixing her stockings” and changed “restaurant” to “diner” to make it rhyme.


I imagined the song as some kind of French film background music, played on a piano, but I don’t play piano so I recorded it a capella for my Solitude Standing album and didn’t think much more about it. Three years later, I heard that two young English guys called DNA had put a beat to it – and I cringed. I’d just had a big hit with Luka, which – unfortunately, despite its dark subject matter, child abuse – lent itself to all sorts of parodies and covers, most of which I hated.

Tom's Diner -Suzanne Vega
I feared more of the same, but to my great relief I loved what DNA had done. I thought it would be played in a few dance clubs and that would be it, but it surpassed everyone’s expectations. I even got a plaque for it being one of the most played R&B songs – funny for a folk singer.

Suzanne Vega / ‘It’s taken me a while to say, You are what you are, it’s fine’

Suzanne Vega: ‘It’s taken me a while to say, You are what you are, it’s fine’

The 80s pop-folk star talks about her confused identity growing up, and her new album drawn from her one-woman play about US writer Carson McCullers

Andrew Anthony
Sunday 9 October 2016 10.00 BST

uzanne Vega, the youthful lone voice of folkish revival in the 1980s, is now a 57-year-old woman but she remains, as she always has been, a mysteriously protean presence. She’s elfin small with large blue eyes and a face that tends towards cool inexpressiveness. She tells me that she’s often mistaken in the street for other people. “I’ve been told I’m Cynthia Nixon, Beth Orton, Isabella Rossellini and Molly Ringwald,” she says, shaking her head with bemusement.

Which one, I ask, does she most enjoy being confused with.
“Oh Isabella Rossellini. I was like, holy cow, thanks!”

Small blue thing 
 Suzanne Vega
Vega says she’s fascinated by the idea of “pretending to be other people”, and she’s auditioned unsuccessfully for several high-profile film parts down the years. She was up for the role of the underground musician in Desperately Seeking Susan, but lost out to Madonna. She got rejected as a nun in Sister Act, because her audition was “too dark”, and nearly played opposite Tom Cruise in The Color of Money.