Books Once Banned in Britain

It’s hard to imagine that the islands that cultivated Shakespeare, JRR Tolkein and JK Rowling have a strong tradition of literary censorship. I’m not referring to old restrictions placed by the church or crown to protect their institutions against opposing propaganda. But a whole back log of banned books leading right into the twenty first century. In fact, 2018 marked the fifteenth anniversary of England’s last book ban being lifted. In honour of this I have compiled a reading list of once unlawful texts that you can proudly display on your bookshelf, rather than hide under a loose floorboard.

 

Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr

Published in 1964 Last Exit to Brooklyn is an unconventional novel. The reader is dragged through an uncompromising set of stories that describes the lives of those residing in the New York districts.  In 1967 Last Exit to Brooklyn was trialed for obscenity by a UK court for its graphic content and depictions of cruelty. The jury consisted solely of men because Selby Jr’s narration of prostitution, homosexuality, violence and drug taking was deemed potentially embarrassing to women. After deliberating on the novel’s content the trial concluded it unfit for public consumption and prohibited sale and publication. Fortunately, this verdict was reconsidered, only to be overturned the following year.

Spycatcher by Peter Wright

Originally published in Australia Spycatcher is the candid autobiography of a British Intelligence Officer. A large portion of the book’s content covers work of MI5 agents during the cold war. Given the sensitive content it became immediately controversial leading the British government to prohibit the publication of the book as well as implement press gag orders in order to restrain reporting on the autobiography.

Unusually, Spycatcher managed to stay publishable in Scotland an copies began to trickle down over the border. Given the ineffective banning of the book the ruling was eventually overturned. After all, national security secrets are not worth safeguarding if the rest of the world has access to the text.

 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita is probably the most famous and infamous book on this list.  The novel depicts the criminal relationship between a literature professor and a twelve year old girl. Given the dark subject matter it’s not surprising that censorship was the initial response to Nabokov’s work. Britain first declared Lolita an obscene text in 1955 and publication of the book remained criminal for four more years. Following the lead of France and the USA the novel became accessible to the public, however the initial English publisher Nigel Nicolson was forced to resign from his role as a Tory MP.

 

 

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Playing with Water Colour Pencils

My first encounter with watercolour pencils was in an art supply kit. The kind you receive for Christmas as a kid containing pencil crayons, a couple of erasers and sometimes a few pieces of charcoal. Of course, I had no idea what to do with the water colour pencils and after a few failed attempts neglected them to the bottom of the box.

Recently, I stumbled across a set in a craft store and wanted to unearth the purpose of these mysterious objects from my childhood. So, I purchased a beginner sample of twelve pencils and some water colour post cards. For the first few weeks my efforts were appalling. But I persevered and discovered that I could replicate a half decent rock. With  bit more practice I was producing pretty impressive formations. However, whilst stone circles, cliff faces and craggy boulders are great, I started to become a bit bored of the only subject I could successfully capture. I found the solution on the internet.

Like every other skill there are online resources from masters in their field. After hours of studying their techniques and practice I am beginning to appreciate the diversity of water colour pencils. Their hybrid nature allows you to use them as a regular pencil crayons but with bit of water you can layer into effective, blended painting. Versatility is their main strength. With  few drops you can move from a fluid landscape into fine detailing with a dry pencil. This adds a depth and boldness to your creations that cannot be obtained using pencil crayon or water colour paints alone.

Another great aspect of water colour pencils is how portable they are. With just a few hues you can create on the go without having to carry a canvas and other art supplies. Being able to transport such a versatile and effective tool becomes a blessing on long journeys or if you want to paint outside the home.

I would have uploaded a few of my own attempts but I have no aptitude for art. Rather than let my hobby level efforts deter you from water colour pencils I’ve included some tutorials by professionals. Their tips and insight into watercolour pencil techniques will hopefully entice you into getting started.

 

 

 

 

Finally visiting Fargfabriken

Towards the end of last year I wrote a post titled ‘The Days out that Didn’t Happen’. The piece lamented my unfulfilled holiday plans and the three galleries/museums I didn’t explore. One of the places I missed out on was an old paint factory, Fargfabriken.  Located in Liljehomen, Stockholm the building originally opened as paint producer in 1889. Nearly 150 years later it now houses art and architectural exhibits available to the public for a small fee.

To find Fargfabriken you need to journey about five minutes away from Liljehomen’s tube station. Unlike most art spaces which are located in affluent, central city locations the surrounding area of Fargfabriken is entirely industrial. Walking past the concrete landscape, coated in old snow the red brick of the factory is a contrast. It’s purpose is immediately imparted. The grey buildings are for working but the red is for exploration.

Inside, there is a popular cafe, gift store and exhibit rooms. Currently, the main attractions are installations from Beckers Art Award winner,  Petra Hultman. Her exhibit focuses primarily on the home and the work of the women who make it. The walls are lined with old instruction manuals designed to inform housewives on creating the perfect living environment. The center tells a story of an elderly couple. The husband and wife have their creative outlets: He builds key boxes out of wood; she forms blankets from material. His work is stacked high and displayed for examination. Her work is folded into piles, neglecting the intricacies and effort of each piece.

I wondered if the works belonged to real people or if the couple were a fictional device to emphasise the experience of domestic labour. Huntman was available to question because she was working on a tapestry as part of the exhibit. However, I was stopped by a question: Did the origin of these characters matter? Whether they were a product of fact or fiction didn’t change the story. I’ll never know the answer and I’m content with that, If you have the time and about £7/70Sek spare perhaps you could visit and let me know your thoughts. I’ll leave a link to Fargfabriken and Hultman below.

https://fargfabriken.se/en/

http://www.petrahultman.se/

 

 

The Days Out That Didn’t Happen

Research claims that the optimal amount of holiday time is eight days. Just over a week away  is the perfect time frame to improve your mood and recharge you for work again. Defying science I recently found myself with twelve free days. Dividing my time between Stockholm and Manchester, I intended to develop my interests in art and design, returning to my colleagues as a matured individual. Unfortunately, this did not go according to plan because of a conspiracy to close all museums and galleries when I wanted to visit. The twelve days past and I only managed to browse one museum. However, I can still dream and write up a list of my desired days out, pretending I occupied each venue.

Färgfabriken

Established in its current incarnation in 1995 Färgfabriken is a gallery dedicated to art, architecture and urban planning. The word ‘fabrik’ translates from Swedish as factory, a fitting title that reflects the building’s original industrial purpose when built in 1889. Located in Liljehomen it would have been a perfect afternoon’s exploration. Usually, I take the airport bus straight to the area before heading to ICA for supplies. Not only is the location convenient for myself but the focus on art reflects my interests. On the other hand, architecture and urban planning are fresh realms for my imagination. I usually prefer to explore design through objects as opposed to buildings, so the opportunity to develop an interest in a new medium is intriguing. Alas, the gallery is currently closed for rehanging. Exhibitions don’t reopen until the end of January but the cafe is running still. It’s disappointing that i haven’t seen something so close to where I normally reside. However, the delay peaks my interest further and Färgfabriken is a must visit next year.

Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art

The CFCCA can be found in Manchester’s Northern quarter and promised to be the beginning to my Monday trawl of the city’s galleries. My plan was to peruse the CFCCA, grab some lunch with my friend and finish the day browsing the University’s collection. However, a more thorough search of CFCCA website would have revealed that the gallery isn’t open on Mondays. This left a hole in the morning’s plans and the Christmas market lured us in with mulled wine. Time passed and the University’s gallery had the dropped for the Manchester gallery, bowling and of course more wine.

It’s disappointing to have attempted to visit the CFCCA on a day when it wasn’t accessible. Their collection was alluring due to complexity of modern Chinese culture. I was hoping to examine expressions that detailed existence from such an influential country. With the largest population the breadth of creation must surely be far reaching. Similarly, the experiences of Native Chinese artists compared with those living abroad or children of immigrants provides even richer layers and opportunities for artistic expression.

Despite the set back the day wasn’t lost. Manchester gallery is never disappointing and I enjoyed introducing my friend to Pre-Raphaelite painting. It’s a good feeling to repeat a gallery and reacquaint yourself with your favourite paintings. The gallery appears to have taken Giacometti Alberto’s portrait of  his mother out of circulation. It’s a piece I’m particularly fond of and slightly saddened to see it gone. Thankfully there are still copies online. The following one in courtesy of Manchester gallery’s website.

Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska)

Stockholm’s Östasiatiska  was my second opportunity to absorb Asian culture. I can’t explain why I’m heavily attracted to East Asian art but I know it always has me enthralled. Examining simple tea sets and art prints as well as clothing and sculpture   always enjoyable. With a free day I decided that Östasiatiska would be a perfect ending to this month’s Stockholm visit. The museum offers an exploration of Korean, Japanese and Chinese arts. These range from traditional Korean furniture and tea ceremony sets to a sculpture gallery. After absorbing all the artifacts there’s a cafe that even sells flower tea. If there was a tick list for an ideal afternoon then Östasiatiska potentially gets full marks.

Unlike the galleries this museum was open during my visit. My issue was trying to locate the building. It’s situated in Skeppsholmen along with several other museums worth wandering. In truth, I have been to the island several times but this time I got off at the wrong tube station and became lost. With evening drawing in and evening plans looming I decided the destination was a lost cause. I found myself in the national library again. Ideally, I would have preferred to traverse new knowledge but the library is a beautiful , circular building worth revisiting. Just like galleries and museums, libraries always provide a moment of calm and culture against the calamity of the city outside.

 

 

Marina Abramovic exhibit at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet

Marina Abramovic is often hailed as the grandmother of performance art.  Now seventy years old Abramovic is still creating new works, highlighting her position as perhaps the most prevalent performance artist in the world. Her latest performance (The Cleaner) was centered in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. Unfortunately,  Abramovic’s new act only ran until March 5th 2017 but the Moderna Museet still features an exhibit of her most prolific work and several re-performances until May 21st this year. Recently I had the uncomfortable pleasure of touring the eight rooms the Modern Art museum has designated to Abramovic’s collective works. The space unveils Abramovic’s extensive contribution to performance art, demonstrating the breadth and development of her art over four decades.

After you’ve paid the entrance fee of 160 krona (approximately £16) you enter the first room of the exhibit. Inside you’re introduced to Abramovic’s juvenalia, a gathering of sketches, paintings and letters that detail her subjects before the move into performance art. There is a fixation upon wagon crashes and disembodied legs. On first impressions the fixation on these macabre subjects is uncomfortable. Once accustomed to the images, it becomes evident (especially through the paintings) that even from an early age Abramovic was capable of finding  beauty in a chaotic subject, capturing devastation and energy in a collision of colour.

Abramovic’s youthful darkness lays the foundation for the second room. The earliest performances, starting from 1973 are displayed here. Through the photographs, videos and slides we are shown the extremes Abramovic stretched her body to in her earliest performances. Overall the art in this section creates an uncomfortable tension. The artist is seen to be whipping and cutting herself; standing in pentagrams of fire; screaming until her voice breaks. The unease in these performances comes from the potential danger the artist is inflicting upon herself. Walking through makes the viewer consistently flinch away from the potential pain. A particularly disturbing feature are the recordings of Abramovic working with knives. In this performance she uses twelve knives to stab between the spaces in her fingers. The first attempt is recorded and listened to by the artist before attempting to replicate the previous stabbings, cuts included. Hearing Abramovic deliberately inflict wounds to demonstrate the difference in re-performance contracts the skin and takes a strong will to listen to. Overall her early performances places the viewer in a state of anticipation that borders on nausea. The pieces take the audience out of the traditional, controlled viewing of art and hangs them on a precipice of uncertainty.

The third room displays Abramovic’s work in collaboration with artistic and romantic partner Ulay. Whilst in partnership, Abramovic dropped the more violent aspects of her work, whilst still focusing on the extremes of the body. Together they are seen to be colliding, shouting, kissing and breathing as if the activities are feats of endurance. They had taken the everyday motions of the body and through effort and time turned them into events of aggression. Something as traditionally beautiful as kissing  became almost combative, in which both artists attached their mouths until they could no longer breath. The pair explored the the utmost points of the body, nudity and endurance before their separation. Their last meeting, on the great wall of China, is displayed on several video screens. Both parties walked across the monument from opposite ends until they met in the middle. From the center they parted and never saw each other again.

After the separation with Ulay the exhibit returns to solo performances. There is a focus of life, death and sex that is explored through the artist’s Baltic roots. Through videos explaining the traditional Baltic rat extermination method and a re-performance of Cleaning the Mirror, Abramovic depicts death in quietly disturbing manner. The life cycle and sexual creation of the world treats the taboo subjects as everyday. Occasionally they are as uncomfortable as the earlier works. However, the tension is not created through danger but by confronting the fundamental aspects of existence that are often ignored.

Finally, the collection focuses on Abramovic’s most recent performances. In these the artist has become almost meta as she journeys past the traditions of her early works and begins to completely incorporate the audience into the art. The Artist is Present depicts over 700 hours of Abramovic making eye contact with hundreds of members of the public. The performance itself seems quiet in comparison to early pieces but maintains her foundation themes of endurance and the extremes of the body. It is evident that despite the less violent motion of her youthful performances Abramovic is still creating art that is physically and emotionally tasking.

In contrast to the performance art the exhibit is dotted with the artist’s sculptures in quartz crystal. These appear to have become a focus of Abarmovic’s work as she has aged and studied in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Everyday objects such as brooms and chairs have been altered to accommodate the semiprecious rocks. The combination of pale wood and purple stone is calm, beautiful and completely impractical. After traversing the main exhibit it is worth peaking through the Moderna Museet’s permanent exhibition. Amongst the Picasso, Matisse and occasional Dali are a large pair of crystal boots. Rooted into the ground visitors can discard their footwear and become statues in Abramovic’s sculpture. After the intense images of the exhibit, the crystal sends cool up into the visitor. You are calmed as you look out into Stockholm, gentled on the stone and the view of the waves.