Woodland Hipsters…

Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — comelybankingcrisis @ 10:23 am

Woodland Creatures

A new bar has opened on Leith Walk called Woodland Creatures. I’ve been three times now (you know, I wanted to be one of the first to try it, to make myself look cool and everything, with the added bonus of a drink or two.)

I threw a quick review into Yelp and thought I’d share the same thoughts here…

This (and any other reviews to date) must be considered only first impressions because the place has just opened its doors and is not even serving food yet, which it will be very soon – they’re still putting finishing touches on the kitchen.

For a bit of context, I’ve put my head in here twice to wander around and just have a look and I’ve spent one proper evening drinking.

I’m a fan

First impressions, I’m definitely a fan. Great drink selection, plenty of standing room and not an unreasonable proportion of floor space dedicated to seating, which is thoughtfully arranged within the space. I don’t see a problem with the decor at all, I like it a lot actually. The main room is arguably lacking character a LITTLE when the place is quiet, in that it has just opened and, come on, give them a chance, but the same space works really well when busy – room to swing your elbows a bit. The blacks, browns and wood give the place an austere but warm atmosphere.

The smaller, brighter space to the right behind the bar area is the more challenging aesthetically, a kind of gallery space with funky seating from old cinemas and theatres. Ask yourself: do you really want this, weird but comfortable seats, art on the walls? YES!!

Hegemonic, shabby-chic competitors

In terms of the Leith Walk competitors: Victoria, as much as I do genuinely like it, now has a welcome antidote across the road. I absolutely don’t buy the idea that V’s should be a blueprint and standard for new bars in this area. Diversity is key. Woodland Creatures is a GREAT contribution to this diversity. I understand the ‘hipstery’ comments but honestly I don’t care in the slightest; it comes with the territory, always, for a place like this (as it does across the road).

Besides hipster is word, not an actual thing. I don’t believe in the existence of hipsters.

Turner in January: some thoughts on the Vaughan Bequest exhibition, Edinburgh

Odd things happen artwise in Edinburgh (and I suppose in Dublin and London) in January.

Some years it’s difficult to decide whether the Vaughan bequest of 38 of Turner’s watercolours and sketches is a blessing or a curse for the National Galleries.  On the one hand, surely this is perfect, conservationist ‘Cream Egg Syndrome’: once a year, strictly exclusive to January, and for the rest of the time we’re supposedly left wanting.  On the other hand, despite its mandatory brevity, this exhibition has a perennial tendency to be repetitive and incentive to do anything interesting with it is potentially lacking.

2011’s Turner is in the exhibition space downstairs by the Scottish collection.  This soporific bunker doesn’t lend itself favourably to the appreciation of art at the best of times and the Turners are exhibited in vaguely chronological order without significant curatorial invention.  However, one of the twists of the bequest itself is that Vaughan collected the works with the intention of representing all the main periods of Turner’s artistic development, and he passed these pieces on to Edinburgh with the same thought.  What results is a coherent collection of sketches and paintings which makes sense as a set, so we may forgive the National Galleries’ staff for keeping their interpretation largely in the background.

Best known among the collection are probably the energetic, lightening-emblazoned watercolour The Piazzetta, Venice (pictured) and the endlessly absorbing, ethereal Heidelberg.  But other highlights include the study of colour relationships in Harbour View and the breathtaking little watercolour Loch Coruisk, and among his blue and grey wash sketches, Lake Albano.

You can’t help but feel for the curators having to roll these works out year upon year in January, and a certain fatigue seems evident.  But this doesn’t stop Turner in January from being one of the quirkily fabulous treats of the Edinburgh calendar.

You have until 31st January (or you’ll have to wait 11 months!)

Review of Edinburgh Art Fair

This piece was first published on The Skinny‘s website, 1st December 2010.  There are lots more art previews, features and reviews there.

The dilemma with the likes of the Louvre, MoMA and the Vatican is that one is so bombarded with masterpieces that perspective is easily lost. How many Caravaggios or Warhols is it possible to meaningfully digest in an afternoon’s ramble? Like listening to ten great operas simultaneously, it’s fabulous white noise.

Edinburgh Art Fair also overloads, but lacks masterpieces. The fair is a chance for commercial galleries to showcase their collections and ideally make a few sales. But it’s easy to see how the commercial focus hinders meaningful engagement with art.

With an impressive sixty-five galleries exhibiting the work of over a thousand artists, most galleries have brought the optimum mix of works for commercial purposes. There is often little coherence within a single gallery’s stand, never mind throughout the event as a whole. Lack of context tends to drown individual pieces and an unfortunate result of the aesthetic overload is a tendency for more garish, ridiculous works to stand out.

Conversely, Glasgow School of Art graduate Ryan Mutter’s three paintings grab attention precisely because of their paucity of colour. Exhibited by the Contemporary Fine Art Gallery Eton, War Machine (pictures) shows a darker side to Mutter’s interest in Glasgow’s industrial past. The same gallery also brings us several of Peter Howson’s paintings, similarly interested in industrial society but on an individual, idiosyncratic level, contrasting with the impersonal gigantism of Mutter’s featured works.

The near-ubiquitous Ronnie Wood’s nostalgic rock scenes make an appearance, and at Peebles’ Breeze Gallery Bob Harper isn’t far behind with more intimate celebrity visages.

Overall, the fair leaves you feeling aesthetically starved. Perhaps this is the overload effect. It’s surely also due to the fact that events like this often seem less about art and more about interior design, business talk and Chelsea boots.

Edinburgh’s mysterious leaf people

art,Edinburgh — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — comelybankingcrisis @ 12:14 pm

Local Edinburgh news has been alive with curiosity and speculation over the appearance of a number of leaf sculptures along the Water of Leith.  The artist remains unknown, but clearly is playing with our fascination with the 6 Times series of sculptures erected in June by Antony Gormley.  The figures appear to be interacting with Gormley’s sculptures, mirroring the behaviour of hundreds of city walkers since the summer.

The individuals below – the Parent and Child and the Student/Teenager/Homeless Man(?) – all appeared in Stockbridge recently.  People by and large have been charmed by them, but you have to admit there’s something horrifyingly creepy about them too, or at least there will be when they come alive!  Or maybe they used to be alive and they have since been horrifyingly transformed into a mute, leafy prison.

Leaf figures inspecting Gormley in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Okay, I’ve clearly been watching too many horror films to go with the standard ‘happy families’ interpretation.  On a serious note though, this is a welcome addition to the art of the area since Gormley’s contribution.  The honeymoon period with the latter has passed and we’re getting bored.  The leaf figures are the most interesting intervention to date, and there have been several, from bikinis to “I Love Leith” T-shirts.

And, quite frankly, this latest feature is more interesting than Gormley anyway.

Leaf figure by the Water of Leith in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Journalist Wars: the gloves are off

Today’s Edinburgh Evening News carries a story on its cover about Edinburgh Council’s Outlook series of local kinda community newspapers.  Michael Blackley lambastes the freesheets, calling them “propaganda” and rallying local readers to pressure the council to “pulp ‘Pravda’.”  Apparently the populist Evening News would divert the money saved into buying school books for the city’s youth, thus holding the council to ransom by implying some sort of anti-education stance manifested in the publication of the Outlook series.  I must say I find this whole angle particularly right-wing despite its ostensible stance as Defender of the Kiddies’ Maths Books.  The comparison is totally arbitrary.

It’s becoming clear that a huge financial bite will be taken out of UK councils, so all of this may be entirely academic in a year’s time anyway, with Outlook scrapped altogether and an unholy haemorrhaging of the school system looming.

I can’t help feeling like the Evening News is playing spoiled child here, attacking a little brother so, despite said sibling’s revenues coming in a little more easily, from the public purse.  My bias is that I’d like to see as many publications as possible because I’d like to have as many writing options as possible!  And I’m sure all the good chappies working for Outlook will be delighted to see this little ‘Scottish Kiss’ from the Evening News which effectively calls for their outright redundancy.  Happy Humbugging Christmas lads.

Maybe the council should re-evaluate, especially in light of the Cameron-Osborne-Clegg clippers chopping their way northwards, but the Pravda reference irks me to the core.  Public-equals-communist is a lazy, below-the-belt rationale that insults our intelligence.  Great reading!  Am I overreacting?

Unearthing the Bethonged Bond

Wow!  The Scotsman has a treat for us today.  For those of you out there who don’t read it, I can’t possibly pass up the opportunity to share this raunchy ne’er before displayed portrait of a be-thonged, pre-Bond Sean Connery, painted by Rab Webster in the 1950s.  During this period, Connery was a struggling actor who apparently posed to help pay the bills.  Webster, who died last month, was an art teacher at Selkirk High School, where Connery was an occasional life model for students.  If you don’t mind me saying so, that must have been one exciting high school!

It’s interesting to notice (to say the least) Connery’s fine musculature, and it’s striking from this that even by today’s personal-trainer-induced Daniel Craig-ish chunky standards, this Connery would evidently still breeze into the role of Bond.  I wonder how long it took Craig to work his body up to the standard set by Connery for the role.

The impressive physique is apparently due to Connery’s taking up body building as a hobby around the time when he was posing for this portrait.

Needless to say, Robert Fairbairn’s piece on the painting in today’s Scotsman is littered with hilarious Bond-themed double entendre.  Allow me to add my own honest contribution:

The Thong is not Enough!

(Please insert your own Bond/Thong response below)

The Ghoulish Week that Was in Edinburgh

Last week was an exhilarating and alarming week in Edinburgh.  Most of the politicos and journos were over in Glasgow for the Scottish Labour Party conference for the second half of it.  This exodus of supposed leftists and vigilant political commentators seems to have left the place unguarded for a number of deleterious developments in Auld Reekie’s cultural life.

No less than three Edinburgh institutions now look set to fall by the wayside in the wake of the bankruptcy of the charity Edinburgh University Settlement.  The charity’s demise has resulted in the forced sale of the premises of The Forest Cafe (pictured), The Roxy Art House and the GRV.  These are surely three venues that will be sorely missed.

The Forest, on Bristo Place, looks set to run for a few more weeks due to a mandatory notice period in their lease, so now’s the time to drop in.  Over the years Forest has provided a multi-function space which houses a café, whole-foods restaurant, venue and the TotalKunst gallery.  I must admit I was never a regular, but it did warm the heart that they were there in the background, staffed only with volunteers, providing free shows, art, and cheap, healthy food.  If you feel strongly about this you should get on to their website, where they’ve launched an earnest campaign to raise a daunting £500K.  If you’re not sure, drop in and have a look at what they do.  This may be your last chance.

The GRV on Guthrie Street was a good old fashioned ‘dive’ in the trendiest sense of the word, and was by no means as idealistic or as well organised as Forest.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this place ended up being opened again along similar lines under different ownership, as I really can’t see many options for the site.  The Roxy, on the other hand, was a fantastic organisation which put on great events in the spirit of supporting new arts and providing cheap nights out.  Sadly, the Roxy’s doors were closed abruptly and permanently last week and there’s no chance of a last hurrah.

On the plus side, I had the pleasure on Halloween night of attending the Wee Folk club, downstairs in the Royal Oak, where Duncan Drever played a wonderful hour and a half of quality music for an audience which seemed to consist of female German students, two old men, and me.  Duncan’s brother is the well-known Scottish folk musician Kris Drever, but Kris shouldn’t rest on his laurels: Duncan is a great up-and-coming act and you can hear a couple of his songs here.

Donate to help the Forest survive here.

The Lewis Chessmen Winter North

This month saw the arrival in Aberdeen Art Gallery of The Lewis Chessmen Unmasked exhibition

“Probably made in Norway…Found on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland”

So the British Museum’s website prosaically introduces us to the Lewis Chessmen, or Uig Chessmen, a collection of 93 chess pieces intricately carved out of walrus ivory and whales’ teeth by three Vikings between 1150 and 1200 AD.  (Yes: three!)  The BM owns 82 of the 93 pieces which form this beautiful collection.  The other eleven are normally housed in the National Museum in Edinburgh, and a selection of just over 30 pieces from both museums is currently touring Scotland as part of the Unmasked exhibition. 

Unmasked began in Edinburgh in May 2010 and will travel to Shetland in January 2011 and before completing its Scottish tour in Stornoway from April to September of that year.

I’ve been walking around Edinburgh for the last six months or so with a notebook bearing the furtive coffee- (or maybe pint-) induced note-to-self: “Write something on the Lewis Chessmen”.  It didn’t happen; the exhibition came to Edinburgh, and then went, and the devil won the day.  Fortunately, I have intermittent occasion to travel to Aberdeen (well…), and when my girlfriend’s father asked me if I’d heard about this new Chessmen exhibition I couldn’t in good conscience say no.

In my ignorance I had expected a Mona Lisa-type scenario, an unsatisfying huddle around a single glass cabinet searing the eyes out of my head from all the reflected camera flashes.  Far from it, The Lewis Chessmen Unmasked is a beautifully curated experience.  In a darkened wing with standing room aplenty, visitors can move easily through the space.  The chessmen are displayed in numerous cabinets, occasionally contextualised beside other artefacts from the same period in Lewis such as broaches, swords, and tools – all grim pieces beside the curious beauty of the collection, but adding depth of visual understanding for the visitor.  There are even gaming boards where visitors can play chess, drafts and another Norse board game whose name escapes me.

The chessmen themselves are not high art by any means, but they do exhibit a mysterious gravitas and a window into the ideology of the age that clearly fascinates.  Faces stare out at their game with expressions ranging from furtive suspicion to deep contemplation, investing the offices of bishop, queen and king with unquestionable wisdom, seriousness and a degree of serenity.  Soldiers, on the other hand, tend to look cautiously out over shields, clutching their spears and swords tightly with what would be whitened knuckles of only the whole surfaces of the pieces weren’t the same tone.

The real appeal of the Lewis Chessmen seems to be their ability to civilise the past.  The soldiers’ mysterious Dark Age faces contrast with the sense of education, reason and patience which emanates from those of the civic and religious authorities.  And the function of this set (or three sets) – to entertain, pass time, socialise – contrasts with a storybook image of a dark, barbaric north.  This more civilised picture is added to by the broader context of artistry, trade and communication which the exhibition presents well.

But let’s not pretend that this is all about the Dark Age past.  For a start, a major element of the story concerns the discovery of the pieces in Lewis in the nineteenth century and their journey which ended in various museum collections.  Strikingly, the exhibition’s concern with the Lewis discovery story has resulted in the use of Gaelic throughout with English translation, including during the audio-visual presentation.  The sight of the written words, the occasional broad backdrops of the stone and green Lewis landscape on the walls, and the sound of the Gaelic language film leaves you with little doubt: this is a Gaelic, Scottish experience.

The sounds and sights of the Gaelic Western Isles are charming indeed, but their deployment here in this exhibition’s tour of Scotland does tend to make one question their purpose, particularly when it is freely admitted that Lewis at the time of the chessmen’s creation was, culturally speaking, Scandinavian.  It can’t be denied that this is viewed to a large extent as a homecoming tour and that conversely those pieces which normally reside in the British Museum are not at home there, as such.

Furthermore, the Lewis Chessmen Unmasked, supported by the Scottish Government, has a thing or two to say about contemporary Scotland.  This is a Scotland which embraces its past and its cultural diversity.  It says ‘anyone in Scotland can be Scottish’, but it also suggests positive discrimination towards the Gaelic world or an ideal of it.  It even looks north to Norway, the last-man-standing in Alex Salmond’s ‘Arc of Success’.

The Lewis Chessmen Unmasked is in Aberdeen until 8th January 2011.  This blog commends it to you.

FOMO: the Curse of the Edinburgh Fringe

My girlfriend recently told me about a conversation she had had with a friend during which they both agreed that they suffered from FOMO.   Learning about FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – was a liberating experience, especially learning that it was a shared condition.  And what a lifelong curse it’s been.

FOMO leads to budgetary problems, unnecessary student drinking and manys a night out that would probably have been best avoided, but you just had to be there in case something amazing happened.  That feeling you get when you ask your jittering self why you had coffee with those two boring oddballs when you’d already just had a cup.  FOMO did that.  I suppose suffering from FOMO is the opposite to being misanthropic, but it may make misanthropists of us all yet; FOMO earns you unwanted friends!

Anyway, if you’re a fellow FOMO sufferer, there’s nothing worse than the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to exacerbate the condition.  Hundreds, nay, THOUSANDS, of shows going on all around Edinburgh, crowds of revellers on the street, open air bars.  I could probably go to several shows a day for the entire festival and would still suffer from FOMO.  There is, to be frank, never enough time or money to see everything you need to see.

But, relief.  It’s over and I enjoyed it despite the psychosocial menace of it.  Thanks, Edinburgh Fringe for another good year and by all accounts a record-breaking one in terms of ticket sales.  Goodbye Fringe, hello again Edinburgh.

Here’s my final review from this year’s Fringe, first published, like the rest, on The Skinny’s website. A great Australian comic called Adam Vincent.  He gets three stars from me because although the show is good, it’s a bit too sleepy for the Fringe if you ask me.  But the show was very good and I would recommend it.

Adam Vincent @ Assembly

Adam Vincent’s masked, apparently slumbering, presence on the darkened stage as the audience enters lends a feeling of nervous anticipation to this intimate venue. He rouses and addresses the audience in a hushed voice: the subject is the half-life of the early morning wake-up and commute; the soporific tone is set.

Don’t be under any illusions: this is stand-up and Vincent has a story to tell, a hilariously uncomfortable account of being drawn into to a medical crisis on a plane, with interspersed gags and cutting criticisms of modern life.

Vincent is a great, likeable story-teller. His relaxed delivery and eye-to-eye engagement draws the audience in. He has fresh material and he avoids that tired image of injured masculinity so many male stand-up acts adopt, instead telling us dryly about his marriage and why he loves his wife.

As interesting as Vincent is, the audience reaction is somewhat sedated; the well-cultivated soporific atmosphere may just be too good at certain points in the show for a fatigued Fringe crowd. But Vincent should be commended for his fresh approach to stand-up and his excellent use of this small venue. This show has slow parts but by the end you’ll be glad you bought the ticket.

Susan Calman’s show is worth a look

Here’s another of  my reviews from the Edinburgh Fringe, first published on The Skinny’s website. Great local act.

As the gathering crowd winds through the Underbelly’s stairways and passages, you can’t help noticing the eclectic mix of people here to see Susan Calman. Her opening lines reveal her readiness to deal with this very mixed crowd indeed, as she energetically quizzes the audience about which of her various jobs – from radio to stand-up – has drawn them to see her at the Fringe.

And from this early point on she has somehow, almost miraculously, drawn the diverse audience together and on she goes through her tight, well-written set, sharing a mock, self-deprecating obituary she’s apparently written for herself while drunkenly reflecting on the course of her life. The gags touch on manners, size-ism, feminism, relationships and the potential comic pitfall of Glasgow.

Glasgow can draw stand-up acts towards well trodden paths and Calman’s show does touch on the usual stuff like alcoholism, stabbings and alarming mortality rates; luckily she also adds her own colouring of the subject. Her audience could have been a difficult one to balance in terms her shock value versus local charm, but she clearly has enough charisma and a lively banter to keep everyone completely entertained.

A show well worth seeing.

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