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December 10 2013

Die Unfassbarkeit der digitalen Kopie

Als britische Geheimdienstarbeiter den Chefredakteur der britischen Zeitung The Guardian dazu zwangen, das Laptop mit den Snowden-Daten zu zerstören, änderte sich die Perspektive auf Netzpolitik grundlegend.

Ein Samstagvormittag im Sommer 2013. Im Keller des Redaktionsgebäudes des Guardian zwingen britische Geheimdienstmitarbeiter den Chefredakteur der Zeitung, ein Laptop zu zerstören. Auf dem Gerät vermuten sie Daten, die ihrer Meinung nach nicht in die Öffentlichkeit gehören: Dokumente, die der ehemalige NSA-Mitarbeiter Edward Snowden öffentlich gemacht hatte und die seitdem weltweit für Aufsehen sorgen. Sie belegen einen weltweiten Überwachungs- und Spionage-Skandal, der die Vorstellungen von Politik in und mit dem Netz nachhaltig verändern wird. Diese Daten, so der Wunsch der Geheimdienstler, sollen geheim bleiben, privat, nicht-öffentlich, unbekannt.

Der Journalist Alan Rusbridger, ein besonnener 59-jähriger Brite, der gerade ein Buch übers Klavierspielen veröffentlicht hat, weist die Beamten darauf hin, dass diese Daten bereits kopiert sind. Dass sie sie vielleicht hier im Keller in London zerstören, nicht aber ihre Veröffentlichung verhindern können. Dennoch bestehen die Herren darauf: Das Laptop muss zerstört werden.

Es ist ein symbolischer Akt der Gewalt, Ausdruck des staatlichen Durchgriffs (dem später eindeutige Ansagen des britischen Regierungschefs folgen werden) und Beleg für die gewaltige Dimension der Snowden-Enthüllungen. Die Szene aus dem Guardian-Keller im Sommer 2013 ist aber vor allem ein Symbol für die Veränderungen, die die Digitalisierung über zahlreiche Bereiche der Gesellschaft gebracht hat. Der Guardian hat die Szene als „one of the stranger episodes in the history of digital-age journalism“ beschrieben. Das ist sie in der Tat. Mindestens.

Machtlosigkeit gegen die Ungeheuerlichkeit der digitalen Kopie

Der zerstörte Computer ist dabei sozusagen die umgedrehte Raubkopie. Die Gewalt gegen den Computer ist der hilflose Versuch, einen reißenden Strom mit bloßen Händen zu stoppen. Der Begriff der Raubkopie wollte dem Vorgang des Kopierens einen gewalttätigen Aspekt andichten, den das Kopieren nie hatte. Der Versuch, ein Laptop zu zerstören, um so die darauf befindlichen Daten zu stoppen, basiert genau auf dieser Gewalt, die allerdings machtlos bleibt gegen die historische Ungeheuerlichkeit der digitalen Kopie. Die Daten sind eben nicht nur auf dem Rechner im Keller des Guardian, die Daten sind in Amerika und Brasilien, erklärt Rusbridger den Geheimdienstlern – und in Wahrheit sind die Daten überhaupt nicht an einem einzigen zentralen Ort, sie sind digitalisiert. Und das sicherste Versteck, das man in der neuen, der digitalen Welt für sie finden kann, ist die Öffentlichkeit.

Durch die Brille der analogen Welt sieht das auf ganz vielen Ebenen absonderlich aus: Das (Raub-)Kopieren, die Tätigkeit der Piraten, wird plötzlich zu einem Akt des Widerstands und der Pressefreiheit und gleichzeitig wird die Öffentlichkeit, der Ort der Selbstdarsteller und Mitteilungssüchtigen, zum Zufluchtsort des Whistleblowers Snowden und der Journalisten, die über ihn berichten. Öffentlich sind sie geschützt. Man könnte auch sagen: Die Grundbedingung des digitalen Zeitalters kommt auf der politischen Ebene an.

Die Veränderungen im Verständnis von Privatheit und Öffentlichkeit und vor allem der veränderte Umgang mit digitalisierten Daten sind seit Jahren Thema – seit diesem Samstagvormittag im Londoner Keller sind sie der ganzen Welt mit aller Deutlichkeit und aller Gewalt vor Augen geführt worden. Aus der Beschäftigung der Nerds und Hacker ist auf einmal richtige Politik geworden. Der FAZ-Herausgeber Frank Schirrmacher notierte im Herbst – nicht ohne Herablassung: „Also ist es nötig, was unter dem unbrauchbaren Titel ‚Netzpolitik‘ firmiert, nicht mehr twitternden Politikern als Spielwiese zu überlassen. Weil es ums Leben geht, geht es um die Substanz künftiger Politik.“

Das Bild des zerstörten Laptops ist somit zum Symbol für digitalen Journalismus geworden, der natürlich Journalismus ist und damit Grundbedingung einer demokratisch verfassten Öffentlichkeit. Zum einen, weil es die im Wortsinn Unfassbarkeit der digitalen Kopie aufzeigt und zum zweiten, weil es einen Aspekt in den Blick rückt, von dem bisher nur die Anfänge erkennbar sind: In dem umgekehrten Verhältnis von Öffentlichkeit und Privatheit kann das Veröffentlichen von Daten das beste Versteck sein.

Der Prozess als Bestandteil des Produkts

Dadurch dass der Journalist Glenn Greenwald und der Guardian in einem andauernden Prozess die Daten veröffentlichen, dadurch dass Greenwald auf Twitter präsent bleibt, ist er öffentlich geschützt. Nicht mehr einzig das Ergebnis seiner Recherchen steht im Mittelpunkt, auch der Entstehungs- und Entwicklungsprozess bekommt Bedeutung. Deshalb ist es keineswegs reines Marketing, dass die Snowden-Daten nicht auf einmal veröffentlicht wurden. Es ist eine Conditio des Digitalen, dass der Prozess dokumentiert und veröffentlicht wird.

Dass der Prozess im Digitalen zum Bestandteil des Produkts wird, sehen wir auf ganz anderer Ebene beim sogenannten Crowdfunding: Künstler binden ihr Publikum schon vor Veröffentlichung eines Buches, Films oder Albums in die Entstehung ein. Sie versionieren ihr Werk, zerlegen es in Teile und machen diese in Fassungen zugänglich. Auch das: eine Antwort auf die neuen Klimabedingungen des Digitalen. Unter den Vorzeichen der Snowden-Enthüllungen bekommt dieser Gedanke des öffentlich Prozesshaften eine ganz neue Bedeutung. Er steht für die zentrale Folge der Digitalisierung: Sie macht Kunst, Kultur und eben auch Journalismus zu Software – diese wird in Versionen ausgeliefert, nicht mehr in einem unveränderlichen Werkstück.

Spätestens seit dem Samstagvormittag im Keller des Guardian in London wissen wir: Auch Politik wird in der digitalen Welt zu Software. Wer sie im Sinne der Pressefreiheit und Demokratie gestalten will, muss die Bedingungen des Digitalen dafür nutzen!

Dirk von Gehlen

Foto: Daniel Hofer

Dirk von Gehlen hat 2013 das Buch „Eine neue ­Version ist verfügbar“, über die neuen Verfasstheiten digitaler Kultur geschrieben und mit Crowdfunding finanziert. Es wurde später bei ­metrolit veröffentlicht.

Dieser Text ist im Rahmen des Heftes „Das Netz – Jahresrückblick Netzpolitik 2013-2014“ erschienen. Sie können es für 14,90 EUR bei iRights.media bestellen. „Das Netz – Jahresrückblick Netzpolitik 2013-2014“ gibt es auch als E-Book, zum Beispiel über die Affiliate-Links bei Amazon und beim Apple iBook-Store, oder bei Beam.

August 19 2012

Martine Franck obituary

Photographer whose work ranged from portraits of the famous to pictures of the poor

Martine Franck, who has died aged 74, was a photographer of great contrasts. She started out by taking pictures in Asia, a continent she revisited for weeks at a time, but she also devoted herself to documenting daily life close to her homes in Paris and the Luberon, Provence. Her work is characterised by a fascination with the little intimacies and interactions in the lives of anonymous poor, marginalised and elderly people, yet she also assembled a matchless portfolio of portraits of famous authors and artists, including Seamus Heaney, Marc Chagall and Diego Giacometti.

Franck never adhered to the opinion professed by her fellow Magnum agency photographer Eve Arnold that all photographers are obliged to be intrusive. Ever modest, she said: "I think I was shy as a young woman and realised that photography was an ideal way of expressing myself, of telling people what was going on without having to talk." In 1970, she married the celebrated French photographer and co-founder of the Magnum agency, Henri Cartier-Bresson. The couple collaborated on a series of portraits of the artist Balthus, as retiring by temperament as Franck herself.

She was born to a Belgian banker, Louis Franck, and his British wife, Evelyn, in Antwerp. With the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, her father, who made his career in London, joined the British army. The rest of the family was evacuated to the US and spent the war on Long Island and in Arizona. She was educated in Europe, and studied history of art at Madrid University and the Ecole du Louvre in Paris.

Writing her thesis (on Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and the influence of cubism on sculpture) convinced Franck that she did not wish to be an academic or a curator, but a photographer. Her father had moved in artistic circles and one of her first portraits was of the sculptor Etienne Martin emerging from a cave smeared with clay. In 1963, she went to China, taking her cousin's Leica camera with her, and discovered the joys of documenting other cultures. Returning home via Hong Kong, Cambodia, India, Afghanistan and Turkey, she paused to visit the theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine and bought her first camera in Japan. She kept to a Leica, and predominantly used black-and-white film, throughout her career.

Returning to France, she worked as a photographic assistant at Time-Life while developing her own technique. Her early mentors were Eliot Elisofon and Gjon Mili, yet she also cited dramatically different female photographers as influences: Julia Margaret Cameron, for her portraits, and Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White. Lange's social conscience was reflected in Franck's project on old people's homes for the Petits Frères des Pauvres association. Bourke-White's love for play of light and geometric shapes is embedded in arguably Franck's single most perfect image, that of the bathers at the poolside at Le Brusc (Provence), taken in 1976. She described her experience of capturing it: "I remember running to get the image while changing the film, quickly closing down the lens as the sunlight was so intense. That's what makes photography so exciting." A moment later the positions of all five figures and their shadows on the white tiles would have irrevocably altered. The image has stood the test of time and was used as the cover shot for her book in the series I Grandi Fotografi in 2003.

Franck's work was used in Life, Fortune and Vogue, for which she shot portraits of women in public life, including her fellow photographer Sarah Moon and Mnouchkine, who made Franck the official photographer to her Théâtre du Soleil. Franck's fascination with masks and disguises found an outlet in Mnouchkine's ambitious deployment of kathakali, kabuki and commedia dell'arte. Their collaboration led to Franck experimenting with colour photography, which she used to capture theatrical productions such as Robert Wilson's ethereal version of Fables de la Fontaine at the Comédie Française in 2004. Franck's love of the theatrical could transform her quiet unobtrusiveness.

In 1966, Franck met Cartier-Bresson, who epitomised Magnum's tradition of humanitarian photography. Franck was adamant that she would neither bask in his reflection nor disappear in his shadow and she joined the Vu agency in 1970. Her first solo exhibition was planned for the ICA in London that year; when she saw that the invitations were embossed with the information that her husband would be present at the launch, she cancelled the show.

With Vu's demise, Franck co-founded the Viva agency in 1972. It also collapsed and it was not until 1980 that Franck joined Magnum, becoming a full member in 1983. She was one of the few women to be accepted into the agency and served as vice-president from 1998 to 2000. Eschewing the war/human tragedy reportage that characterised Magnum's reputation, Franck continued her projects on marginal or isolated lives. When I first met her, in the 1990s, she had just completed her book on Tory Island, a "small rock" off the northern Irish coast with a population of around 130 Gaelic-speakers, where she lived in order to document their way of life.

Always a feminist, Franck was not above picking a grandiose book title – such as Des Femmes et la Création. It is typical that one of her final projects involved three weeks spent visiting small villages in Gujerat, western India, documenting young girls embroidering their own dowries.

As well as their homage to Balthus, Franck and Cartier-Bresson undertook a joint project in the Soviet Union. Franck also created a small book of portraits of her husband. Among the most memorable of this similarly shy and elusive character is that taken from behind, showing the back of his head. His reflection in the square mirror before him is repeated in the self-portrait he is sketching: a reflection on a reflection. Franck never used him as mentor or protector but warmly concluded: "Henri was both critical and inspirational as well as warmly supportive of me as a photographer". They had one daughter, Melanie, another reason for Franck to operate close to home when possible.

Franck's brother, the photographic curator and collector Eric Franck, affirms: "Henri was always very generous in encouraging her work, something she respected greatly." Franck's sister-in-law, Louise Baring, adds: "What was so extraordinary about Martine was that with subtlety and grace she could both be a great photographer herself and at the same time honour her husband's tradition."

She worked hard to launch the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in 2002. In 2005, she was made a chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. After her diagnosis with bone marrow cancer in 2010, she continued showing her work, and had exhibitions earlier this year at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York and at the Claude Bernard Gallery in Paris.

She is survived by Melanie, three grandchildren and her brother, Eric.

• Martine Franck, photographer, born 3 April 1928; died 16 August 2012


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August 17 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: My dad's last step on Burmese land

My father, Wilfred Carroll, left his homeland of Burma twice. First in 1942, when the Japanese army forced a retreat of allied troops into India, and then in 1951 when, having retained his British nationality after independence, he made the momentous decision to emigrate to England.

This picture captures his very last step on Burmese land, as he boarded the SS Salween in Rangoon on 21 March, holding my brother Michael's hand and carrying me. Also with us were my mother, Norma, and two-month-old sister, Denise, ready to sail to Bristol and a new life.

I can only imagine the first culture shock, departing in tropical heat and disembarking, four weeks later, into the cold and damp of Avonmouth. My father was never to return, or to see his parents again, but he always believed he made the right choice for his family, despite the hardships endured in establishing a home and a career in postwar London. He worked at the head offices of the Co-operative Wholesale Society for 30 years, and helped to raise seven children, spending eight years of his retirement in Western Australia. He died in Sidcup, Kent in 2004.

I was two and a half when this picture was taken, so I have no memories of that day on the dockside.

As we grew up, my parents made us aware of our diverse ethnic background, which was half-Irish mixed with Burmese and southern European, frequently recounting stories of strict Catholic schooling and a hectic social life in prewar Rangoon, and keeping their Asian culinary skills very much alive in the kitchen of our council house in Essex.

The one thing my father did not speak of was his experiences as a Chindit in the jungles of Burma.

So it was with much excitement and fascination that in February 2012, 61 years after this photograph was taken that I returned for the first time to the street in which I was born in October 1948. We managed to deviate from our package holiday tour long enough to track down my parents' house, their schools, the church where they were married and the hospital where my older brother and sister were born.

Places had been renamed and there we saw some crumbling facades, but these were still the unmistakable edifices of my family's colonial past that I had seen in many a photograph album. At the docks in Rangoon, I conjured up a vivid image of my father taking that nervous step into the unknown, against the best advice of friends and relations.

When the aircraft wheels lifted off the Rangoon Tarmac, I had that sense of abandoning something that was dear to me, forever lost in the past. I knew then how my father had felt in 1951, and I cried. Patricia Perrin

Playlist: My grandad's financial dealings

Pop! goes the Weasel (nursery rhyme)

"Half a pound of tuppenny rice / Half a pound of treacle / That's the way the money goes / Pop! goes the weasel"

As a small child, whenever we visited (or were visited by) my nana and grandad, I could expect to be lifted up on to a knee and sung to. I am sure there were lots of songs, but the one that is clearest in my memory was a favourite of Grandad's.

I am unsure now, as I was then, what the song is all about, and a Google search hasn't enlightened me. Of one thing we can be sure though, "that's the way the money goes".

My grandad's financial dealings are something I wasn't aware of until later in life. As a nipper, when I was told he was popping out to the Salvation Army, I believed that was where he was headed. It would be many years until I found out that this was code for the bookies. One such trip, long before my time, resulted in a winning accumulator bet that eventually (after much debate with the company involved) came through and pretty much paid for their family home.

There is a photograph in my home of me as a toddler on Grandad's lap, and this song always drifts through my head when I see it – complete with index finger in cheek "pop" sound effect. I hope my little niece, Alice, will also treasure memories of having this sung to her by Great-Grandad.

My grandad would have been 100 this year, but sadly missed this landmark by a few years. To mark the occasion, the extended family is meeting on his birthday this month for a reunion. There will be lots of tales of Tom (or Thomas on Sundays) to be told and I suspect this tune will be sung. Ruth Goodwin

We love to eat: Fairy sandwiches

Ingredients

Sugar sprinkles/hundreds and thousands

Sliced white bread (sliced pan, preferably)

Soft butter

 

Butter the bread, cover with the sprinkles and cut into tiny, dainty triangles, fit for a fairy. Be sure to take the crusts off – neither fairies nor children like them!

I used to love fairies, especially the flower fairy books of Cicely Mary Barker. I would dress as a fairy and hide at the bottom of my grandparents' woodland garden in the hope of catching a glimpse of these magical creatures.

After one such adventure I asked my mother: What do fairies eat? Why, fairy sandwiches and flower tea, was her swift response, which she probably lived to regret. Soon I was demanding fairy sandwiches for birthday parties and afternoon teas on the lawn.

I have no idea if she got the recipe from somewhere or created them from her own imagination. The bread (sliced pan as we called it, according to Irish custom) was thickly buttered and sprinkled with multi-coloured hundreds and thousands. The soft, savoury bread, rich butter and crunchy sweetness of the sprinkles was magic itself.

I still get to enjoy fairies through my three young children. My seven-year-old son doesn't believe in fairies – but still requests these. And I am only too happy to sprinkle a little magic on them. Lucy Pearce

We'd love to hear your stories

We will pay £25 for every Letter to, Playlist, Snapshot or We love to eat we publish. Write to Family Life, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email family@guardian.co.uk. Please include your address and phone number


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Exhibitionist: The week's art shows in pictures

From Oscar Godfrey in Glasgow to Superhuman in London, find out what's happening in art around the country





Flight of fancy: how aviation changed art for ever

What balloonists and then pilots saw from the air – the mountainous cloudscapes and the grand designs on the ground – still strike us as sublime. And as a current exhibition makes clear, flight changed art for ever. By Gillian Darley

In 1836, a hot air balloon flight broke all the records, covering almost 500 miles from London to central Germany in less than 20 hours. News of that journey into the unknown fired JMW Turner's imagination and he wrote to one of the pilots, Robert Hollond: "Your excursion so occupied my mind that I dreamt of it, and I do hope you will hold to your intention of making the drawing, with all the forms and colours of your recollection."

Turner's fascination with the extraordinary, evanescent architecture overhead, of the "parapets and turrets, batteries and bastions" that the balloonists saw, strikes a chord with us all. That view out of the plane window into a mountainous cloudscape or, coming in to land on a clear day, a glimpse of lovely yet inexplicable patterns, be they the sewage treatment beds of Slough or relentless Soviet era apartment blocks, can momentarily lift air travel from the humdrum to the near sublime. Not even Google Earth has yet sated our appetites.

In the current exhibition at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, Flight and the Artistic Imagination, many versions of reality contest with impressions and myths, with human aspirations and physical limitations. There's just one certainty: as a species, we are physiologically unable to fly. Goya's grim airborne figures leave viewers to draw their own conclusions. Were they soaring away into enlightenment or descending, irrevocably disillusioned, from some muddied utopia? Icarus, Mephistopheles and the Valkyries fall, saints and angels ascend either on wings or up Jacob's ladder to the certainty of heaven or cosmic oblivion.

In 1783 the first successful flight of a hot air balloon introduced the real, as opposed to imagined, overhead view. It suggested military potential, and by 1794 the French revolutionary Aerostatic Corps was ready for action. Later, it was from a balloon basket that Felix Nadar took the first known aerial photograph, a view of Paris in 1858. The aeroplane delivered a deliberate overhead perspective – which were to prove invaluable to many areas of study, from cartography and defence to archaeology and aesthetics.

That most lyrical pioneer pilot and writer on aviation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry saw that the aeroplane itself would quickly become "a tool, like a plough". And so, in the early 20th century, it did. As powered flight exploded the range and tempo of our physical reach and intensified our gaze, it simultaneously gave new angles on the familiar, and offered glimpses of the entirely unfamiliar.

In the first world war, Richard Carline of the Royal Flying Corps sketched the pock-marked, cratered scene at Albert from the air and then painted it. To quite different effect, the Russian supremacist Kasimir Malevich saw the potential of the aerial view, its elements abstracted. In 1926 the teachers at the Bauhaus proudly commissioned a night view of Gropius's new complex, sparkling with electricity; the Junkers factory was there, in Dessau. The company also loaned a plane from which the Bauhauslers – as the students were known – could shower presents down on Paul Klee's pristine Master's House in the woods to mark his 50th birthday. Unfortunately, several sheered through the flat roof. Flying, and the lens it provided to the world, was the ultimate response to the modernist (and futurist) dream, providing "a new standard of measurement, a new basis of sensation" as Le Corbusier wrote.

Corb immediately grasped the potential of flight and the splendour of the aeroplane itself, as an object, but it was not until he flew over Moscow in 1929 and the next year over Rio de Janeiro, sketchbook to hand, that he saw the revelatory potential of "a vast programme of organic town-planning". In the coming years he warmed to the theme, "the airplane eye … now looks with alarm at the places where we live, the cities where it is our lot to be." That scene was an indictment, and the festering old capitals must be "extricated from their misery, come what may. Whole quarters of them must be destroyed and new cities made."

But it was the Italian futurists who inaugurated an artistic movement dedicated to the dynamism of the air. Aeropittura, an expression of Futurism's second generation, required "a profound contempt for detail and a need to synthesise and transfigure everything", and was epitomised by the painter-pilot Tullio Cralis's troubling image Nose-diving on the City (1939).

The posturing and rhetoric, as well as the destructive energy, was essentially fascist. The contrived words and synthetic images of these artists would come to haunt the postwar world once the terrifying aerial views of Coventry, Dresden and Hiroshima emerged, a reality far beyond even the wildest polemic of Le Corbusier or the futurists.

In the 1930s, preservationists fighting the remorseless spread of arterial roads and inchoate development often took to the air. John Moore, a contributor to Clough Williams-Ellis's campaigning Britain and the Beast (1937), took off in a hired Tiger Moth to describe how towns and even villages were "nibbling their way outwards … as haphazard and casually as caterpillars nibbling at a leaf … the mess creeping along the sides of all the roads that radiated from the towns".

Stationed with the RAF near Norwich just after the war, the maverick 19-year-old flying officer Ian Nairn put his Meteor to unusual use, flying over Norfolk, seeking out unsuspected or lost buildings by the architect John Soane. When he found an exquisite overlooked garden building lurking in shrubbery, he immediately wrote to tell the bemused inspectress of the Soane Museum, Dorothy Stroud. In 1950, as now, architectural historians were usually on the ground, if not deskbound.

Turning to architectural journalism, Nairn was the author of the famous polemic Outrage (an outspoken report on unhindered urban sprawl from Southampton to Carlisle, published in 1955) and continued to use his pilot's licence for some years, frequently setting off with the in-house photographer, embarking on research from the air. Many architects trained in the postwar years had done their national service in the RAF, which had stoked a professional passion for the aerial view. It took Nairn to sound a warning: "Everything looks fine from the pilot's seat. The most sterile of formal schemes looks superb from a thousand feet on a sunny morning … alas, we are not birds, and neither is architecture just an exercise in solid geometry."

Of his generation of architects, Norman Foster has remained the most passionate about flying. The creator of Stansted airport, for me his finest work, chose the Boeing 747, the Jumbo jet, as his "building" when he took part in the BBC2 series Building Sites in 1991. Describing the plane, already more than 20 years old, as "awe inspiring", he extolled its style and beauty, noting that this had never compromised its functionality. More recently, on his 75th birthday Foster realised he had, by then, piloted 75 different types of aircraft and was hatching a plan to display them, as models, in his chateau in Switzerland.

Foster's latest and most ambitious hymn to the aerial view is his design and promotion of an airport island, floating in the Thames estuary. So far it has been blessed by Boris Johnson, but few others.

In Hiraki Sawa's video Dwelling, showing at Compton Verney, the empty rooms of an unexceptional west London suburban house fill with diminutive planes: they lift off, circle and land on kitchen surfaces and mattresses, and use the passage as a flight path. The relentless rituals and conventions of the daily traffic through Heathrow have been subverted to other ends.

The aerial view tends to offer a glimpse of the unknown, or at least an unfamiliar version of reality. The land artist James Turrell, also a pilot, captures a portion of sky, and frames it within a custom-made structure or an aperture such as a volcanic crater. At the other extreme is the almost unimaginable, such as the glorious image of Orion's Nebulae, photographed from Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope, as distant from us as the immersion of an adventuring balloon in a lyrical cloudscape was for Turner. The aeroplane may have been a tool, but the sky is still the limit.

Flight and the Artistic Imagination is at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, until 30 September


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Written in stone: the UK's best historic towns

TV historian Dan Cruickshank picks beautiful towns around the UK noted for their historic architecture and the tales they tell of life down the centuries

Our historic towns are a precious cultural treasure. I've been exploring them for decades, extracting secrets about the ways people built, lived, toiled and took their pleasures through the generations.

A particular joy is the great diversity in the building materials and methods with which towns were built. Within a few miles the very nature of the settlements can change, depending on available materials. So you find brick in much of south-east England, timber in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, limestone in Somerset and the Cotswolds, sandstone in Cumberland, and granite in much of Cornwall and Scotland. Architectural and building styles also change, evolve and survive in a most charming way, to give each town its own vernacular character.

The most beautiful and best- preserved of our historic towns are well-known, and rightly so, but one of the wonders of these islands is that many fascinating places are taken for granted or overlooked. Ludlow in Shropshire is a perfect example: rising on a plateau above the river Teme on the border of England and Wales, it was a frontier town and fortified with wall, gates and a mighty castle.

It was also a market town, so it has a long wide market square and a "shambles" of alleys once home to victuallers and butchers. But best of all is its glorious mix of building materials and styles. You find 16th- and early-17th-century timber-framed structures with late Gothic or Renaissance details – such as the Feathers Inn – jostling with sedate brick-built Georgian houses. A stroll through the city gate and up Broad Street – lined with the mansions of long-forgotten rural grandees – is a great urban experience.

Frome, in Somerset, is very different. It is primarily a limestone town, its houses built of square ashlar blocks or coursed rubble rendered with lime. Its golden age was in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it flourished as a market and coaching town and a centre for the wool industry. The old weavers' quarter, called the Trinity, dates from the late 17th century and incorporates charming and pioneering industrial housing. It was almost swept away in the 1970s but, at the 11th hour, enough was saved to remind us of what had been, and give extra character to this most rewarding town.

As with all the best towns, the pleasure of a walk through Frome is far more than the sum of its parts. The spaces, the sustained streets, the sinuous forms, the vistas framed and enclosed, the surprise as corners are turned and amazing buildings or compositions emerge, offer great aesthetic thrills. There is Cheap Street – lined with early buildings, steep, paved and with a central gutter or "canal", once a common feature in our towns and cities – the steep and cobbled Catherine Hill, Stony Street and Gentle Street with their generous Georgian houses, and the astonishing temple-like early 18th-century Rook Street Chapel.

For urban brick at its best, explore Blandford Forum in Dorset. Here the town centre, destroyed by fire in 1731, was soon rebuilt in a splendid English baroque manner by equally splendidly named local builders the Bastard brothers. The bricks are of superb quality and colour, and the way they are laid and detailed displays superlative craftsmanship and deep sensibility. Add to this the Bastards' eye for baroque styling, particularly fashionable in the West Country: facades articulated with pilasters and dressed with details inspired by the work of Borromini in Rome.

It's all amazing, and organised around a splendid baroque parish church, also designed by the Bastards. This heady combination of grand church and swaggering houses gives this little town the architectural sophistication and, at moments, the presence of a great city.

For yet greater 18th-century architectural and metropolitan sophistication in a smallish town, visit Stamford in Lincolnshire. Here all is stone-built – to the highest quality – and baroque in spirit. The building types – theatre, assembly room and elegant shops as well as large terraced houses – act as reminders that provincial towns were once the centres of their own world, places of culture, sophistication, fashion and local pride.

A walk through the streets of Stamford today offers striking contrasts. There is wonderful 18th-century architecture – the memorable George Hotel on St Martin's offers a vivid vignette of the glorious age of coach travel – and there are the more commercial streets, now too often strewn with litter and lined with bland shopfronts and chain stores.

In Wales the coastal town of Tenby, with its nearly complete late-13th-century walls, was created as a fortified redoubt of English and Flemish settlers and merchants within Wales. Much survives of this period, but there is also evidence of the town's brief time as a resort for the early-19th-century novelty of therapeutic sea-bathing. So elegant walks look onto splendid beaches that were once part of the town's medieval defences and by the Regency period were picturesque attributes of a fashionable pleasure.

Among defensible towns, little can compete with Berwick-upon-Tweed, the long-disputed border town between Scotland and England. It has Britain's only complete set of 16th-century town defences, and within these the town is mostly Georgian, including a sprawling early-18th-century barracks designed in bold and masculine baroque manner by Sir John Vanbrugh's Office of Works.

One of my favourite towns, and one often overlooked, is Armagh in Northern Ireland. Its two cathedrals, both dedicated to St Patrick – one medieval and Protestant, the other mid-19th-century and Catholic – eye each other from high ground at either end of Armagh. Because of the cathedrals and its administrative importance, Armagh was made a city in 1994, one of the UK's smallest. Both cathedrals are remarkable – the Protestant one largely because of its glorious monuments, the Catholic one because of its astonishingly ornate and colourful Gothic Revival architecture.

But for me the great glory of Armagh is its domestic and civic architecture, much of it Georgian and the legacy of an enlightened late-18th-century Protestant cleric, Archbishop Richard Robinson. He gave the town a number of buildings of fine design that express admirable and civilised virtues, including a handsome neo-classical public library, built in 1771, and an observatory, built in 1790.

More visually thrilling are the streets: the park-like Mall, lined on one side with splendid late-Georgian houses, and, best of all, the terrace on Vicars Hill, by the Protestant cathedral. The house facades have no ostentatious detail: the doors are simply marked with blocks of stone, the windows no more than holes punched in the rendered wall. But what holes! In their proportions and relationships they reflect classical design stretching back to the Renaissance, Rome and beyond. In their humility and self-effacing beauty, they are emblematic of all that is best about UK architecture.

Dan Cruickshank presents BBC2's The Country House Revealed, and Brick by Brick: Rebuilding Our Past


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Weekend readers' pictures: Square

From houses to windows: your best pictures on this week's theme, Square





Lost Matisse inspires topless protest in Caracas

More than a dozen women wearing nothing but red genie pants demand return of art work to Venezuela

The guards in front of Caracas's Museum of Contemporary Art did not appear to feel too threatened by the protest taking place on their doorstep.

Early one recent morning more than a dozen women wearing nothing but red genie pants gathered at the doors of the institution from where Henri Matisse's Odalisque in Red Trousers went missing, to ask for the prompt return of the painting they were emulating.

The women were photographed by the Venezuelan artist Violette Bule in poses reminiscent of the 1925 post-impressionist work that was replaced with a fake over a decade ago.

"My main goal is to have the original returned but I also want to call attention to the irony behind the way the art market works," said Bule, who masterminded the ensemble. "After this scandal, the Odalisque will surely be worth much more," she added.

Though the painting is said to have been recovered by FBI agents in Miami, details of the operation or the exact whereabouts of the Odalisque – valued at well over $3m (£2m) – have yet to be revealed. Two weeks ago, the Venezuelan attorney general, Luisa Ortega, declared to the press that her two attempts to contact US officials regarding the painting had gone unanswered. No other announcements have been made since.

In the meantime, the mystery behind the theft of the semi-naked woman is leading some to doubt whether the oil painting allegedly offered to the undercover agents is not in fact another copy.

"I am fascinated about how art works are reproduced. At the end of the day, it turns out, that it doesn't really matter if you are looking at the original or at the fake," Bule said.

But for Wanda de Guébriant, who directs the Archive Matisse in France, telling the original from the fake is central to her role. "The FBI called me shortly after the operation happened. They said they'd call again but they haven't. Who knows?" said Guébriant. "Depending on who is involved, sometimes we never find out what happens," she added.

For Guillermo Barrios, an expert in museum studies, the irony is twofold. He said: "After all the attention this has garnered the fake too will worth a lot of money. It's become a cult figure".


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Reposted bygroupbuys groupbuys

Homes: bold in the bathroom

Forget the wall-to-wall white tiles. The best bathrooms mix paint, patterns, textures and vintage accessories, says Hannah Booth





August 16 2012

Unilever ends £4.4m sponsorship of Tate Modern's turbine hall

Search on for new sponsor while hall closes during construction of £250m extension at Bankside gallery

Unilever has ended its sponsorship of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall annual commission that has produced some of the London gallery's most memorable exhibitions.

Tino Sehgal's These Associations, the first live performance piece in the former Bankside power station, will be the final work in the Unilever-sponsored series, which has attracted almost 30 million visitors over the past dozen years.

The £4.4m sponsorship deal with Unilever, has led to 13 commissions, including Bruce Nauman's soundscapes, Olafur Eliasson's huge, yellow, artificial indoor sun The Weather Project in 2003-04, which saw visitors stretch out on the floor of the vast space to bask in its glow, and Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth in 2007, which featured a crack running the length of the hall. Some commissions have been aquired for the gallery's permanent collection, including the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds, although it bought only a tenth of the 100m porcelain seeds, all individually sculpted and painted by Chinese craft workers, shown in the 2010 exhibition.

The current show, in which participants stop and engage visitors with intimate, personal stories, closes on 28 October.

The Turbine Hall is due to temporarily close next year to enable construction of the gallery's Herzog & de Meuron-designed extension. The project, which is planned to cost £215m in total, is due for completion by 2016 – delayed from its previously projected opening of this year.

The first phase of the extension, the £90m performance art and video installation space called the Tanks, opened in July.

A spokeswoman for Tate said: "Due to the building works at Tate Modern, there will not be a Turbine Hall commission in 2013. We will start discussions with other companies about the sponsorship of the Turbine Hall commission from 2014 onwards.

Unilever, whose brands include Pot Noodle and PG Tips, will continue as a corporate member of Tate. But the company said it is planning a change of direction in its sponsorship programme, which is more focused on sustainability and the environment.

Other prominent Tate sponsors include Bloomberg, the business and financial news organisation, and, more controversially, the oil company BP. The Tate received £45.1m in public funding last year, and raised an additional £67.9m. Its 100,000 members contribute arbout £3m per year.


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August 15 2012

John Minihan's best photograph

'This is Samuel Beckett in a cafe in Paris. He set it all up. He wanted the picture to say: This is who I am'

I'd never heard of Samuel Beckett until he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1969. After that, I went to see some of his shows and quickly became fascinated by this Irishman living in Paris. In 1980, he came to London to direct Endgame. Sam was a recluse, with a real aversion to journalists, but an Irish porter at the Hyde Park Hotel gave me a tip-off that he was staying there. I left him a note and, when I called the hotel the next day, I got put straight through.

At our first meeting, I showed him pictures I'd taken at the wake of a woman from Athy, the Irish town where I grew up. She was called Katy Tyrrell and I took shots of her and her family for three days and two nights. Clocks were stopped, fires were put out, and the mirror was covered with a sheet. He was intrigued. Then I took several pictures of him. Sam probably thought this was the last he was going to see of me, but I don't operate like that. To my mind, a 16th of a second is nothing out of someone's life.

After that, I would photograph stagings of his plays, starring everyone from Patrick Stewart to Ian McKellen. Actors would appear for nothing, simply because the work was beautiful to perform. It was perfect for a black-and-white photographer, too. I sent Sam all the photos, and he would write me thank-you notes on postcards.

In 1985, just before his 80th birthday, Sam invited me over to Paris. We agreed to meet at his local cafe in Montparnasse at 3pm on a Sunday. I arrived at 2pm and found a secluded table by the window with good light. I can still see Sam walking towards me with a smile on his face – he knew exactly why I had chosen that spot.

We talked until 4.50pm. He mesmerised me. Daylight was quickly disappearing and I thought the moment had passed. Then Sam said: "John, would you like to take a photograph?" I got out my Rolleiflex and took three frames. They turned out better than I expected because Sam directed the whole scene. He wanted it to say: "This is who I am."

That night, I was so excited to have snapped Samuel Beckett in Paris, his chosen city, that I went out and got completely and utterly pissed.

CV

Born: Dublin, 1946.

Studied: London School of Printing and Graphic Arts.

Influences: Cecil Beaton, EO Hoppé, André Kertész.

High point: "As an apprentice on the Daily Mail, developing images and seeing them appear before my eyes."

Low point: "When I lose a subject I love, like Beckett."

Tip: "Research your subject. If it's a writer, read their books – it will tell you who they are."

• John Minihan is speaking on 27 August at the Happy Days Enniskillen Beckett festival, where his photographs are on display; 23-27 August.


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August 13 2012

Jerusalem exhibition lifts the veil on Hasidic Jewish culture

A World Apart Next Door exhibition at city's Israel Museum proves an unexpected hit, attracting secular and religious visitors

The crowd standing in front of the video projected on to the museum wall was unusual. A young woman with loose curls tumbling over her bare shoulders and clad in tiny denim shorts craned to get a better view; just behind her stood two ultra-Orthodox Jews in customary heavy black overcoats and wide-brimmed hats.

This sight, rarely seen in Jerusalem, was an illustration of the remarkable success of an exhibition examining the life and culture of the 250-year-old Hasidic Jewish movement. In a city where ultra-Orthodox Jews have become such a visible and influential presence, their way of life is a mystery to most outsiders.

A World Apart Next Door, the aptly titled exhibition at the Israel Museum, has become an unexpected success since opening two months ago. It is attracting round 1,300 visitors each day – big numbers for a city with a population about a tenth of London's. Half the visitors are from the ultra-Orthodox community.

"It's a phenomenon – a kind of a blockbuster. It's definitely exceeded expectations," said James Snyder, the museum's director. "For the ultra-Orthodox, it's the first opportunity to see their communal culture elevated and celebrated in a museum setting. For everyone else who sees members of the community on the streets, it's an opportunity to learn about a culture of which you can't help but be aware, but about which you know little."

The exhibition displays historic and contemporary photographs and artefacts, with separate sections focusing on the lives of men, women, children and rabbis. Clothing and headwear, some bought especially for the show and some borrowed from members of the community, are accompanied by explanations of different dress codes and requirements.

Most compelling are the videos, around which crowds gather throughout the day. Some, projected on to big display spaces on the walls, show religious gatherings and festivals, dancing and singing. An extraordinary wedding scene shows an apparently tense masked bride being led around a big arena by a dancing rabbi as male guests, dressed in customary monochrome, ecstatically and rhythmically sway and stomp. The women – forbidden from dancing in the presence of men – appear subdued.

Smaller screens show interviews with Hasidic Jews: a young mother explaining the role of women in the community; a hatmaker describing his trade and displaying his skill; a boy having his first ritual haircut at the age of three. All are presented with empathy, and many show not just devotion and reverence, but joy and exuberance.

Curator Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper, who spent 18 months assembling the exhibition after five years of research, said there was some co-operation from the community, but she also encountered anxiety and hesitation. "I spent a lot of time building relationships of trust," she said. Photographers and videographers were careful to observe religious and cultural mores.

She is delighted with the exhibition's reception. "I expected it to be a success, but not to this extent. I didn't dream of it. It has created dialogue between groups that otherwise would never meet."

The museum, aware that the ultra-Orthodox may be unwilling to visit the exhibition in mixed-sex groups or in the company of those outside their communities, ensured that rabbis knew that special after-hours group sessions could be arranged. "There has not been a single request," said Snyder. "It's extraordinary to see all these people side by side, and talking to one another."

He was also prepared for tensions between the ultra-Orthodox and other Jews to surface in the context of the exhibition. Many Israeli Jews, both secular and religious, are deeply resentful of the ultra-Orthodox communities over their exemption from compulsory military service. They also complain of an unfair economic and social burden, given that many ultra-Orthodox men spend their lives in full-time subsidised religious study while fathering very large families.

"These issues have not come up. The abrasion that exists on the street is not present at the museum," said Snyder.

The exhibition, which runs until 1 December, contributed to a record July for the museum, with 84,000 visitors. It is expected to travel abroad next year, following requests from museums in Europe and North America.


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August 12 2012

London 2012: Team arts go for gold

David Hockney fumed at the opening, Gillian Wearing captured Bolt, and Susan Philipsz mashed up some anthems . . . but what else happened when we challenged artists to respond to the Games?

Opening ceremony

David Hockney
The painter and committed smoker was inspired by a detail in Danny Boyle's spectacular that passed others by: Isambard Kingdom Brunel's unlit cigar – and this in spite of belching chimneys and live soldering. Hockney's iPad painting appeared in last week's g2, and read: "I noticed there was a lot of smoke from fireworks but none from Brunel's cigar. Does this mean that the BBC sees art as directive (unlit) and not reflective (lit)? Debate." People did (look up the comments).

Day three

Olafur Eliasson
The artist who put an artificial sun into Tate Modern's Turbine Hall used one of his own-design solar lamps to pay tribute to the Olympians' speed and dynamism. He wrote: "For me, the Games are about being together, about sharing attention and ideals. They are about feeling connected to people from all over the world, physical engagement and energy. Light generates action: it is as physical as anything you will see in the Olympics."

Day four

Mark Titchner
The Turner 2006 nominee picked up on the anxious mood of the early days, before the medal rush. One layer of text in his artwork quotes from the tabloid press ("Historic bronze for our brilliant gymnasts, but please can we have just one gold. Any sport"); the other layer pays tribute to Team GB's eventing horses: Lionheart, Opposition Buzz, High Kingdom, Miners Frolic, Imperial Cavalier ("Do they get medals, too?").

Day five

Richard Wentworth
The sculptor, curator and lecturer took a break from a camping trip (location undisclosed) to watch Bradley Wiggins take gold in the time trial. He wrote: "The 30-year habit of summer camping sets me apart from world events. Catching sight of televisions in bars is the kind of glimpsing I enjoy – images, languages and events all arbitrarily associated with time and displacement. The latch on this door will remind me of the warm domestic afternoon in early August 2012 when our friends invited us to watch London as a site of Olympic spectacle. An odd thing if you know the city well, but much stranger if you are camping a long way away."

Day six


Michael Rosen
The poet and former children's laureate performed his own new poem about gold medal anxiety – still an issue even at this stage, with Team GB behind France. "I love sport," Rosen said, "but become uneasy when it is overly shackled to nation, corporate grabbing and only-first-will-do-ism. All three and I'm nearly out of here. Imagine there's no countries, it's easy if you try." Here's an extract from his Olympic poem:

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis
Day 1 day 2 day 3 day 4
you was down I was on the floor
feeling such a failure
would I finish below Australia?
Then from the heavens came day 5
I discovered the reasons I am alive
better than when I met Christopher Biggins
Glover, Stanning and Bradley Wiggins.

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis

Then before I came to grief
came the moment of pure relief
as the afternoon began to unfold
I ... won ... double gold.
And yet I had cause to fret
there were silvers for me to regret
I gave the medal table a glance:
Horrors! ... Above Brand GB ... France!
• Read the poem in full

Day nine

Gillian Wearing
The Turner prize 2007 winner was in the Olympic stadium on Sunday 5 August as Usain Bolt crossed the 100m finish line, and took this image (right). She said: "I got into track and field through watching Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett's memorable races against each other at the Moscow 1980 Olympics. After that, I have never missed the opportunity to be a couch Olympics supporter. I was in row 48 of the stadium, quite high up, but just above the finishing line. This image is just after the 100m final. Both Chris Gatlin and Usain Bolt have cameras trained on them. In the corner of the image, Yohan Blake, the silver medal winner, congratulates Gatlin on his bronze."

Day 11

Jackie Kay
The poet and novelist read three new poems, a kind of writer's triathlon, inspired by the Brownlee brothers' medal success in that event, as well as Team GB performances in javelin and cycling. She wrote: "I was struck by the idea that sharing somebody's disappointment is as intense and intimate as sharing their success. I used to be a long-distance runner, a Scottish schoolgirl champion, until I broke my leg and didn't walk properly for a year and a half. So I was thinking about that, too. How quickly we move into our unfit futures!" Here's the final leg of her poem, Point of View:

Farewell Victoria Pendleton
It was a day of drama in the velodrome
As you watched agog, OMG,
As Trott took the omnium
Against the odds of a collapsed lung
Coming home, coming home.
Not one but two golds to her name.
You saw the photo of not so long ago
With young Laura and her Bradley hero.
Not long later, you watched Victoria
Who rode as close to her rival
As a synchronised swimmer
And all the drama was in the lane error
Where the line was crossed in the velodrome
As close as step to pets; palindromes,
The Mearest of lines, the closing line.

So, farewell Victoria dearest, you say.
You salute her. She runs her last lap, and bows.
The last time I'm going to go through that, she says.
And even her brave coach is in bits.
We knew it would end in tears, the TV says.
And they roll down your cheeks too – your armchair, you.
The greatest ever theatre – sport's soap opera.
Victoria. Oh Victoria. Collect your silver!
Your ordeal is over: take your seat on the throne.
Read the poem in full

Day 13

Cornelia Parker
The sculptor and installation artist took this image of her own living room, explaining: "I haven't been able to focus on art since the Olympics started, not quite managing to peel my eyes away from the TV. After too many days of viewing, gorged with patriotism and pride, I starting to behave oddly … too much information perhaps, too much success. Now I find myself draping my daughter's union flag over the TV in a feeble attempt to blot it out – but in the process I manage to cause a minor marital rift as my enraged husband misses a crucial bit of action."

Day 14

Wolfgang Tillmans
The artist and photographer, newly returned to London from Berlin, took this photograph of an Olympic traffic lane in east London. The lanes are now suspended but will come back into force for the start of the Paralympics.


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August 10 2012

Family life

Readers' favourite photographs, songs and recipes

Snapshot: Laura's wedding challenge

This is a picture of my daughter Laura and her husband Jamie about two hours after they had promised to love and cherish each other in 2006.

I am not keen on weddings. Having been happily unmarried to my partner Eileen for 33 years, I am not sure I see the point. The cheesy commercialism, extravagance and stupid cupidity surrounding many marriages these days does not endear me to the custom. So when my eldest daughter announced her intended nuptials, perhaps I was not as enthusiastic as I could have been; even less so when a small family affair escalated into an event for around 100 guests.

Fortunately, others involved saw it as an opportunity, a challenge even, to have a good old shindig without bankrupting families and friends alike. And so we all (even me) sat around a table with Maureen, Laura's mum, and made a plan.

It went like this: hire a beautiful but dilapidated castle on the banks of the River Tyne, usually used by youth groups, for three days. Spend a day cleaning and decorating it. Have enough food delivered from a supermarket to provide two breakfasts, lunch and an evening buffet. Prepare the food ourselves. Ask guests for a small contribution per night for basic dormitory accommodation and meals. Ask them to bring their own alcohol.

Book a local register office for the ceremony and use our own cars for transport. After the vows, arrange a mass game of football back at the castle. Do not hire a disco. The bride and groom will concoct a playlist.

Ask for volunteers among family and friends to help in the organisation.

What could go wrong? Er … that might have required another, much longer list! Fortunately, though, we pulled it off.

The football game was not that incongruous because the bride and groom had met while he was coach of her football team, who were all guests. One of my personal highlights was sneaking away from kitchen duties (briefly) to join in the football just long enough to nod in a cheeky far-post header. Other games, scenic riverside walks and fishing were available for footyphobes. Asking for help was also a masterstroke. People I had never met were clamouring to join in our collective effort.

At times we thought we had taken on too much, especially with the food, but when the weekend was over and the bleary-eyed guests made their various ways home, there was a definite feeling that we had all shared in something special, something personal, getting to know people in a way that wouldn't have happened at a "normal" wedding.

Oh, and I almost forgot, the last ingredient: a warm September weekend with cerulean skies, after a week of rain. Perfect. Anthony Peacock

Playlist: Now I can hear what I didn't before

Wow by Kate Bush

"Ooh, yeah, you're amazing! / We think you're incredible"

This song reminds me of visiting Crystal Palace park in south London during my early years. My childhood memories are of outings to parks and museums, and we often went to Crystal Palace park, with its fake dinosaurs and open spaces for riding bikes.  

My parents had a blue Vauxhall Astra estate and there was always a tape playing in it. Kate Bush is the soundtrack to my early childhood in the mid- to late 80s and this must be one of my earliest memories – in the car, staring out of the window at the tall south London terraces of Norwood and Beulah Hill while Kate shrieked in the background.

I have started listening to Kate Bush again and the memories come hurtling through time. The lyrics of Wow are about being "alone on the stage", the lone actor in your own story, the selfishness of the human condition.  

Music is a significant part of my life and listening to this again is also an exercise in reinterpretation. At four or five, I just heard the tune, but now that I'm 30 I hear the meaning of the words.   Frances Hawkins

We love to eat: Granny's chocolate pudding

Ingredients

2 tbsp cornflour

1 dessertspoonful cocoa

1 dessertspoonful sugar

1 pint full-fat milk

Place the cornflour, cocoa and sugar in a saucepan and add the cold milk a little at a time, stirring until it blends. When all the milk is added, put the pan on a medium heat. Stir slowly and continuously until the sauce thickens smoothly, making sure it doesn't catch on the bottom. As soon it starts to boil, take off the heat and pour into bowls. On a cold evening, eat straight away, like thick, hot chocolate, or wait until it cools and a delicious thick, rubbery skin appears on top.

Granny used to make this for my sister and me when we were children. We adored staying at her little cottage in a bleak coal-mining valley in County Durham. As Mum drove us over, we would watch for the smoke from her chimney and then chant, "I can see Granny's house! I can see Granny's house!" all the way down the fell until we arrived.

Her house was a ramshackle treasure trove of adventures. Mum despaired at the fact that she had no fridge, there were cobwebs in the larder, and she never brushed our hair, but my sister and I loved the wildness of it.

At Granny's house, preparing lunch involved a scramble up the bank to "South America" to dig up potatoes. Bread was toasted on a fork in front of the fire while we guzzled "pink drink", a homemade elderflower brew, which, looking back at the increased zest it gave us for handstands in the garden, must have had a bit of a poke to it.

I love to remember my special Granny by making her chocolate pudding for my small children now. These days you can buy a hundred varieties of chocolate pudding from the supermarket, but there is something special about putting a few store-cupboard ingredients together to make a simple teatime treat. Holly McEnaney

We'd love to hear your stories

We will pay £25 for every Letter to, Playlist, Snapshot or We love to eat we publish. Write to Family Life, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or email family@guardian.co.uk. Please include your address and phone number


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Exhibitionist: The week's art shows in pictures

From relationships with the urban landscape in Walsall to the Clays Lane Live Archive in London, find out what's happening in art around the country





Edinburgh festival: art comes out of the gallery

A haunting sonic work, a pub crawl and films projected on to the walls of a department store – this year visual art at the Edinburgh festival is coming into the open. Karen Wright reports

In past years, the visual arts have always appeared to take a back seat during the Edinburgh international festival. Perhaps it seemed impossible to compete with the cacophony of the main festival, the fringe and the book festival. Sorcha Carey, director of the art festival, has decided to redress the balance with Festival Promenade, a series of works intended to bring the visual arts out of the galleries and into the places where people will be gathering for events. This "magical playground" will feature commissions allowing the artist "to create works that interrogate their spaces". To quote one participating artist, Anthony Schrag, "art is the thing that allows us to ask interesting questions about your life".

Carey's first commission as director of the arts festival in 2011 was a permanent "legacy" installation, Martin Creed's Work number 1059. The work, 104 outdoor steps clad in differently coloured marbles, accompanied Creed's retrospective show at the Fruitmarket Gallery. This year, with a commissioning budget of £250,000, she has turned away from permanent installations and chosen instead to commission a daring set of new interactive works, declaring that the choice is "unabashedly about showcasing Scottish artists". While the ambitious list includes some well-known artists, including Susan Philipsz, the 2010 Turner prize winner, and Callum Innes, a 1995 Turner prize nominee, it also embraces recent graduates of Scotland's art schools.

Carey says her chief aim is "to establish the delicate but important balance between the permanent and temporary in this massive World Heritage Site". I first met her during the opening week of dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, where she introduced me to Philipsz, whose Study for Strings, a sound piece responding to the history of the Hauptbahnhof, was one of the most affecting works for many visitors.

Philipsz confessed that when she made her first site visit to Edinburgh she did not really know the city. As a child growing up in a large Catholic family in Glasgow, she spent little time in Edinburgh, later studying in Belfast and New York and eventually settling in Berlin. She says her inspiration for Timeline, her Edinburgh work, was the spectacular view spread out below Nelson's Monument, and the tradition of the daily one o'clock gun in Edinburgh Castle, which was originally connected by a mile-long cable to the ball-drop on Cable Hill for sailors at sea to set their chronometers.

Philipsz's work will replace the long-removed cable, her sung tripartite chord being taken down the hill through seven individual speakers in a kind of domino effect. The work is a homage to Edinburgh resident John Robinson, who invented the siren, and to the sirens from Homer's Odyssey who lured sailors on to the rocks with the devastating beauty of their sound. Philipsz plays me the chord, simple and pure, which sounds to her, she says, "somewhat like a train". Its magic in Edinburgh will be its fleetingness, under a minute in all, and the mystery of where the sound is coming from.

Philipsz's sound trajectory will finish near the gun itself, in the gardens beneath the castle, where Edinburgh College of Art graduate Emily Speed will stage a one-off performance of Human Castle. The work will be composed of 10 "acro-balancers" in cardboard costumes, counterbalancing to form a castle-like shape before dismounting. Carey observes that Speed "draws out fragility in something that we often think of as solid and immovable by making them animate".

This is Speed's first performance back in Edinburgh, having left the city in 2002 to live and work in Japan before settling in Liverpool, and will be the first time she has not taken part. Instead she will assume the role of director: "It's quite strange to lose control of the work," she says. "It's terrifying but exciting working with the acrobats and I know that people will ask if it is acrobatics or a piece of art."

She describes the commission as "an act of faith", saying Carey "is not scared to take risks." When I speak to Speed she is in the midst of making the costumes. "I won't know if it works until they do it," she says. "I am asking the acrobats to do something they have never done before: counterbalance." There will be only one performance lasting a few minutes, but it will be filmed and screened throughout the festival.

In her determination to integrate the programme into the city, Carey identified Rose Street, a short road dominated at one junction by a brutish modernist BHS, as an ideal location for works. The Rose Street film programme will include Speed's film and will show on small screens in shop windows along the street in daylight, while at night films will be screened on BHS's large external wall.

Rose Street will also be the location for Kevin Harman's work 24/7. Carey first saw the work of Edinburgh native Harman in his degree show. She says his work is "engaging people about the world and the art, 24/7," and her ambitions for the festival as a whole seem to be summed up in the way she describes his piece as a "facilitation of dialogue".

Harman stole 210 of his neighbours' doormats from three enormous tenement buildings, leaving notes that they could be reclaimed at his degree show, where they were arranged as a giant work of art. The work sought to bring the community together in an unexpected way. Harman says he "comes to an environment open to the ideas of the viewer". He chooses not to talk about details of his festival project, saying: "If I think too much about the project it becomes too contrived."

The contribution of artist Anthony Schrag – a pub crawl tour – is bound to be popular. It too will take place on Rose Street and is part of Carey's aim to "encourage people to broaden their idea of what art can be". Although Schrag is currently based in the city, he is billed as the Edinburgh "Tourist in Residence", reflecting his interest in the changing landscape of his beloved city. He will take small groups around Edinburgh on unusual outings ranging from an early morning walk to a blindfold tour and a communal nap in a park, as well as the Rose Street pub crawl. Although the majority of Schrag's work has been produced outside the gallery context, he does not see himself as a performance artist. He observes that "unlike in performance art, the viewer takes equal part in the creation of the work". Rather than the city's beauty spots, his tours will explore the dark alleyways, turning away from the idea that "art looks at beautiful things".

Of all the artists participating in Festival Promenade, Callum Innes, an Edinburgh resident who shows with a local gallery, could be called the most traditional, with his paintings unashamedly exploring pure abstraction. But for the first time, he works here in light: in his installation The Regent Bridge, two "paintings" made of light will change colour with random variations. He says he wanted to "bring attention and to re-emphasise" the structure and beauty of the Regent Bridge. "This is such a dark part of Edinburgh, behind the station, that the changes have to be quick. It's a work of art, not a Georgian project," he says firmly. Like many others, Innes felt that the "festival has always deserved a good visual arts festival", so he donated his fee and says nervously, as he has not seen the finished work yet, "it challenged me and works for the city".

The Glasgow-based artist Andrew Miller provides the seeming centre of the installations with The Waiting Place, a temporary structure that will provide shelter from the elements, a starting point for Schrag's tours, and information including artist Peter Arkle's fantastical yet useful map of the festival. Miller has been exploring the interplay between design and art for years. I tell him that his piece seems the most imposing, in a sense, and he laughs. "It's hard to find – you have to go off the path and go into the trees, and after the festival it will disappear unless someone comes and decides to buy it and they have both space and a tree to put it round." I point out how different this seems from the more grandiose Serpentine Pavilions. Miller admits that he had a "quite generous budget, but the structure, while it is temporary, is robust. This is a cross between an Alvar Aalto summerhouse and a Trinidadian shack." The Waiting Place appears to be more of a whimsical summerhouse, and is appropriately named after a line from Dr Seuss: it offers a space "in which you're welcome to simply enjoy the act of waiting for something to happen". Miller says "it will keep you dry, but it is well ventilated deliberately, as it is about looking out. People animate it."

In Edinburgh, Carey is channelling artists' energy to act outside the cossetted space of the white cube. But if interactive work is not your thing, there are promising shows of Dieter Roth, Philip Guston, John Bellany and the blockbuster Picasso and Modern British Art, recently at Tate Britain, in Edinburgh museums. For me, though, I imagine Susan Philipsz's haunting sounds will hang in the air long after the festival, encouraging tourists to retrace the mile-long journey of her lost chord. After all, the definition of "promenade" is to walk with pleasure.

Edinburgh Art festival runs until 2 September www.edinburghartfestival.com


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Sumo wrestlers, by Reed Young – in pictures

Once they leave the sport, many sumos struggle to adapt to life outside the stable, where every aspect of their daily routine is organised for them





Weekend readers' pictures: Getaways

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August 09 2012

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – review

A documentary reveals the remarkable Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to be a mysterious, opaque figure, but there's no denying the power of his actions

The ghosts of Tiananmen Square 1989, and maybe Grosvenor Square 1968, are revived in this engrossing documentary by Alison Klayman about Chinese artist and democracy campaigner Ai Weiwei, who became widely known in the UK with the spectacular Sunflower Seeds installation at Tate Modern in 2010. For years, until the Chinese government chillingly decided on the demolition of his Shanghai studio and an 81-day detention without trial in 2011, ostensibly on tax charges, Ai Weiwei had seemed almost immune to state harassment, due to his chutzpah, his international fame and the very fact he was an artist. The authorities perhaps believed – to paraphrase Auden's line about poetry – that conceptual art makes nothing happen. But his art was making a lot happen: it was brilliantly insisting on creativity and freedom, and made compelling political statements – perhaps chiefly his Citizen's Investigation into the Sichuan earthquake. This was simply a moving and monumental list of people killed in 2008 by the collapse of shoddy and unsafe government buildings; the list is an ongoing, continuously updated work in progress. Part artwork, part memorial, part journalistic campaign, it was conceived in defiant riposte to the authorities who refused to release clear figures. Ai Weiwei himself is a rather mysterious, opaque figure, but utterly confident and unafraid of state bullies. He is heroic.

Rating: 4/5


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August 08 2012

TV review: A History of Art in Three Colours

Not sure about white being the darkest colour, but I loved James Fox's stories of Winckelmann and Whistler

You know you're getting old when art historians start looking young. Thank God James Fox actually is. For all his accomplishments and authority, he's only 30 (another sign that you're getting old is when 60-year-olds appear youthful).

A History of Art in Three Colours (BBC4) finishes with white. I am innately suspicious of attempts by art history programmes to find a tickling theme. I feel like I'm being sucked into the meeting at which it was decided that telling a story in any sensible way – chronologically, for instance, or by movement, or by broad historical context, or by technique – was way too obvious. Wouldn't it be more interesting to find four painters who all slept with the same person, or nine sculptors who were all missing a thumb? Then before you know it, the presenter is dressing up as a hooker or strapping down his own thumb to show you how hard it is to handle stone with only four fingers, and it's demonstrative and patronising, a little bit like watching Nina and the Neurons on CBeebies, which is at least intended for the under-fives.

But there is another way to do things, it turns out, whether with the collusion of the producers or by slipping it under the wire, I know not. Fox principally uses the colour to tell some stories that interest him. Pretty well everything interests him, and pretty well everything he says is interesting.

He makes a decent stab, at the very start, to thread his tales together, so that they coagulate into a solid notion: that white "might just be the darkest colour of them all," that it has been used over centuries to "control and conquer". But I wasn't buying it. Sure, sometimes it's dark; sometimes it isn't. There was no need to overplay this hand, but anyway, that is a minor complaint.

We start at the Elgin marbles, whose story is told with admirable pace and drama: "In 1938, the director of the British Museum was on his evening rounds. Everything seemed to be in order, but a disturbing incident had been taking place right beneath his feet." I'm afraid I cannot tell you whether the suspense came from artful pausing, or just a nice, posh, HG Wells, Radio 4, understatedly-serious, we-are-now-at-war-with-Germany accent. I simply surrendered to its message: something really exciting is just about to happen!

In fact, the disturbing incident was quite subtle. People were cleaning – for which read ruining – the marbles, having become obsessed with the idea that white was their perfect colour. (In fact, the marbles started off painted many colours.) The idea, if you are prepared to trace it back 221 years, commenced with the birth of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, son of a humble something or other who – being gay and favouring tight leather trousers – naturally yearned for the big city, where he saw a room full of sculptures, "of all shapes and sizes," Fox says, as the camera zooms in on a moustache. "There was plenty to feast his eyes on. Buttocks aplenty, ripped, muscular torsos and even the odd genital. They were the most wonderful objects Winckelmann had ever seen," Fox tells us.

Thus, the world's first Hellenist was made, and he was the one who wanted everything white. I guess the needling pop-psychological subtext – that Winckelmann elided the colour of the marbles with the colour of purity in a bid to ratify his sexual awakening – that bit you can take or leave. The trajectory itself is fascinating, however: how one version of beauty can come to dominate a huge swathe of culture, for centuries, by the sheer force of one man's will.

Fox goes on to do a great job on Whistler, who uses white to "mock Victorian taste" by the subtle measure of painting a series of women in white. The scandal and bafflement were the talk of the town. Why was this one standing on a bear? Is she married? Why does she look so unhappy? (I can't believe this would have raised too many questions). Whistler underlined this by wearing white trousers around town. If only they'd had blogs in those days, someone could have done lookatmyfuckingwhitetrousers and divided them into sailor, mental health nurse and Whistlerite (that will only make sense if you look at this website, but you won't regret it.

It was interesting, memorable, thought-provoking and lingering.


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