Fox Eyes

This vid is a bit viral so I’m told. The fox looks amazing though. The eyes are incredible and almost supernaturally frightening

Borg Central

Tegnerlunden Park

Tegnerlunden Park

Last Monday I rose and donned extra layers and a heavy coat in preparation for my commute from downtown Stockholm to our Sundbyberg office while the temperature hovered around -16c. I crunched my way across ice and snow, down the hill along with others equally insulated examples (EIEs) of 21st century mobile autonomous systems (as Eno has defined himself). I crunched to where I perceived the central station to be.

As I drew nearer I realised I was on too high a level and asked directions. Arriving at the station I found only computerised ticket machines and entrance turn-styles. I have never liked computerised ticket machines. They ask too many questions and give too many options. Also, one is left with the impression that they will answer whatever question one asks even if they have no business answering. It is like turning up at the British Airways desk when you are looking for the tube to Holborn and being sold a flight to  City Airport.

I wandered around aimlessly and entered another space where I overlooked the vast obligatory shopping mall that, by international law, must now be installed in every fucking public space on Earth. I expect that, by now, the Serengeti National Park in Kenya consists mostly of branches of Louis Fucking Vuitton.

People were marching around and it seemed to me that there were no railway employees to speak to. The whole station, perhaps even the whole of Stockholm and, quite possibly, the whole of Sweden seemed to be running on automatic. I felt like the man at the end of Invasion of The Body Snatchers. I wanted to shout: “Does anyone know where the ticket office is?” or “Where is the Information desk?” or “Where are all the fucking humans?”.

I held my tongue and descended an escalator into the heart of the machine where Swedes marched in robotic precision. I have braved the rush hours in Mumbai, London and Bangkok but never have I encountered such steadfast dedication to commuting. I leaped and dived between these creatures clad in boots and fur. Clutching their white iPhones they ignored me because I posed no threat, but I knew that, should I vocalise my anger and frustration, they would, as one, turn on me and tear me to pieces.

At the lowest level, at the beating heart of the Bjorn Borg mother ship, I found a ticket desk. No queue existed here but several of the creatures loitered and one pointed at a metal obelisk with no writing known to man but a strange symbol which may have depicted the apocalyptic death of the Swedish empire or, alternatively, a ticket being dispensed.

I placed my hand against the object and obtained the number 88. A display positioned above my head indicated 86. Whatever was going to happen, would happen soon. I stood and prepared myself. As an Englishman, I considered my reputation and refused to criticise the fact that several of the files were sitting lopsidedly behind the ticket clerks desk. Like a suburban health clinic where one waits patiently for the results of an X-ray though the preponderance of white plastic and perfect ergonomic machinery lent the area the feeling of a synthesis between Borg and Ikea technology.  87 glowed red. Was this it? Would I meet my end at number 88? Assimilated like so many millions before me? With a shock I realised that I too owned a white iPhone!

The man behind the desk was polite and spoke good English. I suggested that I may have come to the wrong place but he answered: “No. You have come to the right place”. My feeling of foreboding increased. I wondered how, this individual, who appeared almost Scandinavian in his sanity, could maintain any purchase on poetry, mythology or his imagination in an environment so devoid of stimulation.

He gave me two paths to travel. The quickest and simplest or the longest and most arduous. With the feeling that I was metamorphosing into Grendel, I chose the most arduous and entered the cold deep corridors packed with steaming Borg, silently striding, each avoiding the others with absolute precision as they held their dreams and emotions imprisoned in white iPhones.

Eventually, of course, I caught the train and emerged at Sundbyberg which was the wrong thing to do, I should have taken the Metro as the gentleman had suggested.

The problem with many modern northern European cities is that there is no sense of place. The station in Sundbyberg for example consists, at ground level at least, of two flights of steps leading down. Obviously this could be a station but equally it could be the entrance to a car park or public toilet.

I had arranged to meet a colleague but he was unaware of the precise location of the station and also unaware that it had two entrances. Around the stairs leading down are coffee shops and the only indication of a mass transportation system, capable of linking one to the rest of the world lies just metres from where one stands, is a modest LED display indicating two place names. These may indicate a station. They may indicate a bus terminus and since, in this perfectly organised society, there IS a bus terminus here, one might then consider the purpose of the signs explained.

In fact my colleague was waiting 5 minutes down the track where he had decided the station must be located and to be honest there was as much evidence there as there was where I had stood.

In the end we talked by phone and the only way we were able to communicate exactly which set of stairs I stood outside was with reference to the sun. The staircase in the sun or the staircase in the shade. This is my point. The nearest unique landmark was 93 million miles away, or so it seemed to me….I was a little frustrated.

The Victorians knew how to build stations. London St Pancras and Mumbai Central, they were stations. They didn’t just have vast gothic buildings which would be exceedingly difficult to miss they also had the words FUCKING STATION written in ten foot letters across the top or, if they didn’t, you could well imagine that they might.

All this integration makes for a very efficient city machine provided you have been programmed for it. If, on the other hand, you are a simple foreign traveller there is no way for you to meet anyone without giving them a street reference. I suspect that Johnny Swede relies heavily on grid references.

I climbed into the small Japanese car and calmed down as my bum was warmed to perfection by the heated seats.

Rolfs Kök

Rolfs Kök

Actually Stockholm was refreshing. Apart from the freezing tunnels of the central station the people were friendly and polite. The trains were spacious and tasteful and the food good. I stayed at the excellent Tegnerlunden Hotel which, while small, was personal, comfortable and conveniently located downtown near the fantastic Rolfs Kök restaurant.  On Wednesday night I ate at Rolfs. Packed with Swedes and wood and more Swedes and lots and lots of red wine and blond hair. Thick coats hung on walls amidst the steady rumble of conversation. Steel and brass and spotlights and busy white apron staff efficiency. Sitting at the bar amidst masses of bottles and glasses over my head, I sampled the bread & salt then devoured a perfectly cooked steak with a couple of beers.

MMMmmmmm…..Stockholm!

Rolfs Kök

Rolfs Kök

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st malo beach

St Malo Beach

Kusama at Tate Modern – Wonderland despite the faded white turds

Infinity Mirrored Room I spent a few hours at the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Tate Modern this afternoon. The area just south of Tate modern seems to be an area in transition. In some ways it is very old London yet there are massive apartments blocks going up. Not many people about so presumably none of them are sold yet.

Inside Tate Modern it was the usual story of queuing for the ticket then queueing for the exhibition to be let in at a given time then trying to get past the people who think they have to queue for every exhibit. I recall prior to Tate Modern, if one wanted to see some modern art, one was forced to visit The Tate (now Tate Britain) and endure a lot of dusty old fashioned art first. To be honest all art can be good and bad and I can well remember being extremely impressed when I discovered a futurist sculpture created in 1913 named ‘Unique Forms Of Continuity In Space’ by Umberto Boccioni.

These days the art establishment like to claim that they are brining art to the masses but I think they may merely have succumbed to the obsession with profit which seems to have driven the start of the 21st century. I’m not sure that having Anne Robinson ask “Name a modern art museum in London” on The Weakest Link counts as art appreciation and justifies the congestion. …however, I digress……

Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who lives in a mental institution so it says here. The first exhibits I found fairly mundane and was soon presented with what appeared to be painting from the Bollocks school of art. i.e. Since anything can be art, therefore any old bollocks I create must also be art. Monochrome canvasses with squiggles and texturing. I began to feel a little cynical. Chairs and shoes filled with what appeared to be large white turds. Thank you Ms. Kusama, we’ll be in touch.

Boat

Boat

However, things livened up a bit and the dark room with the white boat full of turds was quite striking. Later the punters were paying great attention to a video with a large sign stating that there were scenes of an “explicit nature”. So many people were paying so much attention that I never did get into that room.

I entered another dark room decorated somewhat like an ordinary living dining room with chairs and a table laid for dinner. The only light in the room came from Ultra Violet strip lights around the ceiling. What made the room impressive was thousands of dots of primary colour dabbed all the over the floors, walls, ceilings and objects. Sounds daft but I felt like I had entered an Alice in Wonderland novel. Following swift on the heals of this was another room full of coloured lights and mirrors which was also very impressive and by the time I was presented with her latest large vitally colourful paintings I had become a Kusama fan.

Obliteration Room

Obliteration Room

The Kusama exhibition runs to the 5th June 2012 and tickets are £10 with a request for a £1 donation to charity. Worth a visit.

Buy Art Photography by Nigel Chaloner

Buy Art Photography by Nigel Chaloner

Hajj at The British Museum

Tapestry

Tapestry

I visited the Hajj exhibition at the British Museum today. The queue to buy the ticket looked worse than it was. The queue to enter the exhibition wasn’t so bad but I was a bit frustrated that everyone thought that they needed to queue for every exhibit. I skipped a few at the front and browsed around. A good exhibition but a lot of it was writing and photographs. They told the history and the story of the Hajj which is interesting but I like to see some exhibits and there were a reasonable number of these. Mostly tapestries but also some clothes worn during Hajj and a lot of old books. The tapestries were pretty amazing and many featured Arabic writing. It would have been nice to have some translations of this. The numbers of people made it difficult to get a good look at the explanatory text for each item but I guess I’m a bit impatient with this sort of thing. I like to hop from one thing to another and I hate queuing.

In fact queueing seemed to be a central theme to this exhibition in more ways than one. One of the key features of the Hajj is that each pilgrim walks 7 times around a large black stone cube known as the Kaaba at the Masjid al-Haram. Thousands of pilgrims attend and many photos showed the swirling people. As a keen photographer, these images piqued my interest. Many were shot at night, apparently under floodlights, and showed thousands of people stationary amongst a blur of others. I speculate that a fairly unique part of this ritual is that the people are either in motion, walking in the same direction, or they are absolutely still in meditation or prayer and that this is a great photographic opportunity.

The part or the exhibition that I liked best was the modern Islamic art which would not have looked out of place in Tate Modern. A good exhibition but I think the lesson is to rent one of those talking boxes which will explain stuff as you wander around.

The Hajj exhibition is open now at The British Museum on Great Russell Street in London and runs to the 15th April 2012. Entrance to the museum is free though they request a donation of £5. The Hajj exhibition tickets are £12. The nearest tube stations is Tottenham Court Road12.

 

Roses

Roses

Obituary: Ronald Searle

Good grief, the great and the good are dropping like flies. Last week I heard that the cartoonist Ronald Searle had clocked out in December age 91. I can’t write obits for all these people but thankfully this is not necessary as The Economist published a fantastic one last week. The audio edition is even better.

men drinking at a bar in Berlin

men drinking at a bar in Berlin