I took a walk across town yesterday, south to Kreuzberg. My friend Michael Schoenke had invited me over to watch the European Championship match between Germany and Portugal. The game didn’t start until 8.45pm so apart from that kick-off time I was free of a niggling deadline for what felt like the first time this year.
The pressurised state of affairs, prior to yesterday had been mounting since September 2011, when along with Katharine Eastman, Brigitte Schiller and Helen Schumann I had begun work on the PuppCast Project in the Schilling Schule Neukolln. It is impossible to give a quick summary of what this project was and why it became so stressful for everyone working on it, so I will simply say that the pressure came from setting ourselves the task of making a weekly broadcast with a different class from the school and trying to sustain this throughout the year.
On Friday we presented a 2 hour programme of the filmed broadcasts to the pupils, teachers and a representative from the Berlin Senate. With that, our work was finally done.
What follows is the introduction.
Hanno straightened up. He rubbed one hand over the piano’s polished surface, gave a shy look at the company, and somewhat emboldened by the Grandmamma and Aunt Tony, brought out, in a low, almost a hard voice: “ The Shepherd’s Sunday Hymn by Uhland.”
“Oh, my dear child, not like that,” called out the Senator. “Don’t stick there by the piano and cross your hands on your tummy like that! Stand up! Speak out! That’s the first thing. Here, stand here between the curtains. Now, hold your head up – let your arms hang down quietly at your sides.”………
……………………………………………… “ This is the day of our- “ he (Hanno) began very low. His father’s voice sounded loud by contrast when he interrupted: “One begins with a bow, my son. And then much louder. Begin again, please : Shepherd’s Sunday Hymn,” encouragingly, remorselessly.
But it was all up with Hanno……………..”I stand alone on the vacant plain,” he said but could get no further.
In this short extract from Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks we find a perfect example of what the PuppCast project is not.
The aim of the Puppcast project was to put learning at its core and this was possible through the wide range of different media used. We could only find out through doing what worked and what didn’t. Unlike Thomas Buddenbrooks chiding his son, the PuppCast project could only learn through collaboration and cooperation between everyone involved. We had no prescriptive answers and could only reach a broadcast with both each class and each pupil by a week or two of intense, challenging yet enjoyable work together.
So at the conclusion of the Project we wish to thank the Schilling Schule Leaders and …..
………. But most of all the pupils and especially those who were ready to grasp this opportunity and who now through their trust and openness are allowing others to share their unique view on the world.
I lost an hour somewhere
But it’s that time of year
I once wrote a song in half an hour it was called Clocks.* I remember trying to write down everything I was thinking from quarter to until quarter past 12 on the night winter officially turned into spring. That was in 1981, upstairs in the small middle bedroom of my family home in Glenrothes, Scotland and 30 years on I have just gained an hour as I begin typing this text in the front room of a 4th floor flat in Mitte, Berlin.
The Clocks went back last night and I know at 5.30pm today it will be dark outside and shortly after I will have given up work for the day. I used to be really good at working through the night but over the past decade that has become increasingly rare for me. I can’t claim it has something to do with a technical or artistic need for daylight, it feels more like my head has filled up at a much earlier point in the day, too cluttered to try and build or say anything of use. Better to do something else and then see what I can offer the next stretch of daylight.
One of the last late night studio sessions I can remember was just before I moved to London in 2001. I was sorting through drawings and paintings to chuck out or store and keep, in a large attic studio in Stockbridge Edinburgh that I shared with 6 other painters. Around 1.30am I was stirred by the creaking sound of the heavy side door being opened and while trying to convince myself that there was nothing to be afraid of Graham suddenly appeared, standing between the plasterboard partitions to my space. Graham had had a studio in the building long before I had moved in, over the years there had been lengthy periods where he would not come in and when he did he would be argumentative, temperamental and erratic for a few weeks and then disappear again. We had always been on friendly terms though, maybe due to a mutual liking of German Lieder, particularly Schubert’s Winterreise. I had not seen him in the studio for months and entering my space he said how surprised he was to see me and then told about the singing he was doing at the time and how he had some free time coming up to get back into the studio. I told him what I was up to and he was genuinely thrilled. He then went into his own space and several hours passed with us both pushing paper and stuff around, now and again punctuating the night time with raised-voice, snippets of small-talk and songs thrown back and forth. I can’t fully remember how we parted. I know we wished each other success with future plans and I left first around 5am. Working through the night more or less stopped for me around then, the final clearing and moving out of the studio was done during the day and once in London my work and hours changed completely. Ten months after the move and just a few months before I began an MA at the Slade school of Art I received an email from a friend at the Edinburgh Studios. Graham was dead in broad day light he had run and vaulted from the Waverly Bridge.
A loud splash jolts me awake in the bath, for the umpteenth time the book I’m reading has slipped from my hands. I experienced two firsts this summer, listening to Test Match Special in Berlin and reading Marcel Proust.
I hardly ever read fiction and the decision to read a Marcel Proust book came from the countless references to him in the non-fiction I have read in recent years. I struggled through the first 60 pages of Swann’s way that are without a single chapter break but following that I felt myself simply travelling through the words as the pages continued to turn. I began to suspect that the drowsy wanderings, common to my reading, had been somehow anticipated by the author and carefully tailored into the pages; I am not sure how many others have experienced this with the book but on beginning to read a section I would slowly and progressively drift off while still being engaged with the text. After a while, I would never know how long, I would receive a jolt, the book falling from my hands, a bang or car screech, always at that point I would suddenly soar, all faculties flying back into the book at a crucial point of the narrative. I know that this sounds like a normal reaction whenever one reads a boring or difficult book but unlike the times I have dropped off and finally given up trying to read a book I have found dull, the drowsiness and distance I experienced reading Swan’s way always served to enrich and deepen my understanding of the book and I would argue, possibly more than if I had read it without the wanderings. I also noted an odd equation that would reckon with the number of pages read to the length of each session of reading, whether in the bath, lying on the Sofa or sitting at the bar on the corner. Although I would have consumed a dense sod of information and although I would have been reading for 2 or 3 hours I would have only moved on 3 to 5 pages.
Via the internet the late summer Test Match between England and India entered my summer and the peculiar time zone already set up by Marcel Proust. Since moving to Berlin I have tried to limit my listening of English speaking Radio, apart from not wishing to become a little Britain ex-pat I find it detrimental to learning German when I hear to too much English being spoken. This makes the audio monster that is Test Match special; 8 hours of air time per day, 5 days per match, 5 matches per summer, an obvious beast to avoid. I managed not to listen to it in my first two years in Berlin and I am not sure what changed this year, whether I relaxed, feeling I was hearing German a lot better or whether I just felt demoralised by it.
My relationship to cricket goes back to growing up in Lancashire. In summer everyone played cricket at a wicket chalked on a dustbin or wall. I could see a cricket ball well and had reasonably good timing to bat it and my mother showed me how to ball using the seam of the leather cricket ball. Sunday League cricket commentary droned from the telly once a week accompanied by the crowds late afternoon Thwaites’s slur version of the Chicory tip song, Son of my father. Oh Lanky Lanky LankyLankyLankyLanky Lankyshire.
When I moved to Scotland I moved away from cricket and it was almost 20 years later that I first heard test match special. My friend, fellow artist and at that time flat mate, Keith Grant had the broadcast mulching out of an old valve Roberts Radio in his room as he worked. That summer I was engulfed in a rich mix of oil paint and good coffee smells and entranced by Brian Johnston’s radio commentary and Keith’s enthusiasm for a young 5 foot 5 Indian batsman called Sachin Tendulkar. Over that summer I observed that every day of a test match a long wave audio hum would begin sounding at mid morning and suddenly stop around one o’clock, followed by Keith hurriedly leaving the flat still putting his jacket on. Returning shortly after he would hastily prepare his lunch and a fresh pot of coffee and take it directly to his room, seconds later the Radio hum would return and continue until early evening. I learned from this how Test match special provided an entertaining yet strict framework for an artist’s working day and some years on I would also use it as the perfect studio companion. On test match days I would do all the talking, reading and phoning I had to do that morning before 10.45am and then from start of play at 11 o’clock I would work while fixed at the radio in the studio until close of play at 6.30pm. Practically the match commentary allows for lunch and a couple of drink breaks but equally important it provides a conceptual echo to the visual job of the painter through the daily 8 hours of audio that works with and shapes time. Of course it keeps you informed of the match score but It would be no exaggeration to say that the game of cricket often becomes secondary to the TMS commentary particularly in the sections of play where nothing appears to be happening. This point was highlighted a few years back when they received an email from someone in New York who had been addicted to the programme for years but had no idea or interest of what sport was being played. Commentary of the winter tests can often take the notion of time to ever stranger heights as it links continents, Australia, India, Asia and the West Indies. Listening through a dark December night in northern Europe to the live buzz and business of a summer’s day’s play in Melbourne or Adelaide draws you magically into the warmth and light before having to re-live the same hours later that day in your cold dark land. On occasions I have longed for a test match to not just last for five days but to go on forever, I could see myself up there focussed and working, supported by the batsman Michael Atherton, stubbornly protecting his wicket day in and day out.
At the height of my test match special listening Michael Atherton was the England captain and opening batsman he was a great occupier of the crease and a big hero of mine, I loved the way he would diligently stick to the job in hand however boring that may have appeared to some TV viewers. At the tail end of his Test career England plummeted to be ranked as the lowest rated test nation. This summer things had turned full circle as 12 years on the voices of Jonathan Agnew, Phil Tufnell, Sunil Gavaskar and others filled the Berlin flat with news of consecutive English Test wins, which now ranked them number one. My summer listening slowly faded out with a 38 year old, 5 foot 5 Indian Batsman called Sachen Tandulka leaving the field in England probably for the last time.
I began writing this text as summer officially ended on Sunday 6th November 2011 so it is now taken a month to complete, a far cry from the days of my half hour ditty. Last weekend I visited my mother in hospital in Accrington. To do this and get back to Manchester Airport for a Sunday evening flight I travelled a loop of my childhood Lancashire towns, Blackburn, Rishton, Oswaldtwistle, Preston and Bolton. As the plane touched down in Berlin the passengers were informed of the local time prompting me and several others to put our watches forward an hour even though this is not meant to officially happen until Sunday the 11th of March 2012.
* recorded by Good and Gone in 1987. Click here to listen (track 3).
Wow, what started out as an experiment for Half-handed Cloud and the HFP became a totally SOLD OUT show! The email was ringing off the hook, there were people outside hoping to get in.. and those who did get in really made it a fantastic night for us by jumping in with both feet and braving a barrage of signs and music.
We began in the vestry, where punters passed through two halves of a covenant heifer to receive the first screenprint of the limited edition poster. A parade followed, through processional spaces to a brightly lit chapel. After this first set we emerged into a dark church where, behold, the poster was glowing in the dark! Lights on, and a picnic was laid out and the second print was done. More lights and the rest of the church was revealed, and our team of uniformed ushers transformed into a full band to play a set of new songs.
Thank you to all who came and made it a great night. And thank you to the band (L2R): Kerry Yong, Ping (hfp), Efe, John Ringhofer (HhC), Gavin Wright, Jon Haines, David (hfp) and Gaby Haines. More pictures and video will follow!
Leading art magazine Art Review has highlighted a stunning print we commissioned from James Hobbs in their January/February edition, in a section entitled “Now Buy This”.
James Hobbs took two adjacent frames from a 16mm film that captures the turbulent tide at Kilnsea… and enlarged and reproduced them as a cyanotype. Two identical diagrams have been overlaid in a hot silver foil. (Oliver Basciano)
Kilnsea: In Obsolescence
Cyanotype with silver foil debossing on 400gsm Arches Aquarelle
Edition of 50
James’ print is one of three editions we commissioned and exhibited at Christie’s Auction House. The prints are available individually or as part of a 9 x 5in cloth bound portfolio entitled ODDE.
Julie Rafalski’s screenprint series ‘Some People from the Encyclopaedia of Architecture’ crop out the grand projects and restore the humanity of the people who were intended only for scale. (note: There are five different images in Julie’s edition. Click here to view them all).
Lisa Peachey applied successive waves of screenprint, including portraits of her own eyes, in this meditation on truth and seeing. The blind debossing ‘Look You, This is a True Story’ titles the print and adds a tongue-in-cheek stamp of authority.
The first 20 of all three editions are available as a set in this beautiful cloth bound portfolio for £276.
Half-handed Cloud and Henningham Family Press proudly present a live music and screenprint show, with unreleased songs!
Date: Thursday 19th January 2012
Time: 8.00pm (performance starts promptly at 8.30pm)
Venue: St Barnabas Church, Shacklewell Row, Dalston, London, E8 2EA
£5 in advance inc. limited edition poster, (£6 on door)
This one-off show will take place in St Barnabas Church, a recently reopened hidden gem in Dalston. The band will take the audience through areas usually inaccessible to the public, playing songs from the extensive H-hC back catalogue and printing a limited edition glow-in-the-dark poster as we go. You will be whisked through the Old and New Testaments with us, singing, printing, eating and drinking, like some sort of Dada Sunday School. The show culminates in a set of previously unreleased songs.
This show is timed perfectly for that moment just after Christmas and New Year when you’ve been back at work for a few days and you’re feeling a bit aimless. No problem! Sitting ready on your mantlepiece will be the tickets you bought in December for the H-hC/HFP live show! Click the button below now and become slump-proofed!
We are pleased to announce the release of the Half-handed Cloud ‘Dove EP’ on Burnt Toast Vinyl. The album features seven new songs by John on the A-side, and spinning etched artwork by HFP on the B-side. A rotodisk spinning illustration! So you can listen to side A and then flip it over to watch side B.
We also present this music video for the song Slip Through the Cracks taken from the H-hC ‘Dove EP’. The 2011 release of this 12-inch gives us an opportunity to release this footage of our 12-foot vinyl show in London 2008.
We were privileged to discuss the songs with Half-handed Cloud as they were composed, and to perform them for the first time in 2008, a preview show of six unreleased songs! Now they’re released!
The vinyl record is available here from Burnt Toast Vinyl
Mornings, summer and winter always begin with a mug of green tea. Years ago it was espresso, then espresso with a cigarette and finally around 11 am, espresso with a sandwich and a cigarette. This continued until one day my stomach got really sore and my sister, a dietician spelled out the obvious. The pot of espresso doesn’t appear until around 10 am now well after I have lined my stomach with a good breakfast, more advice from my sister. Several years ago I replaced the daily two packets of cigarettes with 3 to 6 cigars a day, some weeks ago that also stopped.
Early morning tea is accompanied by the jingle of the laptop being switched on, a four note perversion of the Bernstein song New York New York ’s a wonderful town. For a former computer luddite I spend an enormous amount of my time staring into the screen these days keeping in touch through email and Skype, writing, editing film, processing sound, watching You Tube, listening to the radio and keeping an eye on the news.
Whether smoking or not, the hours spent sitting at the computer during the cold months have given me stiff-winter-legs, so today I decide while it’s still cool outside to take an early morning walk before starting work. Prior to leaving I check my emails and for any up-dates on the BBC news page about the Libyan situation, in particular, the reactions of the people and politicians of Great Britain. Since I started living in Berlin I view a number of British domestic affairs to be none of my business, I do however carry a British passport and consider it important to keep informed on her foreign policy, especially when it comes to dropping bombs on other countries.
From the coolness of the stairwell I step into a sunbathed street and make immediately for the shade across the road but not before checking for bikes. Berlin is more or less flat and therefore a great city to cycle around the only down side to this are the cyclists. Due to the amount of bikes that thunder down it, pedestrians are often no safer on the pavement than if they were to lie spread-eagle in the middle of the road. The two wheeled panzers that speed along are frequently manned by mummys-in-a-hurry top heavy with children, dogs, bags and boxes perched on every available horizontal surface of the machine. With the overall weight of a small elephant, little consideration is shown for any fool out walking on the pavement and even less to someone stupid enough to get in the way. I cross the road cautiously with the assistance and support of a car driver; whereas bikes are a menace the cars in Berlin can at times be almost freakishly too considerate towards pedestrians and cyclists, this morning is no exception as the approaching car sees me waiting on the kerb, slows down and beckons me to cross.
The bombing of Libya or the NATO No Fly Zone that Britain and France pushed for, began back in March, I was still smoking then. I remember puffing out gloriously rich plumes of cigar smoke while listening online to an episode of the News Quiz. Rory Bremner and Jeremy Hardy were joking about the way the government’s Foreign Secretary William Hague had pronounced Benghazi, (BenNGaaazzee) during a statement to the press, but however funny that was, British fighter planes had begun flying over Libya and British Bombs were being dropped on Libya. Back in 1986 on April 15th, I can remember standing on the central staircase of Grays school of Art in Aberdeen, telling Stevie O’Donnell what I had seen on TV earlier that morning; American planes, ordered by president Ronald Reagan, taking off from British air force basis, sanctioned by Prime minister Margaret Thatcher to go and bomb Tripoli or more specifically, go and get Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan involvement in the bombing of a disco in West Berlin was the reason given for the American attack back then while in 2011, the protection of Libyan civilians is NATO’s stated aim while barely disguising their support for the Rebel forces trying to topple the Gaddafi regime. Today, Gaddafi still holds on to power in Libya after 40 years, Reagan is dead, Thatcher is even more senile and I don’t smoke anymore.
Starlings bounce into each other and roll around in the sandy soil of Teutoburger Platz giving a frenzied and chaotic picture of their daily schedule, blackbirds on the other hand stalk their regular routes alone and with purpose. Years ago I worked as a Hall keeper and each morning as I opened up the various fire exits around the building I became aware of a blackbird on his daily forage around the grounds. At first I thought it was just coincidence that any old blackbird happened to be there at roughly the same time and place but as this continued like clockwork for weeks on end the evidence mounted to suggest it was the same bird each day. Of course I couldn’t prove it as I can’t distinguish one male blackbird from another and although I often acknowledged his presence as one might a passing dog, cat or neighbour, blackbirds in my experience show no interest in our petty pleasantries and therefore no tail wag, purr or nod of the head was ever returned. And it is the same with the blackbirds I see this morning in Berlin, stalking without distraction through bushes, over the odd shrapnel-scarred granite paving slab and amidst the vast spaces, made over 60 years ago between houses.
Having got sick of the daily yahoo homepage headlines of -knobs, dogs, kiddie porn, crims, pop stars, film stars and footballers I changed my homepage settings a couple of years ago to Yahoo Deutschland, I am still met with a daily dose of Knoepfe, Hunde und Kinderporno, so at least now I read this guff in German. At the start of the NATO No fly zone regular reports appeared on Yahoo Deutschland giving me a very general overview of things, however because of a Royal wedding in Britain and probably also due to the slowness, in popular news desk terms of the NATO military operations, reports about Libya have begun to slide into the background.
Crossing Schoenhauser Alle I stop to look at the Solnhofen Limestone statue of Alois Senefelder the inventor of lithography. Erected in 1892 the sculpture is fairly pedestrian considering its subject’s innovative contribution to both art and newspaper printing, although the mirror reversal of the redlefeneS siolA chiselled name is a nice touch and it is uncanny how much the litho stone that Senefelder stares into, looks like a present day ipad. A little to the side stands a Litfassseuler, Berlin born Ernst Litfass’s invention to present public announcements and advertising in a regular and tidy manner to the public. One can only speculate and wonder at the volume and variety of information that has been displayed around this particular column in well over 100 years, displayed here today however, is the hard copy equivalent of yahoo homepage, large posters for the American, summer box office film, Zoo Warden. I am now on Kollwitzstrasse in Prenzlauer Berg, an area of former East Berlin that since the fall of the wall in 1989 has experienced a creeping gentrification that many Berliners call, chickey mickey. From this spot there are a number of streets, squares and boulevards named after individuals from the 19th and 20th centuries who in their own way sang out for the common good of humanity, often paying a grim price for doing so. One of my favourites is Paul Robesonstrasse, named after the American bass-baritone singer and civil rights activist. The names of Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Marx are also acknowledged just five minutes south from here where the latter of these 3 political heavyweights replaced Stalin, in street-name terms, on a certain Berlin boulevard sign in 1961.
While searching more purposefully online to get news on Libya I came across a film clip of a recent Prime ministers question time, David Cameron being questioned on military matters by, Leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband. Their exchange made no real reference to killing, war or destruction and even though the word “War” was mentioned once, both men appeared more focused on the battle to be seen as the best protector of the British tax payers’ money. At no point was there any reflection on what happens to civilians, (numbering 800 so far in a recent Pravda report on the NATO No Fly Zone over Libya) who get in the way of a Dual-Mode Brimstone, Paveway, Tomahawk or Storm shadow missile. Although the media named this PMQT exchange a percentage winning performance by New Labour’s Ed Miliband I could only make out a tuneless drone produced from two career politicians singing from the same song sheet and as far as I know neither have had a street named after them yet.
At the north end of Kollwitzstrasse I reach Danziger Strasse, a wide road with trams rumbling heavy yellow down the middle. Road signs tell me that if I were to turn right here I would be heading for Frankfurt and Dresden and taking a further left would see me on the road to Hamburg. I take the first left and head back to the flat. I could kill for a smoke.
It is just over 100 days since NATO began its operations over Libya. My online reading informs me that so far 5,000 strategically placed Great British bombs costing 250million strategically placed Great British pounds have been spent. Another report claims that in 2009 various arms trading nations including Great Britain sold $470million worth of weapons to Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Statistics like these are fairly easy to find in the news, delivered by politicians and traders with a confident, dry, matter-of-factness, statistics for casualties remain less clear.