Monthly Archives: September 2012

This is a copy of an article I originally wrote for the Hackney Citizen on the film-inspired exhibition, Still.

As the cold weather creeps upon us the Hackney Picturehouse and the Transition Gallery will be collaborating with the perfect antidote to the autumn gloom. Still, an exhibition inspired by ‘the moving magic of film’ and the ‘new reality’ which emerges when we halt this movement, will be taking place across the two venues from the 7 to the 30 September.

Mix art and film and you have the perfect visual comfort food. The relationship between these two mediums is entirely one of indulgence; a film director playing with the luxuries of light and the full spectrum of sensory effects comes closer to producing a work of art than a slick Hollywood blockbuster, and, as we find in Still, artists using film as inspiration find themselves falling prey to a consumptive obsessiveness, a hyperbolic fanaticism.

Nicola Woodham’s video ‘Neon Alone’ is perhaps the best example of the blurring of genre-boundaries between popular film and art. Woodham has taken a single frame from Richard Curtis’ Love Actually and transformed it into a purely aesthetic cypher with its languorous movement through cinematic light, silhouette, shadow and luminescent spotting.  This repeated frame is entirely estranged from its Rom-Com context; it’s lost that warm, all-pervasive Richard Curtis glow.

Although the exhibition does look critically at the relationship between art and film, it is also not afraid of pastiche or parody. Paul Kindersley’s larger than life disembodied heads are a queasily comic tribute to the sticky gore of horror.

In Cathy Lomax’s ‘Film Diary’, in which she paints a single freeze-framed scene from every film she watches, there is no sense of discrimination. Despite being intellectually and theoretically engaged with film in her studies, Lomax is just as likely to be caught borrowing from Twilight as she might from an obscure masterpiece such as Vincente Minnelli’s The Pirate.

The exhibition celebrates our cultural immersion in a cinematic reality; stories, dreams, the living out of fantasies which might begin to feel more real than everyday life. Jackie Chettur’s meticulously constructed sets in hotel rooms come to resemble ‘the backdrop to a film we think we may have seen.’

There is a strange sense of de ja vu which strikes the viewer. Scenes and faces borrowed from films seem familiar but often lie somewhere beyond the reach of recognition.

The exhibition is accompanied by a special issue of Transition’s Garageland magazine dedicated to film. Each of the artist’s included in Still have contributed to the issue; Paul Kindersley revels in horror’s lust for blood and ‘schlock tactics’, Alli Sharma wallows in her infatuation with the Kitchen Sink aesthetic of social realism, and Jackie Chettur reveals the secrets behind her hyper-realist film sets.

Garageland 14 is, at heart, a collection of adoring love letters to film. Images framed on glossy white paper are like screens in which we might catch movement or a narrative, its content page reads like rolling credits, interviews run like scripts, a thumbnail strip resembles a storyboard. This issue of the magazine is edited and produced with all the visible traces of film fanaticism.

Still is totally joyful and honest about its passion for film and it’s this which makes it the perfect visual comfort. It’s the exhibition equivalent of the cinema on a rainy afternoon or a large bucket of salted popcorn.


Tonight the new issue of Garageland launches with the exhibition, Still, at the Hackney Picturehous and the Transition Gallery. I wrote an article for this issue and here’s an unedited version of a rather long tribute to the simple charms of the cinema. Garageland’s Film Issue is incredible and a bit of a treasure trove for fans of cinema. It’s definitely worth buying a copy here; all of the artists included in the exhibition, Still, have also contributed. It’s my first time in print in an art magazine too, so I’m certainly looking forward to getting my hands on a copy.

  ‘Non ti fare fottere dalla nostalgia, dimenticaci tutti.’ Alfredo, Cinema Paradiso

When I think of the local cinema which I grew up with, The Vue, Harlow Town, Essex, I begin to worry that cinemas might be dying out. Here the itchy faux red velvet seats and sticky floors no longer seem worth the over-inflated prices. Unnecessary legions of staff have already been culled as ticket sales have merged with popcorn cashiers, and I have often arrived to bleak Saturday evening closures, the forecast of cinematic doom. In this empty cinema which no longer carries the luxury of its emptiness, sell-out showings are an increasingly impossible miracle.

If there is anything I would like my local cinema to aspire to, it is the warm, nostalgic glory of Toto’s Cinema Paradiso in the 1988 film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. In a small village in Sicily it is the Cinema, the Cinema Paradiso, that is the soul and beating life force of the community. The cinema is a democracy in which all of society find a seat.

In the film there is an incidental love story which brings a man from down in the stalls into the upper circle, a triumph of cinema’s power to move. Young boys masturbate on the front rows, and the rich spit down from above in a perfectly comfortable mix of high and low culture. On one hot evening when the theatre reaches capacity and a swelling, angry crowd are locked outside, the projectionist, Alfredo, works a minor miracle. By screening the film on the side of an apartment everyone is able to watch from the piazza. The laughs and cheers of the masses echo across the public square.

Perhaps in the same way that audiences have become desensitised to violence on screen, we have gradually become more immune to the simple charms of the cinema. A film is a spectacle in itself and yet now if we are to be coaxed away from our freeview boxes and widescreen TVs we demand so much more.

We need more violence and more horror to make our blood pound. We need dirtier, wilder, harder sex to get us aroused. In Cinema Paradiso when a simple kiss slips past the censors a violent tremor of excitement spreads throughout the audience; the intimation is explicit enough for this crowd to feel a thrill. But it would never be enough for us.

Our disenchantment could be said to have inspired something of a revolution in cinematic experience. Any objections to such developments might just be another case of the hang-up of nostalgia. Our hardened senses force greater creativity and have made the conception of events such as Secret Cinema and the Jameson Cult Film Club possible.

In a surreal simulation of the film world colliding with the real, events like Secret Cinema and Jameson Cult Films, bring characters and sets to life in full-immersion screenings. These events are opportunities to see our favourite films in entirely new ways. Cinema is reinvigorated by the realisation of a fantasy; to momentarily live within the fictional worlds which have the greatest hold over our imaginations.

The summer’s disingenuous promise to hold off on the rain has led to a mix of outdoor cinema screenings across London on roof gardens and rooftop bars, in parks, in the neoclassical courtyard of Somerset House, and in venues which are exciting for the fantasy and atmosphere they promise to bring to a film: the Nomad Roaming Cinema will be screening The Shining in Brompton Cemetery, the thought makes me shiver with the pleasure of expectation.  It seems we just can’t enough of the subversive twist these new themed cinematic events add to our appreciation of film. I am still soul-searching for a Grease inspired Drive-Thru where I can be ‘Stranded at the Drive-In’ with a young John Travolta lookalike. Perhaps I have spotted a gap in the market there.

Yet my most vivid cinema memory is a showing of the worst film I have ever seen in a small town in Romania. Here, Orange Wednesdays had fulfilled their marketing prophecy and the entire population had turned up for the event. It didn’t seem to matter that the film was embarrassing or that there were no glasses to watch in 3D. There was an air of collusion about it; we all knew the film was terrible and were complicit in it.  Like the Cinema Paradiso, the Patria in Craiova was a hub of the community. Here was cinematic pleasure in its most basic and undiluted form.

Despite my temptation to get carried away with all these cinematic happenings, secret clubs which urge us to ‘Tell no one’ and rare events with exclusive price tags and sell-out tickets, I also believe that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get distracted from the real cultural threat.

If you search ‘save our local cinema’ on Google, a wealth of revolutions from below will appear. Preserving these venues is about more than nostalgia and a fanaticism for architecture full of character and history. It’s also about holding on to the spirit of the community as areas change and are subject to development. There is nothing I’d like more than to find that the Vue in Harlow Town could conjure enough magic and atmosphere to warrant its ticket prices and fill its seats, a real event for once. That would be the true triumph of the underdog, that classic cinematic trope and a genuine feel-good ending.

Well, it didn’t turn out that comic really, but in a recent article I wrote about Choosing the Right Internship for the We Are Can Journal I took the opportunity to have a cheeky dig at a certain anonymous employer of interns.

It felt very cathartic to finally say all of those things I meekly kept suppressed while I was doing my time as an intern. Despite all that I may have got from my internship I don’t feel guilty about letting rip a little as I feel quite passionately about the fact that keen young graduates should not be exploited as cheap labour.

Then again, I also believe that there are some brilliant companies offering brilliant opportunities for people to get involved in enriching projects. So bitterness aside, if you choose the right one, you really should go ahead and be exploited!

This image has nothing much to do with internships, other than that if you are an intern you will no longer be able to afford such luxuries.

Towards the end of my internship with an art gallery I found myself reduced to one daily perverse joy. My ten pound a day wage had one priceless benefit. I could shock street charity workers into shame and submission.

As a student I had always felt guilty; scurrying by with somebody else’s money in my pocket and refusing to offer any of it to cats, gorillas or starving children.  Now, I had the perfect chugger-repellent and it put a little spring in my step.

In an over-saturated industry internships are still likely to be a reality for those wishing to pursue a career as an arts professional. But it’s very easy to end up resenting an internship, (shaming charity workers was just one sign that I was beginning to feel exploited) and that’s why it’s important to make sure you choose the right option.

Over the past few years there has been a lot of debate about the law regarding internships and pay, but although ministers have urged employers to follow minimum wage laws there are too many people willing to work for free in a climate of cutbacks and recession.

An internship shouldn’t just be about doing your time in unpaid labour or putting an impressive name on a CV, there is more than one way to judge its value.

Big institutions like the Courtauld and Southbank Centre have led the way in offering internships with an hourly rate of pay. This reveals an awful lot about their integrity as employers and the respect they have for their interns. The truth is that many small companies won’t be able to afford more than a travel allowance, and that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your time.  In an unpaid internship you should see yourself as being in a unique position to negotiate your role based on your own interests and ambitions.  After all you did give up your soul/ a perfectly reasonably paid bar job/ [insert other sacrifice here] to be there.  Don’t forget to snap up all of the freebies you can, your employer should also feel a little lucky to have found you.

A really good internship will be a healthy mix of three things: an opportunity to learn something entirely new and gain an insight into the industry; recognition from your employer that there is something you can independently bring to the role; and a readiness to help you satisfy a particular curiosity or pursue an individual interest. You might be starting at the very bottom of the office hierarchy (and being dropped in at the deep end of headache-inducing office politics) but you probably aren’t an idiot and you will have something to give.

Although it might seem difficult to focus on all of this when you are nervous and under pressure, the interview is the perfect chance to gauge just what the internship has in it for you. If the focus is largely on dictating the aspects of the role, including a subtle apology for all the admin you’ll have to deal with, be wary of becoming an office spam filter or handy boy/girl.

“Internships can become dangerously like slave labour if you don’t show yourself a little respect.  Choose an internship which excites and enthuses you rather than one which just feels like CV credit.”

Opening letters, filtering junk mail, ordering stationery and filling excel spreadsheets with data will not be the most enriching tasks. While you should definitely be willing to do all of that with a gracious smile, there should also be the promise of more challenging tasks and plenty of independent work to get you excited. Questions about what you’d like to get from the experience are a reassuring indication that you’re valued as more than just cheap labour.

Internships can become dangerously like slave labour if you don’t show yourself a little respect.  Choose an internship which excites and enthuses you rather than one which just feels like CV credit. If you’re interested in what you’re learning it won’t really matter if you are getting paid. There are some things we all do for free just because we love them. And that’s not a bad attitude to have, especially if one day it will mean that you have a job you are passionate about, rather than just one you are casually happy with.