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February 10 2012

Constructive criticism

Moby sings the praises of strange LA architecture, Ai Weiwei prepares to make a splash at the Serpentine pavilion, and there's a towering new board game in town

Watch your throne Kanye West; there's a new musician-slash-architecture freak in the blogosphere. It's Moby! Having turned his hand to everything from photography, to social activism to vegan tea shop entrepreneurialism, this week, the former rave titan launched his own Los Angeles architecture blog.

"One of the things that fascinates and baffles me about LA is the randomness and accidental beauty and strangeness of the architecture here. Every day I arbitrarily see buildings and houses and odd structures that go from the beautiful to the banal," writes Moby, who's clearly had better luck finding strange architecture than he has locating his "shift" key. Modestly describing himself as a "dilettante architectural photographer", Moby repeatedly admits the pointlessness of his own project – far more than he needs to.

So far, he's unearthed romantic cottages that would look at home in the home counties, a white modernist hillside villa (which calls to mind Eileen Gray's famous e1027 home, 20th-century moorish fantasy castles and photogenic little wooden shacks – each annotated by his unassuming philosophical musings. The "decontextualised randomness" of LA's architecture appeals to him – and it's an education for the rest of us. Let's see how long he can keep it up. Go Moby!

Back down to earth, literally, for the Serpentine Gallery's announcement that their pavilion this year will be designed by Swiss superstars Herzog & de Meuron and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei – which will be mostly underground. This is the first time the Serpentine has commissioned architects who have already built something in the UK: Herzog & de Meuron gave us the Tate Modern, of course, whose turbine hall Ai filled with his Sunflower Seeds in 2010. The first signs of H & deM's delayed Tate Extension will also emerge for the Olympics – new galleries converted from the building's underground oil tanks. Herzog, de Meuron and Ai's collaborations go back to the Bird's Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, so there's a neat symmetry here – not to mention a tacit political point, given the Chinese authorities' recent detention of Ai.

As for the pavilion itself, it involves digging five feet down, beneath the Serpentine's lawn, to groundwater level. "There we dig a waterhole, a kind of well, to collect all of the London rain that falls in the area of the Pavilion," they say. They're calling it an "archaeological approach"; at the moment it sounds more like a muddy puddle.

That wasn't the only moist-sounding Olympic-timed pavilion unveiled this week, though. London 2012's "Official Automotive Partner", BMW, also released impressions of their temporary structure, situated between the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatic Centre. Designed by British practice Serie, it will use river water for cooling, resulting in eye-catching waterfalls down the facade. It's not that new; a similar water system was used by Nicholas Grimshaw for his British Pavilion at Expo 92 in Seville. Still, it "reflects our commitment to sustainable thinking", says the manufacturer of extremely green automobiles (and colossal, gas-guzzling Chelsea tractors). If they put their waterfall next to the Serpentine puddle, they could be on to something.

On firmer ecological ground, London Eye architects Marks Barfield are designing a scientific research centre in the middle of the Amazon jungle that draws on their Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens. Except here, in north-east Brazil, there will be six miles of treetop walkways, plus basic labs and other buildings on the ground, and a spiralling observation tower that rises above the rainforest canopy – the Amazon Eye, perhaps?

The British-based Amazon Charitable Trust are behind it and, needless to say, sustainability is paramount – which means providing jobs for the local river tribe and attracting eco-tourism as well as scientific researchers. Only certain building materials can be brought into the area, too, so the tower will be made out of bamboo grown onsite.

Finally, as it's Valentine's Day on Tuesday, a couple of gift ideas for the design-minded romantic.

Vitra are releasing limited red-and-white editions of two complementary mid-century design classics: the Eames's Hang It All coat rack and George Nelson's Ball Clock. The pair will set you back £378 – but should last longer than a bunch flowers.

Or why not get the design smart-arse in your life The Modern Architecture Game? This architecture-fixated alternative to Trivial Pursuit was devised by Dutch team NEXT in 1999, but they've just updated it and produced it in English for the first time. It's nicely designed, naturally, with counters modelled on iconic buildings ... and a pair of Le Corbusier sunglasses that must be worn when it's your go. Test your knowledge of quotes, images, famous buildings, etc – and alienate your non-architectural friends even further. © 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

March 09 2011

Seven artists in Delhi

In the third of our series looking at Indian artists, we meet the arts collective BLOT (Basic Love of Things). BLOT consists of VJ and visual artist Avinash Kumar and DJ and musician Gaurav Malaker

May 23 2010

Here comes summer

Stevie Wonder hits the UK, Toy Story goes 3D, and it's the last ever Big Brother – our critics pick the unmissable events of the season


Stevie Wonder

Anyone who can't face braving Glastonbury to see the Motown legend's Sunday-night set can head to London's Hyde Park for this headlining show. It's likely to be heavy on the hits, but a little too heavy on the audience participation, if complaints from disgruntled punters at Wonder's recent shows are anything to go by. And be warned: Jamiroquai seems to have been enticed out of retirement to provide support. Hyde Park, London W2, 26 June. Box office: 020-7009 3484.

T in the Park

This beloved Scottish festival is prized as much for its atmosphere as its lineup. And they're certainly wheeling out the big hitters this year: Eminem, Muse, Kasabian, Jay-Z, Black Eyed Peas, Florence and the Machine, La Roux, Dizzee Rascal and Paolo Nutini, among others. Balado, Kinross-shire, 9-11 July. Box office: 0844 499 9990.


There are those who would argue that going to a festival with no camping doesn't strictly constitute going to a festival: equally, there are those who wouldn't countenance doing anything else. Either way, this year's Wireless lineup looks strong: it includes Pink, the Ting Tings, LCD Soundsystem, Lily Allen, Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Plan B and Friendly Fires. Hyde Park, London W2, 2-4 July. Box office: 020-7009 3484.


If you're prepared to travel abroad for your festival jollies, Spain's Benicassim can offer things no British event can: a beach and guaranteed good weather. This year you can also catch Kasabian, Ray Davies, the Prodigy, Lily Allen, the Specials, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Vampire Weekend, PiL, Dizzee Rascal, Hot Chip, Goldfrapp and the intriguingly named Love of Lesbian. Benicassim, Spain, 15-18 July. Box office:

Green Man

Of all the boutique festivals, Green Man is the longest-established. This year's eclectic bill sees something of a shift away from its nu-folk roots – but they presumably know their audience well enough to know what they'll like. Doves, Joanna Newsom and Flaming Lips are among the headliners; also on the roster are Billy Bragg, Fuck Buttons, Wild Beasts and Steve Mason. The traditional end of things, meanwhile, is held up by the Unthanks and Alasdair Roberts. Brecon Beacons, 20-22 August. Box office: 0871 424 4444.



An indie comedy from Noah Baumbach, creator of The Squid and the Whale. Ben Stiller is Roger Greenberg, an unfulfilled middle-aged guy who house-sits for his more successful brother Phillip in LA, and begins a relationship with Phillip's nervy assistant Florence, played by mumblecore star Greta Gerwig. Released on 11 June.


The Batman movies made Christopher Nolan one of Hollywood's biggest hitters; now, he raises the stakes with this non-superhero film. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, a guy with a unique gift in a strange dystopian future where corporate espionage has engendered an unsettling new technology. Released on 16 July.

Toy Story 3

The first two Toy Stories were sublime, so hopes are high for the third instalment. Woody, Buzz and his toy pals are facing the much-feared betrayal/abandonment issues hinted at in the previous film. Their owner has grown up, and they are headed for the charity bins, to be played with by kids who do not appreciate them. So the toys plan a daring escape. Released on 21 July.


This movie from South Korea has acquired cult status on the festival circuit, and makes a welcome appearance in the UK. Kim Hye-ja plays an elderly woman whose twentysomething son still lives with her. When he is charged with murder, it is up to her to right what she is convinced is a terrible wrong, and to track down the real killer. She is a formidable amateur sleuth. But what will she – and we – discover? Released on 20 August.

The Illusionist

Sylvain Chomet, the director of the hugely admired animation Les Triplettes de Belleville, has scored another hit by resurrecting an unproduced script by Jacques Tati and bringing it to life with complete fidelity to his spirit. It is a gentle, melancholy tale about an old-school vaudevillian magician and entertainer who finds that modern showbusiness is leaving him behind. But a young girl still thrills to his act. Released on 20 August.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Comic fans suffering from withdrawal after Kick-Ass can find comfort in this adventure. Based on the graphic novel by Brian Lee O'Malley and directed by Edgar Wright, this stars Michael Cera as the introspective rock musician Scott. He falls hard for Ramona Flowers, but discovers that he has to vanquish her seven ex-boyfriends before he can win her heart. Released on 6 August.


Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor

In Edwardian Dublin, a young actress begins an affair with JM Synge. This latest from historical novelist O'Connor, author of Star of the Sea and Redemption Falls, is loosely based on the real story of the great Irish playwright's affair with Molly Allgood, moving between 1907 Dublin and 1952 London. Harvill Secker, 3 June.

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Twenty-five years after Ellis burst onto the scene with Less Than Zero comes this sequel to his story of disaffected LA teenager Clay and friends. Middle-aged Clay is now a screenwriter, returning to LA to cast a movie and catch up with ex-girlfriend Blair, childhood best friend Julian (now a recovering addict running an escort service) and their old dealer Rip. Picador, 2 July.

Faithful Place by Tana French

Every holiday needs a good crime novel and French's skilful thrillers are tailor-made to terrify. This follows the story of Frank Mackey, who planned to run away to London with his girlfriend Rosie, aged 19. She failed to turn up; 20 years later he's still in Dublin, working as an undercover policeman. And then Rosie's suitcase is found. Hodder, 19 August.

A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Reasons Why We Can't Stop Reading Jane Austen

Authors from Jay McInerney to Fay Weldon, Alain de Botton and Susanna Clarke ponder Austen's enduring appeal in this collection, edited by Susannah Carson. Martin Amis, for one, dreams of a 20-page sex scene between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, with Darcy "acquitting himself uncommonly well". Particular Books, 3 June.

Visual art

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception

Belgian artist Alÿs, now based in Mexico City, has pushed a block of ice through sweltering streets, had 500 volunteers move a Peruvian sand dune, and walked the 1948 Armistice line between Palestine and Israel, trailing green paint behind him. This will be the largest survey of his work ever held. Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), 15 June-15 September.

Martin Creed: Down Over Up

A mid-career survey show of the Turner Prize-winning artist who made the lights go on and off, filled galleries with balloons, and had runners sprinting through Tate Britain. Creed works increasingly with performance, both with his band Owada and with dancers. His art can be funny, touching and outrageous, all carried off with wit, charm and a lack of pretension. Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (0131-225 2383), 30 July–31 October.

Alice Neel: Painted Truths

Alice Neel (1900-1984) was a tough, single-minded and wonderful American portraitist whose subjects included her family and art-world friends, such as Andy Warhol (whom she painted in bandages after he was shot). An artist's artist, her work is idiosyncratic and acute. Expect art schools to be filled with teenage mini-Neels next term. Whitechapel Gallery, London E1 (020-7522 7888), 8 July–17 September.

John Cage: Every Day Is a Good Day

Cage did much more than compose 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. The composer, writer, mushroom-hunter, unconventional artist and collaborator with Merce Cunningham and Jasper Johns is undergoing a major revival. This show is curated by artist, writer and long-time fan Jeremy Millar, and is organised according to Cage's ideas of chance and indeterminacy. Baltic, Gateshead (0191-478 1810) 19 June‑5 September.

Picasso: The Mediterranean Years (1945-1962)

Complementing Tate Liverpool's current Picasso show, this exhibition, curated by Picasso biographer John Richardson and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, focuses on the artist's Mediterranean roots, with portraits, sculptures, ceramics and prints, mostly taken from Picasso's own collection. Gagosian Gallery, London WC1 (020-7784 9960), 4 June–28 August.

Wolfgang Tillmans

Based in London for 20 years, Tillmans takes his relationship with the city as the starting point for this show. Abstract photographs and snapshots, portraits and places, old things and new: Tillmans's subjects are as rich and varied, as surprising and askew as the world itself. Serpentine Gallery, London W2 (020-7402 6075), 10 July–17 October.

Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries

An exhibition for anyone interested in the skulduggery of forgery; the mangling of old paintings to make them fit later taste; or in the science of restoration and CSI-type investigation. The show analyses work from the gallery's own collection. National Gallery, London WC2 (020-7747 2885), 30 June–12 September.


Women, Power and Politics

Nine dramatists, including Bola Agbaje, Moira Buffini, Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Sue Townsend, join forces to create a two-part show exploring the role of women in British politics. Given that there are more Lib Dems than women in the current cabinet, it seems a timely venture. Tricycle Theatre, London NW6 (020-7328 1000), 4 June-17 July.

Morte d'Arthur

Having adapted The Canterbury Tales for the RSC, the writer-director team of Mike Poulton and Gregory Doran now give us a compressed version of Malory's epic on Arthurian legend. Expect the round table, the holy grail and the hot, adulterous passion of Lancelot and Guinevere. Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon (0844 800 1110), 11 June-28 August.


Playwright Laura Wade and director Lyndsey Turner have just had a hit with Posh at the Royal Court. Now things get curiouser as the pair collaborate on a new version of Lewis Carroll's novel, in which Wonderland looks suspiciously like Sheffield. Over-eights only. Crucible, Sheffield (0114-249 6000), 17 June-24 July.

Greenwich and Docklands International festival

This outdoor festival can hold its head up proudly among its European peers. French company Ilotopie return with a new show, Oxymer – and there is a dazzling array of work from Catalonia. All events are free. Various sites around London, 24 June-4 July.

The Critic/The Real Inspector Hound

Sheridan is matched with Stoppard in two of the funniest plays ever written about theatre. In the first, a ludicrous play about the Spanish Armada descends into chaos; in the second, two critics get caught up in a Christie-style whodunit. Jonathan Church, who has boldly restored Chichester's fortunes, directs. Minerva, Chichester (01243 781312), 2 July-28 August.

You Me Bum Bum Train

Two hundred performers and an audience of just one – you. This show has been six years in the making, and now gets a full-scale production courtesy of the Barbican's BITE programme. LEB Building, London E2 (0845 120 7511), 6-24 July.

Earthquakes in London

Rupert Goold directs a Mike Bartlett play promising a rollercoaster ride through London from 1968 to 2525. Themes include social breakdown, population explosion and paranoia: a chance for Goold to exercise the expressionist talents he used in Enron. Cottesloe, London SE1 (020-7452 3000), from 28 July.

The Gospel at Colonus

Classic Greek drama is given a twist by US director Lee Breuer, who relocates Sophocles's tragedy to modern America and throws in a gospel choir, Blind Boys of Alabama, to collectively play the role of Oedipus. Edinburgh Playhouse (0131-473 2000), 21-23 August.


The Serpentine Gallery summer pavilion

The gallery's 10th summer pavilion is as red as a London double-decker. It's also Jean Nouvel's first building in Britain, but only just: the French architect, best known for the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, has nearly completed a controversial office block in the City of London. This boldly geometric pavilion will be home to a series of cultural events. Serpentine Gallery, London W2 (020-7402 6075), 10 July–17 October.

Venice Biennale

The 12th International Architecture Exhibition is curated this year by the Pritzker prize-winning Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima. This is one of the most delightful places to encounter the latest ideas in architecture. Venice, 29 August–21 November. Details:


Secret Diaries of Anne Lister

Anne Lister was a woman way ahead of her time. A Yorkshire industrialist, land-owner and traveller, she was also a lesbian and lived with her lover, long before lesbians officially existed. Best of all, she was an avid diarist, recording her life in great detail – and often in code. Maxine Peake stars as Lister in this one-off 90-minute drama, written by Jane English and directed by James Kent. BBC2, June

Big Brother

Love it or hate it, there's no denying BB's influence and impact on the first decade of the 21st century. Remember the chickens, and Nasty Nick? And how much nastier it got over subsequent series? This is the end – the last BB ever. (To be read in Marcus Bentley's Geordie voice: It's D-Day in the Big Brother house ...) Channel 4, June

Father & Son

A four-part thriller written by Frank Deasy (Prime Suspect: The Final Act and The Passion) about an ex-crim who returns to Britain from a quiet life in Ireland, to save his teenage son from prison. Starring Dougray Scott, Stephen Rea, Sophie Okonedo and Ian Hart. ITV, June


A three-part comedy drama about a pair of cops (Toby Stephens and Lucy Punch) with a lot of chemistry between them, as well as issues at home. Written by Howard Overman, who penned the hit show Misfits for E4. BBC2, August

I Am Slave

A one-off drama from the people who created the feature film The Last King of Scotland, tackling the issue of slavery in contemporary Britain. Inspired by real events, it tells the story of a young woman's abduction from her home in Sudan to London, where she is enslaved. Channel 4, August

Classical and opera

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Bryn Terfel finally sings a role he was born to play – that of Hans Sachs, in Wagner's most life-affirming work. Welsh National Opera presents Richard Jones's new production in Cardiff and Birmingham, before bringing it to the Proms as a concert performance. Millennium Centre, Cardiff (029-2063 6464), 19 June-3 July; Hippodrome, Birmingham (0844 338 5000), 6 & 10 July; Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (0845 401 5040), 17 July.

What are Years

The highlight of Pierre Boulez's first-ever appearance at the Aldeburgh festival promises to be the world premiere of 101-year-old Elliott Carter's Marianne Moore song cycle, with Boulez conducting soprano Claire Booth and Ensemble Intercontemporain. Snape Maltings Concert Hall (01728 687110), Aldeburgh, 26 June.

The Duchess of Malfi

English National Opera and the theatre company Punchdrunk join forces to take over a vacant site in London's Docklands for an "immersive" production of Torsten Rasch's new opera, based on John Webster's 17th-century revenge tragedy. Great Eastern Quay, London E16 (0871 911 0200), 13-24 July.

Bach Day

As usual, the Proms will mark most of the year's significant musical anniversaries – Schumann, Chopin, Scriabin, Mahler – and will devote an entire day to Bach. John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Brandenburg Concertos, David Briggs plays organ works and Andrew Litton takes on an evening of orchestral arrangements. Cadogan Hall & Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (0845 401 5040), 14 August.


The European colonisation of the new world is the theme of this year's Edinburgh international festival – and Carl Heinrich Graun's rarely performed opera from 1754, with a libretto by Frederick the Great of Prussia, fits into it perfectly. A Mexican production team stages this story of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, with a cast drawn from both the old and new worlds. King's, Edinburgh (0131-473 2000), 14, 15 & 17 August.

East Neuk festival

Expect high-class chamber music at this Scottish event, with both the Belcea and Elias quartets in residence. Programmes range across more than three centuries, from Tallis to Britten. Various venues, Fife (0131-473 2000), 30 June to 4 July.


Wynton Marsalis

Marsalis and the Lincoln Center orchestra celebrate 80 years of big-band jazz history with three big London concerts, as well as workshops and jams at the Vortex Club and elsewhere. The Hackney gigs feature both an afternoon family concert and evening show, while the Glasgow performance is part of the Glasgow international jazz festival. Barbican Hall, London E8 (0845 120 7500), 17-18 June; Hackney Empire, London E8 (020-8510 4500), 20 June; Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow (0141-353 8000), 27 June.

The Necks

Every performance by Australia's cult improv trio the Necks is different – though you can be sure that each will be a seamless episode of free improvisation. Hypnotic hooks emerge and fade from trance-like drones, jazz phrasing is touched on and abandoned, and drum sounds are both textural and rhythmic. It's a unique ensemble, with a big cult following. Tron Theatre, Glasgow (0141-552 4267), 22 June.

Pat Metheny Band

Guitar star Metheny came to Britain with his one-man-band Orchestrion project earlier in the year, but this show represents the Metheny his long-time fans know: the leader of an accessible quartet fusing Latin music, jazz themes and lyrical guitar. Regulars Lyle Mays (piano), Steve Rodby (bass) and dynamic drummer Antonio Sanchez complete the lineup. Barbican, London EC2 (0845 120 7500), 10 July.

Kurt Elling

Jazz singer and multi-award nominee Elling has it all – Sinatra's soaring sound and charismatic cool, a dazzling jazz-improv technique, and an intelligent audacity about picking unusual material. Ronnie Scott's, London W1 (020-7439 0747), 30 June-3 July.

World music


This festival can either be a miserable mudbath or an easy-going weekend in the Wiltshire countryside – but it's worth risking it for an impressive lineup. From Congo, Staff Benda Bilili play rousing rhumba-rock from their wheelchairs; and from Australia there's the soulful Aboriginal star Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. Plus Nigeria's master drummer Tony Allen, the Kamkars from Kurdish Iran, and great American veteran Gil Scott-Heron. Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, 23-25 July. Box office: 0845 146 1735.

Cambridge Folk Festival

There are dozens of good UK folk festivals this summer – but Cambridge still has the highest profile, partly because it has become an international event with increasing emphasis on American stars. This year the line-up includes country legend Kris Kristofferson, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the multilingual Pink Martini, along with Malian star Rokia Traoré. The British contingent includes the Unthanks and Seth Lakeman. Cherry Hinton Hall, 29 July to 1 August. Box office: 01223 357851.


Pleasure's Progress

Will Tuckett visits the dark underbelly of 18th-century England, mixing dance and opera in this homage to William Hogarth. The cast includes the excellent Matthew Hart. Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich (01473 295230), 18-19 June, then touring.

Russian ballet in London

Heavyweight Moscow ballet giant the Bolshoi and the St Petersburg featherweight, the Mikhailovsky, fight it out for London's summer ballet audience. The Bolshoi have a new staging of Coppélia and Ratmansky's Russian Seasons, while the Mikhailovsky bring the classic Gorsky-Messerer Swan Lake, as well as Chabukiani's uber-Soviet ballet Laurencia. The Mikhailovsky are at the Coliseum, London WC2 (020-7632 8300) from 13 July; The Bolshoi are at the Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), from 17 July.

Carlos Acosta

Acosta returns with his latest mixed programme – and his performances include debuts in the beautiful Russell Maliphant solo, Two, and Edwaard Liang's Sight Unseen, with Zenaida Yanowsky. Coliseum, London WC2 (020-7632 8300), from 28 July.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Agua

Following Bausch's death last year, her company opted to continue touring her work. Agua, seen here in the UK for the first time, is a tragicomic take on life played out against Brazilian landscapes. Playhouse, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), 27-29 August.


Penn and Teller

Stand aside, Derren Brown. Perform your disappearing act, Paul Daniels. Las Vegas magic act Penn and Teller are coming to town, for five nights in London this July. The duo's 30-year partnership has yielded multiple Emmy nominations, an appearance on The Simpsons – and, of course, their hit 1990s Channel 4 series, The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller. This is their first live UK appearance in 16 years. Hammersmith Apollo, London W6 (0844 844 4748), 14-18 July.

Hans Teeuwen

Already confirmed for the Edinburgh fringe this year, the once-seen, never-forgotten Dutch comic Teeuwen unleashes his new show Smooth and Painful on an unsuspecting world. Even if you've seen the twisted cabaret of this demoniacal Nick Cave of comedy before, you've no idea what he'll come up with next. Pleasance Beyond, Edinburgh (0131-556 6550), 4-29 August.

My Name Is Sue

Winner of a Total Theatre award at last year's Edinburgh fringe, this frumpy cabaret once again unites the talents of composer/performer Dafydd James and director Ben Lewis, of the terrific Inspector Sands theatre group. James dons a blouse and skirt to play the titular housewife, who sits at a piano and whacks out the musical story of her unheralded life. Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff (029 2031 1050), 4 and 5 June. Then touring.

Emo Philips

A UK comedy favourite since the 1980s, Philips returns for the first time since 2006 to play – er, a tent in a field in Suffolk. Signing up the falsetto-voiced man-child is a real coup for Latitude: judging by his last British shows, age (he's now in his mid-50s) hasn't mellowed this relentless dispenser of disturbed one-liners. Latitude festival, July 18, then touring; at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar, Edinburgh (0131-556 6550), 5-29 August.

• Previews by Peter Bradshaw, Alexis Petridis, John Fordham, Michael Billington, Lyn Gardner, Robin Denselow, Brian Logan, Andrew Clements, Sam Wollaston, Judith Mackrell, Adrian Searle, Jonathan Glancey and Alison Flood © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 28 2010

Surrender. It's Brian Eno

Britain's great cultural chameleon Brian Eno wants us all to slow down, relax, and be swept away by art. And the revolution starts in Brighton this weekend

'I know this is all going to sound terrible," says Brian Eno over tea at his Notting Hill studio. "This article is going to come out and people are going to say, 'Another fucking hippie. Why don't they die, these people?'" Eno takes a rueful sip of his Flor de Jamaica hibiscus tea – a choice of beverage that might seem to confirm his point.

The artist christened Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno in Suffolk 61 years ago is, fingers crossed, wrong. In an age in which we venerate the idea of the lonely artist toiling in a garret before coming down to present the Great Work, Eno wants to suggest alternative visions of how art is made, how it works, and why we need it. Admittedly, if he was an ordinary mortal, you wouldn't give two hoots, but Eno is one of the most consistently diverting creative presences in Britain: godfather of ambient music, visual artist, Prospect magazine columnist, one-time bemulletted techno-whizz at Roxy Music's keyboards, and the record producer who made U2, Talking Heads, David Bowie and even Coldplay sound so compelling.

Eno moves his mug and draws me a diagram. This, it transpires, isn't so much an interview as a gentle lecture by a widely read, reflective gent. Over the course of a couple of hours, he will threaten me with violence, teach me about shipbuilding, chat about surfing, and explain why religion is similar to sex and drugs. I've been in worse situations.

On one side of Eno's scale diagram, he writes "control"; on the other "surrender". "We've tended to dignify the controlling end of the spectrum," he says. "We have Nobel prizes for that end." His idea is that control is what we generally believe the greats – Shakespeare, Picasso, Einstein, Wagner – were about. Such people, the argument goes, controlled their chosen fields, working in isolation, never needing any creative input from others. As for surrender, that idea has become debased: it's come to mean what the rest of us do when confronted by a work of genius. "We've tended to think of the surrender end as a luxury, a nice thing you add to your life when you've done the serious work of getting a job, getting your pension sorted out. I'm saying that's all wrong."

He pauses, then asks: "I don't know if you've ever read much about the history of shipbuilding?" Not a word. "Old wooden ships had to be constantly caulked up because they leaked. When technology improved, and they could make stiffer ships because of a different way of holding boards together, they broke up. So they went back to making ships that didn't fit together properly, ships that had flexion. The best vessels surrendered: they allowed themselves to be moved by the circumstances.

"Control and surrender have to be kept in balance. That's what surfers do – take control of the situation, then be carried, then take control. In the last few thousand years, we've become incredibly adept technically. We've treasured the controlling part of ourselves and neglected the surrendering part." Eno considers all his recent art to be a rebuttal to this attitude. "I want to rethink surrender as an active verb," he says. "It's not just you being escapist; it's an active choice. I'm not saying we've got to stop being such controlling beings. I'm not saying we've got to be back-to-the-earth hippies. I'm saying something more complex."

But, I suggest, you weren't always thus. In Roxy Music four decades ago, you and Bryan Ferry were the ultimate control queens. Roxy wasn't a glam rock band, but a pop assemblage by former art-school students: cherry-picking from rock'n'roll, heavy metal and any other style that took their fancy. "Jesus Christ," snaps Eno. "The second question is about Roxy Music. I knew it. Where's that knife? I'm sick of journalists asking me if I'm going to reform Roxy Music. Didn't I warn you I'd shoot you if you asked about Roxy Music?" He is, I think, joking.

But I wasn't asking if you're going to reform (that would be a terrible idea). Rather, I was asking if you've become less of a controlling artist. "Yes, I know. And I guess you're right. Rock music was only 15 years old when Roxy began – for the first time, it had started to reflect on its history. There was the sense of a palette you could play with. We thought, 'Here's a form – we can take it apart and put it back together again.'"

That isn't how he works today, though. "I set up situations that involve abandoning control and finding out what happens." And now, in his most improbable guise yet, as artistic director of the 2010 Brighton festival, Eno wants to programme works that demonstrate why surrender is key to the sort of music and art that excite him. "I came to this idea because I noticed that when I set up these situations, they made audiences engage in unusual behaviour."

Throwing tennis balls at pianos

One work to be shown at the festival, which starts on Saturday, is 77 Million Paintings, Eno's 2006 audiovisual installation. It's what he calls generative art. He drew coloured abstract images, cut them up and projected them on to luminous screens using randomising software. The images appear, morph and dissolve into one another, replaced by new configurations. Layers of ambient sound, similarly morphing, interweave with the images. Some of you may indeed be thinking, "Why don't they die, these hippies?", but still.

Eno has often worked in this experimental way. At art school in Ipswich in the late 1960s, his teacher, the painter Tom Phillips, encouraged him to explore his unusual musical interests. So he and Phillips lined up pianos in a hall and threw tennis balls at them. When I call Eno a couple of weeks after we speak, he tells me about another installation he's planning for Brighton. He calls it "three-dimensional instantiations" of verses by the poet Rick Holland. "I'm not quite sure what that means yet," he whispers, "but it will be generative art over which I have no control." In this context, Eno's two years with Roxy Music in the early 1970s are the most conventional and uninteresting period of his creative life.

What Eno likes about 77 Million Paintings is that he has no idea what will appear on screen, nor what aesthetic effects will be produced. "That's pretty interesting. But what interests me more is the way people experience them. My shows are not narratives. Nothing much happens yet people come and stay for hours in a contemplative state. I thought, 'What else is like this?' Somebody sitting down in the countryside on a sunny day looking at the river; somebody sitting at the back of a church in the city for a completely non-religious purpose. There's some of that – wanting to calm down and be still."

Eno's contention is that there are four areas – religion, art, sex, drugs – in which this kind of surrender is prized. "These are areas where you stop being manipulators of your surroundings and become recipients. In religion, you stop being you and you start to become us. With drugs, you go from being you to being part of everything. In lots of South American cultures, religion and drugs are very close. In Hinduism, sex and religion are very close." His eyes twinkle. "For us lucky few, all four are mixed up."

Isn't this a lot like religious ecstasy? "Religious ecstasy has overtones of Catherine of Siena drinking the pus of lepers. Ecstasy for me can be the feeling of being happy to be not in control: trusting that if you let go of the precipice, you're going to be all right." This is the message he finds in gospel music, in ecstatic songs he adores such as Dorothy Love Coates's Lord, Don't Forget About Me. "The big message of gospel is that you don't have to keep fighting the universe; you can stop and the universe is quite good to you. There is a loss of ego." But surely Coates's plea is egotistical: she's asking God to remember her in her suffering, not anyone else. "Yes, but it's about trusting that things will be better and that you don't control your fate. Gospel is always about that."

Such passions are hardly what one would expect of this veteran keyboard noodler and twiddler of mixing desk knobs. But every Tuesday evening at his London studio, Eno hosts an a cappella group; Paul McCartney has attended. "The simplicity of a group of people standing together and singing appealed to me," he says. "When it's going really well, we don't know what we're singing or who's singing what."

For Brighton, Eno has programmed This Is A Cappella!, in which two New York groups of singers, Naturally 7 and the Persuasions, plus Seattle-based singer Reggie Watts, will try to prove the point that Eno makes in his programme notes. "I believe," he writes, "that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, new friends."

The point is that a cappella harnesses the creative intelligence of a whole group. By contrast, says Eno, high art is about separating geniuses from foot soldiers. "A cappella subverts that: it's highly composed music but there's no composer. You can't say who wrote it. You can't say how it came about. And that's how music has been for me. I hardly ever go into the studio with a work complete in my head. It emerges from communal activity."

Most people, he adds, forget the importance of the drummer Jonathan "Sugarfoot" Moffett when they assess Michael Jackson's genius. "I'm convinced Sugarfoot's kick-drum technique is as important to Michael Jackson's music as anything else, even Quincy Jones [Jackson's celebrated producer]. It's invidious to separate each contribution. It's not individuals who create things, it's scenes – a community of people."

Eno has a word for this: scenius. What does it mean? "Genius is individual, scenius is communal." He hopes This Is Pure Scenius!, a Brighton event he will take part in, will illustrate this point. Pure Scenius will be a six-hour improvised show featuring several musicians, including Karl Hyde from Underworld, guitarist Leo Abrahams, synth-player Jon Hopkins, plus an Australian three-piece avant-garde jazz band called the Necks. Pure Scenius first took place in Sydney last year, prompting the Morning Herald to say: "The theatre of the music-making process was as enthralling as the music itself." Above the musicians sits an overhead projector, on which Eno writes notes. "I'll write things like, 'On a count of four stop playing,' and suggestive ideas for new kinds of music like 'warm blood' or 'Ikebana noise club'."

Why would anybody in their right mind want to watch a six-hour improvisation? "People did sit through the whole six hours. I think audiences are quite comfortable watching something coming into being. The process of it forming before it gels is as interesting as the gelling."

Isn't it an ordeal for the musicians? I ring Karl Hyde, who sang on Underworld's Born Slippy and whom Eno considers a brilliant lyricist. "It appeals to me in that it's not easy," he says. "I go on stage with a book of poems, a shortwave radio and a mic with delay lines and hope it's going to work out. You're on your toes for six hours." Hyde says there will be tea-making facilities on stage. "So even if you're not playing, you're still part of it, lending your support." Surely you do some prep? "Weeks before, we jam together to develop a kind of musical palette. We build up 18 hours of music. Then we try to use that to create something."

Do Eno's instructions help? What, for instance, does Hyde take "Ikebana noise club" to mean? "I understood Brian to mean a club where people listen to black noise. I could be wrong. Brian reminds me of the way Miles Davis used to work: he'd get musicians to put their heads together and then say, 'You now must connect.' Brian's like that, though he hates being the leader of the band."

I put this to Eno. "I recognise the similarity," he says. "There was often a generative element in Miles. You put a certain set of circumstances together and you don't know in advance what the results will be. It's very touching for reasons that are hard to define."

Eno's approach is very different from that of Anish Kapoor, his predecessor as the festival's artistic director. "Anish's concept was to seed Brighton with his big works, which was very impressive. I just want to spend a month there and see things happening. I have quite a demanding life, so Brighton's sort of a holiday." Yeah, right. Eno will also take part in an on-stage conversation called Reasons for Optimism, organise This Is Afrobeat! and oversee a live performance of his album Apollo, the music he composed for the 1989 lunar documentary For All Mankind. Hardly a holiday.

What's more, he will give an illustrated lecture on the purpose of art. During it, he promises to talk about surrender, complexity theory, generative art – and probably a bit of surfing, sex and drugs, too. Typical hippie. Surely their time is over?

Brighton rocks: Festival picks

Marine Parade

Dramatist Simon Stephens and Mark Eitzel, of the San Francisco band American Music Club, collaborate in a story of sex, betrayal and renewed hope, set in a seafront B&B. Old Market, 18-23 May.

Lali Puna and Jon Hopkins

Two cult electronic artists join forces: lest anyone protest that live electronica is hardly a visual feast, Hopkins performs with "video jockey" Myogenic. Pavilion theatre, 20 May.

Before I Sleep

How long does it take to deliver a cup of coffee? A century, in dreamthinkspeak's promenade-style reimagining of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. Old Co-Op Building. Saturday to 23 May.

Ian King and Alasdair Roberts

The much-hyped King, fresh from collaborating with dub producer Adrian Sherwood, with the fantastic Roberts and his traditional balladry. Komedia, 7 May.

Best Before

Rimini Protokoll, the German reality theatre pioneers, work with real people not actors. Here they aim to get the audience engaged in a multiplatform video game. Sallis Benney theatre, 19-23 May.

The Girl I Left Behind Me

From Strauss and Mozart to the Victorian music hall, director Neil Bartlett and mezzo-soprano Jessica Walker (below) explore the sexiness of a girl in trousers. Theatre Royal, 22 May.

Rokia Traoré and Sweet Billy Pilgrim

An intriguing double bill that teams Malian singer-songwriter Traoré with the Mercury prize-nominated band. Dome, 6 May.

By Lyn Gardner and Alexis Petridis. The festival runs from Saturday to 23 May. Box office: 01273 709709. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 06 2010

Art attack

With the tour for new album Heligoland spawning pop-up exhibitions, Massive Attack's Robert '3D' Del Naja looks back on his work with a who's who of creative collaborators

It's been two decades since Massive Attack stood sweating it out on LA's West Pico Boulevard, filming that video for their first single Unfinished Sympathy. With original art scenester Leigh Bowery helping co-ordinate LA's lowlife on one side, and David Lynch's cameraman trying to film them on the other, it was an art-pop epic that would never have been easy to follow up. But, for a group of self-proclaimed "lazy Bristol twats", Massive Attack haven't half done a good job of blowing our expectations to bits.

Brushing aside their seminal music (Blue Lines, Protection, Mezzanine), part of the band's enduring appeal lies in their creation of an actual Massive aesthetic: high-concept videos and beautiful, if downright creepy, album sleeves. For better or worse, without them there might be no Banksy; Stephen Bliss might not have made it as Grand Theft Auto's artmaker-in-chief after his comic-strip cover for remix album No Protection; and the spirit of Jean Michel Basquiat wouldn't have haunted late-80s Bristol in quite the same way. Now, on the eve of releasing their fifth album, Heligoland, Robert "3D" Del Naja talks us through the band's visual adventures.

GOLDIE AND GRAFFITI (1985) 3D becomes a spraycan hero to Banksy, and paint partner to future jungle star Goldie

"Graffiti was a perfect way out. I didn't finish my education, I was a bit of a layabout, but between 1983 and 1986 I was painting all over Bristol. Through that I got into more abstract work from New York, Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, then I started stenciling. That's the stuff Banksy always says made the most impact on him. I first met Goldie at the Bristol Arnolfini exhibition in 1985, which I think was the first in this country to put graffiti in a gallery and suddenly validate us. I spent a mad night painting with him on this massive municipal housing estate in Wolverhampton. We painted until dawn and then found out someone had painted "Niggers did this" on it as soon as we'd crashed out; it'd gone before we'd had a chance to look at it but Goldie found the guy. He almost beheaded him with a spade."

UNFINISHED SYMPATHY (1991) Often cited as the best track of the 90s, this video was shot in a single take

"Us Bristol boys being rough-around-the-edges is what made us work so well with people like [video director] Baillie Walsh, Leigh Bowery, Cameron McVey and [fashion designer Ray Petri's] Buffalo crew. They were very much the London style council of the time. Leigh Bowery was definitely the most outrageous character, but because we weren't part of that London scene, he tried to dress down and go low-key around us. This basically meant he turned up to the shoot for Unfinished in LA, dressed in this mental outfit, like a faux-Manc casual. Massive parka, a mad pudding-basin wig, big Stone Roses baggies, and dripping with sweat. He was credited as art director, helping out Baillie Walsh's team while we were grilling the cameraman, who was David Lynch's steadicam operator. We did his head in about Blue Velvet; at the end, he was supposed to do an overhead shot of LA while Shara Nelson walked around the corner on these Scorsese-ish mean streets. I think we knackered him out of it."

PROTECTION (1994) Michel Gondry turns moody epic into Rear Window

"The Protection video shoot was the most agonising by far. We were lucky to work with Michel Gondry but I can safely say it was the start of all my back problems in life. I had to hold myself for around 15 takes against a slanting wall, in freezing Paris weather. We couldn't get our heads around it until he bought this scaled-down Lego model to the pub … or was it the record company? Either way I had a drink in my hand. But you couldn't storyboard it; without the model you couldn't understand how it would work. He was a very subtle guy, not a big booming director, and had such a strong imagination you had to trust him completely. I'd love to say that idea came all from us, but as a band I guess we take comfort in the fact that he was inspired by the song we gave him."

TEARDROP (1998) Creepy Walter Stern video with a lip-syncing foetus mouthing Liz Fraser's vocal

"We kept the Teardrop baby but being made of old latex, it just doesn't have the longevity. It's now just a primitive animatronic half-creature in a puddle of rotten latex. It's still quite scary: it's like a museum piece, but for all the wrong reasons. We cut ourselves out of a fuckload of money with that song. We got an email from Bryan Singer saying the entire concept of House [which used it as its theme] was based on Teardrop. We were flattered. We let him have it."

MEZZANINE (1998) Fashion snapper Nick Knight's insect styling

"By this point I'd painted on wood, on metal, on canvas and with this album I wanted to go for something more photographic. I started off with images of spiders. I was really obsessed, having mad dreams about them; I wanted a spider's abdomen on the back of the album cover and I wanted to develop this idea of making clothes from spider skin. It was all very trippy shit that proved quite difficult to make it into anything, but then Nick Knight showed me these shots of beetles that he'd taken in the Natural History Museum. They were really beautiful. That kind of settled it."

100TH WINDOW (2003) With Daddy G on sabbatical, Nick Knight blows stuff up

"This is the most expensive sleeve we and, I'm told, EMI ever made. If I'd painted that cover [after G left], it would have looked like it was my project so I went back to Nick Knight to work on something more abstract. I was thinking about crystals, refracted light and prisms, and Nick was talking about blowing things up. In the end, we found a glassblower in Brixton willing to make eight human-sized figures. We blew them up on a controlled site and shot them shattering with multiple cameras. It was crazy expensive, having this warehouse full of glass humans exploding."

LIVE SHOWS (2003 pictured) Sloganeering with Unitedvisualartists

"I worked with UnitedVisualArtists on designing our live show visuals but it evolves depending on the tracks and what's happening in the world. It's an update on the idea of putting a slogan on a wall in protest like graffiti. In Milan we transmitted a news piece on a kid who had died in police custody and the crowd went mad. It was posted on YouTube, La Republicca picked it up and there was eventually enough media fuss that the ministry of justice apologised to the family and opened an investigation. I wouldn't say we had a big role in that, but it's interesting to see how things move."

WAR STORIES (2007) The man from UNKLE asks 3D to paint the cover of their album

"It was because James Lavelle wanted me to do the artwork for [2007 UNKLE album] War Stories that I started painting again. I don't have that drive to create all the time. Plus, painting is difficult for me because I'm colourblind. Back in the day, I had to label my spraycans with what colour they were because I couldn't tell. No one's told me I've gone drastically wrong. It's like the emperor's new clothes: them telling me it's great and me pretending that's what I intended. In the seven years I stopped painting, the art market went mad."

PARADISE CIRCUS (2010) Seventies porn star Georgina Spelvin looks back at her career for new video

"With the new album, we've given the directors a song each and complete control. Jon Glazer [who also made Live With Me for the band in 2006] said he had a great idea, I told him not to even tell us and just do it. I don't know how Toby [Dye] found this lady but it feels quite Warhol, her talking to camera like that; there's something really beautiful about her."

HELIGOLAND (2010) New Massive Attack album art banned on London Underground

"We can't use any of the Heligoland artwork I've painted for the posters on London Underground. They won't allow anything on the tube that looks like 'street art'. They want us to remove all drips and fuzz from it so it doesn't look like it's been spray-painted, which is fucking ridiculous. It's the most absurd censorship I've ever seen. We're hosting pop-up galleries [on] tour this year. We've got UnitedVisualArtists; Steve Bliss's No Protection artwork which was like an early prototype for his Grand Theft Auto stuff; and all the extras from Mezzanine and 100th Window." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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