Saturday, July 16, 2005


After a snack of lahmacun (a kind of pizza of cheese, chicken, Turkish sausage, green and red peppers on a thick dough base) and pide (finely minced lamb, garlic and tomatoes on a thin crispy pizza-like dough base) at the Turkish Antepilier cafe on Green Lanes yesterday, we took a bus to Hoxton. There we saw the Für Chlebnikov installation at the White Cube -- Anselm Kiefer's miniature leaden flotillas of crushed U-boats, broken minesweepers and mangled submarines lashed against churning, stuccoed, painted seas or blasted concrete.

Kiefer is a German artist whose work does not flinch at dealing with (illustrating or mythologising) recent German history. But his most recent work at the White Cube tackles larger, more preposterous, themes.

At the end of one wall of the corrugated bunker -- much like a squared-off aircraft hangar -- in the middle of Hoxton Square, Kiefer's handwriting has scrawled "Time, Measure of the world - Fate of the people. The New Doctrine of War: Naval Battles Recur Every 317 Years or in Multiples Thereof, for Velimir Chlebnikov."

Velimir Khlebnikov was an obscure Russian futurist who, amongst other things, wrote poetry in his own invented language -- a "purified" version of Russian, stripped of all its western linguistic elements. When this eccentric man died, in 1922, he was buried in a coffin embellished with the words The President of Planet Earth, Velimir 1.

Kiefer's 33 grandiose sculptures and paintings are inspired by Khlebnikov's equally grandiose insistence that seas battles cyclically recur every 317 years. Kiefer apparently recognises this theory as pure bunkum, yet is nonetheless fascinated by it. The paintings are heavily notated with the names of ships from various, disparate battles -- Aurora (the ship that triggered the Bolshevik revolution by firing at the Winter Palace in 1917), Leviathan, Behemoth, the Falkland War's Belgrano -- and barely decipherable sums are etched into the densely coagulated, rusting and charred globules of oils, acrylics, resin and plaster. The potent aroma of materials is heady with decay.

The entire installation, complete with corrugated outdoor bunker, was snapped up as it opened at the White Cube by an American private collector who had a cool 6 million US dollars to spare. This person must have a very large backyard.

As an aside, we saw Bez from Happy Mondays, Black Grape and Celebrity Big Brother, who whizzed through the entire exhibition (with a very skinny woman in tow) at lightning speed!

We sat people-watching in the scrappy, cigarette-strewn Hoxton Square: a young, bare-chested boy with old man tattoos (naked boobs and arses), reading Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hubert Selby Jr. and drinking wine from a bottle; women wearing home-made 50s and 60s-style brightly-patterned clothes; a very brown woman getting browner by the minute under the strong sun; the usual flotsam of Hoxton indie-media kids.

We travelled south of the river to the NFT bar, where we perused our Thailand guidebook over beers in the sun. Then we caught the movie Motel Cactus, a feature debut by South Korean, Park Ki-Yong. The film was essentially a tedious, inscrutable, and overly-stylised mood piece with a weak narrative focussed on four different couples -- at four different stages of romantic relationships -- having their love trysts, at various times, in a single room in a love hotel in Seoul.

Superstar Christopher Doyle's cinematography is Motel Cactus' strongest point and the reason why we watched it. It is, as usual, superb: strong on night lighting, the subtle differences of colour, the juxtaposition of shadows and shapes, and hand-held camera work. It's incredible that he was such a late-starter to film, not holding his first 8mm camera until the age of 30. His early itinerant life saw him as a merchant marine in Norway, a well-digger in India, and a doctor of Chinese medicine in Thailand. Visiting Taiwan to learn Chinese, he joined a theatre troupe and picked up his first camera. He has now settled in Hong Kong and considers himself an honorary Asian, or more precisely "Chinese with a skin disease", complete with the Chinese name Du Ke Feng.

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