Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

October 11 2013

GV Face: Fighting for an Open Internet in Brazil

Do you care about free speech on the Internet? What about your privacy online? What if your government created a law that could protect these rights, rather than threatening them?

Brazilian digital rights advocates have been working for years to pass the Marco Civil da Internet, a one-of-a-kind law that would protect key rights and freedoms on the Internet.

US government surveillance programs have brought new momentum to the issue, galvanizing support from civil society and even Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff.

This week on GV Face, our Advocacy Editor Ellery Biddle (@ellerybiddle) talks with leading experts on the issue, including GV author Raphael Tsavkko @Tsavkko, Carolina Rossini (@carolinarossini) and Joana Varon (@joana_varon) an original author of the bill.

For some more links and comments on this issue, check out our Google + event page.

September 25 2013

Worried About Surveillance? Welcome to the Indian World, Says Sherman Alexie

The original version of this post appeared on the PEN American Center website.

This week, author Sherman Alexie joined PEN American Center and the American Library Association in a Google Hangout on Air to celebrate Banned Books Week in the United States. Alexie is perhaps best known for his young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, an autobiographical story that follows a young Native American student as he leaves his reservation to enroll in a white school. The National Book Award-winning novel has the dubious honor of being one of the most frequently banned and challenged books in the US every year since its publication in 2007.

credit: Tulane Public Relations

Sherman Alexie. Photo by Tulane Public Relations, republished with permission.

Alexie is not just a fiction writer but also an accomplished poet and screenwriter who spoke eloquently—and hilariously—about a wide range of subjects, including censorship, sex, poverty, Native American culture, and civil liberties. He was especially concerned about the June 2013 revelations of the extent of US government surveillance, and he was equally troubled by the use of our personal information by global corporations. Surveillance has always been present for Native Americans and minorities in the US, he argues, and the NSA's spying program is only exposing the majority of the country to what others have long experienced:

When you start talking about a surveillance state, certainly on an overall level I get worried and suspicious about it. But I also think, “Welcome to the Indian world!” All of a sudden all these white folks are feeling a slight taste of what it is to be black, living where they're being watched and judged and potentially a suspect. But of course the government has been spying on us. I was not shocked by the report. In fact, I was shocked that it wasn't bigger.

Internet culture and internet technology have made it so much easier to spy on us and we willingly participate in it. We sign up with these places. Google scares me and I'm on Google. Facebook scares me. I get worried when capitalistic interests are the ones who contain all of our speech. These are giant corporations whose primary motivation is money, which it should be, but when you're talking about economic interests, you're talking about people who may not necessarily be loyal to their customers. So I worry about all of it. I worry that the world's largest bookseller is in court trying to become the repository for the CIA's online records. Do you really want to be buying your books from the same place that stores the CIA's records? For me, it's becoming one global thing which is going to control all of us. I turn into a leftist, paranoid conspiracy theorist and it makes me paranoid. It makes me feel like an Indian although I am already an Indian.

The full video of the Google Hangout on Air with Sherman Alexie is available here at PEN.org. You can listen to Alexie speak about surveillance at minute 32.

September 24 2013

Interview: Researcher Sonya Yan Song on Censorship in China

Photo by Sonya Yan Song via Flickr, used with permission.

Photo by Sonya Yan Song via Flickr, used with permission.

Sonya Yan Song is an academic researcher working on news censorship in China. She is currently a PhD candidate at Michigan State University and an Open News Fellow. Originally from China, Sonya is a programmer and an academic researcher. Rising Voices editor Laura Morris interviewed her about her work and thoughts on recent trends in China's censorship regime.

Tell me about your work as an Open News Fellow.

[The program] is about bringing technology to newsrooms, trying to help newsrooms take advantage of cutting edge technology to present news in different ways, and to adapt…I've been attending hackathons as well, because I think that's where journalists, graphic designers, coders and activists [can] meet together and try to come up with something.

Can you tell me about the recent paper you published, and your research on censorship in China?

I started [the project] out of personal curiosity, because as I'm from China, I was still reading Chinese news everyday. And, it's not very surprising to find news stories deleted quite regularly. I had this question – how many news stories are deleted everyday?

I wrote a very short program to collect news stories and to find if some stories are deleted. I found that two or three news stories are deleted everyday… [I] monitored three websites. Two websites in China and one overseas branch that's also uploaded under a Chinese website. It's called Sina Beijing and Sina California, and the other is called NetEase, published in Guangzhou, south China… I realized that two branches (the two newsrooms in China) censor content everyday – whereas the overseas branch doesn't.

First, I asked coders to categorize news stories… Is [the story] about business, entertainment, sports, culture? I ran a statistical analysis to see which aspect would be more correlated with censorship. In the end I realized a negative story was definitely more likely to be censored… political news, foreign affairs, military, food safety and drug issues were more censored in China. It's consistent with people’s impression of censorship. But, I think there is something original; it's the first time we can actually quantify censorship.

Censorship is in the “black box”. We are not censors and we are not working for the Chinese central government – so what we can get is only the evidence… If you correlate them together you have a more comprehensive image of what's happening in China, and of what the government wants to control.

You mentioned in an earlier interview that one of the reasons that news is censored less than social media is because the mass media self-censors, knowing what topics and words to avoid that would lead to censorship. Can you tell me a bit more about this?

For news media, [the rate of censorship is] less than one percent, but for social media, [it] is sixteen percent. But journalists are not going to publish sensitive content to begin with. First of all, the media institute is licensed in China. If you do anything that is against the wheel of the government, you will get your license withdrawn, and then you would become illegal.

What do you think about the current Chinese government campaign against “online rumors,” which has led to not only Internet deletions, but also arrests?

I think that's one way to suppress people's speech, for sure. It’s ongoing, and we don't see any sign of the end. Some of [these people] have been arrested for all kinds of reasons. If you say something on Weibo and it's read by 5,000 people, or has been re-tweeted by 500 people, you could be charged for spreading a rumor.

After the Tiananmen Square protest a [Western] TV station interviewed a random guy on the street. [They asked] “what did you see during the protest on June the 4th?” “I saw many people were shot, and the soldiers were shooting at people, and many people were killed, and the streets were totally covered by blood.” After that, the Chinese [government]….asked him to admit that he spread the rumor. This guy was set as an example to all the public in the country….and jailed for many years. After that, nobody talked about it. I think this is in the same line to threaten people. Don't talk about things you shouldn’t.

Censorship comes in many forms. Definitely you can block people from publishing something. You can burn books, burn CDs, physically banish the media content. You can take away people’s typewriters. You can fine media companies… next time they'll think: either I can go bankrupt or I can do this business. The ultimate way to do censorship is to kill someone… and I think that happens [around the world]. These are all techniques which are well documented in Ilan Peleg’s Patterns of Censorship around the World.

Do you know about any particular proxies and other circumvention tools that are commonly used in China?

Many tools have been cracked and hacked by the Chinese government….[but] there was a report from the Open Technology Institute surveyed people using circumvention tools. They realized that VPNs are very popular because there is a dilemma by the Chinese government. They want to suppress peoples’ speech but also boost economic growth. Thus you have to allow Google, Amazon, and other Internet businesses coming in and out on the Internet. That way, people realized this is one way to bypass the Great Firewall – just to pretend you're business traffic, say you’re doing business through Google or Amazon.

I tried using Tor in China and it didn't work at all. Tor is very secure, has a very apparent footprint. They can recognize [it because]….ToR doesn't pretend to be business traffic. If you can just take advantage of the conservative government, pretend you're doing business, you may have a chance.

So it’s this idea of hiding in plain sight – they can see you, but they don't know what you really are.

Right, its not about a technical idea. It's a human touch.

A word cloud created from words commonly deleted, pulled from Sonya Yan Song's research.

A word cloud of terms commonly deleted by Chinese news censors, pulled from Sonya Yan Song's research.

September 20 2013

The End of Silence in Syria: Interview with Syria Untold

Art is Peace, collective art project in Aleppo, Syria. Photo by Art Camping.

Syria Untold is a new online storytelling project dedicated to the non-violent Syrian uprising. Project participants, both in and outside of Syria, are working to collect, curate and provide context for content related to civil disobedience, nonviolent movements, and creative resistance to the Assad regime. In their words, “Syria Untold wants to give visibility to the extraordinary work that other websites, social networks and groups of activists are producing within the Syrian uprising. It aims to explain who is producing them, how, and why.” Advox editor Ellery Roberts Biddle interviewed Leila Nachawati Rego, a co-founder of the project who is an active Global Voices contributor. Nachawati is a Spanish-Syrian activist, writer, and communications studies scholar at Carlos III University in Madrid.

How has your relationship with Syria evolved over time? How did the uprisings in 2011 affect this relationship? And how has the conflict affected this relationship?

Even though I grew up in Spain, I used to speak about Syria in whispers. The terror imposed by the regime that Syrians have endured for decades was so deeply rooted that even people living outside would be scared to speak up for fear of the repercussions on their relatives inside the country. After 2011, that wall of fear and silence was broken, and this is probably the one victory of the uprisings, the one thing that gives me hope. No more silence, everything is out in the open now.

How has the conflict impacted creative and journalistic communities in Syria? It would be interesting to hear both the literal/physical components of this, as well as the psychological ones.

Imagine a society where kids are brainwashed into believing that the ruler of their country is an unquestionable godly-like figure, where parents don´t speak in front of their children for fear that they may accuse them of being traitors against the State. This brainwashing has of course had an impact on art and creativity, with everything being produced to idolize the Leader and his family for decades. The true artists, poets, writers, singers were killed or rotting in Assad´s jails.

After 2011, all the creativity repressed for so long gave way to endless forms of expression, from the very witty banners and messages chanted at demonstrations to the songs and poems written to celebrate freedom and to drawings, cartoons and the graffitti movement in Syrian cities and villages. It is art in the non-academic sense of the term, art “out of the salons,” like the group “The Syrian People Know their Way” calls it. Art that emerges from grassroots movements and from the popular need for self-expression after decades of fear, repression and self-censorship.

“Exchange” by Comic4Syria. Comic depicting real events that have taken place in Syrian prisons.

Syria Untold seems very much like a project of translation — translation of local issues for a global audience. Does this seem like an apt interpretation?

Yes, it is. On the one hand, if you take a look at the Arabic and English versions, they are quite different, the translations are non-literal because we believe the context needed to reach out to English-speaking and Arabic-speaking audiences is different. On the other hand, there is the curation aspect, that has a lot to do with translation too. The process of choosing, framing and putting the huge amount of contents produced by Syrians into context is in itself a translation of the Syrian civic movement of the ground amid all the deafening geopolitical conversations that tend to ignore Syrians.

What has it felt like to review materials from project participants? Are there particular pieces that have struck you emotionally, intellectually?

There are so many… All of the Syrian creators, the campaigns, the groups working on the ground to maintain the spirit of the uprising, that is increasingly kidnapped by extremists forces trying to impose their own political and religious agendas. The way young artists in Aleppo and other places have been using art to bring hope to people under shelling is probably one of the most inspiring ones. Also, the work that people on the ground are doing in self-management and self-government with very little resources, in places like Kafranbel, Raqqa…

There are so many that it is hard to choose. I think the best contribution of the site is to provide a space where all Syrian artists, campaigns and initiatives on the ground can be easily found and understood in context.

It seems especially important for the project to be online, so that people in different physical places can participate. Do you see Syria Untold as a place where people are connecting with one another, forming new relationships?

Our aim is to become a bridge between media, human rights organizations, and anyone who wants to know about Syrian grassroots initiatives and creative resistance, and those who are working on those initiatives. The fact that those voices on the ground are not visible in the international conversations that are taking place tends to alienate people trying to make a difference in an increasingly militarized context. So we hope this project can help make the so-called non-violent movement more visible, promote interaction between different groups and help them reach out to media and other organizations.

This project cuts against mainstream media narratives of yes-no/black-and-white that have dominated coverage of the conflict. If you were to re-frame the narrative in a few sentences, what would you say?

I would like to quote my friend Amjad Taleb here, who wrote this on his facebook page a few days ago and I think summarizes how many Syrians feel at this false dichotomies posed by media and the “international community.”

If you would ask Syrians to choose between dying by gas while sleeping or dying under torture, I think you could expect the answer. If you asked them to choose between Assad and AlQaeda I think you should expect the answer too.

But if you stop being an asshole and ask them what they want and dream of, then the answers would be more amazing than anything you might have read or heard of… Only if you stop being an asshole.

Obama's red line, by Comic4Syria.

Obama's red line, by Comic4Syria.

June 18 2013

VIDEO: Experts Speak on Role of Whistleblowers

The original version of this post appeared on Oxford-based blog Free Speech Debate.

In early June, former CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden outed himself as the person who leaked information from the US National Security Agency (NSA) revealing large-scale surveillance programs that reportedly obtained user data from tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Apple and telcos like Verizon.

“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I have done nothing wrong,” Snowden told The Guardian.

The revelations are explosive, but Snowden is not the first whistleblower to leak information to the public about government operations. We interviewed several former intelligence professionals and whistleblowers who discussed reasons for and against going public with sensitive information.

When is revealing secret information justified?

The US has no blanket law governing the secrecy of classified government information concerning national security. Instead, most serving officers are required to take an oath on the Constitution. Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst and an outspoken defender of whistleblowers and alternative media sources, argues here that this gives the potential whistleblower a greater role in interpreting whether a leak is justified.

Thomas Drake, a former NSA official who blew the whistle on the NSA's failed Internet data analysis programme Trailblazer, agreed with this sentiment, explaining that he took an oath to protect the American people.

“I did not take an oath to make Americans feel safe again,” he said. “I did take an oath to keep Americans out of harms way.”

But Thomas Fingar, former deputy director of the US National Intelligence for Analysis and chairman of the National Intelligence Council, was at pains to emphasise that officials are obliged to report waste, incompetence, and abuse and that all branches of government have procedures for raising other kinds of concerns. In his opinion, leaking secret information is therefore not justified.

“You are obliged to report abuses… and follow the official procedures,” said Fingar, winner of the 2013 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. “This is required by law. But going to the newspaper because I have a journalist's phone number and don't know how to properly report this – that is wrong.”

What secrets are worth keeping?

Secrecy laws should never intentionally suppress evidence of political or military failures. Todd E. Pierce, a US military defence counsel who is regularly called upon to represent those accused of aiding and abetting terrorists, reminded us that during the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers exposed unconstitutional actions taken by US government and military officials concerning US interventions in Vietnam and neighboring countries.

Until revealed by Daniel Ellsberg, congressmen were often unable to access the information. This hindered their ability to make policy judgements.

However, there are instances when it is justified to keep a secret. Protecting the sources of intelligence and operational secrets – including some nuclear and military capabilities and procedures – are important to keep, Drake said. Fingar, Pierce and McGovern included technological needs, spies and sources in this category.

“Many things are perishable, that information can be released quickly,” Fingar noted. “Other information having to do with sources and methods ought to remain secret for quite some time.”

McGovern added: “Some things ought to be secrets. We had some very helpful Soviet Spies that were recruited in my day. God forbid that information would have gotten out. Not only to endanger them, but to endanger our sources.”

Can speaking out be a crime? Experts also commented on the role of whistleblowers within the media context. While it may be difficult to draw a line between aiding terrorists and promoting transparency and accountability around national security practices, the government has responsibilities to preserve a free press.

Does the media effectively inform public debate?

The media has a great responsibility to provide balanced information to enable citizens to make decisions. But Fingar, who in a previous capacity was responsible for intelligence dealing with potential pandemics and forced migrations, warned that the government’s interest in disseminating information as broadly as possible was not always compatible with the media’s interest in selling newspapers.

“The incredible lemming-like repetition without …there is a structural problem. But the mass media fulfill the incredibly important function of getting information to lots of different people,” Fingar said.

And in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, Pierce contended that embedding journalists with troops had occasionally prevented the media from exercising independent judgement.

McGovern highlighted the role of independent media in providing information otherwise not reported.

“The media has been entirely corrupted in my view,” he said.

Wikileaks as a whistleblower

Online activists increasingly take up the mantle of journalism, including investigative journalism outfits, bloggers, and of course, Wikileaks. The whistleblowing website's creator, Julian Assange, gave a brief speech at the 2013 Sam Adams Award Ceremony, defending his views on intelligence and whistleblowing.

“We're not merely at a war of intelligence agencies,” he asserted in the speech. “But a war of corrupt media and corrupt culture.”

For Drake, Wikileaks is a media outlet. “The power and elite structures don't like to have a mirror held up to them,” he said. “It is very dangerous in today's world to speak truth to power.”

Wikileaks is not the problem in itself, according to Fingar. The problem is the theft of information, and the loss of control over this information that goes with it, he said.

Pierce expressed concerns that Assange had risked chaos by naming countries that the US considered vulnerable to socio-economic or geographic shifts, thereby denying US policymakers the time needed for contingency planning.

Wikileaks could be useful to him as a military defence counsel, but senior government and military officials are officially banned from accessing Wikileaks. Pierce pointed to reports that information contained in Wikileaks could prove his clients innocent, yet not only is he banned from viewing the site but documents on Wikileaks are inadmissible as evidence in military trials.

“Some of the information on Wikileaks shows that some of the detainees [in Guantanamo] are in fact innocent. As a defense attorney in the military I don't to have access to that information,” he said.

Who promotes transparency?

The legitimacy of leaking information heavily depends on the circumstances and channels available. None of these four former intelligence professionals believes that this is a black-and-white topic. Some secrets need to be protected, and some information, if made available, has the power to change history. In a democracy, the media has traditionally provided the public with information that will help them make informed decisions as voters and citizens. As new media and other alternative channels for information emerge, they will play a significant if controversial role in exposing such information and promoting transparency by government actors, particularly when traditional media fail to do so.

December 15 2012

What Happened at the WCIT-12: Interview With Beatriz Busaniche

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a UN-sponsored meeting, has just ended in Dubai, UAE. After two weeks of intense negotiations, mostly behind closed doors, representatives failed to agree on a proposed ITU treaty, supported by Russia and China, and that would give national governments more control over the internet.

The ITU is a UN body responsible for standardizing telecommunications protocols around the world.

The conference raised a lot of controversy among online freedom of speech advocates who have been calling for a multistakeholder approach, accusing the ITU of deliberately pushing civil society groups aside.

Why has the conference attracted so much interest? How significant is it for the future of internet use?

We talked to Beatriz Busaniche, member of Fundacion Via Libre and the founding member of Wikimedia Argentina. She explains what was at stake at the WCIT and why netizens should care.

October 31 2012

Talking With Rebecca MacKinnon About ‘Consent Of The Networked'

Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices, is a journalist and blogger with many years of experience, very refined in her opinions on the topics that she is involved with, which are usually related to knowledge society and freedom on the Internet. Last January she published her book Consent of the Networked, where she goes in depth into this subject matter. To mark the publication of this book, Global Voices contributor Bernardo Parrella wrote:

How do we ensure that the Internet develops in a way that is compatible with democracy? Given the strong push provided by social media to the recent uprisings in the Middle East region and elsewhere, how can people ensure that the same tools are not being used for government censorship and surveillance (often with more than a little help from Western technology companies)? And ultimately, how can we stop thinking of ourselves as passive “users” of technology but rather as “netizens” who take ownership and responsibility for our digital future?

The book was published in Spanish last June by Editorial Deusto [es] under the title No sin nuestro consentimiento (Not Without Our Consent) [es]. The Spanish-language edition includes additional texts of two ‘gurus' of the Hispanic Internet: José Luis Orihuela wrote the prologue, and Enrique Dans wrote the epilogue. Orihuela blogged about it and posted the prologue online, which among other things says [es]:

El gran tema que plantea MacKinnon en esta obra es nada menos que la gobernanza de internet, y la exigencia de reclamar como ciudadanos digitales que las decisiones políticas y corporativas que afecten a la red no se tomen sin nuestro consentimiento informado.

No sin nuestro consentimiento es un amplio y detallado diagnóstico sobre las prácticas corporativas y los controles gubernamentales que están cercenando los espacios digitales de la sociedad civil, pero también un inventario de iniciativas en marcha que abren caminos para expandir los bienes comunes digitales frente al avance de las empresas tecnológicas y de los gobiernos sedientos de control.

The great topic that MacKinnon considers in this book is none other than the governing of the Internet, and the need to demand, as digital citizens, that the corporate and political decisions that affect the Internet should not be taken without our informed consent.

Consent Of The Networked is a wide and detailed diagnosis about corporate practices and governmental controls that are cutting off digital spaces in civil society, but also an inventory of initiatives working to open paths in order to expand common digital assets in face of the advance of technological businesses and governments thirsty for control.

Enrique Dans did the same and among what he comments on in the epilogue that he wrote, the following [es] can be highlighted:

si algo hace este libro es despertar la preocupación por comprobar hasta qué punto, si las cosas no cambian, tendremos que, cuando hablemos con nuestros hijos, referirnos a la red como a un espejismo de libertad que vivimos a lo largo de un par de décadas, pero que terminó por convertirse en otra cosa. Nunca, en ningún otro momento de la historia de la humanidad, hemos tenido tan clara conciencia de hasta qué punto estábamos siendo manipulados por un poder que, disfrazado de algo que llamaban democracia, se dedicaba a manejar a las personas mediante el uso de medios unidireccionales, de asimetrías comunicativas y de técnicas de manipulación colectiva. Si algo hace este libro es demostrarnos que, como debería ocurrir con el poder en el mundo físico, el poder en el mundo digital debe ser restringido, balanceado y controlado por los propios usuarios.

If this book does something, it is to evoke concern about realising up to what extent, if things do not change, we will have to, when we speak with our children, refer to the Internet as an illusion of freedom that we lived for a few decades, but which ended up becoming something else. Never, not in any moment in the history of humanity have we been so clearly aware to what extent we were being manipulated by a power that, disguised as something that used to be called democracy, spent time manipulating people through the use of unidirectional media, communicative asymmetry and techniques of collective manipulation. If this book does something, it is to show us, as should happen with power in the physical world, that the power of the digital world has to be restricted, balanced and controlled by the users themselves.

I spoke briefly with Rebecca about her book during the most recent Global Voices Summit in Nairobi, Kenya:

Perhaps it's not for sale in all Latin American bookshops, but in any case it remains a piece of recommended reading. Electronic versions are available in Spanish and English.

Original post [es] published in the blog Globalizado.

October 27 2012

Hong Kong: Battle against 50 Cents at Wikipedia

Editor note: Below is a translation of the article: Battle at Wikipedia - Counterbalance Brainwashing and Slanders through Participation, originally published [zh] in inmediahk.net in Chinese. The article is about how pro-government online commentators, often known as the “50 Cent Party,” use Wikipedia entries to defame pro-democracy community leaders. The article is written within the context of the Anti-national education campaign; the writer, Ah Oi, extended the battle against brainwashing from the classroom to Wikipedia and interviewed two senior wikipedians from Hong Kong and Macau to comment upon the issue. The article is translated by Xiao Ye, a contributing reporter at inmediahk.net.

Battle at Wikipedia - Counterbalance Brainwashing and Slanders through Participation

A mandatory national education curriculum and the guidelines from the Department of Education was eventually put aside due to universal opposition from Hong Kong citizens. However, people in Hong Kong are still worried about whether content [from 50-cent Party writers] will filter into other subjects such as General Studies. The battle over different interpretations of history, political terms and specific persons has been taking place in different media. For example, some pro-Beijing newspapers always make up articles to defame local pro-democracy politicians and social movement activists. Meanwhile, controversies often appear in the editing of Chinese Wikipedia articles. The June Fourth Incident [zh] was considered the most controversial entry in the past. Recently a new entry, the “Three-way Society,” has been invented to defame local pro-democracy community leaders, such as the founder of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee, the Chinese Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Joseph Zen, the former Hong Kong government official Anson Chan, and the founder of Next Media Group, Jimmy Lai.

Wiki entry as a tool for defamation?

Wikipedia is a platform based on factual knowledge which emphasizes objectivity and neutrality. Many students like to quote its entries as references when doing their projects, so it is quite influential among adolescents. However, because its entries are open for everyone to edit, it can be easily invaded by some specialized writers, including the “online navy” and the “50 Cent party,” names which refer to Internet commentators hired by the Chinese government.

The entry [into Wikipedia of a topic called] “Three-way Society” is apparently used for attacking certain political and religious persons in Hong Kong. This [Wikipedia topic] is introduced because it is supposedly “internet slang,” but generally only widely used online slang gains a Wiki entry, such as “Cao Nima” or Grass Mud Horse and “He Xie” or River Crab. In the case of “Three-way Society,” other than in the Chinese Wikipedia, the term cannot be found online, in Google, Yahoo or Baidu.

Macbox, the writer of the entry, defines “Three-Way Society” as a term that “generally refers to organized Chinese treason groups or societies being subsidized and working for non-Chinese organizations which aims at inciting subversion of the state or local governments. They are mainly based in Hong Kong where freedom of speech is allowed. They also promote the Hong Kong independence movement and separatism.” Judgments from pro-Beijing media like Wenhui Newspaper and ATV are also quoted in the entry at great lengths, which regards the Anti-National Education Movement and the development conflicts in the northeast part of New Territories as conspiracies launched by the “Three-Way Society,” with the aim of “de-chinazation” and embarrassing the Hong Kong SAR government.

Although currently the entry is under dispute, lots of netizens still feel anxious. If a large number of 50 Cent Party articles enter Wikipedia, will the knowledge-based platform be ruined? To answer this question, we interviewed two senior Wikipedians Yuyu and Albert from the local Wikipedia Community.

The monitoring mechanism of “50 Cents”

Q: The “Three-Way Society” entry recently added to the Chinese Wikipedia makes people worry that Wikipedia has been appropriated as Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Could you please explain why the entry would appear in the Chinese Wikipedia and what kind of mechanism the Wikipedian community has to deal with this issue?

Yuyu: Actually, Wikipedia and Wikimedia sister projects are not very different from forums like the Hong Kong Golden. In some situations Wiki is even looser in management. It is not surprising that all kinds of entries could appear in Wiki because almost anyone can register an account and do the editing. Basically, Wiki hopes that readers and editors can take the initiative to modify entries and deal with problems; of course the active Wikipedians should take the main responsibility. The number of Wikipedians in English Wikipedia is relatively large so that they tackle the problems efficiently, however, the Chinese Wikipedia usually handle issues much more slowly.

Q: Some netizens think Internet writers hired by the Chinese Communist Party are able to change the entries constantly; in contrast, ordinary Internet users could only participate in editing in their spare time, so it is hard to form a counterbalance of power. How will you respond to such worries?

Yuyu: The situation has been tough. Without proper measures, ordinary netizens may be outnumbered by occupational writers. So far we have not found large number of “online navy” writers in Wikipedia; usually those suspect writers tend to break more rules, such as using fake accounts to vote or being impartial. We hope that readers can help by correcting the entries by themselves, after all, the number of active Wikipedians is limited, and the readers should at least report the issues to them.

Albert: So far we have not seen too many “online navy” writers in Chinese Wikipedia, because the community in mainland China is still small. The “online navy” is more active in Baidu Encyclopedia because the rules there are not so strict, which allows plagiarism and cut-and-paste posting. However, Wikipedia does not accept these [kinds of edits], so it adds to the difficulties for them to post.

Q: Are there other controversies about entries which are similar to the “Three-way Society” case? Can you give some examples and how these controversies were eventually solved?

Yuyu: Actually there are no “controversies,” but there are always entries that aim to express personal political views. These entries automatically violate Wikipedia policies thus are largely modified or disputed.

Albert: Entries related to history or politics are the most controversial, such as the entry of the “June Forth incident” which has been argued over for many years. (Editor note: The entry has been modified more than 500 times since 2008).

Counterbalance through participation

Q: We have witnessed the increase of Hong Kong-Mainland conflicts in recent years, and has it been reflected in the Wikipedian community? Are there any examples? How do you deal with such conflicts?

Yuyu: Hong Kong-mainland conflicts in Wiki are always serious. For example, the calls for the mainland China Wikipedia editor “Shizhao” to step down reflect the conflict between local netizens in Hong Kong and core Wikipedia managers from Mainland China. In fact, many Hong Kong wikipedians don't want to disclose the internal conflicts to the public, but we really hope more people can participate in Wikipedia in order to counterbalance the situation.

2013 Wikimania (Hong Kong)

There are many rules and regulations for editing Wikipedia and such rules ensure that the entries are factual and impartial. As Yuyu said, the best way to counterbalance the “online navy” and the “Greater China mentality” is netizens' spontaneous participation. The annual Wikimania 2013 conference will be hold in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and it will call for submission of group topic in December this year. For those who are interested in it could start writing Wikipedia entries and prepare to get involved in the face-to-face discussion next year.

July 30 2012

London 2012: The hidden Olympic legacy

Nick Franglen spent months creating a secret art project in the Olympic zone. The public cannot visit but here's a private view

Getting to see Legacy, the new installation by musician and artist Nick Franglen, is an unusually cloak-and-dagger business. Potential appointments come and go until, on the Monday afternoon before the Olympics, Franglen sends me a last-minute text. Can I come to a station in London's Docklands for 11 o'clock at night? I'm advised to wear boots and dark clothing that I don't mind being ripped.

The reason for all this subterfuge is the venue: a derelict, partially demolished factory that serves as a document to Docklands' industrial past. It is dangerous and guarded at the best of times, let alone during the Olympic build-up.

Franglen first came here four years ago with some urban explorers, intrepid types who infiltrate parts of the city that are abandoned and off-limits. The phrase was coined in 1996 and the internet has since enabled a worldwide network of urban explorers to swap stories, photographs and advice. In January, Franglen decided that the building would be the perfect venue for an idea that had germinated two months earlier, when he was asked to design a piece of sound art for the British Business Embassy, a networking initiative, and felt that he had caught a glimpse of "the beast behind the Olympics".

"I've always liked the Olympics," he says, "but when you've got Jeremy Hunt saying we've decided not to have an austerity Olympics, we mustn't hold back, when we're cutting the School Sports Initiative, that's an interesting conundrum. Legacy is a ghastly word. Politicians talk about the legacy of the games to east London and I think what they're concerned about is what their legacy will be. Does east London benefit from all this regeneration or is it negative to have this completely alien infrastructure dropped into it and its heritage stripped out? I was trying to ask a question: what sort of Olympics do we really want? Why does it have to be like this?"

Franglen is a big, garrulous man but clearly has a steely, obsessive streak. Born in north London, he is best-known as half of chill-out duo Lemon Jelly and producer of albums by John Cale and Badly Drawn Boy. In recent years, however, his projects have become more unorthodox. With his band Blacksand, he has played gigs in such unlikely venues as a mine, a submarine and Pyestock, the former Concorde test centre in Hampshire, beloved of urban explorers. He has also played 24-hour solo theremin concerts beneath Manhattan Bridge and London Bridge.

Legacy, however, is his most ambitious and taxing endeavour yet. He had initially hoped to conclude the installation by watching the opening ceremony fireworks from the building's roof but he has heard rumours that snipers will be stationed there during the games. "I don't mind playing cat-and-mouse with security but I don't want to interfere with people doing a serious job," he says. Also, he adds, "I don't want to be shot."

It's a warm, clear night. We rendezvous in the street and make our way through the outer layer of security. He can never be entirely sure he will get in. "When I approach here my stomach's churning," he admits. "I'm white with fear."

Up close, the building's hulk looms vast and ghostly. Watching out for security patrols, we negotiate a series of fences and enter through a concealed opening. Inside, it is a disaster area. Several floors are gone. Those that remain are Swiss-cheesed with holes where machinery has been removed, covered by rotting boards too flimsy to support anybody's weight. A powerful torch might attract attention so we proceed using only the dim light coming through the broken windows. I follow Franglen's whispered advice: keep close to this wall, mind that loose step, watch out for that 20-foot plunge. "This is not a building to fall over in," he says. "It's a shocker. You could fall and kill yourself, of course, but worse than that you could break your leg in the basement where you can't get a phone signal and no one would ever find you. The first time I came here on my own I found that terrifying, but I feel that this is my domain now. I doubt anyone knows this place as well as I do."

To safely enter the section that houses Legacy you have to climb a ladder across a dizzying drop and scoot across a stretch of scrub that's in full view of a mysterious black dirigible that stealthily patrols the waterfront at unpredictable intervals. Finally, there is the so-called "Leap of Faith". Not, as a rule, having much faith in leaping, I'm relieved to find that it's actually another ladder. "It doesn't live up to its name," agrees Franglen as he clambers down onto the concrete floor. "I call it the Pace of Disappointment."

The building has a pungent, mushroomy aroma and a series of metal staircases and ladders that make our ascent feel reminiscent of a game of Donkey Kong. One room has no outside wall, so it is plastered with guano and noisy with the sound of pigeons' wings. Another is carpeted with hundreds of tangled cables. Franglen points to two industrial fans. "They didn't used to be that close together. Sometimes you notice people have moved things." Urban explorers endeavour to leave minimal trace – they are trespassers, not vandals or burglars – but Franglen has been here often enough to notice the small things. Like many old buildings, it makes strange noises, as if turning in its sleep and muttering to itself. When you're not supposed to be there, these noises can sound uncannily like footsteps.

Eventually we reach the seventh floor, which houses Legacy 1. It's a small garden containing rows of lettuce, spinach, spring onions and radishes, watered by the rain seeping through a hole in the roof. Franglen obtained the seeds from a friend who used to have a plot on the Manor Gardens allotments before they were destroyed to make way for the Olympic Park. That was the easy bit. He used to have to enter the site through a hole in the perimeter fence, and heft sacks of compost across several hundred yards of scrubland. One night he had to climb a tree with two sacks and hide there for four hours. "I used to pray for rain because it meant [the security guard] would stay in his car but, remarkably, it's always been a night like this."

In another room we find Legacy 3: a battery-powered television screening a DVD of the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics. Franglen intended to contrast the triumphal spectacle with the fact that 21 of the 22 venues built for the games now lie empty. "All these buildings in Athens are derelict and guarded and you're in a derelict, guarded building," he explains. He turns on the TV. In the gloom and hush it seems deafeningly loud and bright, so he quickly clicks it off again.

Legacy 2 is a low roof filled with shallow water, which Franglen has transformed into a miniature boating lake. He smuggled in 205 solar-powered toy rowing boats – one for each nation competing in the Olympics – and, after much trial and error, successfully waterproofed them. "Sainsbury's sandwich bags," he says, proudly holding one up.

We climb another ladder on to the upper roof and I'm suddenly aware that the building is an island of darkness amid a sea of electric light. Behind us lies City airport; to our left the gleaming shells of the Thames barrier; ahead of us the hedgehog spikes of the O2 dome; further to the right the winking eye of Canary Wharf; beyond that the violet glow of the Olympic stadium and the flashing red of Anish Kapoor's Orbit tower. "It's just so beautiful up here," says Franglen, exhaling. "And so quiet, and so secret."

Such hard-earned views are a key incentive for urban explorers, but Franglen doesn't consider himself one of them. "I'm not really a group person," he says. We're sitting on the roof, conversing in low murmurs, like David Attenborough trying not to spook a herd of antelope. "I like coming to these places at night, which means you see the sunrise and get a sense of the building waking up. It's about connecting with the space. These spaces talk to you in some way. Once you've done it, the world feels like a different place."

After his first reconnaissance trip in January, he was apprehensive about starting work until, one night, he was on his way back from a gig and spontaneously thought, "Now. Let's do it now." He has been coming regularly ever since. His original plan was to finish it by May and leave it as an installation for urban explorers. "I was thrilled by the thought of someone discovering it and going, what the hell is this? They'd take photographs and discuss it and it would grow, the same way the plants are growing." But the heightened security associated with the Queen's jubilee and the Olympics has slowed him down and kept most visitors away. Now, he says, this article, and a documentary filmed by a friend, will be Legacy's only exposure to the public. "It's been cut off at the knees," he says sadly.

We hear approaching rotor blades, and crouch, unmoving, beside the low wall that borders the roof. "It's interesting what one gets scared of," he continues after the helicopter has passed overhead. "For the past few weeks I've woken up every morning with a nightmare and it's never about being caught. It's about not being able to get in and complete what I've been trying to do."

I wonder about the kind of person who commits to something like this: all those moments of panic and long hours of solitude. The politics and the artistic challenge don't quite explain it. "It's pretty obviously an obsession," Franglen admits. He used to be a committed motorcyclist until a serious accident in 1998; now he's into scuba diving and cave diving. The goal is always the liberation that comes from intense concentration, when everything melts away but the task at hand. Legacy has had the same effect.

"There's been a point to doing it, and the point isn't just about what's going on in Stratford. It's about what's going on in here." He taps his head. "Once I've delivered that to myself I need to get on with my life. I haven't had much of a life for the past few months. It's all I've thought about." He sighs. "I've been mauled by it. It should have been so much easier. But I've still done it."

Three days later, Franglen emails me to say that Legacy is finished, the last boat (dedicated to Team GB) waterproofed. Out of the blue, a friend who lived locally asked for a tour and became Legacy's fourth and final witness. Then Franglen said goodbye to his temporary domain. "It felt like the fitting final celebration," he writes. "It was always meant to be shared in some way."

Up on the roof on Monday night, however, he knows none of this. As we stand enjoying the view before our descent, something wonderful happens. The sky above the stadium suddenly explodes with a succession of pyrotechnic blooms: a rehearsal for the fireworks display that Franglen will miss. His face brightens with pure delight. "Isn't that fantastic?" he says, gazing into the night. "What a gift!"


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds




July 28 2012

Can you make any kind of living as an artist?

With the exception of household names, most people in the creative arts need a day job to make ends meet. But should artists have to work or should they be supported by the state?

Jennie Rooney is the first to admit she has something of a split personality. By day, she is an in-house lawyer for a television company. By night, she is something different altogether: a novelist.

Typically, she will cycle into the office in central London, where she spends much of her day "drawing up contracts involving production companies buying formats such as The X Factor". At 5.30pm, Rooney returns home, eats an early supper and then sits down at her laptop for four hours to write, immersing herself in the world of cold war espionage that provides the backdrop for her third book.

Rooney would like her life to be different. She'd like to be a full-time novelist and, given the success of her books (her first, Inside the Whale, was nominated for the Costa first novel award in 2008), one might expect this to be possible. But the financial reality of such a move would make her life extremely difficult. In order to make a reasonable living, Rooney finds herself juggling a full-time job alongside her artistic endeavours.

"I do feel resentful," she admits. "I don't have as much time to think or to read as I'd like. I don't dislike my job and the people I work with are really nice but, in and of itself, there's a limit to how excited I can get about selling TV programmes such as Farmer Wants a Wife to Slovenia, although," she adds, drily, "it was a ratings hit."

Is it possible, in the current economic climate, for someone working in the creative arts to make a living from it? Unless you have the good fortune to be a Damien Hirst or a JK Rowling, the answer increasingly seems to be no. For artists who are already faced with low job security and the absence of company benefits such as pensions or paid holidays, the impact of the global financial crisis has been keenly felt.

The statistics make for uncomfortable reading. Almost a third of visual and applied artists earn less than £5,000 a year from their creative work, according to a survey conducted last year by Artists' Interaction and Representation (AIR); 57% of the 1,457 respondents said that less than a quarter of their total income was generated by their art practices and only 16% of them paid into a private pension fund, raising questions about how professional artists will support themselves once they reach retirement age.

The figures are not much better for musicians. PPL, a music licensing company that collects royalties on behalf of 24,000 performers, says that 90% of them earn less than £15,000 a year. A similar proportion of songwriters and composers earn less than £5,000 a year.

Then there is the added pressure of austerity-era cuts. Local authorities anticipate cuts of 7.1% each year for the next two years and the arts are often earmarked as dispensable in comparison with "frontline organisations". This leads to an inevitable loss of commissions and grants, in a climate where competition is already rife – individuals applying for grants to the Arts Council already have only around a 32% success rate nationwide.

"Arts history is full of double jobbers," says the actress Louise Brealey, who recently starred alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as the lovelorn Molly Hooper in the BBC's hit show Sherlock. "The recession, and the government's handling of the recession, has just made it that much harder.Politicians certainly see the arts as an easy target. The arts are not obviously saving lives, but I think they improve lives."

Brealey, like many of her contemporaries, has a portfolio career. She used to juggle acting jobs with journalism and was the deputy editor of Wonderland magazine: "At one point, I was rehearsing at the Royal Court and editing a piece about Twin Peaks' 20th anniversary in my tea breaks." More recently, she has been working as a documentary researcher and has just produced a children's comedy drama for the BBC, The Charles Dickens Show.

For Brealey, the fact that jobs in the arts are underpaid and underfunded has serious repercussions. "In journalism and TV production, it's getting more difficult all the time for kids from poorer backgrounds to break in because you're expected to work for nothing in endless internships," she says. "Without someone bankrolling you, that's impossible. The upshot is that working-class voices will be heard even less frequently than they are already."

Rob James-Collier, who plays Thomas the footman in Downton Abbey, aired similar concerns in an interview earlier in the year with the Radio Times in which he claimed that working-class performers were being squeezed aside because they did not have the "comfort blanket" of a wealthy family to support them. Collier, who was raised in Stockport and funded his career by working as a bricklayer's assistant and packing frozen pasties in a factory, said that in order to get into acting, "you have to work for a year without money".

According to Equity, the performers' union, at least two-thirds of actors are out of work at any time. The union's minimum rates (£379 per week for regional repertory; £497 per week for a West End play in a 799 seat theatre; £607 in an 1,100 plus theatre) are set at a level intended to see them through the lean times of silent phones and failed auditions, but it can still be challenging to make ends meet. Authors' advances are supposed to perform a similar function but they, too, have dwindled dramatically since the days when a 21-year-old unknown called Zadie Smith received a £250,000 golden handshake for her debut novel, White Teeth, while still at university.

Debs Paterson, who directed her first feature film, Africa United, last year to considerable critical and popular acclaim, found that the money she was paid as a novice director "spread pretty thin". "I was paid properly and I felt very lucky; I've got no complaints," she says. "But it represents a year-and-a-half of work, plus the exhaustion, plus the time we've put in before that getting it off the ground."

Paterson worked in a cinema, directed corporate videos and designed websites to raise money for her first short film. "A film is basically like a high-risk start-up," she says. "It can work brilliantly or it can be a total disaster and there's a weird alchemy behind whether it's going to work or not. Nobody knows."

Even established artists find it hard to make ends meet. In March, Susan Hill took to her Twitter page to claim that, despite the film adaptation of her bestselling book The Woman in Black having grossed more than £100m worldwide, "I am still broke".

Likewise, when Hilary Mantel won the Booker prize in 2009 for Wolf Hall, the £50,000 went – rather unglamorously – on reducing her mortgage. "I had been publishing for over 20 years and although the reviewers had been consistently kind, I had never sold in great numbers," Mantel wrote last year. "It is hard to make a good income from fiction alone."

It was ever thus. Gillian Wearing used to be a telephone market researcher while Billy Bragg once worked at an all-night petrol station. Emma Chaplin, the guitarist and keyboard player from the five-piece indie rock band the Long Blondes supplemented her income by working in a Leeds library. Calvin Harris made his debut album while stacking shelves in the Dumfries branch of Marks & Spencer.

In other countries, there are different approaches. In Denmark, selected artists are awarded life-long annual stipends. In Sweden, the government offers five- and 10-year arts scholarships. Interestingly, however, the majority of people I spoke to in the UK prefer to maintain their artistic independence rather than taking money from the state.

"I think it's amazing there are public subsidies," says Paterson. "But I think there's a danger to it as well. Nobody owes me a living and if I'm going to spend someone's money, I want to be able to give it back to them. Obviously it would be nice to go on holiday a bit more often and not be worrying about money, but I have this whole theory that when people get too comfortable, they become rarefied.

"If you have a computer and a degree, you're already in the top 1% of the planet, so why should I get to float around without having to earn a living? I want to earn my stripes. I don't want anyone to say, 'You don't deserve to be here.'"

Rooney agrees: "It's been alarming to see how much grants have been cut, but I've always thought I'd wait until I really needed them to apply. I can have these two jobs at the moment, but if I were to have a kid, for instance, I couldn't.

"I've seen Arts Council grants and subsidies as being there for people who really require them: if you've been a writer for 10 years and there's nothing else you can do and you can't get another job, for instance. For me, it's similar to unemployment benefit really."

And there is an added advantage to getting out and working in the real world. Although the romantic notion of a penniless artist living in a garret has plenty of cultural precedence, it does leave said artist without much in the way of day-to-day inspiration (plus, they almost always end up addicted to absinthe or dying of consumption). Having a day job, says Rooney, can feed back into your work: "I was a history and English GCSE teacher for a while after the publication of my first book and there's nothing like teaching a class of 15-year-olds to make you realise what holds the attention. I got better at the 'talking' part of writing and at how to present a book in a way that keeps people's interest."

As someone who is a full-time journalist and also writes novels, I tend to agree. My job as a journalist means I'm privileged enough to meet people from all walks of life and ask them nosy questions, which is one of the best insights into the human condition anyone could ask for. And as Rooney puts it: "Having another job does drive me on more because I know I only have a certain amount of time to write, so I get on with it."

But whether such a lifestyle continues to be feasible as the years go by is a moot point. Louise Brealey says that she knows "a lot of people who've stopped acting because they were paying the bills with temping and telesales and in the end it ground them down. It's hard to stick with it if you're breaking your heart in TFI Friday's every night," she adds. "That's fine when you're starting out, but after a decade it can get a bit wearing."

The Opposite of Falling by Jennie Rooney is out now, published by Vintage


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions

July 27 2012

The Saturday interview: Howard Hodgkin at 80

He is given to saying 'Look! Just look!' when asked about his pictures, and insists recent works have nothing to do with depression. Howard Hodgkin reflects on turning 80

One day nearly half a century ago, Howard Hodgkin stood on the tube platform at London's Paddington station, poised to commit suicide. "Oh, that was amazing," he says as we sit in his studio near the British Museum, "standing on the platform ready to jump". What made him contemplate suicide? Something the artist Richard Smith said. "He said, 'It doesn't matter if you're a painter or not.' Just the kind of poisonous remark that stays in your head and tortures you."

Hodgkin stepped back from the platform having resolved to give up his teaching job at Bath Academy of Art in Corsham, Wiltshire. Instead of what he calls "that substitute life", teaching, he would devote himself to painting.

As Sir Howard Hodgkin CBE, Turner prize-winning artist and arguably Britain's greatest living painter, celebrates his 80th birthday next month, it's worth reflecting on how much poorer the world would be had he jumped. Frequently pigeonholed as the last great English romantic painter in the vein of Constable and Turner, Hodgkin is more incendiary than that – a sunburst of an artist who exploded counterintuitively from a British visual culture temperamentally uneasy at depicting sensuality or expressing intellectual thoughts.

In a five-star review of new work at Oxford's Museum of Modern Art in 2010, Guardian critic Jonathan Jones pegged Hodgkin as giddy colourist and daring philosopher in paint. "Ideas, associations, affinities, memories, longings constitute, for Hodgkin, our real experience of the material world," he wrote.

"I am a representational painter, but not a painter of appearances. I paint representational pictures of emotional situations," said Hodgkin once. But for the most part, Hodgkin doesn't talk about his work. Paint is, for him, more eloquent than words. When people ask him what he means by a painting, he's given to saying: "Look! Just look!" This makes him difficult to interview, as I learned when I met him here in this same studio three years ago, and even harder to write about.

In a catalogue essay, his friend Susan Sontag tried: "Note that Hodgkin says 'emotional situations' not 'emotions'. He is not licensing the attempt to read a specific emotion from a picture, as if that were what the picture was 'about'."

Was it not tempting, then, to paint a picture representing the emotional situation on the Circle and District Line platform all those years ago? "No, much too private. Couldn't." A surprising remark: Hodgkin has always been hailed as an intimist; one who doesn't shy from depicting intimate emotional situations. One of his most intense recent paintings, an explosion of black, red and orange, was called Privacy and Self-Expression in the Bedroom (2004-06).

Are there emotional situations you can't depict? "There are some that are insufficiently visual – that's all." The on-rushing train and you on the platform isn't an image? "Not at all, nor the person I was talking to at the time." Does that mean there are certain emotional situations that are suitable for art? "No, it's not as simple as that. There are some where it becomes inevitable. Where I'll have to do something with it one day, but at the time, not at all." So there are emotional situations that linger for you? "Yes. Years and years. As Andy [his assistant Andy Barker, who sits in on our interview] would tell you, I can sit looking at a wall trying to think what I'm going to do."

Some people, among them Prince Charles, don't get what Hodgkin does. He winces as he recalls the moment royalty visited the mural he made for the facade of Charles Correa's British council building in New Delhi. It's one of Hodgkin's favourite works, not least because he has long been enthralled by India and collected Mughal paintings (Oxford's Ashmolean Museum had a lovely exhibition from his collection this year), but also because he thinks he's rarely succeeded on such a grand scale before. Then the Prince of Wales came to see it in Hodgkin's presence. "That was horrible. He didn't know what to make of it. Poor man. He said: 'When you get close to it, it's really striking.' That was the best he could manage."

A happier memory comes from a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1995. "For me it was a moment of truth – I hate to say that because it sounds far too pompous – but it was that. A nice family came up, and the father said: 'Stop driving my wife mad.' And I couldn't think what he was talking about. I later realised. She understood exactly what my paintings were about. I thought, that's one worry I'll never have again in the same way." What had he done to the poor woman with his art? "It had a cumulative impact on her." Was that why the husband was irked? "He wasn't, really. It was a way of paying me a compliment." Perhaps the Met show did to her what the Oxford show did to Jones, who found himself seduced by the "demonic power of these life-affirming paintings". Tracey Emin has been similarly seduced: she's calling for changes at Broadgate swimming pool in London, now part of a private gym, so that a lovely mosaic Hodgkin did there can be seen by the public.

We're sitting in perhaps one of the most beautiful studios in London, a former dairy suffused with light from a glass roof. Hodgkin comes here almost every morning. He sits and stares at the blank wall. As he's aged, the ratio between thinking and painting has changed. Barker says: "You do most of your work in your head now." Hodgkin finds it hard to stand, and to walk. "I've suddenly grown old and frail. Even crossing the road to go to the BM [British Museum] is more than I can manage at the moment."

Despite his frailties, Hodgkin is working harder than ever. "He's finished 11 paintings so far this year. The normal average would be 10 to 11 pictures a year," says Barker. Among them is a little painting called Porlock, about being interrupted in mid-creative flow, as Coleridge was in Porlock. "It was the phone ringing in this case," says Hodgkin. Some of these new works will be exhibited by his dealer Alan Cristea in his London gallery until October, in celebration of Hodgkin's birthday. The day itself he will spend in France with close friends.

Cristea says his series of handpainted intaglio prints, titled Acquainted with the Night, are probably the largest prints ever made. The title comes from Robert Frost's poem, often interpreted as describing depression. The reference might make you think he was depressed. "No, no!" exclaims Hodgkin. "I mean, look." He points to a work from the new suite of prints, entitled Attack. "That's not a picture of depression. I'm not depressed. Where does depression come in?"

The title Acquainted with the Night is recycled. Hodgkin used it for his first lithograph print in 1953. "It's a poem I much admire, and many years ago when I was a student, Clifford Ellis, who was the principal of the art college I was at, commissioned several illustrations to poems, and he offered me that."

Was he thinking you were a depressive type and it might suit you? "Not at all, no. He thought the nocturnal would appeal to me, which it did." Do you remember what it looks like? "I remember vaguely what it looked like." After the interview, his partner, the music critic Antony Peattie, emails to say: "I wish someone would come forward with a copy and let us photograph it!" So if you have a copy, get in touch.

Hodgkin knew he was going to be a painter aged six, after doing a bright red painting of a woman's face. Nobody else shared his conviction. When I interviewed him in 2009 he told me he remembered running away from school in frustration. Which school? "I can't remember. Eton, Bryanston, Pangbourne – I ran away from them all." Why? "Because I wanted to be an artist and no one wanted me to be." But this time he was stopped by a policeman. "It was a great moment. He was the first person who ever took me seriously." Your parents weren't encouraging? "No, they weren't."

Gordon Howard Eliot Hodgkin was born in Hammersmith on 6 August 1932. His father worked for ICI and was a noted amateur horticulturist. His mother, a housewife, was also a botanical illustrator. His parents bought one of Hodgkin's paintings in 1967. "But eventually," Hodgkin said once, "my father said that he couldn't possibly hang it up in the house. And he was quite right. It was a brown-furniture sort of house, and there was just nowhere for it to go." Eventually, they gave it to the Tate.

The critic David Sylvester wrote that Hodgkin found his pictorial language early on and exploited it ever since. "No! It never comes. You keep struggling to find it. It's particularly sad in England. You come across these artists who think they've found it, and haven't, but they've grown old gracefully. They're like some Saga holidays advertisement." You're not going to name names? "No, but I can see you're thinking of them!" Was your artistic evolution more like Matisse's – a series of hard-won liberations from previous constraints? "Exactly. 'Liberation from previous constraints' is excellent."

It's difficult not to imagine Hodgkin's sexuality as similarly liberated from previous constraints. He was married in 1955 and had two sons (Louis and Sam) with his wife, Julia Lane. Today he's a gay icon. Or, rather, an unwitting gay icon. Were you proud to be on the Independent's Pink List? "What is that?" The newspaper's annual list of gay icons. You're a regular fixture – beneath Carol Ann Duffy but on top of Rabbi Lionel Blue, so to speak. Hodgkin looks blank. "You're often in them," says Barker. "Well, good," says Hodgkin. "I'm glad." You were cited for your contribution to the emotional well being of – Hodgkin interrupts " … gay people everywhere, probably".

The citation seems to suggest there's a therapeutic value to your work. Is there? "No, I don't think there is. I have painted, very rarely, small pictures for people who are dying, or great friends who are sliding over the edge. But I don't believe in it."

He tells me it's a great relief when he sells pictures, so he can get them out of his sight. You don't want to be haunted by your artworks? "No, I do rather lose interest in them. Once I'm finished, I'm out of here. I forget about them as much as I can." Why do you want to forget them? "It makes room for the next thing, which is very important. And that does come from old age, I suspect." Why? "There's less time, so on one goes." Very Beckett. But you're not painting for posterity? "I don't think of posterity ever. What would be the point? I wouldn't be around to enjoy it all."

Time for pictures. Sarah, the photographer, praises Hodgkin. "You have exactly the right expression," she says, "of pain and scepticism." He giggles himself out of that expression. Sarah tells Hodgkin she's very open to ideas if he thinks her composition is ghastly. "On the contrary, I think the only ghastly idea is to put me in it."


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 29 2012

The designer going from Gaga to the Olympic closing ceremony

Es Devlin has designed sets for Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Take That, and has just recreated Carthage for Les Troyens at Covent Garden. Now she is preparing for the biggest show of all – the London 2012 closing ceremony

What do Harold Pinter, Lady Gaga, the Royal Opera House, Batman and the organising committee of the London Olympic games have in common? More clues? Add to that list Kanye West, Sadlers Wells, Take That and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Answer: the stage designer Es Devlin. Since emerging in the late 1990s, Devlin has put together an impressively varied body of work that ranges from rooms above pubs, opera houses and sporting stadiums. A revival of her production of Strauss's Salome at the Royal Opera House has just closed and a new production of Berlioz's Les Troyens has just opened. She designed Kanye West's recent O2 concerts and Rihanna's sets for her Brits and Grammy appearances. In August she will design the closing ceremony for the London Olympic games.

"Of course they are all different, but they are also all the same in the thought processes that go into them," she explains. "There's no other way to do it." She says while the productions have different rhythms, with the lead time for opera measured in years and for television sometimes in hours, there is extensive cross-fertilisation of ideas that emerge over time. "I was thinking about a 20m-high man made out of junk for the Take That tour in 2010, at the same time as having my first thoughts about a huge horse made of destroyed weaponry for Les Troyens. I was creating a model of Gotham City for the Batman live show at the same time as a version of Bruges that was like a map of a brain, with its system of neural canals for Korngold's opera Die Tote Stadt in Helsinki. There's also a miniature city in Les Troyens. Everything comes out differently in the end, but you can sort of trace where my head has been at any given time."

Devlin has previously dealt with the narrative material of Berlioz's monumental five-hour opera based on the Aeneid when designing Euripides's Hecuba, starring Vanessa Redgrave, for the RSC. The research into Berlioz's life and work has largely come through David Cairns's award-winning biography. "The bloody thing is two volumes long. He could have got it into one book! But it is a magnificent project. Absolutely fascinating. And that's always the way it happens for me. Someone brings me a project I know little about before taking it on, and I find myself asking 'how the fuck didn't I know about this stuff?' It all adds to a bed of information that becomes part of my mental landscape that I then can't imagine not being there."

Les Troyens is directed by David McVicar. The pair also worked together on Salome and Devlin claims her route from theatre and opera into the pop world began with that production. In a South Bank Show about McVicar, Devlin was spotted by the pop singer Mika – "I suspect it was actually his mother who saw the programme, although he insists it was him" – which lead her to work on his stadium concerts. Soon after she was designing the Take That tour, working with some of the team behind the London 2012 events.

She chose Niall Ferguson's history of the British empire as her primary Olympics research book. "I was trying to find some virtuous things about the empire, but most of what I came across was pretty bad. However, British music was and is something we can be very proud of and so we have tried to imagine a celestial radio that only tunes into British music and then made something out of finding your way through the frequencies. There are a lot of technical restrictions – there is only a 4m door for a start, so nothing higher can be brought into the arena than that – so my starting point was simple: what would it be like with just a single voice in the darkness and we've gone from there."

And it was a simple sound and light show – albeit on a more modest scale than in an Olympic stadium – that provided Devlin with one of her first theatrical memories. "There was a son et lumière set in the model of Rye town where I lived as a child. The little houses would light up and they would tell the ghost stories associated with writers who had lived in the area such as Henry James, Rumer Godden and Joan Aiken. I loved it and actually took my own children back to see it quite recently; the magic held up pretty well."

Devlin was born in 1971 and grew up in Sussex. She and her siblings "made things all the time. We'd make board games and try to invent the new Monopoly. We'd always be playing round with projectors and light bulbs." Her theatrical exposure included annual pantos, but also trips to London with godparents to see Andrew Lloyd Webber shows. "I was stage struck, but that was as much to do with coming to London as with the shows. Woven into my memory of the shows was going to a restaurant and seeing the lights of cars going past the window. It was very exciting."

She played the violin, clarinet and piano and studied at the Royal Academy of Music Saturday classes but eventually went on to read English at university. A fine art foundation course followed at St Martin's before she was accepted to study set design on the Motley Theatre Design Course. "People kept telling me to go and look at this course which only has 10 people and is in Drury Lane. I wasn't even that much of a theatregoer – but that's not so unusual among designers. It's a standing joke that you ask what have they been to see lately and they haven't been to see anything – but when I got there I felt completely at home and that's when I started going to see absolutely everything in London as well as making things like a Duracell rabbit. I just got going."

In 1996 she won a Linbury award as a student "and the prize was a job, which is the best thing you can give anyone." She designed a production of Edward II in a swimming pool for the Bolton Octagon and by 1997 she was an associate artist at Bush Theatre from where she would "audaciously" send letters to theatre people asking them to see her shows. Trevor Nunn accepted the invitation – "he wanted to see the show anyway" – and in 1998 asked Devlin to design his new production of Pinter's Betrayal at the Lyttelton. Devlin wrote to Rachel Whiteread, explaining that she intended to pay homage to her art work, House, in her design for a play she thought was about remembered rooms.

"She gave her blessing which was wonderful. But that poor Pinter piece," Devlin laughs. "All it needed was a stage and some good acting. It's all in the writing and did not need all the stuff I laid on to it. But Pinter was so sweet about it and he would introduce me to people and say 'This is Es, she wrote the play.' I'd never do that design now, but I was thrilled that I did it then because it was absolutely what I believed in. It was wonderful that my parents gave us all so much confidence, and it's been a huge help. But when I look back now I do cringe a little. In that sense being given the name Esmeralda was a good as an open invitation to other children to prick that bubble at least a little bit, but some of the things I did were still so wrong, but I just pushed them through because of this confidence. People must have looked at me like I was crazy upstart, but I just muscled along."

It was an approach that soon saw her working with the Rambert Dance Company for the re-opening of Sadlers Wells and being asked to design her first opera for the Guildhall School of Drama. "And then things started to come in thick and fast," designing for the RSC as well as for opera houses all over europe. In 2003 she was offered her first non-operatic musical commission when the group Wire asked her to design one half – Jake and Dinos Chapman designed the other – of their farewell gig at the Barbican.

"I was becoming slightly institutionalised so it came at good time for me. When I began I would be asking theatres for awkward things and they would give me reasons why they couldn't do it. Pretty soon directors were asking me for awkward things and I would be telling them why they couldn't do it. I was getting a little conditioned by the establishment so to step outside theatre gave me a kind of jolt."

Kanye West heard about the Wire show and the two have been working together since 2005. "Seven years is quite something in a world that changes so rapidly. He's a completely extraordinary character. The speed of mind is phenomenal and you really have to be on your toes. You get halfway through a sentence and he says 'Yeah. got it.' And you have to move on. We've had some serious fights because he is a perfectionist. But you have to realise you are working with extraordinary people. I do think performers are a different species. It sounds pretentious, but if you have an opportunity to be part of what they're doing then you put your hands up and help out. I think I'm busy. But just getting up and being West or Gaga for a day is exhausting."

Devlin invited West to see Salome at Covent Garden and on his next tour he incorporated an orchestra pit into his stage show. She says there is increasing crossover between the different worlds in which she operates, particularly in terms of technology, but the essential aims are ultimately the same.

"It is all about creating a coherent world. If you walk into a theatre you trust your imagination to the people putting on the show. That is why it is so important at the beginning of a show to broker the terms of that engagement and then to see it through. It comes down to telling the truth. Honest people are interesting." The act of telling a truth is fascinating whether it's in a theatre, opera house or stadium. "You might think a Take That concert is lacking in truth. But when you are there, with 80,000 other people singing those tunes you see how important they have been to their lives. You hear those songs on the radio, whether by Gary Barlow or Elton John or whoever, and they hook into you before you realise what the song is. There is a huge emotional truth in that for an awful lot of people." One of her notes to self for the Olympics is that people have to get things absolutely instantly. "It has to be get it! Get it! Get it! You can pick out just a fraction of a song and people will recognise it immediately and it takes them to the place they remember it from. The music is going to be wonderful. Putting it on is the tricky bit."

After the last medal has been awarded Devlin and her team will have 16 hours to prepare the set. Half of that time will be spent protecting the pitch. "It's going to be tight. As Jay-Z says: 'Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week,' which is part of the reason that when you work for these guys you can get a bit mangled. You are the person doing the impossible in a week. We will have rehearsals off-site and if we're lucky we'll get one inside on the day, but not necessarily. Flying? Lighting? Video? You'd usually say sort it all out in the tech rehearsal, but there might not be one. I don't normally get stressed, but I am a bit anxious about this one."


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds




June 27 2012

Alison Stolwood's best photograph

'As humans, we would once have been fearful of such places. Now we want to explore them'

This was taken in the Lake District for a project about the impact ice has had on landscapes. I called it Phase Transitions. Nature is constantly changing but it's generally too slow for us to notice: the only way we can see it is by comparing photographs. I'm interested in how we now want to explore these sublime, overpowering vistas, where once we would have been fearful of them. There's also all the uncertainty about what melting ice will mean for us and the planet.

I started exploring these themes by researching places shaped by ice: carved valleys, boulders, marks in rock. Then I went on field trips to Wales, the French and Swiss Alps, and the Lake District. I had to do everything on a tight budget, camping and staying with friends en route. The weather was a problem, too: whenever it rained, I had to put my large-format back 5inx4in field camera in the car.

I shot this on a sunny day in 2009 in the Great Langdale valley. I was heading up a mountain and went past Copt Howe, a substantial boulder that dropped out of a melting glacier into what is now a farmer's field. It has many circular bronze-age carvings in it, as well as natural faultlines. Then this scene caught my eye. Despite my unwieldy equipment, I always try to set up quickly. On this occasion, leaning over a gate, I only managed to get a single shot while the conditions lasted. I couldn't tell at the time, but the heads of the cow and the calf were caught at just the right moment, as if they were about to look round to see what I was doing.

I like the juxtaposition: the natural wilderness of the mountains in the distance, and the cultivated farmland in the foreground where the livestock are lazing. Although it's not my most technically accomplished shot, it was a turning point for me in that it captured a moment of stillness that seemed to say a lot about cycles of change, perhaps best embodied by the fact that the two animals represent the young and the old. Landscapes can look so natural but, in one way or another, they have often been shaped by us.

CV

Born: 1983, Colchester

Studied: Falmouth College of Arts, University of Brighton

Influences: Caspar David Friedrich, Katie Paterson, Andreas Gursky, David Attenborough

High point: Taking part in the show Still Outside (or Unexplained), exploring the interaction between people and the environment

Low point: The cost of photography

Top tip: Shoot lots – it takes time to develop the way you work


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds




June 23 2012

Sarah Sze: 'I want people to stop and look at my art'

The New York artist on the dramatic tension of glimpsing the 'unintended' in her intricate work

When the pendulum that swoops low over Sarah Sze's latest, elaborate installation unexpectedly hits a protruding twig, it stutters briefly, then swings on.

"That's probably the first time that's happened," says the New York artist, with no sign of alarm. "The twig is there for a reason, but I can't remember why."

Sze, 42, is known for the involving intricacy of her sculptural work, but this dramatic piece, which now dominates a room in London's Victoria Miro gallery, seems in danger of hypnotising even her. It is a theatrical construction that plays with light and water and yet is made entirely of household items.

"I would never have made a circle in the past," says Sze. "It is such a formal shape, so it is surprising to me. But then you get this sense of a stage and of going behind it."

The installation reminds me of student storage, with desk lamps, electric fans, paperclips, stepladders, books, chairs, and the added intimacy of folded clothes and a sleeping bag.

Sze picks up bits and bobs everywhere she goes, she says; happy to exhibit the trace of her travels. Skimming over it all is the pendulum, moving apparently randomly across a reflective pool of brightness.

"I like tension in my work and you can't help wondering if the pendulum is going to touch something, even though, since we are in a gallery, there is a good chance it has all been worked out."

Born in Boston, Sze teaches at Columbia University and runs her New York studio. A talent for subtle showmanship has won her an international reputation and next year she will represent the US at the Venice Biennale.

She is always thinking about the way the viewer sees her art and wants visitors to the London show to feel drawn to a "backstage area", to glimpse things they feel they were not intended to.

The artist, who has two young daughters with her husband, the scientist and award-winning writer Siddhartha Mukherjee, studied painting and architecture, but rejected the hypothetical nature of most architectural practice. But she did enjoy the collaborative side and now works with a studio manager and with her students.

Sze says that, unlike some artists, she is keen to talk about the intentions behind her work. "I am aware people might dismiss my art, but I'm interested in getting them to stop and look; for no other reason than that is what I do.

"The pieces in this show appear to measure space, or time, and now that I have two children, time is more significant. It has more weight." Sarah Sze's show is at Victoria Miro, London N1 until 11 August


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


June 20 2012

Leah Gordon's best photograph

'Marabou is a term from the old Haiti caste system. My model had a blond mohican under his hat'

In 1991 I was living in England, driving a van for the Communist party, when I saw Jill Dando presenting a holiday programme about the Dominican Republic. Right at the end, she said: "It shares its island with another country called Haiti. It has voodoo, death, a dictatorship, military coups. Do not go there by mistake." I was on a plane within a month.

In some ways, Haiti's history is bound up with my own. The Manchester industrialists, my ancestors, campaigned to abolish slavery; and Haiti's slave revolt changed the world, since it was the first that led to the founding of a state. After that initial trip, I went back a lot, meeting my partner, the Haitian sculptor André Eugène, at a collective in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

This shot is from my 2011 series Caste, based on the bizarre racial classification system created by the 18th-century French colonialist Moreau de St Méry, who lived on the island. I recreated his system, incorporating poses from Renaissance portraits. I felt a bit ridiculous, like a Victorian anthropologist, as I wandered around saying: "Sorry, you're too light, I need someone darker." But I paid well.

We did the shoot in a slum: it looks so neat in the photos, but the set was made from an old trestle table, some models had to stand on blocks, and the backdrop kept blowing away. Amazingly, the camera created these beautiful moments of peace amid all that.

Dodley was the most natural of all the models. He was "marabou", according to Moreau de St Méry, meaning ⅜ white and ⅝ black. He was a hip kid: under that hat, he had a dyed blond mohican. With incredible professionalism, he immediately struck a pose based on a 15th-century painting, Dieric Bouts' Portrait of a Man. I only took one roll, 12 exposures, but I knew I had it. Two of the other shoots weren't so straightforward. I had to fly back to do them again.


CV

Born: Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, 1959

Studied: Film and photography at the Polytechnic of Central London, London College of Printing, and University of Westminster.

Influences: August Sander, Paul Strand, Joel-Peter Witkin.

High point: "The first Haiti Ghetto biennale, in 2009, which I organised with André. We had 30 international artists come to Haiti and meet the collective. I experienced art as a pure energy and; the objects made at the end at the end were almost unimportant."

Low point: "The second Haiti Ghetto biennale! It would be great if there could be a third."

Top tip: "Get a good day job and do your photography on the side. I don't know how I would have funded my travels without being a picture editor."


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


June 19 2012

Actaeon stations: Chris Ofili and the Royal Ballet

Chris Ofili has spent two years creating sets and costumes for an epic ballet inspired by Titian. What did he learn?

Chris Ofili comes with a seemingly gold-plated reputation: 1998 Turner prize winner, British representative at the 50th Venice Biennale, paintings held in some of the world's great collections. But two years ago, when he agreed to design a new production for the Royal Ballet, he suffered a flash of paranoia. "I was genuinely scared," he says. "If you fall flat on your face there, you break every bone in your body. You're not going to walk away."

And Ofili could think of a dozen reasons why he might fail. During most of his career, he had worked as a solitary and self-contained artist. He had never created designs for the stage before, let alone for ballet; and he'd certainly never been involved in an enterprise that promised – or threatened – to be as vast, crowded and competitive as Metamorphosis: Titian 2012.

Metamorphosis is the brainchild of the National Gallery curator Minna Moore Ede, who felt the Cultural Olympiad should be marked by some kind of grand Diaghilevean multi-genre collaboration. As a starting point, she proposed three Titian masterpieces depicting stories from Ovid's epic poem Metamorphoses: Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon, and Diana and Callisto. To accompany the literary strand of the project, in which three poets are writing contemporary responses to the works, the Royal Ballet is creating a three-part Titian ballet, with designs by a trio of major artists.

Moore Ede was determined to bring together radically different artists. She believed the scale and energy of Ofili's paintings made him a natural choice, but to offset his work's bacchanalian life force, she opted for the very precise sensibility of sculptor Conrad Shawcross, and a wild card in the form of the reliably unpredictable conceptual artist Mark Wallinger.

Already, that trio added up to an irrepressible mix. But Monica Mason, the Royal's director, had even bigger ambitions. Due to retire at the end of this July, she wanted Metamorphosis to be a farewell present to the seven choreographers with whom she had worked most closely, dividing them into a trio and two pairs. Three very different musical talents – Jonathan Dove, Nico Muhly and Mark-Anthony Turnage – were then asked to compose a score for each part.

"Until the curtain goes up," says Moore Ede, "no one has any idea how it will work." Ofili, speaking at the Victoria Miro gallery in London, can't wait. "This audience is really going to get their money's worth," he says, grinning. "I like Monica's attitude: 'I'm leaving now, so it's all yours. Make a mess and tidy up after yourselves.'"

Ofili was less jokey when he was first teamed up with his three choreographers: Will Tuckett, Liam Scarlett and Jonathan Watkins. He admits to deliberately stalling his way through most of the first year.

"I felt it just wasn't my world. I didn't have anything significant to contribute that wouldn't make me utterly embarrassed." Not only was he inhibited by his ignorance of ballet design, he was daunted by having to measure up to the Titians, feeling that, as the only contemporary painter involved, his work would be most directly compared to the master's. "Honestly, it felt like lambs to the slaughter."

So he turned to Titian's source material: Ovid's story about the young hunter Actaeon, who spies on the virgin goddess Diana while she is bathing with her nymphs; as a punishment, he is turned into a stag and torn apart by his own hounds. Ofili found it a "genuinely gripping read. All of its themes – desire, temptation, pride, beauty, the joy of the kill – felt relevant. The project got into my veins as a story." His confidence was boosted by his first serious meeting with the choreographers, who were all interested in staying close to Ovid's narrative. "We got on well, and it was easy to decide between us which were the most important elements of the story."

Ofili produces a photograph of the backdrop he designed. On one side is Diana, standing beneath her signature crescent moon and a giant curving phallus ("the male burden of desire"). On the other side, nymphs ripple upwards from a bubbling stream. Figures, landscape and symbolism metamorphose into each other with a fluidity reminiscent of Blake, an artist Ofili regards as one of his "torchbearers". But the design is also influenced by the landscape of Trinidad, where Ofili now lives. "There are waterfalls there that lie deep in the forest," he says. "Often when I go walking there, I hear voices of people I can't see." It made him think of Actaeon walking through a forest that was alive with his own sexual fantasies.

Most artists leave the actual painting of the backdrop to professional set-painters. But Ofili opted to do it himself, by hand. "The scale is amazing," he says. "When you first see the stage, that's what gives you the clutch in the intestines." It took him four weeks and the technical staff at the Royal Opera House thought he was mad. Yet, says Ofili, "hands down, it was one of the best painting experiences of my life".

He had an equally good time with the costumes. His first instinct was to take inspiration from Picasso and the "crazy" sculptural creations he created for Erik Satie's 1917 cubist ballet Parade. But the more time Ofili spent around the Royal's dancers, the more he wanted to ensure they could move freely. "I wanted them to feel comfortable, so they could push themselves."

He opted for all-in-one leotard and tights, customised for each character with head-dresses, cloaks, jackets, body hair, and handheld puppet heads for the hounds. He regards the work of the costume department, who converted his sketches into moving, breathing outfits, as little short of genius. But it's the dancers who impressed him most. "One night," he says, "I was standing in the wings and this girl came off stage. She'd looked amazing while she was dancing: shiny and happy. But as she came off she was crying. She said she was in agony, she had flu, she had a new baby and her nose was running like a little child's. Then she went back on and the light just flushed back into her. I thought, 'This is extraordinary.'"

Their bodies fascinate Ofili, too. Marianela Núñez is dancing Diana and he has become obsessed by her back. "The muscles are so alive, so expressive – it's like a face." As for the dancers' feet, he winces at the thought of all the blisters, blood and bunions he has witnessed. "Don't get me started. I had no idea feet could look like that."

When the project was first proposed, Ofili fretted about spending so much time away from work he was already absorbed in. "I knew it was going to be a huge brain-drain." But the intimacy and the fun of collaboration have been a revelation; he hadn't realised how much he would learn, nor how natural the transition from studio to theatre would eventually feel. "Working for the stage," he says, "you're playing a game of pretend. The curtain opens, the audience is absorbed for a period of time. That's very close to what I do as a painter. I make stuff up and invite people to look at it, and then off they go. I like that. I like how simple it is. I like how very wonderful it can be."

The details

The ballet
Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is at the Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), in rep 14-20 July

The exhibition
The Titians will be shown at the National Gallery, London WC2, with sets and costumes created for the ballet from 11 July to 23 September

The screening
The 16 July performance will be simultaneously relayed to a large screen at Trafalgar Square, and to 18 other venues across the UK


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


“Bloggers are cultural mediators” Interview with Ivan Sigal

This interview with our executive director Ivan Sigal by Ralf Rebmann was originally published in Amnesty Journal in German, June 2012.

Around the world, bloggers and citizen journalists are using the Internet to make their voices heard. To make sure their message isn't silenced by the barriers of language, it gets translated by the international Global Voices network. A conversation with its Executive Director, Ivan Sigal.

Ivan Sigal, photo by Ralf Rebmann/Amnesty

 

How did the idea to translate blogs come about?

Global Voices was founded in 2005 as a research project at Harvard University. The knowledge of local bloggers and citizen journalists is very valuable. In order to make this information universally available, they must be translated. Global Voices provides a platform for opinions and information that otherwise would never be heard. The network should also contribute to a better understanding of particular events that occur in a particular part of the world. Bloggers are, in a certain way, cultural mediators.

How exactly does Global Voices work?

The network works globally and consists of more than 500 bloggers, translators and authors. We observe what topics are playing a role in the blogger community. If a topic like, for example, the turmoil in the Arab world, is potentially of interest for readers worldwide, we compile entries from different blogs and summarize them. Then these articles are translated into over 20 languages. All of those who are involved in this project work on a volunteer basis.

Is this information reviewed prior to publication?

Review of information in which particular topics are illuminated from different perspectives is the guiding principle of Global Voices. A team of part-time editors works with the authors and bloggers to ensure that this information is correct. This process has established itself over time, and we know what sources can be trusted.

How active are the individual blogger scenes?

Within Global Voices there is no one country that dominates, but some blogger scenes are certainly more active than others. Right now we have fewer entries from China and the Francophone countries of Africa. The scene is more active in Egypt, Brazil, and Pakistan. The Russian blogger community has also been very active in the past three years. People have taken notice of how these networks can be used for the exchange of information. What has starkly risen in the past few months in Russia is the awareness of the effect of social networks and blogs on the political sphere. That was also brought about by the upheaval in the Arab world.

What criteria have to be fulfilled in order for an Internet movement to really make it out onto the street and demonstrate?

Revolutions, protests, and reform processes are complex events that occur for different reasons.To better understand these developments, even more research has to be conducted in this area. It was to be expected that people in Russia would demonstrate. There is a very active culture of discussion and debate there. The conditions were right. But this applies to countries such as Iran, China or Vietnam as well. The critical moment is the one in which a large group of people decides to carry out an idea together. This was the case in Myanmar in 2007 in the so-called Safran Revolution, even though only a small portion of the population had access to the Internet.

Ivan Sigal has been Exeutive Director of the blogger network “Global Voices” since 2008. Before that, he worked for the U.S. Institute of Peace and the NGO Internews. For over 10 years, Sigal researched how freedom of information and of the press can contribute to the nonviolent resolution of conlicts in crisis zones. He oversaw numerous projects to strengthen and educate local media in countries in the former Soviet Union, as well as in Afghanistan, and other Asian countries.

June 13 2012

The Shard: Renzo Piano's great glass elevator

It is has transformed the London skyline, but the giant Shard faced hostility all the way. Its Italian architect Renzo Piano meets Steve Rose on the eighth floor – and answers his critics

The storm clouds have been gathering over the Shard ever since it was announced, 11 years ago. Now that the building has reached its full height, it has inevitably become a lightning rod. Few structures in Britain have so dominated the skyline or the architectural debate. To its opponents, it has stabbed London in the heart: it is too tall, it destroys the scale of the city, it disrupts historic views, it is in the wrong place, it is a waste of energy – a monument to greed, money, inequality, foreign influence and broken Britain. To its supporters, however, it is a jolt of the modern – the moment London truly joined the 21st century.

Appropriately, on the day its architect Renzo Piano meets me there, the clouds have all but engulfed the building. On a clear day, apparently, you can see 60 miles from the top. This isn't one of them. Even from the eighth floor, the riverbank opposite is a blur, obscured by fog and a cascade of rainwater running all the way down the sloping windows from the 87th floor. But Piano seems impervious to both the weather and the lightning bolts of criticism. Tall, elegant, relaxed and mellifluously spoken, the 74-year-old Italian looks every bit the internationally renowned architect. Well, almost. Beneath his raincoat, he's wearing a T-shirt with a pink slogan. "Trust me, I'm an architect," it says.

"There's a moment when you need to trust," Piano smiles, pointing at his shirt. "Because you can't predict everything. You cannot prove mathematically that what you're doing is going to work. But you have to be bloody sure – because if you do something like this wrong, it's wrong for centuries." He told the judge the same thing during the public inquiry into its planning. "And I was keeping my fingers crossed in my pocket," he says.

The inquiry approved the Shard on the strength of its exceptional design. Realising he had a golden opportunity to build something super-tall, the developer Irvine Sellar had been advised to get a highly credible architect after his first proposal, by Broadway Malyan, was mauled by the press. He appears to have trusted Piano a great deal. The tapering, faceted form of the Shard, referencing London's history of spires and masts, was quickly agreed upon. Piano also suggested what to put inside: a mix of office space on the lower floors, a hotel in the middle, and apartments above. It was Piano who recommended it be open to the public, via a viewing gallery at the top and three floors of restaurants a third of the way up. Piano even christened the building, likening it to "a glass shard" at a press conference. "It is not difficult to make a new shape," he says. "Even children can do that. What is difficult is to make new shape that makes sense."

Crystalline structures entranced such early modernists as Germany's Bruno Taut, whose 1914 Glass Pavilion was adorned with such utopian slogans as "Glass brings a new era" and "Light wants crystal". Yet, where most glass towers are basic geometric forms, the Shard, which officially opens next month, achieves something more sculptural. Its giant sides fold and overlap, creating fissures and niches; what's more, being angled, they reflect the sky, fragmenting the building's scale and turning it, says Piano, into "a mirror of London – on a sunny day, it is fantastic". On a grey day like today, however, the poetry is not quite so apparent, and its hulking mass is impossible to disguise.The faceted form breaks up the scale inside, too. Floors of offices, with their central elevators and glass-lined perimeters, can all look very much alike, but the Shard's irregular floor plans create something less regimented. And, instead of corner offices for managers to hog, there are "winter gardens" with openable windows. The fissured sides also conceal ventilation grilles and service openings, from which cranes can emerge like robotic arms to clean and maintain the building. As for the environmental drawbacks of an all-glass tower, which can heat up like a greenhouse, they are less relevant in Britain's temperate climate.

The chief complaint with the Shard, though, is not the building's design or technical performance, but its location. It's fine, say critics, for Dubai or Hong Kong – but why did it have to go here? It's difficult to deny that the Shard is out of scale with the low-rise streets around it, or that it ruins the view of St Paul's Cathedral from Parliament Hill. But then London has never been a precious, historic jewel of a city like Venice or Paris: it has grown haphazardly, been scarred by war and fire, and has continually overwritten its own history. That's not to say there is no place for heritage, but the balance is a dynamic one. London is still in flux. St Paul's once looked out of scale, but it has now been dwarfed by the high-rises of the City; the Shard's context will also change. And, just across the Thames, stands the concrete core of Rafael Viñoly's upcoming 37-storey "Walkie Talkie", potentially an uglier and more obtrusive design than Piano's.

"This building is not made with the intention to be aggressive or powerful," says Piano. "It is not about priapismo. This building is telling a completely different story. It is celebrating a shift – in the idea that growth in a city should not happen by building more and more on the periphery. This city is one of the first that decided to have a green belt, a clear physical limit; if you have to grow, you grow inside. I'm not an advocate of tall buildings, but I am an advocate of intensifying the city from the inside."

And yes, says Piano, it had to go here. The Shard may be, at almost 310m, the tallest building in the EU, yet it has just 48 parking spaces – the point being that it sits right by London Bridge station, a major transport hub. "It's another big shift – to tell people, 'Look, stop going around in cars.' In this city, it's less terrible, but try to do this in Milan. Try to do this in Paris, Los Angeles. Would you expect hostility? Of course. You have to accept as an architect to be exposed to criticism. Architecture should not rely on full harmony. If everyone is agreeing, then you make a big mistake."


Reading this on mobile? Click here to view

Piano has weathered greater hostility than this. His career began, after all, with one of the most provocative buildings in modern architecture: 1977's Pompidou Centre in Paris, which he and Richard Rogers designed in their 30s. In terms of language, if not height, the Pompidou is still far more radical than the Shard. A lightweight box covered in ducts and pipes, it defied the notion that cultural architecture should be solid, monumental, intimidating. Critical opposition was virtually unanimous and legal action was taken to try to stop it going ahead. "I'm still surprised we were allowed," he smiles. "We were bad boys. We were teenagers. Worse than teenagers – we were Beatles!" There's a touch of Yellow Submarine to the Pompidou, he admits, but that was the spirit of the age. This was the early 1970s, when Piano was at London's Architectural Association, hanging out with sci-fi technophiles such as the Archigram team. He fell in easily with the Italian-speaking Rogers. "Richard was more intellectual, more brilliant," says Piano. "I was more like a bricoleur [handyman]."

Despite the shock of the Pompidou, Piano's work has since followed a serene, craftsmanlike path, true to his family's roots in construction. His practice is called Renzo Piano Building Workshop and his Genoa HQ has been likened to a spiritual retreat. He has, however, no obvious signature style: the best of his work seeks refined harmony rather than virtuosic display. His many art galleries defer to the work rather than make "iconic" statements. His New York Times skyscraper, in contrast to the Shard, goes almost too far in its reticence, appearing grey and anonymous from a distance.

But Piano has never stopped being radical. In the 1990s, he designed an airport terminal, a spectacular 2km long, on a giant artificial island in Japan's Osaka Bay. He concealed San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences beneath an undulating roof of grass and plants. He is working on a skyscraper in South Korea that is twice the height of the Shard (and will doubtless attract half the controversy). And the most contentious of all his works has probably been the least radical: adding a new monastery and gatehouse to Le Corbusier's celebrated chapel in Ronchamp, France. Several high-profile architects signed a petition denouncing such interference with an architectural treasure.

"In every interesting job," says Piano, "you are there not to change the world, but to witness the change in the world." So the Shard is merely a manifestation of the hard choices growing cities have to make. "You do not get hostility because you are wrong, but because people have a fear of change. Around any job, you can always build a good story and a bad story. And the hostility goes away – because if you are right, then the good story comes out."


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


June 12 2012

Rachel Whiteread: 'I'm not thick-skinned'

Her massive works of art have caused both wonder and controversy. As Rachel Whiteread's latest piece is unveiled, Mark Lawson hikes up a ladder to talk to her about thick skins and ageing YBAs

On a morning in late May, wearing hard hats and high-vis jackets, Rachel Whiteread and I climb up flights of aluminium ladders through three levels of scaffolding to inspect the progress of her latest work: a frieze on the facade of the Whitechapel Art Gallery in east London. Whiteread ascends as swiftly as a seasoned sailor on a ship's rigging, the journey now a familiar one, although we go up on a rare day when rainwater on the metal steps hasn't been a worry.

"We hadn't realised we'd be doing this in the monsoon period," she says, "so it's taken longer than we thought." Her first experience of this perspective, she explains, was "from a cherrypicker on one of the coldest days of last year, in snow and blizzards. But I've lived and worked in this area for 25 years, so I know the landscape very well."

This is the second time in her career that Whiteread has filled an accidental artistic absence: for the fourth plinth in London's Trafalgar Square, she created a double-take by casting a resin replica of the plinth itself. On the face of the Whitechapel, which has carried a bald patch since the original design by Walter Crane in 1901 was judged too expensive, she has extended a tree motif already on the frontage and created a pattern of gilded leaves. On the platforms, her assistants are handling fragile strips of gold leaf, like glowing Post-it notes; these have been going up and down in value as Whiteread and her team have worked through these tense economic months.

She was drawn to gold while taking photographs from the roof of St Paul's cathedral. "I wanted to put something there that wasn't bling, but sort of lit up the building. And, looking out across the city from that height, I was struck by the sun alighting on a streak of gold in a miserable part of London and going ping." To work on the frieze, which will be unveiled tomorrow, she built a plywood model of the Whitechapel facade. "Luckily, I've got quite a tall studio."

Whiteread is best known for bringing to life the insides of buildings – in Ghost (1990) and House (1993), which made solid casts of the interior spaces between walls. Did the Whitechapel put a proviso in her contract that she couldn't remove the gallery and display its interior on the facade? "Yes, exactly," she laughs. "It was always clear that there was never going to be anything like that." Even so, in deference to what she recognises is "sort of my signature", the frontage contains four reliefs cast from the concave gap between the glass and frames of the gallery windows – another of Whiteread's explorations of what she calls "negative space"; these began when, as a young artist, she had the thought of "mummifying the air" in a room. She has also used the technique in her "nameless library" Holocaust memorial in Vienna, an impression of a room of books with their blank pages facing outwards.

Back at ground level, we talk at a varnished table in a Whitechapel meeting room, a fitting symbol for the numerous bureacratic discussions, involving the gallery, the local council and English Heritage, in which the artist has had to take part. "An enormous number of meetings," sighs Whiteread. "Absolutely everyone had a say. It took me five years to put up the memorial in Vienna because of the same sort of process. But you can't make a good piece of public art by consensus; it's just not possible. So I really had to stick my heels in." Does she ever lose her temper? "Yes. Yes, I do, a few times."

While Whiteread has never become a public figure in the manner of contemporaries such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, her projects have become the subject of fierce public debate, both in Vienna and in London: House won her the Turner prize in 1993, but was the subject of some local hostility; some found her fourth plinth commission repetitious. Has she had to become immune to criticism?

"I'm not thick-skinned at all, which is why I don't do very many of them. I find it really difficult. I'm learning to get a thicker skin. House nearly killed me; the Vienna memorial nearly killed me. The Whitechapel hasn't been quite as bad, but it's really hard. There are a lot of voices, and I try to think that you just have to let it go. But everything I make is a part of me. I don't hand it over to an engineer to make; I'm very much a hands-on artist. You mention Tracey and Damien and they've worked very hard – this isn't a criticism of them because it's what they want to do – at making their personalities and their lives very much a part of it. I've worked very hard at a quieter approach. A lot of the work has been temporary. Probably the most powerful thing about House is that it doesn't exist any more."

This surprises me because even I get intermittently upset at the absence of House, which was demolished in 1994; surely the artist must? "Well, yes, I do get upset. And I'm incredibly proud of making it. The Tate buying Carl Andre's bricks and then House were the two most controversial things to happen in art in 20 years. Now people can't get enough of it; the papers can't get enough of culture and it's just rammed down everyone's throat. And actually I think to the detriment of culture, because it belittles it. Everyone can have a say, but not everyone's an expert, not everyone's an art critic. It's become far too easy to have a pop at modern art."

She again distances herself from contemporaries. "Damien's been very savvy, Tracey's been very savvy, Grayson Perry's been very savvy at becoming almost cultural commentators themselves. And that's interesting in itself, but it's a very different thing from what I do."

Is she still close to the other YBAs? Whiteread exhibited alongside Hirst, Emin and others at the Royal Academy's landmark Sensation show in 1997. "Er, yes. I used to be a very good friend of Damien's, don't see him so much now. I'm a friend of Tracey. Grayson and I had studios together, where the Olympic stadium is now. But I have always been a bit of a loner within the YBAs. I'm not a very good joiner-in, not very good at staying under the umbrella."

Is she competitive? "No, I don't think so, not in the obvious way. What really annoys me is when people make shit work and it's still out there and it's emperor's new clothes, and people lose their critical distinction." Whiteread declines to name names, so I ask if she would ever tell an artist friend that their latest work was shit. "Erm. Ur. Ah, now there's a question …" A five-second pause. "Sometimes I find a way of telling them that I don't necessarily say it myself. I might try to pass it through someone else. Look: anyone who makes art over a long period has to know when they are making good art and bad art. But money and fame are very addictive."

Are there pages in her own career catalogue that she now flicks quickly past? "There are a few things that I believed in at the time, not so much now. But I don't have an enormous output. I try to avoid that risk."

Whiteread is sometimes presented as something of a feminist pioneer, because she was the first woman to win the Turner prize. But the artist has always deflected such a reading; her mother was an artist, she says, and so she was never conscious of what we might call a ceramic ceiling.

Does the art world have gender equality now? She laughs before answering. "Well, I think the answer to that question is probably no. Although, saying that, I've always been very comfortable with my position in the art world. An American artist friend a few years ago said: 'Do you know, you single-handedly make the largest pieces a woman artist has ever made?' And I hadn't thought of that before. That does make me proud."

I mention that the sculptor Barbara Hepworth once said something similar about people expecting small works from women. "Yes, but mine are much bigger than hers!" A long burst of laughter. "Oh, God, I sound like one of those men. OK, maybe I am competitive."

Critics have always read death into Whiteread's work, even before it became most explicit in the Vienna Holocaust sculpture. Was she one of those children with a precocious awareness of mortality? "Erm. I had a pet sparrow who died and stayed under my bed for three months in a cardboard box. My mum kept saying: 'What's that awful smell?' But it was just that I was sad and didn't want to bury it. I don't think I've had an unhealthy interest in death – it's just something I've always been interested in. A lot of my work isn't intellectually based, it's emotionally based and I think that's where that comes from."

It strikes me that, like musicians and actors who call themselves Kid or Junior, being a YBA becomes complicated as the birthdays accumulate. In middle age, should they become MABAs or, later, OBAs? "I don't think the label will ever change. We've discussed for a long time now setting up an old people's home we'll all go into." And presumably, at some point in the 2040s or so, there will be pressure for a reunion group show at the Royal Academy, a sort of Sanatogen Sensation? "Yes. I think that's almost bound to happen. But hopefully, by then, there'll be a rush of new young blood – out storming the world."


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Maurice Sendak's British editor: 'I have lost a very, very great friend'

Judy Taylor Hough was instrumental in bringing Sendak's work to the UK. And it wasn't easy. On the day of his US memorial, she talks about their relationship

At 11am today, New York time, Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art is playing host to a memorial service to "honour and celebrate" the life of Maurice Sendak, who died last month aged 83. Among the invited guests will be Judy Taylor Hough, the British editor responsible for publishing Where the Wild Things Are in the UK – a firm friend to Sendak from the moment she first met him in 1961, and without whom the book might not be the global hit it is today.

Although Where the Wild Things Are came out in Sendak's native US in 1963, it wasn't until four years later that it hit British shores under the Bodley Head imprint, where Taylor Hough was children's book editor. Its publication, though, was dogged by controversy and incident; one of the biggest obstacles Taylor Hough had to overcome was that Bodley Head simply weren't keen on the book. "I had two colleagues who were against the idea," she recalls. "One had a small child and thought it was the sort of book that would frighten children. The other simply didn't like it."

Such was Taylor Hough's enthusiasm for the project that internal opposition was finally worn down, but at this point the book hit its second obstacle: the prohibitive cost of producing a full-colour-illustrated volume. Eventually, economies of scale proved the saviour: Taylor Hough arranged for "a mammoth printing in Holland, doing all the editions for the UK, France, Denmark and Sweden in one go." But even then, disaster dogged the project. "All our orders and costs were quoted in sterling," Taylor Hough explains. "But practically overnight – this was 1967 – the pound was devalued. This was before we'd paid our bills. It was a financial disaster. But I'm sure," she adds, given that the book has since sold a reported 19m copies and hasn't been out of print for almost 40 years, "it's made up for that by now."

Taylor Hough had been informed by telephone the day before Sendak died that the writer, who had suffered from heart problems and had undergone surgery, was very poorly. She woke up on Tuesday 8 May to an email saying he had passed away. But Taylor Hough reveals now that his heart condition was in evidence as far back as 1967, when Sendak was in the UK to promote Where the Wild Things Are. Taylor Hough had accompanied him to Newcastle, where he had been interviewed by Cliff Michelmore for the BBC's Tonight programme. Everyone then retired for the night, but Taylor Hough was awoken at 2am when Sendak, then 38, knocked on her hotel room door and collapsed in front of her.

In fact, it's thanks to Taylor Hough that Where the Wild Things Are wasn't Sendak's first and last book to find UK publication. "The hotel called a doctor who said Maurice was suffering from indigestion," she says. "I thought it was more serious than that, so I called an ambulance and he was taken to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Gateshead where they discovered he'd had a very serious heart attack."

The event cemented their friendship, and Taylor Hough remained devoted to Sendak throughout his life, bonding over a mutual love of Beatrix Potter and Sendak's obsession with practical jokes, to which Taylor Hough catered by buying him a selection of gags and tricks from British joke shops, including a particular toy mouse. After Sendak's death, she was told that he had left instructions for the mouse, which he'd christened "Judy", to be cremated with him.

Taylor Hough last saw Sendak in December, in the US, where he showed her the pages from the latest book on which he had been working: My Brother's Book, an illustrated poem inspired by his love for his late brother Jack, which is due to be published next February.

"He was his usual self," she says. "Very grumpy! Maurice was always a fairly sparky character. He was still devastated by the death of Gene" – the psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn, Sendak's lifelong partner, who died of cancer in May 2007 – "but he was fiercely proud of his Jewish heritage, and was still working right up to the end."

Taylor Hough accepted the Astrid Lindgren Memorial award, the biggest prize for children's literature, on Sendak's behalf in 2003, as Sendak couldn't make the event in Stockholm in person (he was at the opening night of Brundibar, the children's opera for which he designed set and costumes, in Chicago). Speaking to the audience in Stockholm, she told of their first meeting in Sendak's basement flat on New York's West 9th Street, when she was 29 and new in her job, looking for US talent to bring to the UK via Bodley Head.

He had his beloved dog Jennie with him, and a cat, Taylor Hough told the awards presentation, and "I had to confess that cats made me sneeze, at which he kindly put his cat outside. I regret to report that it was never seen again! Now that was an early test of friendship, if ever there was one."

"Maurice's contribution to the world of children's books was huge," Judy says. "He gave so much to people across the world. And I have lost a very, very great friend."


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl