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August 18 2012

The future of the Olympic Park - in pictures

The London Legacy Development Corporation plans to build 8,000 new homes at the Olympic Park in Stratford. Here's how it might look in 20 years





How the Olympics will shape the future of east London

With plans to build 8,000 new homes at the Olympic Park over the next two decades, Stratford's future depends on a sympathetic approach to regeneration…

Long, long ago, I sat in a nondescript room with an official leading what was then a grand government project to regenerate a huge area called the Thames Gateway. Her organisation, she said, was supporting London's Olympic bid because it was almost impossible to make anything happen in the Thames Gateway, which extended from east London through south Essex and north Kent to the sea, and only the Games could change this.

She was in this position because even longer ago, in the John Major era, the relevant minister, Michael Heseltine, had made a speech christening the Thames Gateway and announcing that Something Must Be Done. So the vast effort of the Olympics had to be enlisted to make some sense of a politician's figure of speech. It was and is a seriously arse-about-face way of doing a bit of regeneration.

Over the next 20 years it is hoped to build 8,000 homes around the Olympic Park, in addition to the 2,800 already created by the athletes' village, and to create 8,000 jobs – that is, to make something like a middle-sized market town. In fairness, one should add the less tangible but real benefit of a feelgood factor to a wider area of east London. To achieve all this will have required not only the Olympic billions, but also investment in public transport in Stratford unmatched anywhere else in the country, an additional grant of £290m to be spent on legacy, and more hundreds of millions of public money spent acquiring land. Some of the public expenditure will be paid back as this land is developed, but there are no obligations as to how much or when.

But never mind. Not many people now care that Olympic claims for boosting business, tourism and regeneration are tenuous. Opinion polls show that most people in Britain think that £9bn or so is not too much to pay just for the national buzz and joy that came with the Games. So the question is: how can this place so extraordinarily blessed with aspiration and funding be as great as, in theory, it should be?

The new homes and neighbourhoods could be beautiful and desirable places that would create new models and set new standards for British house building. The park and venues, such as the Aquatics Centre and the Velodrome, could be genuinely public assets, of easy access to all.

Most critically all this has to be done in such a way that the new wonderland doesn't turn its back on its surroundings but genuinely connects with them. Early in the Olympic project, the neighbouring areas were seen as destitute wastelands  be erased or shut out, and the main weakness of what has already been built is its lumpiness – the tendency of elements such as the Westfield shopping centre and the athletes' village to turn their back. It would be relatively easy, but a complete failure, to make an exclusive residential idyll here.

At the moment, hopeful signs are emitting from the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), the body in charge. Its new chairman, Daniel Moylan, declares that he wants the Olympic Park and its surroundings to be "a very desirable area and we would like as many people as possible to live there". He wants alternatives to "the limited range of standardised products" that large house-building companies tend to produce. He wants property to rent as well as buy, and homes built by their owners. He challenges the common journalistic denigration of Stratford: "This place is not a dump. There are lots of people who are entrepreneurial and enthusiastic."

Sensible-sounding management arrangements have been set up for the park and for venues such as the Velodrome, and the Legacy Corporation swears blind that these will not be over-exploited in order to turn a profit. The park, it says, will be open to absolutely everyone, which presumably includes those who might be a bit annoying or unsightly and not good for property values. The LLDC is rightly proud that, compared with previous Olympic cities, London's planning for the future of the site is far advanced, and it has set up an impressive quality review panel to oversee the design of whatever is built.

The LLDC has produced a masterplan for the new neighbourhoods that suggests a large proportion of family houses arranged around pleasing open spaces, and with an overall coherence that is rare in regeneration projects. It is planning 29 playgrounds and has made impressive declarations of principle in relation to sustainability, accessibility and design.

In the scruffy fringes of the park there has been a change in attitude. Where earlier plans saw them as places to be obliterated by blocks of flats, the idea now is to make the most of what is already there, such as the artists' studios and small businesses and unexpected bits of canal and workshop. Muf architecture/art, a design practice that has helped lead this change of attitude, is now involved in the first of the new residential neighbourhoods, which is a good sign. "Obliteration is not in our lexicon," declares Moylan.

They still have some headaches, most notably the future of the stadium. But the real question is whether the current high ambitions can survive the pressures that will come to bear. How inclusive can the new developments be, for example, when changes to housing benefit are likely to push people out of places like this? How kindly will the big house-building companies take to alternative models to their preferred way of doing things? What if progress is seen to be going too slowly and pressure grows for quick results? It's too early to say. For now we can only observe that the masters of Olympic legacy are saying the right things, and wish them good luck.


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David Bowie: the mannequin who fell to earth

The V&A plans to use David Bowie's exotic costumes to chart his life and times in an exhibition next year

David Bowie is to part-curate an exhibition of his life and work told primarily through his extravagant costumes at the Victoria and Albert museum next year.

The show will chart his rise to cult rock star status from his early years in Brixton, south London, using his collection of outfits to illustrate his constantly changing identity.

Details about the clothes are being kept under wraps until next month's official announcement of the show, but the V&A's director confirmed to the Observer that Bowie is involved in selecting exhibits. Many of the flamboyant outfits worn by Bowie in his years as a pioneer of rock style will come from his own collection.

The exhibition is expected to draw large numbers of visitors. However, some critics lament what they see as a further descent of a serious museum into the cult of celebrity.

Bowie's look was inseparable from his sound. The 65-year-old singer and actor, who merged rock and theatre with his androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, is synonymous with futuristic costumes and outlandish makeup, from space-samurai outfits to white satin kimonos, flame-red hair to eye-liner.

He achieved wide popularity with his psychedelic rock single Space Oddity, coinciding with the first moon landing, and became an international star with albums such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. His films include The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Speaking to the Observer, Bowie's biographer Paul Trynka said that Bowie was at the forefront of fashion, recreating his own image with the aid of cutting-edge designers.

Seeing the costumes close-up would be amazing, he said. "Although he's an artist who… doesn't tend to revisit his own past, there's a kind of contradiction in that he's collected his pieces for over two decades, lots of them historic and iconic, not just for Bowie fans but for popular fashion… He's always had a public presentation in mind." Costumes that Trynka expects to be included in the exhibition at the V&A include the "bunny leotard" created by Kansai Yamamoto, one of the avant-garde designers whose potential was spotted by Bowie.

"That was quite groundbreaking because Yamamoto wasn't known in the UK," Trynka said. "Although other pop stars had flirted with high fashion, [Bowie] was the first one to use it as an integral part of his look. He then went on to even more outrageous Yamamoto designs. There's a fantastic one with hugely-inflated legs … and I suspect that will be there … [It] is engagingly ludicrous. Nobody had that effrontery to wear those kinds of outfits before."

Among other likely highlights, he said, are homemade catsuits created by the late Freddi Buretti, a designer who described himself as a "seamstress".

Martin Roth, the V&A's director, said: "Bowie is incomparable. No one has inspired the whole world not only in terms of music but also arts, fashion and style. He created a vision of individualism for an entire generation."

Others are less impressed, particularly following the V&A's 2007 exhibition dedicated to Kylie Minogue, which included her dungarees from the Australian soap Neighbours. Critics felt that it was unworthy of a museum dedicated to showcasing the finest arts and crafts.

The Bowie show has been condemned by Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, the museums watchdog: "The museum world is losing the plot. They're just crazed about numbers at any cost… Obviously you could fill the V&A every day of the week if you had a pop concert or a bunch of celebs."

Noting that the V&A also covers fashion, he added: "Fashion is a bigger thing… than the cult of one man. If Bowie, why not Liberace? It's about the cult of celebrity, particularly youth." Bowie, he added, did not fit the museum's remit for recording significant fashion.

The V&A is of course tapping into a demand, but whether a cultural museum should be meeting it is another matter. The Kylie Minogue exhibition attracted 271,000 visitors and was one of the museum's most popular shows.

Trynka, who wrote the Bowie biography Starman, said: "Bowie epitomises Britain's influence on fashion and textiles. He represents the best of it. Kylie is a wonderful pop icon, but she hasn't had a lasting effect on popular culture outside of her fanbase."

Today Bowie himself remains elusive. He has not toured since 2006, and turns down requests to appear in public – most recently, the Olympic Games closing ceremony, although his song Fashion was used.

There have been reports of ill-health. Roth said: "[People] try to build a story around him. There's a lot of gossip."

Bowie's spokesman declined to comment.


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August 17 2012

At the age of 37, you needn't start dressing like J*r*my Cl*rks*n | Charlie Porter

Men may lose interest in fashion in their late 30s, but a sense of personal style is another matter

Pity poor men. It has long been a curiosity why, after a certain age, men appear to lose interest in fashion. It is a conversation which turns menswear into a forum for mockery: those that have gone to seed are scorned for the inadequacies of their appearance, while those that still make an effort are goaded for vanity or self-importance. A recent survey has made this mockery specific: it has found that the age at which men lose an interest in fashion is 37. I am 38. Poor me.

Fashion is about identity. For many men, identity is something that matters most in their years of prolonged adolescence, from their teenage years into their 20s, even early 30s. It's especially true for men whose adolescence occurred pre-internet, before social media overtook fashion as a means to express character. In the late 20th century, clothing played a primal role in youthful identity, especially with the obstinacy of punk, the baggy of acid house or even the sharpness of mod that is still so important to 32-year-old Bradley Wiggins.

In their late 30s, the need for identity in men seems to wane, overridden by the individual male's growing responsibilities or life-changes: parenthood, employment or unemployment, changes in body-shape and health. The identity of adolescence goes. Fashion goes with it.

When fashion goes, what seems to remain for men are those unprintable words: "J*r*my" and "Cl*rks*n". Of course what no one realises in this is that Cl*rks*n uses his non-identity as an identity in itself. He makes great profit from dressing badly. It is his uniform for hammy belligerence. Cl*rks*n symbolises the male menopause as a return to adolescence. Sadly, it is an adolescence stripped of its need for style and difference. The Cl*rks*n look allows men to shift from identity to non-identity as they head towards the grave.

But this is not always the case. Most of my contemporaries not working in fashion still seem alert about their appearance. As the identity of adolescence has waned for me, what has become important is how I appear to myself. I do not mean by this self-image. As I'm typing this, I can see in my lower field of vision the white shirt I'm wearing with its blue and orange polka dots. I love it being part of my visual experience. I don't care if I look daft. As long as I like it, I'm happy.

There are obvious male celebrities over the age of 37 who could be listed now as examples of middle-aged male style, but these are red herrings, usually actors involved in profiting from image to further their career. Celebrity fashion is something separate from real-life fashion, and citing male celebrities as examples of how to dress is a futile, empty exercise.

Much more interesting to cite examples of men who retain personal style for whatever reason of their own:

Chris Dercon, the new director of Tate Modern, is an extraordinarily dapper man, now in his 50s. He has a particular way with wearing jackets and coats with an upturned collar.

Seventy-five-year-old David Hockney has long dressed his body in the colour that is placed on his canvases, or more recently selected on his iPad.

The 40-year-old Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant came to his profession from his love of clothing and his continuing interest in how garments are made. And it is clear from the severity of 53-year-old Steven Patrick Morrissey's obsessions that he would have dressed in his chosen manner even if he'd not become globally known by his surname.

Examples of such personal style go deep into the past. The recent male fondness for Breton striped sweaters always makes me think of Pablo Picasso. The multidiscipline of Jean Cocteau extended to the drama of his clothing. And examples of male style beyond the age of 37 will only increase in the future. Today's post-internet male adolescents take looking good for granted, their appearance ever Instagram-ready. Cl*rks*n already feels antiquated. When post-internet adolescents reach maturity, he will have been an aberration.


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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 13 2012

Fitzwilliam Museum appeals for £3.9m to buy Poussin masterpiece

Cambridge museum has until November to buy Extreme Unction, one of a series on the sacraments by 17th-century old master

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has launched a £3.9m appeal to buy a sombre masterpiece by Poussin with a tangled recent history that belies its calm grandeur.

The painting, Extreme Unction, is from a famous series depicting the seven sacraments by the 17th-century French artist, which has been in an aristocratic English collection for more than two centuries, but has been on and off the market in recent years.

This one is available as a tax deal with the government, in lieu of the inheritance tax owed by the trustees of the Dukes of Rutland from the sale of another painting in the series to the United States last year.

Timothy Potts, the director of the Fitzwilliam, said securing the work for Cambridge would be its most significant old master acquisition in a century. It would be a parting coup for Potts, who leaves next month to take over as director at the Getty museum in California, the wealthiest art museum in the world.

The Art Fund charity – its pockets almost emptied by the £850,000 it gave the university museum's great rival, the Ashmolean in Oxford, to buy a Manet – is giving £100,000. It is also appealing to all its members and supporters to back the appeal for a painting seen as a landmark in art history that has influenced generations of later artists.

When the seven paintings first came to England in the 18th century, Joshua Reynolds, then president of the Royal Academy – where George III came to see them – said: "I think upon the whole that this must be considered as the greatest work of Poussin, who was certainly one of the greatest painters that ever lived."

Poussin regarded Extreme Unction – the ashen figure of a man on his deathbed being anointed with oil, the final sacrament for a Christian – as one of his greatest. He wrote to his friend Fréart de Chantelou, who commissioned a second series, that the subject was "worthy of an Apelles", the most famous Greek painter of antiquity.

The paintings were bought by the Dukes of Rutland in 1785. One was destroyed in a fire at Belvoir Castle in the 19th century, and another was sold to the National Gallery in Washington in the early 20th century. The remaining five were on display for several years at the National Gallery in London.

Their sale was announced, the gallery began fundraising, and then the sale was cancelled. By the time the sale was confirmed again, the gallery was in the throes of fundraising to purchase, with the National Gallery in Scotland, the great Titian paintings – currently the subject of Metamorphosis, a multimedia arts project – and had no hope of raising the money to buy the Poussins as well. Ordination was duly sold last year to the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas for $24.3m (£15.5m).

Extreme Unction is regarded as of such outstanding importance that the government has accepted it in lieu of the tax owed on the American sale, but since it is valued at £14m, more than the tax owed, the Fitzwilliam has to raise the balance.

The future of the remaining three paintings in the series – Eucharist, Confirmation and Marriage – has not been announced.

The painting is already on display, free, at the Fitzwilliam. Potts called it "a national and international treasure" which would prove a "destination painting", drawing many new visitors to the museum. The museum has until November to raise the money.


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August 10 2012

Manchester gets its own Lomo Wall

Thousands of snaps of Manchester contributed by more than 500 local people create the world's greatest city (equal with Leeds) in miniature. But quite a big miniature. Helen Nugent tells more

Enthusiasts have built them across the world. From London to Beijing, Cologne to New York, LomoWalls have inspired people from all walks of life. And now Manchester has one.

Part exhibition, part experience, a LomoWall is a colourful montage of thousands of analogue snapshots or, as experts would have it, Lomographs. In this instance, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Much like an impressionist painting, Manchester's newest mosaic takes on a different meaning depending on the distance from which you view it. Visitors to the 30m x 3m long artwork, mounted on a concrete wall, can stand up close or far away, each perspective is unique.

The Lomograph, erected on Tariff Street in the Piccadilly basin area of the city, reflects Manchester's industrial heritage. Containing 14,000 individual Lomographs, it is the world's first permanent LomoWall and the only LomoWall to be built in the open air this year.

The wall has been created by Lomography, a global organisation dedicated to using experimental and creative snapshot analogue photography. Two Lomography fans, Tom Ambrose, a University of Manchester student, and Monica Sagar, an Arden School of Theatre graduate and native Mancunian, have spent three weeks with the Lomography UK team carefully creating the masterpiece using over 1,000 different images of Manchester submitted by more than 500 people.
Linda Scott, marketing manager at Lomography UK, says:

Lomography celebrates its 20th birthday this year and this is a great way to mark it and the ideal location for our first permanent LomoWall. Once a textile district, now inhabited by the culturally curious, this is the 'hip' part of Manchester city centre. The area is full of design agencies, trendy music venues, bars, cafes, a craft centre and fashion boutiques and is perfectly suited to the dynamic visual delights of a local LomoWall from Lomography. The street art landscape that is developing in Manchester currently is totally inspiring to us at Lomography and the ethos behind this sits with both our ideas and those of our community. We are absolutely delighted to have this first permanent LomoWall exhibition hosted by CityCo and TCS in the Piccadilly Basin.

The project is part of the 2012 Canal Festival. Those responsible for the LomoWall initiative include the Piccadilly Partnership, CityCo, Manchester's city centre management company, and Town Centre Securities, owners of Piccadilly Basin and previous owners of the Rochdale canal.

Alexandra King, director of Piccadilly Partnership, says:

This is a new landmark on the Northern Quarter landscape, here in the heart of the Piccadilly Basin. The LomoWall adds to the street art scene in this part of the city centre and will become a visitor attraction in its own right. We are very proud to host it and to have the world's first permanent LomoWall is a real honour. It's a welcome addition to the urban landscape.

Richard Lewis, property director for Town Centre Securities who own the wall, adds:

We're really pleased to be part of this project. The LomoWall creates a fascinating piece of public art which not only enhances the area but helps put Piccadilly Basin on the map. The industrial heritage theme is very fitting and acknowledges the historical importance of this part of the city centre. In recent years TCS has worked hard to transform and regenerate the area, reopening the canal and tow paths, restoring historic mills and building bespoke, design-led new buildings. The LomoWall, along with Atelier [Zero], is creating a destination where people will come to visit and want to work, live and play.

For those wishing to visit the Lomo Wall, up to three hours free parking is available at the Urban Exchange retail development off Great Ancoats Street.

For more information on Lomography visit www.lomography.com or visit the shop at 20 Oldham Street.

For more information on summer activities in Manchester City Centre visit www.cityco.com.

The 2012 Canal Festival will run between Saturday 18th and Sunday 26th August and will offer activities along the length of the Rochdale Canal between Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire and Manchester city centre. The annual canal celebration, supported by The Waterways Trust and Canal and River Trust, provides a range of free activities for families, young people and visitors including outdoor activities, arts workshops and parades, volunteering events, heritage and nature walks and talks, boat trips and horse boating demonstrations.


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Manchester's Cornerhouse goes on a digital spree

Abandon Normal Devices and take part in the festival of new cinema, digital culture and art. That's what Anne Louise Kershaw is getting ready to do

The Cornerhouse is something of an icon in Manchester. For many years it has offered a continuously innovative programme of independent film and exhibition, including workshops and a rather nice café at which to enjoy a decent glass of wine.

It has built a reliable artistic reputation and is both an architectural and cultural landmark on the Manchester map and psyche. It is no surprise therefore, that when they launched Abandon Normal Devices (AND) festival back in 2009, it was a great success.

Working in collaboration with FACT (the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), the regional AND festival began in Liverpool and has since alternated between Liverpool and Manchester. This summer the hub returns to Manchester with events and exhibitions spanning across more than twenty venues and locations with an extended regional programme across Cheshire, Cumbria and Lancashire.

Running from 29 August untill 2 September, nothing about these events is predictable or to be expected. They include exhibitions, film screenings, artists' talks and workshops as well as an outreach programme beyond Cornerhouse's doors

Exploring the theme of 'success', the AND festival wants visitors to experience, rather than simply observe, the complexities, gradations and anomalies encountered when we explore the notion as an ideal. With a very technological and scientific slant, AND is as much about the process, collaboration and evolution of work over time, as it is about the final product. At all stages audiences are encouraged to question their experience in a critical way.

Exhibitions such as 'Pigs Bladder Football' by John O'Shea give a small glimpse into the festival's epic and unusual scale. Through biological experimentation, rapid prototyping and an iterative design process, O'Shea will culture the world's first bio-engineered football, grown from living cells. This aims to encourage us to consider the colliding worlds of human enhancement, bio-technology and the capitalisation of sport, and what role each of these will play in our lives.

Of equal oddness but just as delightful is the 'Empire Drive-In' by Jeff Stark and Todd Chandler. A full-scale drive-in movie theatre made from wrecked cars, it is symbolic of the once thriving drive-in industry in the US. By day you be able to roam freely from car to car experiencing different sonic environments and art pieces. By night the scrapyard aesthetic will extend into a specially programed series of live soundtracks, a slide show of abandoned spaces and film screenings of films such as 'Mad Max II' and 'Robocop'.

From scientific and digital advancements to environmental and commercial failure, the experience of success is explored for both its fleeting and addictive qualities.The festival programme summarises:

Through unusual strategies, the artists and filmmakers working in this year's festival reveal alternative ways of being by offering rich counterpoints to perfection and undermining accepted logic.


The results are sharp and scientific as well as artistic and surreal. By combining these superficially polar opposites into one festival of digital culture and art, a new and forward looking way of thinking is encouraged; although exactly what this will entail, is anyone's guess.

The full programme is here.


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August 09 2012

Buskers campaign against new policy in Liverpool

Rules that clamp down on street performers are causing concern that Merseyside's street culture is being needlessly regulated under the the banner of 'business improvement.' Christian Eriksson challenges its basis

Up and down the country, corporate bodies called Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are increasingly administering urban centres, offering their paying members privileged access to unelected officials who are literally 'on call' to take their grievances directly to policy makers. In the case of Liverpool City Council's recent decision to regulate busking and street entertainment, we find a lesson in the pitfalls of charging unnaccountable bodies with directing democracy on the public's behalf.

Would-be performers in Liverpool city centre must now sign up to a mandatory licensing scheme and obtain a photo ID card before they can book a two hour slot to play in council-designated pitches. The scheme requires that entertainers be bound by a number of restrictive terms and conditions. These range from entertainers being forbidden to sit on the floor or occupy a pitch more than 1.5 metres in a diameter, to a clause granting council officials the right to stop a performance purely on the grounds of personal taste - turning enforcement officers into what one busker describes as "a poor man's Simon Cowell". Any person failing to comply with these terms and conditions will be issued with a letter threatening prosecution for trespass.

In essence, Liverpool's policy is an attempt to bring busking and street performance under the remit of the 2003 Licensing Act, despite clear statements published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2006 that busking is not a licensable activity under that legislation. The legally-questionable nature of Liverpool's policy does not end there, for it attempts to make it an offence for anybody under the age of 18 to busk, despite central government guidelines clearly stating that busking is permitted for anybody over the age of 14.

Accounts from buskers suggest that the policy was pushed through council meetings, with their recommendations flatly ignored. Jonny Walker, a Liverpool-born busker and singer-songwriter, was involved in the council's consultation process:

I was invited by officials to look at the proposed policy. I had major issues with it and was asked to prepare a report with suggestions for how to improve it. My report was ignored and no changes were made to the policy which was then rubber stamped at a council meeting.


Once he realized his views had not been taken into account in the finished policy, Walker started a petition which has garnered more than 3,000 signatures to date and launched a campaign to urge the council to rethink its policy. The campaign has gained the backing of the Musician's Union.

Diane Widdison, national organiser of the union, has said that Liverpool City Council did not consult them regarding the new policy:

The Musician's Union are happy to help the council put together a best practice guide for buskers. We would suggest a working party which includes street artists and performers so we can agree on a guide which is acceptable to both sides. We do not agree with making the process overly bureaucratic or too restrictive for no good reason.



Liverpool city council responds:

In essence, we are trying to balance the needs of all the people who use the city centre – shoppers, visitors, people who work there and buskers.

While there may be claims that there is a lot of opposition to the policy, it has also been welcomed by many people, especially on grounds of reducing noise and ending repetitive songs.

The council adds that the idea is also to be being fairer to all buskers and potential buskers by preventing the same ones hogging pitches for hours on end.

It is also important to note that the policy will be reviewed in three months and a panel including buskers, representatives from the musician unions and other interested parties will meet before the end of August to discuss the policy.

The council stresses that the regulations are not an attempt to stop busking, but to provide a balance between the different people using the city.

The elected member in charge of the policy, Coun Steve Munby, Liverpool's cabinet member for neighbourhoods, has claimed that the policy was crafted to deal with the many complaints the council receives
from businesses and shoppers about noise levels, repetitive performances and the number of buskers at certain times.

Munby says that buskers add "animation and colour to the centre" but on some Saturdays, there have been 12 performers in a short stretch of Church Street competing "in effect for limited cash." He added that having a regulated system for street entertainment is in the best interests of buskers, businesses, shoppers and other city centre users and brings Liverpool into line with other major cities.

Ged Gibbons, CEO of Liverpool's City Central BID and champion of the new policy, says:

This new busking policy is hugely welcome and will make a real difference to the vibrancy of the city centre


and has claimed to have received regular telephone complaints from the likes of M&S and Primark about troublesome buskers. In the same vein, minutes from the council Cabinet's agenda in which the policy's terms and conditions can be found, describe the policy as crafted to deal with long-standing "complaints from businesses, residents and others".

However, information acquired under Freedom of Information legislation shows that as of November 2011 the number of city shopkeepers who formally complained to the Council to regulate buskers/street performers was so low that the council themselves do not bother to record complaints:

[...] due to the immediate nature of the complaint the majority of complainants simply draw the matter to our street Nuisance Officers but do not formally complain. Subsequently the licensing department do not formally record the number of complaints they receive regarding buskers/street performers.

And why do affected retailers not formally complain? The answer, in short, is that they do not need to. That is what Liverpool's City Central BID is for.

Around 650 businesses currently make up the BID, and each pays a levy on top of their business rates to fund it. Besides extra cleaning, care and security, this levy effectively grants businesses an amplified voice in local democracy. Like BIDs in other British cities, Liverpool's is a quasi-governmental corporate body which works with local authorities, but is not wholly accountable to them. Karen Lappin, Store Manager for Liverpool's Blacks, explains what you get with membership into Liverpool's City Central BID:

Ged [Gibbons] will come round, one of the team will come round, and they'll sit down and ask how they can help you.


Critics of the new busking policy argue that with its access to policymakers, Liverpool's City Central BID has hastily embarked upon the needless regulation of Liverpool's street performance culture under the banner of 'business improvement'.


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August 08 2012

Bluewater thrives by not alarming shoppers with anything new or strange | Owen Hatherley

The expanding mall is a kind of undemocratic city, with levels of planning and security that almost guarantee 'no riots here'

Bluewater, the enormous north Kent shopping mall, is planning an extension. About 1,500 "private sector jobs" will arrive in a deindustrialising area, as if to answer the coalition's increasingly desperate prayers, but the continued success and expansion of a shopping centre during a double-dip recession might seem unexpected. Its co-owner, Lend Lease, has recently been better known for closing down high-profile projects – as in the chaos of its redevelopment of Elephant and Castle, or the demise of the Tithebarn "mall without walls" in Preston. Somehow, Bluewater endures and grows. How can an out-of-town mall manage to become more successful during an apparent decline in retail spending? Why are people going there to nose around chain stores, when we're all apparently buying on Amazon or going to farmers' markets and niche high street shops? What exactly is Bluewater's secret?

The first thing you need to know about Bluewater is that it's not merely a shopping mall, but something much more ambitious. I know the place very well, having regular appointments at the nearby, contiguous PFI-built Darent Valley hospital. As the crow flies, the two are about a quarter of a mile apart, but you couldn't walk it – buses have to loop for some time around the massively over-engineered motorways that feed the mall. But when you finally do arrive, the entrance is exceptionally well defined. Neoclassical gateways and signs make the distinction from straggling north Kent subtopia apparent. Even the flyovers here have their concrete decorated to make it clear you're somewhere different. There is a reason for this – a reason for everything in Bluewater.

According to its architect Eric Kuhne, head designer at the multinational firm CivicArts, Bluewater is "a city rather than a retail destination". Its design and planning are intended, he said in a 2008 interview, to "dignify the heroic routine of everyday life that drives you to produce a better world for yourself and your kids".

What this means in practice is that Bluewater is not solely a retail hangar, in the vein that runs from the Arndale Centres to Westfields. It's the same typology, a heavily patrolled and surveilled series of shops and restaurants in a big enclosed box, but it takes some of those spaces' innovations much further. Not just private security, but an entire code of conduct for entry, not to mention a dress code. No hoods, no baseball caps, no swearing, even.

If Bluewater is a city, then it's obviously not a democratic one. Kuhne wouldn't have it any other way – in the same interview, he pointed out that "democracy has a pretty poor track record of building great cities. The great cities of the world that we travel to see were built by benevolent despots".

Like any other city, Bluewater has its periphery. Ebbsfleet, the exurban new "town" that boasts its own line to Paris, is effectively its suburb. Its cul-de-sacs and wood-clad flats abut wide motorways and retail parks, discouraging any civic or public life in anything but the mall itself. The Thames Gateway, the unofficial eastward expansion of London, has no centre, no real public space – for that it has Bluewater, and its older, gawkier north-of-the-river cousin Lakeside. Also, like a city, it has its slums. Nearby towns such as Chatham or Northfleet are as stricken as Barrow-in-Furness or Merthyr Tydfil. Their former centres are practically decimated by Bluewater.

Yet to discover Bluewater's secret you have to go inside. Its architecture is so didactic it sometimes evokes Stalin's pet projects, like the Moscow Metro or the Exhibition of Economic Achievements. Sculptures and slogans urging jollity, exhorting commerce, singing the beauty of nature and stressing historical continuity are in every corner. Many depict the trades that people once practised in north Kent, appropriately for this mall scraped out of a chalk quarry. Cutlers, Tanners, Fletchers, Bowyers, Chandlers, Glaziers and others are all immortalised by little statues in niches on the mall's upper levels.

From a distance, the big box's glass extrusions resemble Kentish oasthouses. Bluewater tears the heart out of older towns, and replaces – partially and inadequately – older jobs, but it immortalises them as it does so. It is, in Kodwo Eshun's phrase, a "future shock absorber", a new and destructive landscape that strains every sinew to reassure, to make the shopper feel secure and at ease, to eliminate anything alarming or obviously new and strange. It boasts levels of planning and security that practically guarantee "no riots here".

Bluewater's architects are right – its success is not merely about shopping, but about the production of a particular kind of place. The successful city, as represented by Bluewater, is clean, corporate, homogeneous, authoritarian, and, should anything unexpected occur, easily sealed off. The worse things get, the more it will thrive.


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Ashmolean buys Manet's Mademoiselle Claus after raising £7.8m

Oxford museum succeeds in campaign to keep in Britain painting regarded as a key impressionist work

The Ashmolean museum in Oxford has succeeded in buying Edouard Manet's portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, regarded as a key impressionist work, after raising £7.83m in just eight months, including hundreds of donations from the public ranging from £1.50 to £10,000.

If the appeal had failed, the painting would have left Britain, after being sold at auction last year for a record £28.5m – the difference in price represents the tax breaks for works of art going to British museum collections.

On Wednesday, two pale serious young women came face to face in Oxford: Fanny Claus, the subject of the arresting 1868 painting, and Mara Talbot, the 11-year-old who, with her mother, gave the final £30 donation to the public appeal.

"Maybe if she was smiling I might like her more," Mara eventually concluded, after studying her intently, and dealing coolly with the media – the photographers were bewitched by her own choice of outfit for the day, complete with flowery hair band, which chimed uncannily well with the painting – "but I do like her very much".

Mara's mother, Vicky Hirsch, a freelance art teacher, had only seen photographs of the painting – a study for Manet's Le Balcon – when she gave £30 to the appeal last week. "We live quite near and we come here often. It's so important for people to be able to see real things in museums for free. And it seems appropriate in this week when we're celebrating the achievements of individuals in the Olympics, that the little somebody like me can afford to give can make such a big difference."

Christopher Brown, director of the Ashmolean – one of the oldest public museums in the world and the most visited outside London, with a million visitors a year – only saw the painting himself for the first time in February, in the gallery of a London art dealer. It had just been sold to an overseas buyer for £28.5m, but the government had put a temporary export bar on it to allow a British museum the chance of matching the price. Brown was enchanted, and did some rapid sums in his head.

"I realised that both the National Gallery, and the National Gallery of Scotland, who would both have liked it very much, were tied up in fundraising for the Titians, and that because it carried an 80% tax bill for the owners, which would be waived if it came to a national collection, we could get it for a quarter of its value – and that we really might be in with a chance."

The Heritage Lottery Fund gave £5.9m, the Art Fund charity another £850,000, and the rest came from trusts, patrons, and more than 1,000 donations from individual members of the public. In gratitude, it will be sent on a national tour to regional museums next year.

The painter John Singer Sargent fell in love with the picture in 1884, bought it at the studio sale after Manet's death, and brought it to England. By then the pale young woman was dead, too: Claus, a brilliant musician, had married the artist Pierre Prins, but died of tuberculosis in 1877, aged just 31. The painting had remained with Sargent's descendants until the sale.

The Ashmolean is most famous for its archaeology collections, but has a marvellous art collection including outstanding works by Pissarro and other contemporaries of Manet, and early Van Goghs. However, of Manet himself, in common with most British collections, they have very little: a small landscape and two unfinished oils, and a watercolour version of his Le Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe, a work considered scandalous in its day.

Colin Harrison, senior curator of European art, has already been on to the Quai D'Orsay museum in Paris to discuss exhibiting his new treasure side-by-side with Manet's very different final version, in which Fanny has retreated into the background, her face a blur, losing the expression of a woman deep in some private contemplation that makes the earlier version so haunting.

"Another obvious exhibition would be Manet in England – asking why in fact there are so few Manets in England, a real puzzle," Harrison said.

Although the picture will go on a national tour next year, Brown cannot wait to have it home permanently.

"Our pictures are really very good, but I think when you see this work on the gallery walls it will sing in a way that few of the others can manage."


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Liverpool prepares to mark Slavery Remembrance Day

The city's 13th annual celebration will see major building renamed after Martin Luther King, with his son unveiling a plaque

Liverpool's links to the slave trade are well-known, and will be recalled on 23 August at the Slavery Remembrance Day organised by the Museum of Slavery. A number of events are being held in the city this month, including a visit from Mr Martin Luther King III, son of the murdered US civil rights leader.

Liverpool apologised in 1999 for its prominent role in the 'triangular trade' which saw ships sail to West Africa, ship slaves to the Caribbean and return laden with sugar. The radical Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was the son of a major slave plantation owner and much of the centre's noble architecture was built with profits from the trade.

The date, which Liverpool has marked every year since the apology, commemorates an uprising of enslaved Africans on the island of Saint Domingue, modern-day Haiti, in 1791. It was chosen by UNESCO which picked it as a reminder that enslaved Africans played a major part in their own liberation.

The museum says:

This year we welcome Martin Luther King III, eldest son of the great Civil Rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Our guest offers a powerful reminder that it is as important as ever to acknowledge a major period of trauma and injustice in world history.

You can see the full programme of events on the museum's website here. Highlights include a memorial lecture from King, a Walk of Remembrance and a libation ceremony. In a specifically local tribute to the King family, the Dock Traffic Office, a National Museums Liverpool building, will be named after Martin Luther King Jr with a plaque unveiled by his son.

The museum also quotes an excerpt from Slavepool, a poem by Mohammed Khalil, recounting the city's role in the slave trade:

Branded like beasts who feel no pain
And all for Merrye Englande's gain

But England's Changing-Rearranging
Only we can clear our Name

Growing! Knowing! Trade Winds are blowing!
Things'll nevva be the same.

Liverpool Slavery Remembrance Initiative is a partnership between National Museums Liverpool, individuals from the Liverpool black community, Liverpool city council and The Mersey Partnership.

The museum says that the Day seeks to:

commemorate the lives and deaths of the millions of enslaved Africans and their descendants who were central to the rise of Britain as an industrial power.

remember that we live with the legacies of transatlantic slavery such as racism and discrimination and ongoing inequalities, injustices and exploitation

celebrate the resistance, rebellion and revolution that ended slavery, as well as the rise of popular movements for racial justice and social change that said both then and now "never again".


It adds:

Resistance to injustices and discrimination is a central theme of the International Slavery Museum and that is why we fully support the continued observance of this important event.

Liverpool's most famous sugar name, Tate & Lyle, dates from well after the abolition of slavery. Henry Tate - commemorated in the four galleries including Tate Liverpool which used his money and bear his name - and Abraham Lyle did not start their refining businesses until 1859 and 1865 and neither's family had previous involvement in the trade.


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August 07 2012

The Shard is a St Paul's Cathedral for our time | Norman Rosenthal

Who cares who built it or why? The Shard is simply London's most magnificent building since Wren's masterpiece

The reactions to London's latest mega-structure have not been moderate. "The Shard has slashed the face of London forever," wrote Simon Jenkins in the Guardian a month ago, invoking the destruction of Timbuktu, Dresden, Moscow and Peking, not to mention the bulldozing of the great Buddhas of Afghanistan. Jonathan Jones, the Guardian's art critic, has described the Shard as "self-evidently a monument to wealth and power run way out of control. It screams with dazzling arrogance that money rules this city and says money inhabits a realm way above our heads."

But when have great buildings and structures – since the pyramids of Egypt and before – been anything other than monuments to wealth and power? The fact is that, in recent decades, in this country and all over the world, power has resulted in many vulgar and nasty blots on the landscape. London, of course, was terribly damaged during the second world war. Bomb sites scarred the city and, for the most part, what has come to replace them has been pretty abominable architecturally, with only a few honourable and sporadic exceptions. Any sensitive person crossing the Thames on Norman Foster's pedestrian bridge, looking left and right towards Christopher Wren's Baroque masterpiece, can only want to put on blinkers. Nasty skyscrapers have been built all over the West End and the City of London, from Centrepoint to the former NatWest Tower, not to mention London's Barbican. Here, many wonderful cultural events take place, but it can only be described as a city planning monstrosity. Think too of the expensively hideous Portcullis House, built to house the offices of our MPs next to the beautiful fantasy of Westminster Palace.

Finally, along comes something that is genuinely magnificent to look at – namely the Shard, as it has affectionately come to be known. I don't care about its function or who built it, or even who financed it. It is a masterpiece of visual design by one of the great living architects, Renzo Piano.

Elegant and as inspiring to look at as a great cathedral, I keep discovering it from all sides – near and far. Its apparently broken apex makes for one astonishingly poetic image. As a pure glass edifice it resembles the most amazing cut diamond, both by day in the sunshine and at night lit up as a beacon over the city, as thrilling as the Eiffel Tower in Paris – which was also hated by establishment figures when it first went up. Now we cannot imagine Paris without it. I cannot now imagine London without the Shard and would go so far as to say that it is arguably the greatest and most beautifully skyreaching building to be erected in London since St Paul's Cathedral.

Critics who profess to be concerned with London and the way it looks would spend their energy better if they were to turn their attention to those ghastly sculptures mushrooming up all over the city's squares and parks. The idea of walking around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens now fills me with horror as my eyes are continually assaulted by absurd and corrupt objects such as the horse's head at Marble Arch, not to mention the stupid jelly babies nearby, or the monument to the poor animals killed in the two world wars.

The beautiful Royal Artillery Memorial of Sargeant Jagger has been horribly upstaged by a succession of hideous monuments commemorating fallen heroes of the Commonwealth, most recently a ghastly parody of the beautiful screen of Decimus Burton next to Apsley House. One can argue about the rights and wrongs of erecting a monument to Bomber Harris, who in the understandable hysteria of the second world war caused, among other things, the destruction of the beautiful city of Dresden. What one can also argue, if one has any aesthetic sensibility, is that the retrograde and cheap monument, which is impossible to overlook as one passes through Hyde Park Corner, is the most ghastly eyesore and should have been prevented.

In the meantime, one can only be grateful that at least the Shard is here to give continual visual pleasure from all aspects and distances across town. Don't you love the story of the fox that climbed to its top? How happy it must have been!


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Artist Kelly Richardson brings a taste of Mars to Whitley Bay

Mariner 9, an ambitious video installation imagining the Martian landscape, is being shown at Spanish City in the seaside town

A beautiful but horribly scarred Martian landscape, perhaps 100 or 200 years in the future, dominates the interior of a seaside fun palace whose fun days have long gone.

The unlikely pairing of futuristic art and faded historic grandeur is in Whitley Bay, once the liveliest and most exciting seaside town in north east England.

The Canadian artist Kelly Richardson – who moved to the area about 10 years ago and stayed – has installed a work called Mariner 9 in Spanish City, part of a wider retrospective being given to an artist making a name for herself internationally, but perhaps less so in the UK.

Eight miles down the coast, the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland is staging Richardson's first UK solo show, giving all its available space to work never seen in this country.

"Kelly is able to do things that no-one else has done in her field," said the NGCA's programme director Alistair Robinson. "She has been based in this region for nearly 10 years but no-one even in this region has seen her work. She's been showing around the world but in this country she is, as yet, an unknown quantity. She is definitely going to go very far, she already has – just not here but that will change, and quite soon I believe."

Richardson is part of a new generation of digital artists using technology to create hyper-real landscapes.

More often than not she films real places, whether it is a Texas swamp or an idyllic Lake District wood, and transforms them into something completely and disconcertedly unreal.

With Mariner 9, an enormous 12-metre wide video work commissioned by Newcastle's Tyneside Cinema, it was always going to be much trickier.

"Obviously I couldn't film on Mars," Richardson said. "But I found out Nasa knows how Mars is constructed and had all the digital data for that so I was able to take all the data, put it in a 3D programme and recreate the lay of the land faithfully."

It is a remarkable film, showing Mars littered with real and imagined space crafts and rovers; some of which are forlornly continuing to find signs of life. Its premiere coincides with the landing of Nasa's Curiosity rover on Monday.

As with the works on display in Sunderland, viewers can spend time finding out the stories or imagining their own. It does not feel as if you are simply looking at a screen with something on it, it feels like you are in the environment on screen.

Robinson said the artist is "an astonishing perfectionist" with an attention to detail that sometimes verged on the lunatic.

For Mariner 9 Richardson had to learn an entirely new software programme, investigate the texture of Mars and all the missions to it, and then speculate on what future Mars rovers and space craft would look like. "It has been a lot of research – a lot of geeking out basically," she said. "It has been a real challenge and [there were] various points where I didn't think it was possible. Even people in the industry were telling me I wouldn't be able to do some things."

One of the biggest challenges was creating a 3D dust storm that goes on for 20 minutes. Richardson was repeatedly told it was not possible. "I was like, 'no I can do that – I will.'"

Mariner 9 is in a memorable building. When Spanish City was built in 1910 it had, it is said, the largest dome in the UK after St Paul's cathedral. For most of its life it was a fairground before it fell into neglect and disrepair. It closed in 2000 but was restored in 2010.

This installation fits perfectly into the raw interior of a building about to embark on a new phase of life, with redevelopment plans to create a hotel, residential accommodation and an entertainment centre in the dome itself.

After Sunderland, the Richardson show will go on tour to Blackpool, Eastbourne and Buffalo in the US.

• Legion is at the NGCA until 29 September. Mariner 9 is at Spanish City, Whitley Bay, from 3-19 August


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August 06 2012

John Travolta's white suit to star in V&A exhibition

Saturday Night Fever's 'shining light' in 1970s polyester tracked down for museum's Hollywood Costume show

The most famous white suit in the world, a classic example of the finest 1970s polyester tailoring, has been tracked down by the Victoria and Albert Museum after an international search.

The three-piece suit was as much a star of the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever as John Travolta who played Tony Manero, or the Bee Gees, who provided the soundtrack for the story of a young man who disco-dances his way out of the ghetto.

Bought off the peg in a cheap men's clothes store in Brooklyn, the suit was last seen in public 17 years ago, when it was sold at a Christie's auction to an anonymous bidder for $145,000 (£93,000), three times the top estimate. The curators of this autumn/winter's exhibition on Hollywood costume were determined to find it and put out an international appeal – and to their surprise it has turned up in London, in immaculate condition, and the owner has agreed to lend it to the museum.

The owner, who wishes to remain anonymous but has let slip his age, is not a collector.

He said: "I was nine years old when Saturday Night Fever came out and before seeing the film I had already fallen in love with the legendary soundtrack.

"The ritual of [Travolta's character] choosing his clothes to go out at night, in a world of his own and disconnected from the reality of his life, particularly resonated with me. It was the first film I really loved,

and in essence it was part of my own rite of passage … When I saw the suit on sale, I wanted to buy it because of what it represented to me personally."

Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis, a designer and historian of film costume – her own credits include Michael Jackson's Thriller video and Raiders of the Lost Ark – is senior curator of the exhibition. She said: "Saturday Night Fever was actually a very dark little movie, and this suit, made of completely gross polyester, was the shining light, the symbol of aspiration and hope that shone in the film in that heart-stopping moment when it all comes together, the music, the lights, the suit, and Travolta dances in it.

"It took me totally by surprise. I fell completely in love with him, as everyone who sees the movie does."

The broad lapels, tight waistcoat and high-waisted flared trousers – a 71cm (28in) waist which Travolta could never get into these days – have been endlessly imitated. But there is no doubt that this is the genuine article. The curators have already been to inspect it, and found conclusive proof in the actor's handwriting.

It was first auctioned in 1978 for charity, when the American critic Gene Siskel, who listed Saturday Night Fever as one of his favourite films of all time, paid $2,000. The actor signed it and the inscription is still faintly visible in the lining: "So here's to a classic, your friend, John Travolta."

Originally the character of Tony Manero was to strut in a black suit, but white was the inspired choice of the film's costume designer, Patrizia Von Brandenstein. "Heroes from Sir Lancelot to Tom Mix wore white in the great contests to express purity and single-minded devotion to the task at hand. So for me, white was the only choice for the suit."

She went shopping in Brooklyn where the character lived, with the director John Badham, and Travolta – who was then starring in a hit television series, Welcome Back, Kotter. As word spread that he was in the neighbourhood, screaming mobs descended on the small clothes shop where he was trying on the suit, beating on the windows and pleading with him to come out.

Nadoolman Landis said buying it off the peg was a piece of genius: "Even in a low-budget movie like Saturday Night Fever, they could have found the money to make Tony a suit – but the fact that it was bought from an ordinary shop that anyone could go into gave it a great truth, exactly the sort of garment somebody from his background would see and long to own."

Brandenstein actually bought several suits, two to dance in, and two that had to be turned up at the hem for Travolta's much shorter stunt double. The other suit worn by Travolta was stolen from an exhibition in the US, so Nadoolman Landis had almost abandoned hope of including the item in the V&A show, which includes costumes worn by characters including Pirates of the Caribbean's Jack Sparrow, Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's and Darth Vader.

"The costumes in this exhibition are so powerful that each has its own soundtrack which the visitor will hear in their heads – but even in this company the white suit is special," she said. "It is the Turin shroud, the closest an ordinary mortal can come to the body of the actor."

• Hollywood Costume, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, October 2012 to January 2013


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London 2012 cultural festival's free events draw almost 10m people

Cultural Olympiad organisers say 2.9m rang bells to mark the start of the Games as part of Martin Creed's artwork

An estimated 9.6 million people have joined in the free events and exhibitions of the London 2012 festival, the cultural side of the Olympics, including 2.9 million who rang bells to mark the start of the Games.

Church, cow and bicycle bells were rung as part of Martin Creed's extravaganza which launched the event 10 days ago, Work No 1197: All the Bells in a Country Rung as Quickly and Loudly as Possible for Three Minutes.

The London 2012 festival and Cultural Olympiad director, Ruth MacKenzie, said audience numbers were running "well ahead of expectations", with at least another 5m free places to come, and the explosion of arts in the Edinburgh international festival included.

Ticketed events have already taken attendance to more than 12 million, with more than 2m tickets sold, and the figure is expected to rise as full audience statistics are compiled.

The festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, began on 21 June, and will continue until the last day of the Paralympic Games, 9 September. Major free events still to come include Neil Mullarkey's attempt to create the world's largest improvised comedy event in Barnsley next Friday – free but tickets must be booked in advance; YesYesNo – Connecting Light, a line of pulsating colour created using LED bulbs inside weather balloons along the length of Hadrian's Wall; another light-in-the-darkness art installation up the steep slopes of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh; and many free events in Happy Days, a new festival of the work of Samuel Beckett in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, where the Nobel-prize-winning playwright went to school. The opening event of the Happy Days festival, which will continue in future years, is a free concert titled Play It Again For Sam.

"We are cautiously pleased with ourselves," MacKenzie said.


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The Northern Landscapes challenge has a winner

The public vote has concluded with this stunning photograph of Great Gable being selected as the overall winner. More about the image as well as all of the entries mapped here

Taking a massive 72% of the vote, Snow falls on Great Gable was a clear winner for our readers. It was created by n0tice user MisterBus whose real name is Alan Cleaver, a freelance journalist from Whitehaven, Cumbria.

He describes himself as having a particular interest in "folklore and all things odd" something he blogs about at http://www.strangebritain.co.uk.


The Northern Landscapes mapped

If you want to explore the images that have been submitted across the north of England, we've plotted them onto this map - simply click onto the location to see the image and the information on the photographer.

We've also made it possible to explore some of these images in augmented reality via smart phones so, if you are out and and about and use your smart phone to explore AR images, you can discover the images at the location nearest to you.

This was made possible using a just launched technology from Talk About Local. To explore this feature you'll need to install the Layar app and choose the hyARlocal Apollo layer.

* If this photography challenge has whetted your appetite, there's another opportunity for northern photographers posted onto n0tice which is open until September 1. Using the water based theme of "Reflections" across Liverpool's Albert Dock, users are invited take a picture and email it to photos@albertdock.com. More details here.


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August 04 2012

Lost Olympians - in pictures

Colombian-born photographer Caroll Taveras is helping lost souls reach their destinations in return for a quick portrait in a studio at east London





August 03 2012

NASA technology helps get video art off the ground

Kelly Richardson's latest work, which opens at Spanish City on the North Sea coast at Whitley Bay today, uses data sent by satellite to create a dramatic reconstruction of the surface of Mars

Kelly Richardson's latest work Mariner 9, which opens at Spanish City on the Whitley Bay coast today, uses data sent by satellite to create a dramatic reconstruction of the surface of Mars.

Kelly, who is originally from Ontario, now lives in Whitley Bay, so it is a particularly appropriate place to host the world premiere of Mariner 9. The work, on a 12 metre long screen, shows the desert-like surface of the planet as the artist imagines it might look in a few hundred years, after a battle has taken place, with the detritus of abandoned space ships scattered over the surface of Mars. The artist has taken NASA's own imagery and technical data to help recreate the arid Martian landscape, complete with dust-storm. By coincidence, NASA's Mars Curiousity is due to land on the planet on Monday. The artist says of Mariner 9:

It focuses on the contradiction of our beautiful endeavour to find life beyond Earth, to know that we're not alone in the universe, while simultaneously pointing to our incredibly destructive nature as a species which continues to destroy life we know to exist at an extraordinary rate.

Spanish City, designed by the Newcastle architects Cackett & Burns Dick, was once the centre of a pleasure resort that rivalled Blackpool in its heyday. It has been closed since 2000, so this is a rare chance to see inside before redevelopment takes place. The imposing white Edwardian building, which boasted the second largest dome in the country, after St Paul's cathedral, now belongs to North Tyneside council, and has just been given planning permission for redevelopment. It is hoped the complex will re-open in 2014. In his Buildings of Northumberland, echoing Coleridge's "stately pleasure dome", Pevsner describes it as a "high and stately dome (possibly one of the earliest in Britain to be built of ferro-concrete)"

As well as the screening in Spanish City, Legion, a large retrospective of her works is on at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA) in Sunderland, and a smaller display at the National Glass Centre, just across the river Wear. The NGCA is filled with several of her video works, including Exiles of the Shattered Star, where an idyllic scene in the Lake District is disturbed by a series of fireballs falling slowly towards a lake. Ferman Drive is a one minute long shot of a suburban Canadian street viewed from a car. Everything is normal about the dozens of houses with their well-tended gardens, other than for the couple of seconds when the camera goes past the house the artist grew up in, which she has painstakingly recreated as if it was spinning round and round. Glow shows a rear view of a television set, so that whatever is on the screen can only be imagined by the colours it throws onto a blank white wall – as the wall panel puts it, "intentionally simple, beguiling, and infuriating." Another world premiere is The Great Destroyer, an eight screen video installation showing a rain forest. The sound track is of the animals of the forest, including, disconcertingly, a lyrebird imitating the sound of a chainsaw.

Coinciding with the screening of Mariner 9, the Tyneside Cinema (which, with North Tyneside council, co-commissioned the work) is organising a series of events around the screening – details can be found here. The final days of the screening also coincide with the opening weekend of the Whitley Bay Film Festival.

Over the next couple of year, Mariner 9 and Legion will tour to the Towner, Eastbourne, the Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, the Albright Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York and the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver.

Mariner 9 is on at Spanish City, Whitley Bay, until 19 August
Legion is on at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art until September 29
Orion Tide is on at the National Glass Centre until September 9


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August 02 2012

Thieves steal Derby Museum artefacts worth £53,000

Police say hoard of items, including 18th- and 19th-century watches, were taken from depot between 2 May and 19 June

A collection of coins, medals and watches worth £53,000 has been stolen from a museum's storage facility. The 1,000 artefacts from the Derby Museum and Art Gallery's city-based storage site were stolen some time between 2 May and 19 June, Derbyshire police said. None of the items have been found.

Among the hoard is a collection of about 20 18th- and 19th-century gold and silver watches worth up to £3,000 each. These includes examples made by clockmaker and scientist John Whitehurst, who was a member of the Midlands' based Lunar Society, and a contemporary of famous Derby artist Joseph Wright.

Coins dating back more than 800 years have also been stolen, as well as more modern coins from the early 20th century. The items were locked away and only used for exhibitions and special viewings.

A spokeswoman for Derbyshire police said museum staff had worked on the collection recently, but the thefts came to light only when another museum made a request to borrow some of the items.

The theft was recorded with the Metropolitan police arts crime unit as well as the Arts Council England security advisory service in the hope that the thief would try to sell them.

Meanwhile, additional security measures and procedures have been put in place at the storage facility.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Dee Hornblower said: "There has been no sign of a break-in at the premises, so the possibility that this was carried out with inside knowledge has at this stage not been ruled out. We have circulated details of the stolen items to every police force in the country in the hope that they can be traced."

Derby city council cabinet member for leisure and culture Martin Repton said: "Our ultimate fear is that some of these items which are of a relative low monetary value could potentially be discarded by the culprit or culprits, meaning that they would be lost for ever with little chance of recovery.

"We are therefore also appealing to members of the public who may have any information to contact Derbyshire police."

Anyone with information about the incident, or the whereabouts of the stolen items, should call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555 111.


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




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