Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sandy Smith (5) 5mbThe weather outside may be frightful but artist, Sandy Smith, has five warmer, and far more appealing propositions for you. Smith’s exhibition at Space in Between, Five Propositions for the Tourist, doesn’t merely make a performance out of transporting the viewer to sunnier climes: the installation literally radiates heat.

The sauna-style decking, ‘Take your time, embrace your misunderstanding’, boasts a grid of white-hot bulbs, while ‘Sometimes it goes deeper than you think’ warms the skin with the burnt orange of reptile lamps. The sea-blue printed wallpaper of this, our retreat, reflects the ambient glow and forgets the grey it faces outside the gallery window.

A seeming mash-up of existential philosophy, popular psychology and obscure poetry; the names of the works in the show might have already revealed that there is far more to this exhibition than the simple reptilian pleasure of basking in the artificial heat.

Five Propositions for the Tourist grapples with two underlying grand influences: a photograph taken in 1934 showing the façade of the Fascist Party’s headquarters, wrapped in a banner repeating the word SI over and over, and a story about Ludwig Wittgenstein who, for most of his later life, lectured in a room unfurnished bar a safe containing his notes; those invited to the lecture brought deck chairs to bask in the attempted murder of philosophy by a vortex of logic.

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It is not instantly clear how Smith has rationalised these two big ideas and it’s easy to be sceptical of the feat, but it’s also possible to see these distilled into two harmonious elements. The repetition of IS, an inversion of the Fascist slogan, is described by Smith as “simultaneously an affirmation and a questioning, a churning out of meaningless language and an overstimulated form of zen meditation.”

As language plays at being more complex (expanding in the poem which accompanies the show and the poetic fragments of the works list) this overstimulation radiates through the breezy slogans which Wittgenstein might very well see as a fresh assault on philosophy.

Smith explains that, “for a long time I’ve been fascinated with self-help and other pop-psychology texts, I’ve used slogans and mantras from these for some time, such as ‘every day in every way I’m getting better and better’ by Emile Coué, to name a familiar one. I think a lot about texts (and materials) which hover between intent, or vibrate between positive and negative interpretations.”

Thus, depending on our mood, we might find our own solace or menace in A hyperactive field of indecision is not without form or Stretch your legs, interact, and remember.

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Perhapthe most incredible thing about the show is the wallpaper, the only element which was created off-site in New York and transported to London in Smith’s hand-luggage. Three hundred foot of paper was printed in just three hours after Smith had spent 6 months building and perfecting his own rotary printing press. By turning everything together the press allows for “a continuous stream of printed text”.

“I prefer to make quite a rigid environment that contains the possibility for free movement within it, my thinking being that it is much more genuinely generous than the space that pretends to be lax and laissez-faire but actually has quite specific intentions laid out for you in how you interact with it.”

The repetitive formula of ‘IS’ from that vinyl wallpaper will burn on in your retina, along with the respite of those grids of heated lamps; there’s certainly plenty to keep you thinking even after you’ve left the remit of Five Propositions for the Tourist’s warm aura

Five Propositions for the Tourist will be at Space in Between until 27 th April: http://


SUKI CHAN 5PLURAL  curated by BREESE LITTLE at the WW Gallery was absolute bliss. Whether it was the pop-culture aspiration of the impossible moon landings, the frustrated science of Sam Zealey’s sculpture, or the coded abstract geometry of Tom Hackney; there was aspiration to suit everyone.

I spent a good portion of every week in the swathes of black fabric lying on a bench and watching Suki Chan’s swelling and hypnotic vision of London, Sleep Talk, Sleep Walk. My interview with Suki Chan will be up on Jotta soon.


A little extract from my introduction in anticipation of the interview:

“Suki Chan’s London is a city of interims and increments. It is the movement between places: captured in the soft glow of bus windows catching traffic in the dark, or though tube tunnels in dim evening light, and funnelling up escalators to the exit or the platform, an indeterminate location. It is a world transmitted by the inconspicuous eye of security cameras, remaining constantly under surveillance. Yet there are no events recorded, just the seemingly uneventful moments in-between. Even locations, inanimate concrete and steel; are in a similar state of flux – abandoned buildings and construction sites suggest that the vision we are presented with is still incomplete.

If it is aspirational, it is because it captures the moment in which we are moving on our way to something else, beyond. The installation begins with movement: transportation in wormings of light, the horizon seeping into new colours with the passing of time. In this city, someone suggests, “it is quite easy to spark off each other and pass ideas around”. But as this vision progresses it seems to repeat a pattern of loneliness rather than one of community and collaboration. Empty office spaces and unpeopled views across the city confirm that this comment was little more than a still-distant utopia.”


‘But close about the quays and churches, palaces and prisons. Sucking at their walls, and welling up into the secret places of the town: crept the water always.’ Dickens, Pictures of Italy

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On our last night in Venice, Natalie and I left Piazza San Marco after seeing Sting perform. Water had filled the square and was puddling beneath the marble and gold of the cathedral. Chains of people splashed through the growing lake as they made their way home in the key of euphoria. Like jumping in winter puddles as a child, the splashes held the promise of new worlds. Venice’s fluctuating water levels seemed to have shifted the atmospheric balance of the city.

We took the ferry along the Grand Canal where the Venetian facades were softly illuminated in the starry dark of La Serenissma. The night waters were rising above the level of the city; crashing against squares where people sat at tables drinking, lapping at the feet of buildings, licking at doorways. At the steps of the Natural History Museum a giant crab crept sideways in the quietly menacing black of the water. I felt the wonder of Venice under threat.

The waters must have seeped into my imagination and soaked their liquid impression upon me. That night I had a waking dream in which the rippling springs of my mattress transformed into a Traghetto on the unsettled waves. The room was filled with a shimmering blanket of water and the rucksacks lying at the side of the beds became vaporettos navigating the narrow passage between the bunks. I quietly gasped. In awe of that rippling plash of water I pushed my belongings beneath the bed to make way for the vaporetto’s course. When I awoke I was watermarked; my fingertips puckered, my hair bedraggled. I was enrapt in La Serenissima’s buoyant magic.

When Dickens writes of Venice he describes the strange approach towards the city as a vision in a dream; ‘In the luxurious wonder of so rare a dream, I took but little heed of time, and had but little understanding of its flight. But there were days and nights in it; and when the sun was high, and when the rays of lamps were crooked in the running water, I was still afloat, I thought: plashing the slippery walls and houses with the cleavings of the tide, as my black boat, borne upon it, skimmed along the street.’

If you let the waters take you, you are lost. As you sink from the platforms time dissolves. Venetians travel by water but succumb to a slower pace of life; watch the city rolling on the waves like a model of a town.

Venice has a way of enchanting and imprisoning people. Although its residents continue to decrease in number as the influx of tourists moving in and out daily overwhelms the island: Venice slowly sinks herself. Suicide by drowning for the salvation of her own stone soul.

I had felt that falling in love with Venice would be a cliché, and I had endeavoured to avoid it. It was the quieter reaches of Eastern Europe; newly made capital cities such as Bratislava, Ljubljana and Zagreb, which had beckoned to me on my tour of Europe with Natalie. I had planned Venice as merely a stop along the way, a tourist trap beyond the reaches of my sensitivities.

Yet when I arrived for the first time on the sleeper train at 6am something of my resolution was instantly lost.

The sun was rising on the water world; soft yellow light playing on the expanse marked only by the pallo and the herons perched on top. After the fallen star of Zagreb, Venice was swollen with morning light. It seemed that our train was parting the waters as it made its way into Santa Lucia.

There is something of the miracle about Venice after all.

Every day around 60,000 tourists come into the city, doubling the population. So to arrive on the sleeper train before the tourists are awake is the ultimate luxury. It is harder to love later in the day, but impossible to fall out of love with.

I would see Venice painted in all lights. Venice at sunset, as I drank aperol spritzes at a roadside bar while the sun sank into the perfect colours for our ferry ride. Venice’s waters a greasy oil-paint-orange lashed with bright blue in the heat of the sun. Venice in the pitch black on a ferry ride, the currents fracturing light on squid-ink water. Venice in scatters of red and yellow rolling about me on the dark waves. All of these visions have one element in common.

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One night Natalie and I sat on a small wooden table at a restaurant on the fondamenti del’Ormesini beside a tributary canal. We are so far removed from the tourists that we seem plunged into the quiet black of the waters as we eat Spaghetti Scogliera with white wine. Boats pass us; the city’s young people flashing yellow beacons of light and snatches of music and conversation, as they speed towards some secret life which can only be reached along unknown passages of water. I wish then that I could see this Venice. That throb of tourists in the central labyrinth seems only a frustrating masquerade.

Venice absorbs some people, whilst excluding others. Both times I visit I am forced to sleep outside the city’s reach on dry land, in a campsite on the motorway, and in Mestre where the town square meekly gestures towards its older sister. It is only months later, that Giudecca, home of prisoners, takes me into its rocking arms and lets me sleep on the water. The only way to see Venice is from the water, distant enough to gain a little perspective.

On my second trip to Venice the Venetian Mason family take me out on the laguna on Massimo and Sonia’s boat. We take the vaporetto through the tourist centre and out again, and then a long bus out of the glamour of the Lido towards Alberoni, to float moored in the harbour at Malamocco.

After I have been pasted with suncream in a pale panic by the two mothers, Paola and Sonia: we eat a picnic around a fold-up table in the stern of the boat. We pass round breads, cheeses, Mortadella ham, Parma ham, anchovies on toasted bread, tomatoes and olives followed by a sweet coffee from a flask. Then, satiated, we pull the anchor up and sail deep into the glittering blue Laguna.

I sit at the front of the boat with the sun and the winds and the sensation of sailing. My host brother and sister, Giulia and Giacomo, sit with me. It seems that there has never been more bliss than this. For the moment I can’t think beyond it all, there is nothing beyond the shimmering haze of the city centre in the distance and the lagoon in between.

Giulia tells me stories of her romances and Giacomo screams with excitement every time he sees a medusa (a jellyfish), drifting surreal in the parting waters. Medusa seems the most poetic word for those supernatural networks of luminous veins.

In the summer, trips out on the laguna in the boat are a regular feature.  If the Masons don’t feel like the lagoon, they have a house by the beach in Porto Santa Margherita, and another in the mountains they can drive to. The houses are a shared inheritance between brothers and sisters, there is nothing particularly extravagant or unusual about these retreats for a Venetian family.

Massimo and Sonia are certainly the proud hosts of their sailing boat, but the Mason’s have other friends, other friendly boats.

The Italians holiday with a naturalness that is foreign to the English; they know what the pleasures of life are.  They slip into warm waters on weekends and take long national holidays in August which can last a couple of weeks. Ferragosto is an excuse to close businesses and escape in the peak of summer days. I find myself wondering why my parents, who take unglamorous Bank holidays as opportunities for house repairs, don’t live like this sometimes.

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We sail past the pallos dividing the currents, the mussel nets and abandoned islands like fortified ruins with the herons circling. Sonia explains the history of those crumbling fortifications and Venice’s attempts to preserve some while letting others drown. Flights of the imagination take off from the ruined green like the herons themselves.

There is a fabulous book published in the seventies: ‘Isole Abbandonate della Laguna Veneziana’, which I cannot get my hands on. A history of the thirteen abandoned islands of the Venice Lagoon written by brothers Giorgio and Maurizio Crovato. I am promised that their own black and white photographs documenting the dilapidation are the real treasure of the lost volume. But Sonia is a delicious source of knowledge in herself. If the Venetian authorities have abandoned islands it is partly for the financial costs and partly for the submersive weight of their history.

The island of Poveglia stranded on the way to the Lido has a long history as a place of exclusion and quarantine. In 1968 when Poveglia’s hospital for the mentally ill was closed the island was lost to complete abandonment. From its first reference in a chronicle in 421 AD Poveglia had been a place of exile; the Paduans escaped here after an invasion from the Barbarians and would eventually be driven on again to Giudecca. The island’s 14th century fortification, the Octagon, and the tower of its lighthouse built to replace the church, can still be seen above the trees today.

What ghosts remain the public will probably never know, but it is enough for a writer to dream from the safe, shining white of a sail boat.

A week later I miss another boat trip, but I am told stories of round, motherly Paola diving beneath the mussel nets to prize the mussels from the submerged roots of the pallos. She shows me her arms and hands covered with scratches: “Look what a feast you have missed.”

I stare more in admiration at her glutton’s heroism, feel a quiet respect for the hunter-gatherer mother returning proud and full.

We sail along the riva of the toy-box fisherman village; the narrow stretched houses splashing their bright browns, yellows and oranges into the sky-blue waters. The shutters are all closed up with the washing lines hanging like smiles across them.

The ‘fisherman village’ causes a fervent debate about translation. Everyone howls with derisive laughter at Massimo’s ‘fisherman village’. Which although it sounds odd now when passed around in the stern of the boat, I am sure is correct.  I try to think of Polperro; fish & chips on the pier, flooded streams rolling downhill through the town: fisherman village.

This flat row of houses, a single line facing the waters, is the last of the habitations built solely for fishermen. Here they wade to their waists in the waters.

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Eventually we put the anchor down again in the depths of the Laguna. I dive off the ladder at the end of the boat and feel the shock of the infinite water. Emerge gasping from the broken surface. The current is so strong that the boat appears to be continually drifting away from us as we cling to the orange ring of the float.

I have never swum beyond the reaches of the beach before.  Never felt so lost to the bottomless end, or the powerful tug of real currents. I doggy-paddle with my chin above the water feeling almost helpless.

It is the water, as obvious as it may seem, there is enough water to drown the world in Venice. This swim in the laguna is like an initiation. I will never be free of Venice again.

‘…the movement and the darkness and the plash, the indistinguishable swerves and twists, all the things you see and all the things you do feel- each dim recognition and obscure arrest is a possible throb of your sense of being floated to your doom’, (Henry James)


Fortune, I think, meant that I emailed the editor of Garageland Magazine, Cathy Lomax, at the perfect moment: just in time to slip myself into the upcoming issue on Collaboration. And fortune, too, meant that it was American artist, Conrad Ventur, who I ended up interviewing. Our exchange of emails has felt like another kind of collaboration: a fractured sparking of stories and sudden thoughts cascading through my inbox.

I usually like to interview in person, particularly if I want to be more than just a prompt and platform for an artist’s views. But Conrad is all the way on some other time zone and all we had was the black & white of emails. And yet, I feel Conrad’s character: by email, somehow, I have found I know him.

Here is the wonderful story of how Conrad Ventur came by his name, as taster of what’s to come in the next issue of Garageland:


“My real full name is CONRAD MARCELLUS VENTUR. I go by CONRAD VENTUR, though there have been some flourishes over the years when I thought the middle name added something, so periodically, I used the whole thing. But that’s a bit over the top.

My father Pierre, came up with the name. For half my childhood he was working on a PhD at Yale, in anthropology: Mayan linguistics, with a focus on dying Mayan dialects and culture. When I was born, he and my mother had a specific name in mind – actually they were expecting a female baby, but it turned out, well I’m a male. The name they would have given me didn’t match my face, so for a day or two I just had a number assigned to me while my father thought of a name that worked with me. He’s said that one morning, after letting it fold around in his thoughts, he was brushing his teeth and it clicked, Conrad Marcellus Ventur. I think he’d been up for 48 hours – going from some kind of very long party then to the hospital for a protracted labour, then hanging around the hospital after I was born. He went home to shower and change his clothes, then returned to the hospital to give the nurse the name. He was exhausted. So here we go. It’s an equation.

The first name is German, as my Grandfather was born in Frankfurt (he immigrated to the USA when he was thirteen years old). His family going back to the 1600s resided in Silesia, and prior to that in France, either in Alsace or Lorraine – the surname is Huguenot.

c_ventur_m_montez_30_0_002e31ce2e31ceVentur is an extremely small family. I think there are speckles left in Germany, and a smudge in Australia. Just me and my father in the USA. I was told that there are land-owning Ventur in Panama by a guy last week who delivered flowers here. While I was signing for them [a dozen red roses], he said that they are “well respected”. This colonial trace I knew nothing about. The Ventur after the First World War were stripped of what property they had in Germany – after the Treaty of Versailles. This broke my grandfather’s family (he would never tell me about that period of his childhood during and after the First World War). So his father, rendered penniless, became a drunk or something – some kind of outcast but the how and why I don’t know. It was a violent tear in that relationship and connected with the history of that time in Germany – my great-grandmother left with the three children to Wisconsin on her own. Pretty wild when you think that was the 1920s.

The middle name conjures vague associations to the Roman Marcellus going back to 200’s BC and the Byzantine Marcellus 500’s AD – though specifically I should ask what the twist was. Marcellus was a common Latin name during the Roman Empire.

I just sent my mother, Ann, a Skype message asking about that middle name. She’s in Alaska though, so I doubt she’ll answer soon – she’s four hours behind New York. But when she does I know it will be Victorian – an expansive, poetic response (she is a poet after all), with a bit of ‘my broken marriage’ – a blocky 80s intrusion, fracturing her response. She’s like that. Oh wait, just now she’s logged-on. Let’s see what she says…

She writes that my father chose the middle name Marcellus for “a kind of quasi linguistic euphoniousness (e.g. it sounded good with the first name).” She explained, “Pierre  (God Bless his heart) is / was a linguist — so, steeped in Romance language roots. The unconscious has odd ways of coming out. It was almost like some creative spark could only come out when all his control and defences were down…. But your name was your father’s fugue, inspiration, fevered sounds of vowels.”