Monday, 3 August 2020

short and sweet

Composer Max Richter has been creating beautiful music over this last decade. On the blog today you'll find a work (below) which takes the UN Declaration of Human Rights as its starting point. I needn't say any more.

Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance (July Bulletin)
The latest round-up of blogs, opportunities, events and much, much more is available on the CHWA website by clicking HERE. I'd particularly like to draw your attention to The House of Lords Covid-19 Committee who are asking people to share their hopes and fears about the long-term impact of the pandemic.

'The Committee, which was appointed in June 2020 to consider the long-term implications of the pandemic on the economic and societal wellbeing of the UK, wants to understand what individuals and organisations think that COVID-19 will mean for our daily lives, at work and at home, and for how we function as a society – what might it mean for social cohesion, for (in) equality, for our environment or for arts and culture? Asking people to look several years into the future, the Committee are keen to hear about both the challenges there are to overcome and the opportunities to do things better, especially in light of the systemic inequalities in society that the pandemic has highlighted. The Committee are welcoming both traditional written submissions and more creative contributions, and details of how people can share their views are included in the call for evidence.' DEADLINE - 31st August 2020.
For more details, click on the image by soymicroscopio below, taken from covidartmuseum.

Maggie's Leeds
What a wonderful thing it is that Maggie Keswick Jencks has given us - a legacy that embraces beauty and life with cancer. These healing environments that she and her husband envisaged following her own cancer diagnosis, have spread around the UK and internationally and are really beautiful environments that exude care in their very materials. I had a real treat of being asked to one of the centres in the grounds of Charing Cross Hospital back in 2013. The whole experience was so stimulating, that alongside the design work of Darren Browett, (which was focused on memory loss and design) I was not only propelled into writing a book chapter, but it really shifted my thinking towards living with cancer, dementia and the arts and (don't let it disturb you) mortality. I really do owe a debt of gratitude to Jencks and Browett. But this week sees much publicity about a new Maggie's Centre which has opened in Leeds and designed by the Thomas Heatherwick studio. What a beautiful thing. Seemingly improbable - but not impossible - why can't all healthcare provision take a leaf out of this book. 

Are you a passionate artist who wants to create live performance, develop an idea, find new collaborations, be seen & heard, but cannot get beyond barriers to developing or continuing your practice? BEYOND is designed to transform the careers of Deaf and disabled artists, supporting new connections to artistic development opportunities through advice, training, mentoring and creative spaces within a national network of theatres. For full details click HERE or on the image below.

. . .

Blackberries have come early,
Fingers stained and torn too soon.

Monday, 20 July 2020

The Seahorse...

How can the arts and creativity support people who are shielding and vulnerable during Covid-19?
Last Thursday I took part in an All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health & Wellbeing - well - I sat huddled amongst the other would be participant-observers, the session ran right up to the mark meaning I was less of a participant and just an observer. No time for questions or comments from those watching was possible. For those of you with an interest in all things arts/health/policy, you can watch a video of the proceedings right HERE. The webinar was titled, How can the arts and creativity support people who are shielding and vulnerable during Covid-19? Oh lord - I had so much to say too!

While Daisy Fancourt fresh back from a high level UN summit, revealed amongst other revelations, that her large-scale research had uncovered the fact that watching the news as the pandemic has unfolded, has been bad for our mental health, but hobbies had been good for us!! Baroness Lola Young made clear, the future needs a more nuanced and substantial response to and through, the arts. It's rather clear that artists of all disciplines working towards social change need serious long-term investment - not just in that great capital city, but in the towns and villages of this island. Thank you Patrick Fox (Heart  of Glass) for providing a qualitative and civic focus and to Victoria Hume for stressing the relevance of inequalities in this great ongoing arts debate. The potential of culture and the arts in all their forms, to impact of health, wellbeing and social change, has never felt so relevant.

I hope that in a distant post-covid world, the arts will have been seen to be a galvanising force for social cohesion and a making sense of the anxiety and isolation that the pandemic has created. I hope too that the arts are no longer the sole preserve of the educated elite, but a means to imposing order and disorder on the chaos of contemporary existence. The arts challenge, arouse and liberate the potential in all of us and this arts, health and social change agenda - begins in the very heart of our communities. As both an arts led researcher and one of those ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ people, I know from research and rich personal experience that the arts are both essential and necessary - and thankfully not always palatable! Patrick Fox called for ‘leadership from the margins’ - and I for one, couldn't agree more.

Unable to add my voice to that specific discussion, I was able to have an altogether different conversation last week as part of the SICK! festival digital offer. As a guest of Lucy Burke and Smug Roberts who head up the 4OFUS podcast interviews, I was able to share something of my experience of living with myeloma during lockdown alongside Katie Awdas and her life with endometriosis. I cringe at everything my great gurning head says, and I seem to keep clear of staking any claims on culture and the arts, but boy-oh-boy, my derrière makes a none too subtle appearance once more!

A short film by Jonathan Glazer and inspired by a powerful involuntary mania that took hold of citizens in the city of Strasbourg just over 500 years ago, STRASBOURG 1518 is a collaboration in isolation with some of the greatest dancers working today, performing to a composition written by the superb Mica Levi.The film will premiere to UK viewers on BBC Two at 10:00 BST, Monday 20 July 2020. Watch it live, or catch it on BBC iPlayer, available from 21 July. For more details on the Artangel commissioned work, click on the image below.

Poorhouse to Powerhouse...
Meanwhile, over in North Wales Frances Williams charts the narrative surrounding the statue of HM Stanley erected in Denbigh in 2011 in light of the global eruption of Black Lives Matter protests and public tearing down of statues, and explores what the ‘saving’ of the statue in 2020 reveals about more recent political histories. Sensitive readers must be warned that this work contains a giant rubber sheath! Now you're interested! Click HERE to read this excellent article in full.
Jean Painlevé The Seahorse 1934

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Never Waste a Good Crisis

“The NHS is an incredible feat of the imagination – complete strangers care for you and this means that it is social medicine and social health at its best.”

What a wonderful quote from poet Michael Rosen, who after his recovery from Covid19 and almost seven weeks in intensive care, has given a wonderful little interview in the Observer. Read it HERE. Even though our evolving NHS is being incrementally privatised, how different it feels to the American model typified here by this recoding of former cowboy president, Ronald Reagan. Click on the album below to hear a snippet of his verbiage.

On "not wanting Boris Johnson to die"
Over the years I’ve been aware of her, Miriam Margolyes has been rolled out on to numerous chat shows, frequently playing the part that keeps the money coming in; that of the eccentric provocateur - and once you’ve seen the routine - it can get a bit laboured. But her recent clearing by Ofcom for comments she made on TV in May this year, I’d say, warrant amplifying as loudly as possible. Discussing the governments miss-management of the pandemic and in particular, Johnson’s part in it - while he was ill of the virus - in a serious and a completely honest tone,  she commented,

“I had difficulty not wanting Boris Johnson to die, I wanted him to die, and then I thought that reflects badly on me and I don’t want to be the sort of person who wants people to die. So, then I wanted him to get better, which he did do, he did get better, but he didn’t get better as a human being.” 


These are interesting times and while countries report staggering low death counts like Hong Kong 7, Rwanda 2, Taiwan 7, Iceland 10 - we then come return to the UK, as of Sun 26th June we sit just under the behemoth of the USA 126,780 - at 43,230. A brutal and accurate attack on the failings of Bolsonaris Johnson’s handling of covid has been made by Kenneth Surin HERE. All those epidemiologists can easily tell us that statistically, considering the size of our population in comparison to the US, this has to be chaotic leadership on a colossal scale. Forty-three thousand two hundred and thirty people - individuals - precious lives - every single one of them. 

On the 5th May a member of my family unnecessarily died of Covid-19 as we could only watch and chat through his appalling last days via FaceTime and WhatsApp, unable to visit the covid ward while I am being shielded and shielding. It’s taken me a long time to muster up the strength of will to even mention this here. Why? The emotion was crippling - the anger, like nothing else - it’s fucking seismic. This vital life whose warmth I feel now, whose voice is clarion clear in my mind - and who was a rich, complete person central to the life of my family - unnecessarily dead. Of course, this virus is completely new and some would say, previously unimaginable - only outbreaks of corona viruses and other novel viruses have been predicted and planned for - apparently - for years.

As right-wing thugs have attempted to distract attention from #BLM we should be alert to our government using this agenda to address racism in a tokenistic way, providing a smoke-scree to its incompetence in all things Covid. Like the apparently forgotten flagrant behaviour of Special Adviser Cummings, we mustn’t lose sight of this government mismanagement and token attention to systemic racism which demands more than smoke and mirrors. As the ‘relaxation’ of lockdown kicks in and the inevitable escalation of new cases of infection and deaths begin - just remember, blame will be apportioned to the sunbathing masses - who yes - act like dumb cattle in many ways, but who are given all the signals for their behaviour from the arrogant elite who smirk and scoff their way through the crisis and fixated on the market, committing to spend BIG to 'build UK back to health'. Think - twisted ‘austerity’ - in a new guise. Never has a real sense of rebellion felt more needed, more urgent; the unnecessarily dead would demand this.

The comments of Myriam Margolyes were spontaneous and honest, and the kind of dark thoughts a few of us have probably mulled over, as Johnson blusters his way through these bleak months - and Trump arrogantly tweets his way through multiple deaths. For my part, while I see that litigation is being mounted against the government and its unlawful policies, I only hope that something akin to a war crimes tribunal will emerge, holding inept ‘leaders’ and their stooges to account for their systemic failings, and the appalling deaths of our fellow humans.

A Distorting Mirror
Reading about the 1,300 theatres closed across the UK at the moment, the playwright Tom Stoppard makes some pithy observations about the arts in our lives: 

“The arts, whether it’s theatre or opera or circus or pantomime, are not an add-on, like restaurants: people are joined together by what Shakespeare called a mirror held up to nature. It’s a distorting mirror, which may be convex or concave or as flat as when you’re being measured for a suit, but when they’re in danger – as they are now – one begins to feel forlorn about picking up life where one left off, if we somehow fail to reassemble this essential part of a fulfilled life.”

Reasons to Be Cheerful
Graeae is a force for change in world-class theatre, boldly placing D/deaf and disabled actors centre stage and challenging preconceptions. There's still time to catch the joyful and raucous hit musical celebrating the infectious songs of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, in Jenny Sealey's 2017 production with book by Paul Sirett. Featuring stone-cold classics including Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick; Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll; Spasticus Autisticus; Reasons to be Cheerful (part 3) and the rousing new protest song If It Can't Be Right Then It Must Be Wrong written by John Kelly and The Blockheads especially for this production. Click HERE to watch this free performance until 3 August 2020. 


As PRIDE month 2020 comes to a close today, a lovely story from the Andalusian village of Villanueva de Algaidas in Spain caught my eye. Following the complaints of three residents, local police ordered the mayor of the village to take down a rainbow flag which he’d put up to celebrate gay pride - because it was illegal! However, ‘more than 300 households in the village rallied to the cause and flew their own flags. By the time gay pride celebrations took place in Spain on Sunday, [the village near Malaga] was awash with flags hanging from balconies, windows and even a bar in solidarity.’ Read the full account of SOLIDARITY by clicking on the image below, or HERE.

Never waste a good crisis
This competition, run by UCL openDemocracy is open to school and university students (aged 14 and up) to share their vision of the future, with prizes of £200, £100 or £50 in book tokens plus the chance for personal mentoring from the panel of some of the world's foremost thinkers and some fantastic work experience with either UCL or openDemocracy. Entrants can submit either a written article, short video or image that describes their vision for the world after the coronavirus crisis has passed. The competition opens on 15 June 2020. The competition and public vote will close at 23:59 UTC on 10 July 2020, so make sure to share your entry and get your friends and family voting! Any entries after this date will not be accepted. The winners will be announced on 2 August 2020. Winners will be notified by email. full details are HERE.

A Collective Approach to Arts, Health & Social Change culture, heritage and the arts have come into their own over these past few months, it's never felt so pressing to reimagine this arts and health agenda so that we're fit for purpose in this ever changing, diverse world. Try and put the perverse image of Johnson doing press-ups out of your mind for a moment. For those of you who regularly stop by this blog, you'll know the masters course that HF and I had designed around Arts, Health & Social Change is in abeyance until 2021 - but rest assured your erstwhile blogger is on with it. We are committed to addressing systemic inequalities and injustices through research, experimentation and practice - and this too, infects thinking around the North West Arts & Health Network and how it evolves with the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance (who have some brilliant new features HERE), and how we work collectively across the region. It's been so long since we worked together - indeed those big events like Chaos & Comfort and all the Manifesto sessions seem light-years ago. So perhaps now's the time to be reimagining this too. So let's explore these things together and capitalise on our collective thinking and action. More of this on the next blog posting - and solidarity to kindred spirits. 

Instead of a music interlude, here's the actor Gene Wilder and some of his wonderful comic pauses.

The official United Nations COVID-19 Response Creative Content Hub
"Thousands of creators from around the world have generously submitted their work to help communicate important and unifying messages that can combat the spread of COVID-19 and unite the world during this pandemic. The creative work is free to share and available in multiple creative formats and languages." Whether they are all 'good' or not really depends on your own opinions, but there are a lot of free to download animations and films here. Well worth a look HERE.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020



USA = 108+ thousand people dead of the corona virus, 1.8+ million people infected, 36+ million people unemployed - a country arguably more unequal now than it was decades ago - the filmed killing of George Floyd an African American man, who just like Eric Garner in 2014 - stated clearly he couldn't breathe while under arrest. Racial division in the US? No - Racism. So when people bleat that all lives matter - of course they do - but not before racism is confined to history. I'm not sure if it's deep sadness I feel or total anger. Right now all our eyes should be on the electioneering oaf in the Oval Office.
Hold him to account.
Emory Douglas
Back in May 1967, The Black Panther newspaper published a set of guidelines for their movement, titled the "Ten-Point Program". Sadly, much of these much of these points are still relevant today :

1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
2. We want full employment for our people.
3. We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.
4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
9. We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

Back in 2016 my presentation to the ARTLANDS 2016 conference in New South Wales interrogated the arts, social justice and inequalities, which through the sublime music of Louis Armstrong and others, I attempted to take those listening on a journey through a bloody civil war, in what was then, the Belgian Congo, via Central High School in Arkansas and the Little Rock Nine, all the time, exploring the relevance of the arts in an unfolding political maelstrom, suggesting that in the heart of fractured and unequal societies, artists are offered up as the answers to all life’s problems.

Through music, verbatim theatre and poetry I explored inequalities and social injustices, suggesting how the arts might offer us different kinds of evidence, and where grass roots organisations like the Black Panthers in the 1960's and  #blacklivesmatter today, perhaps represent a cohesive force for social and cultural change, across a spectrum of inequalities. 

As civil unrest inevitably erupts across America, and as the election-year-ape resorts to tear-gas and the threat of bullets, n
ow, more than ever, we need to disrupt inequalities and social injustices and perhaps, taking to the streets alongside direct, cultural activism, might enable that parity of voice. Again and again I am reminded of the prescient observations of James Baldwin in 1972:

“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” *

This edited short film of Louis Armstrong singing C’est si Bon in 1962, was something I created to give a taster to my performance in Australia.

A Masters in Arts, Health & Social Change  
I have to admit (1) to being frustrated and just a little angry that my university have decided to postpone the launch of this new masters that Helen Felcey and I have worked so hard to get started this autumn. As well as disappointing all those people who have applied or expressed interest in enrolling, now has never been a more relevant time to embark on this socially engaged approach to the arts and health agenda. Social inequalities are rife; culture and the arts have never been so relevant to society and we are navigating new terrain in this risk averse society. This course would have been at a critical edge of thinking, research and action. The postponement is inevitably wrapped up in the university resisting taking a punt on something novel in a time of uncertainty - not least the uncertainty surrounding covid19. My own ill-health has certainly played a part in them playing things safe too - that said - I aim to be back in force shortly and tackling full on, wishy-washy middle of the road arts & health gibberish. Those of you who have been in touch will all get a personal email from Helen and I over the next week.

I have to admit too, (2) to being overwhelmed by my inbox. I've usually been quick off the mark with responses, but lately I feel the weight of the mail through the very keys themselves. Then there are the million or more well intentioned creative responses to the virus that encourage singing, poetry, painting and more - it seems the whole world has woken up to human creativity, all optimistic and evangelical. And funding (or so it's said) is pouring into digital platforms and artists responding to Covid19 and like the rolling news, it seems everything is viral-flavoured. I only hope that this unfolding realisation that the arts are like a medicine for the soul has currency once the wretched crisis is over - and it's not just the individual mean-making that continues, but deeper realisation of the place of culture in our collective identity.

Talking with a friend through wires and satellites last week, it was heartening to hear another isolated human saying how they just wanted to make work that was nothing to do with all this pandemic - yes, created in a time of crisis - but not explicit in its 'being a response' to it. In fact, we both crave something of the beautiful - to make it - to feel it - with all our senses.

I have to admit also, (3) to being more than pissed off with our leaders responses to the pandemic. Their failings have been listed and commented on by many authoritative commentators and I have little to add, but the whole thing drags me down. Then there are the bloody soundbites for the masses, which just like Get Brexit Done, sees Save our NHS peddled by a party that is committed to privatising it by stealth. Beyond this wretched virus, let's not let politicians use a pandemic as a smoke screen for their misdemeanours. If Cummings sees fit to ignore the rules, he should be out. I am ashamed of our country's government and its chaotic, scatter-gun approach to this public health issue - a catastrophe born of its own mismanagement. They are accountable.

(footnote #10) Side-swiped by a mid-winter diagnosis of cancer and the prospect of aggressive treatment, I found myself doing all I could to compliment chemotherapy with things from the world outside my suddenly uncertain body.

On the edge-lands of Lancaster where the M6 divides the city from the Forest of Bowland, single track lanes and pathways bisect a quiet hilly spot around Clougha Pike with its panoramic views of the Lakeland Hills. Transformed from a runner to a walker and unaware of the stealthy pandemic that was making its way into all our lives, my slowed-down reality saw me absorbing the seemingly familiar with a new kind of lucidity. 

Burbling electrical calls of lapwings and the gamekeeper’s gibbet of silky moles threaded on barbed wire amongst unfurling fronds of bracken and cow parsley - and crossing all these narrow lanes - an abundance of tough, wind-swept oaks. In the thick of all these trees stands a pollarded oak; hacked at, perhaps part way through being chopped down. Three imperfect limbs reach twenty feet into the sky, grasping for daytimes invisible stars.

Embracing its trunk, I look up through ivy covered bark to the fast moving clouds, feeling earthed. Standing there, this seemingly permanent thing feels solid and connected, grounding me to time and place, offering remission from wider uncertainties - and in its denuded form - a deeper kind of beauty.

* Some of this text has previously appeared on this blog on 28th May 2017. My paper, Weapons of Mass Happiness (2018) was written up as a book chapter HERE.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Improvisation for Sonic Cure (坂本 龍一)

Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本 龍一)
The Japanese composer, singer, songwriter, record producer, activist, and actor has created a body of work that mixes the sublime with the political and his own recovery from cancer. This latest improvised offering stretches to around 30 minutes and is the kind of thing you can just leave playing. I top and tale the blog this week with this and his commercially successful piece from Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Though I still like the David Sylvian version, Forbidden Colours HERE which brings a tear to my eye even after almost 40 years.

UbuWeb: All avant-garde. All the time.
A few weeks ago I posted details of the extraordinary online sonic resource Cities and Memory and this week (big thanks DP) I have been enraptured (yes enraptured - it's the steroids) by the utterly wonderful Ubu.Web. It's self explanatory and has loads of free resources that can keep you occupied, amused and sane until we tumble headlong into the crack in the earth. Click HERE or on poor Ling-Ling below (with apologies to those of you with a delicate disposition)

Americans with guns
(no offence to my dear friends over there who aren't gun-toting, anti-lock-down, flag-waving, disinfectant-injecting, self-serving myopics)  

After all his continual and dangerous gibberish, isn't it time that the Republican party stripped and paraded its leader through the streets of the capital? When you see the sterling job our own leader has been doing to coordinate and deliver such a well resourced and consistent approach - wait on - I was thinking of Jacinda Ardern! How could I have mistaken her for that great ape. Ohh for the women leaders. Will the ape take his paternity leave I wonder. So, here's an extract from a report on a country where almost 1.2m total gun background checks were conducted in a single week, beginning 16 March, which according to the FBI, broke all records going back to 1998. 

Americans have responded to the coronavirus epidemic with a record-breaking number of gun purchases, according to new government data on the number of background checks conducted in March.

More than 3.7m total firearm background checks were conducted through the FBI’s background check system in March, the highest number on record in more than 20 years. An estimated 2.4m of those background checks were conducted for gun sales, according to adjusted statistics from a leading firearms industry trade group. That’s an 80% increase compared with the same month last year, the trade group said.

Read it and weep HERE.

The Culture Health & Wellbeing Alliance...
...continue to provide all manner of useful resources over this period, and this week they are putting out a short survey to help get a picture of the balance of provision and funding around the country, and it will help advocating for your needs in the context of covid-19.

The Survey
The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance (CHWA) is partnering with Arts Culture Health and Wellbeing Scotland (ACHWS) and the Wales Arts, Health & Wellbeing Network (WAHWN) - as well as ArtsCare in Northern Ireland, to conduct a UK-wide survey with the support of Nesta. The deadline is Monday 11 May 9am. You can go straight to it and find more details HERE.

Creativity & Wellbeing Week
As many of you will have seen, the CHWA have now announced the reimagined Creativity & Wellbeing Week. We want the week to be as inclusive as possible, so please do stage digital events if you are able, or otherwise please just tell us about your work in culture, health and wellbeing. We will be hosting events during the week. More information on those soon HERE. 

Guide to working online
Thanks to a partnership with Arts Marketing Association, 64m Artists and Real Ideas, we have developed new guidance for working online and online safeguarding, available HERE. 

Coping with PPE
Performing Medicine have just launched a new digital resource for healthcare professionals designed for those coping with wearing PPE for long periods of time.  We invited performers, designers, puppeteers and makers from the theatre and film industry to share their insights on coping with restrictive, claustrophobic clothing & equipment. The result is a sharable digital resource which we hope will be of help to healthcare professionals across the country - filled with top tips and great pictures of the performers in their outfits. There is a blog piece on the project HERE and you can download the free resource HERE.

Steve McQueen: live in conversation
Join Steve McQueen live in conversation with Artangel Co-Director James Lingwood, Monday 4 May, 19:00 BST (London time). The conversation will centre on McQueen’s collaborations with Artangel over the past two decades: Caribs’ Leap /Western Deep filmed in Grenada and South Africa and premiered in 2002, Weight, a work made for Artangel’s exhibition Inside at Reading Prison in 2016, and Year 3, an epic portrait of London’s 7- and 8-year-olds presented across the city last year. The live discussion will incorporate questions from those shared on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook using the hashtag #ArtangelIsOpen. To register for the conversation and find out more click HERE.

Re:Creating Europe
Featuring Adjoa Andoh, Christopher Eccleston, Lemn Sissay, Juliet Stevenson and Michael Morpurgo, Ivo van Hove’s Re:Creating Europe explored our continent through the words that have shaped, traced and defined its history. We’re streaming this brilliant MIF19 show on Friday, complete with an introduction especially recorded for this online presentation by Michael Morpurgo. Join us to journey through Europe from your sofa – no passport required. ► Watch live: Friday 1 May, 7.30pm Click HERE.

A Little BLISS
Here are the opening paragraphs of a lovely short story by Katherine Mansfield written in 1920 and called Bliss. The full story is available HERE. Enjoy.

. . . 

Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at—nothing—at nothing, simply.

What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss—absolute bliss!—as though you’d suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe?

. . . 

(footnote #10) Well, there isn't the moment, but maybe it might creep in later in the week. So here's a sweet little blackbird.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Love & Anarchy and Staying Angry...

While I want to write copious notes on the state of things right now, there are others far more eloquent than me doing just that, with only a few providing anything vaguely different to the regurgitated media histrionics. Here are some that piqued my interest this last week.

Rebecca Solnit writes ‘Coronavirus does discriminate, because that’s what humans do.’ She begins: “In theory, all of us are vulnerable to coronavirus, but in practice how well we fare has to do with what you could call pre-existing conditions that are not only medical but economic, social, political and racial – and the pandemic, which is also an economic catastrophe, has made these differences glaringly clear.” Read in full
HERE. Picking up on inequalities (and reminding me of The Mass Trespass) Always with a succinct and global perspective, George Monbiot suggests that: “When the coronavirus crisis ends, let’s demand a right to roam in cities, the countryside and on golf courses.” Read Monbiot HERE. 

But of all these opinion pieces, there’s a very raw and direct human story by Steven Methven called, Staying Angry in London Review of Books in which he asserts that: “we owe our future selves, not to mention our current selves, and those already gone, the focused light of fury.” Read it in full HERE. It’s very easy to deny or suppress feelings anger while the virus is still at strength and it’s natural to focus on the positive - not least to stay psychologically strong - but let’s not lose sight of the very clear factors that underpin some of the avoidable chaos surrounding us - and the ‘decision makers’ who have presided over it. 

For my part and regardless of my current plight, my anger is welling and while we all try and find collective moments to make sense of what's happening and stay sane, I fear the changes that are coming might not be the cultural and environmental utopia we dream of. Let's keep our eyes now more than ever on inequalities and injustices which this virus is illuminating painfully clearly. If change is coming - it is the people who should be driving it by the appropriate means - not the insidious forces of the market, whose invisible players are already positioning themselves to control all our futures. So finally - and to lift your spirits - Mark Steel as articulate and funny as ever, perhaps encourages us to be just a little angry. Read HERE. I'd argue that Steel is possibly one of the most relevant social commentators of our times - poisonous and funny. Thanks to NS and JA for sharing some of these links.

Closer to the arts, health and social change agenda come three blog postings. Victoria Hume eloquently marries care and slowing down with a reimagining of what might life might look like post-covid HERE. Julie McCarthy discusses how the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is bringing people together through creativity, pointing out that, “the most vulnerable people get left behind when you’re locked down,” HERE. Finally, Kat Taylor provides a wealth of connections to all manner of cultural opportunities in her posting: “Culture at a Distance: Arts for Health in Isolation.” HERE. Each of these blogs deserve a good read.

The artist Lucy Burscough is embarking on a two-year public-facing residency at Manchester University’s Manchester Museum. 'Dab Hands' will explore hands, art practice & dexterity. Portraits will be made of people’s hands whose dexterity is affected by disease & trauma, by cancer treatment and arthritis. The production of these paintings will develop on from Lucy’s earlier work, in particular, the Facing Out project. There, it was found that involvement in sensitively designed 'arts & health' projects, which offer patients a chance to celebrate their identity by telling their stories on their own terms, can be beneficial to well-being and help participants re-frame their medical experience into a wider sense of self. If you want to find out more click HERE or on the image above.

During this uncertain time the Jennifer Lauren Gallery is seeking submissions from national and international artists that self-define as disabled and/or Deaf. The Gallery will be hosting an online exhibition on its website, with a downloadable zine of the works too. The exhibition will support and showcase the work of 25 artists selected through a call-out with the help of artist and adult survivor with mental health issues Terence Wilde, whom Jennifer already supports and Lisa Slominski of Slominski Projects. The Gallery hopes that this exhibition will expose these artist’s works to wider audiences, to bring a sense of achievement during this difficult and isolating time and who knows, may result in new opportunities for the artists, and studios that support them.  

The call-out: Artists who self-define as disabled and/or Deaf can submit a photograph of one work (or send one digital piece of work) via email with its title, size (wxh in cm) and medium. (BSL version at the bottom of the page.) Please also submit your name and a short description about the work of up to 30 words should you wish to. (A BSL video can be submitted in replacement of this text, which will be interpreted into text). The photograph/digital file needs to be 5mb or less in size. Studios can submit work on behalf of artists if they have the artist’s permission. 

●      The work needs to have been made since 1 January 2020
●      No theme to follow
●      In any medium and of any size since this is an online exhibition
●      Please mention your postcode if Greater Manchester based
●      Email work to:
●      If you need help photographing your work or need extra information, please email Jennifer or send a message over the Gallery’s social media 

Call-out dates: Friday 17 April – Sunday 3 May 2020 by 5pm
You will be contacted by Friday 8 May 2020 to let you know if you’ve been successful or not. Should you not be selected please do still take a look at the online gallery. Please note that emails sometimes go into junk mail boxes. 
Full details are HERE.

Olafur Eliasson wants the public to be the artist for his latest work, rethinking how we see the planet Earth. To mark Earth Day 2020 yesterday, Eliasson began to releasing Instagram, images of nine orange and pink coloured images of the Earth with a dot in the middle. People should stare at the dot for 10 seconds and then focus on a blank surface where an afterimage will appear in different colours. 'That in effect is our work of art – a new view of the world.' He says:  “The wonderful idea of Earth Day allows one to take a step back, look at the planet from the outside and recognise that it is an object that is so hard and impossible to comprehend. It sort of escapes us. Click HERE to find out more.

Yes - you really did read that! Now a little treat from the antipodes. This is to all those of you in Australia who follow this blog - but it's online - so anyone - anywhere! During my time over these years in Australia I have had the pleasure to meet all sorts of people; some who I've worked with and others who have gone on to be friends. One of these is the extraordinary Jaimie Leonarder who with his partner Aspasia have been delivering a mix of heady underground culture in Sydney while working as a social worker for many years. It's in that work that he has done some quite profound work with people living on the fringes of society. There was a great documentary made by SBS about him, but alas, I can't find it online, so here's a trailer. If you are more Schubert than Stockhausen it may jar on you - but persist! He is an excellent human and while I've not met Aspasia, you can damn well bet she is too.

Naked World
In this crazy locked-down world here are a new live series of shows coming to a living room near you and for a ridiculously minuscule subscription. You'll get full access to the extraordinary Mu Meson Archive and:

See Naked World, in complete streaming video, twice a week, eight times a month

Every Monday and Saturday, Jay Katz and Miss Death will be across your airwaves with interviews and conversations delving into the downright bizarre

Watch Cult Sinema Obscura and delve into the Mu Meson Archives' extensive collection of films from the fringes, commentated live every Tuesday night from the archives by Jay Katz and Miss Death

And Jay Katz will be spinning vinyl Live From Mu Mesons every Friday night until this pandemic lifts

The original Sounds Of Seduction (1995) album upon signing up (digital download)

Join the Mu Meson Archives Mailing List and receive a monthly newsletter of curiosities

Find our more and sign up HERE. Now - here is the sublime trailer.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Who Cares Wins...


What’s strange for me, is that a sometimes-cavalier attitude to my own health has mutated into something else. A hardy perennial, happily ploughing through the vicissitudes of existence - a cancer diagnosis brought me up short and inevitably initiated some reappraisal of life - but still, through the realisation of my own and others mortality and the sometimes gruelling treatment, I still keep a hybrid optimistic/cynical eye on the things around the edges of our lives. All the while the world turns and Venus shines oh so brightly.

I’m awash with a billion useful online interventions and everyone’s artistry, but as people seemingly try and cheer each other up, it often feels like all those attempts at doing a Marie Kondo or collective online sing-a-long-a-thons are well-meaning, but there is an over saturation and sometimes I’m just left with a niggling cloying feeling: either that or all the doom and gloom of the virus itself. Though I’m sure that when all this thing begins to fade, there will be new creative uses of technology and apps that haven’t yet been imagined. Then there are those great poems and performances that will be born of this period. Suzanne Moore wrote a brief article whose title alone piqued my interest: How can you feel safe amid coronavirus? Swap mindfulness for mindlessness. Bravo - have a quick read HERE. And for those of you wanting up to date information on wider arts/health/covid things, I always recommend the Culture Health & Wellbeing Alliance resources page HERE.

So here are one or two things that may be of interest.

Come Up With Your Own Ideas
I’m never quite sure what’s ‘safe’ to recommend to the diverse of this blog, and as the online world is overflowing with peoples own offers arts interventions, I’ll leave all of that for you to filter and plough through. After all, I am guilty of a little self-indulgence, as I share a little of my current plight here, but then the opportunities I normally post are increasingly thin on the ground right now. I did see a great big gurning mug shot of Tracey Emin ‘CBE’ looking grumpy, nay - angry - and who is ‘commissioned’ by White Cube to keep an online diary. You can read, see and hear her contribution by clicking HERE or on her mugshot. There is a much more charming and I’m sure un-commissioned on-line contribution from Bob & Roberta Smith which you can find HERE, Including - Come Up With Your Own Ideas.

Circle of Care
Putting Tracey's angry head aside for a second, here's a very timely share from Performing Medicine.
Circle of Care is a relational framework for care, created by Performing Medicine in collaboration with healthcare professionals at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust. We hope it may be useful to everyone right now, not just those who are not healthcare professionals, as we try to collectively look after ourselves & each other. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the multi-directionality of care feels important between housemates, neighbours, healthcare professionals and communities. It's not enough to ‘feel’ caring – care needs to be demonstrated and embodied through actions and behaviours. Circle of Care identifies a set of skills that can help to support the flow of care and remove any obstacles in its way. See our blog Circle of Care in Communities by clicking HERE.

Frustratingly, this interesting, very creative set of small commissions has come very late in the day, with a Monday deadline - but if you’re kicking your heels over the weekend, what better way to get your creative juices flowing.

HOME WORK - the opportunity- 10 x micro commission opportunities (£300 each) on the theme of ‘care’
- For artists, freelancers, and collaborators
- St Helens, Merseyside and beyond.
- Deadline: 12 April

Theme What does care look like? How do we recognise it, how do we value it? Care is a central element of our programme here at HoG. Our programme only happens because we work with a whole ecology of people who care - artists, community workers, facilitators, activists, hosts, producers. Format What could this look like? We’re open to any form that your work might take - for example a performance, a sound piece, an online conversation or masterclass, a zine, a blogpost, an image - anything which considers, embodies, speaks to the theme of care.

Thinking about ‘care’ We’re not interested in the making of stuff for the sake of making more stuff, so be honest with us, if you’d like to use this fee to spend some time thinking about how to support your community, share that with us This is only a little support (equivalent to an average artist day fee). Please only spend up to 8 hours on this. We know that our circumstances are all different. Whatever way you’d like to structure your work on this is the right way! We are prioritising applications from communities who are at the heart of our programme, if you identify as disabled, working class, LGBTQ+ or if you have refugee status, let us know. For more info/to apply click HERE.   

(footnote #9 - a rather disjointed but extend one!)
As our elected leader is being treated for the virus right now, I’ll lay off anything too harsh other than my ruminations on the inevitable state surveillance that are being born of this time - and what of all those other deals, policies, strategies that will be quietly being manipulated behind the scenes right now: quietly, invisibly perhaps. I understand that mobile phones in Turkey are being monitored, and judging by the amount of government and NHS messages I get to my phone, I’ve signed up for a very British kind of surveillance myself. While the ‘celebs’ are being accused of spreading fake news around 5-G and the virus, it really is interesting how these things take hold. Amir Khan seems to have led the pack with conspiracy theory, but while it would be easy to dismiss anything off-kilter, it’s worth noting the big business of 5-G is rocketing right now, and of course time will see the damage to mental and physical health that this ubiquitous connectivity has on us all. No, not novel corona viruses, but boy doesn’t the gibberish around this seemingly impossible link between biology and technology give those with vested financial interests in 5G a superb smoke-screen for the real health impacts it may contribute to?

We should digest too, that for many years we relished good old Porton Down where in fact, we cultivated all manner of hazardous biological and chemical weapons. I’m sure governments around the world have cachets of quite terrifying man-made things that we really, really would/wouldn’t want to know about. It doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to see just where conspiracy theory and its cousin, fake news, spring from. And isn’t it the nature of Instagram to show the world our contrived aesthetic selves, but what of images of perfection in an age when social media’s flip-side offers the unattainable? What about all those people aiming for the ‘perfect’ Kardashian body, locked away at home trying their unachievable best - what will we make of all this - how will we emerge - body beautiful - or frustrated and full of self-hatred? It’s already begining to be reported that an increase in suicide is likely and given that key support services have been hit by the virus, people who are vulnerable run the risk of slipping under the radar. Please remember in the UK that the Samaritans are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year on 116 123 and by email at


It feels like the supermarkets and banks and telecom companies are all doing their best, what with all those big adverts from CEO’s - in fact, my bank emailed to say they’d scrap any interest they would charge on a £5k overdraft facility if I wanted it until July. Then of course - they’d charge interest. There’s all the well-deserved applause NHS workers are hearing each Thursday at 8:00pm, to which our premier joined in prior to his admission to hospital. But all those frontline workers from care and clinical settings needed this acknowledgment a long time ago, particularly where cost-efficiencies and privatisation have been the way of the government. Will a post-pandemic period see a renaissance in our understanding of the ways health and social care are understood, funded and delivered? I’d like to think so, but will our premier (whose approval ratings have rocketed) be recorded in history as the victorious Churchill figure or a dithering Chamberlin. Then of course there’s that appalling propagator of fake news, histrionics and temper tantrums: up in the White House the leader of the Free World continues to defy belief. Still, he provides us with the blackest of comedy in the bleakest of times, but he also models his behaviour and when fake news and lies are spread, celeb’s are the least of our worries when you have this great ape on Capitol Hill.

Confined to barracks as one of the ‘extremely vulnerable’ and advised against leaving the house for my own good - though my best medicine is possibly wandering by sea and hills - I find myself having to drive up to Cumbria. What - flout the ban? Never! This anomaly in the interpretation of self-confinement can be cast aside for treatment and as my own local hospital has been repurposed as the go-to place for Covid-19, those of us having regular chemo attend a smaller hospital which aims to be virus free. 

I can’t deny being a little apprehensive as all things viral escalate and having got my home into a relatively safe space, with new routines to sensibly safeguard everyone’s health as best we can, walking into a hospital feels something akin to entering the lion’s den. But it’s a sunny day, the hospital is quiet and the people working there beaver away with that professional warmth I’m appreciating all the more, given the context that they’re working through. Waiting for another needle to be pushed into my flesh, through the window I watch a pair of buzzards slowly circling in the cool blue sky.

Back at home I read about the normal people wanting to do something pro-active in the here and now, like (ok, maybe not so normal) Bafta-winning Syrian photographer and filmmaker Hassan Akkad who has temporarily changed careers to spend his time disinfecting Covid-19 wards at his local hospital. He moved to London four years ago and wanted to give back to the NHS during the pandemic, and so has taken the minimum-wage job as a way of contributing. He is also is raising much needed awareness about the role of immigrants in the health ecology. Check out his twitter @hassan_akkad  Superb - and then there’s the army of new volunteers. Wonderful. Let's hope for more long-term future investment in care services and the NHS post pestilence.

Cities and Memory
There’s been much coverage of the increase of bird song in the UK and I’m sure the phenomenon is global. The calls and songs are amazingly loud and beautiful, and as a result of some rather beefy steroids I’m taking, I wake up well before dawn and wait with real excitement to hear the slowly building dawn chorus from my room. My avian friends have accompanied me through my treatment like nothing else. I live in a terrace house on a city street and have a small back yard - but boy, am I lucky to sit in this small square and feel the sun and hear and see those birds. 

If any of you are interested in sound, field recordings and connecting/hearing other people’s collected sounds around the world, I can recommend nothing as highly as Cities and Memory.

This is a global collaborative sound project encompassing field recording, sound art and sound mapping – remixing the world, one sound at a time. Every location on the Cities and Memory sound map features two sounds: the original field recording of that place, and a reimagined sound that presents that place and time as somewhere else, somewhere new. They have a wonderful Covid-19 resource page with some superb links HERE. 

Before the virus took hold so miserably, dealing with my hitcher was something I was focused deeply on, and with some recent degree of success - imagine a successful restraining order - and you’re not far-off. So the virus gives me a bleaker situation to consider and I’m doing my bit. But frustration - you bet. This spring I was determined, in between treatments, to drive down to the Forest of Dean and pay some kind of homage at the blossom tree outside Dennis Potter’s house. I imagine it must be gloriously frothy right now, and with my heightened awareness of being in the present, it would have been a treat to commune in some way with Potter. Alas, not this year. But...

Here’s what I do. In the wee early hours at first light, alone, in my exercise slot, I break away onto silent back streets and alleyways and wend my way from home making no contact with other humans. In the distance I see the occasional runner, but at this time, only the hardcore are out. I find my way to that lovely space between the edge of town and all that’s urban, and the last vestiges of farmland that kiss the motorway, where lorries and the odd car still hurtle past delivering some sense of normality. Sandwiched like this next to a reservoir and housing estate and with a lame threat of a bull’s presence, this narrow band of unassuming offers some rural sanctuary - an edge-land. Inside there is a dip and a small stream, and a hedgerow coppiced many years ago, with ancient hawthorn, oak and holly and old lichen covered gateposts long out of use, are reassuring and cold to the touch.

Here’s what I plan. I’ll gather the soft new leaves of young nettles and dandelions, as like everyone else, I hope for small miracles out of things beyond the evidence base. I understand that nettle soup, along with my daily consumption of fresh turmeric might have some health-giving properties, both to subdue the malevolent hitcher, and specifically the nettles on respiratory conditions (there are in fact interesting small-scale research findings on this). My personal armoury is indeed like nothing I could have imagined a year ago.

Here’s what I see. Walking home I swatch healthy black beaked crows perch on top of the pad-locked children’s play area; guardians perhaps. The play area is a health & safety eco attempt at one of those Notting Hill or Tottenham adventure playgrounds of the 1950’s where kids could play with rusty metal, splintering lumps of wood and stoke fires. A mad and wild and wonderful post-war liberation of the cities land enabled by visionary artists and activists and a product of a progressive time. Risk and chance and wild experimentation. What might emerge over these next years?

I see bags of dog filth thrown into bushes and on to pavements.
I see the skies empty of planes.
I see and hear the empty roads - in the future will we share cars - or will we be terrified of sharing?  
But strangers smile and wave.

Here’s what I feel. A neighbour who lives down the road, who I’ve said hello to for 30 years, but never really known, brings me a newspaper each morning. I now know that Bernard has lived here since he was a child and now a good few years older than me, he is a new kind of friend. It’s unexpected and liberating. At 8:00pm last night, I stood and clapped my hardest in gratitude to those working at the coal-face of this thing. As cynical as I am to tokenism instead of resources, it’s all I can do to hold back the tears in my eyes, as a recipient of this care we have so long taken for granted.

. . .

Here's a little whimsy.

Carelessly drinking wine
Walking through fields and streams
Licking salt-sticky fingers
Fresh cut grass and creosote
Tarry oozing telegraph poles
Tramping moorland through woods to shore
Sun on skin and harsh winter winds
Hugging you so fucking tightly