Sunday, 30 October 2011

Denmark, again

Evening all! Last night I returned home from my favourite country in the world - Denmark! (wow didn't see that coming.) Cynicism aside, it was brilliant to be back there, even for just a week, and to help explain what my trip consisted of, I've taken a photo of the books and leaflets I collected while there. I'll take you through them quickly:

1. This little, covered up magazine was free at the Fritz Hansen place in Illums Bolighus, so I thought I would pinch one to obsess over in England. Fritz Hansen is a Danish furniture distributor that owns a lot of Jacobsen pieces, and Illums Bolighus is a massive furniture store. Basically, heaven (for me). Dozens of Danish designs and design classics for you to sit in and marvel at the price tags. It's a brilliant shop, if you're into that sort of thing. They also have Vitra, Muuto and Iittala sections. For most people those are just words but for me they mean one thing: awesome design. And mainly Scandinavian too, so I'm not complaining.

2. Next up is another free handout, this time an info leaflet from Arken Museum. Yeah, remember Arken? I visisted it last time I was in Denmark, and returned this year to see what was new. The main exhibition was some Warhol thing, but Warhol annoys me with his imperfections and useless pop culture references, so I gave that about two minutes then left it in search of something a bit more challenging. And I found it - in Olafur Eliasson's experiential piece 'The Blind Passenger' which took up the length of the museum's main hall. Here it is:

Yeah, it's a big box. But it's what's inside the box that counts (book by its cover and all that) - after a scary warning sign on the door, you enter the installation and it's full of fine smoke and atmospheric lights. With low visibility and your hands struggling to find the walls, you walk through the box. You walk through several colours of light, experiencing the artwork and the atmosphere, then emerge out the other end of the box, quite changed. It's a fantastic piece of art and, though it doesn't have anything to say beyond commenting on our senses and experiences, it was worth several visits. Arken is a top-class modern art gallery (ignoring Warhol), it's just a shame they don't change what's on show very often.

3. One of the major finds of my trip to Copenhagen turned out to be something English - the creative review magazine It's Nice That is the publication version of the It's Nice That blog. I've been reading the blog now for over a year, and it's an excellent way to find fresh photography, art and graphic design talent and is brilliantly curated. The magazine - which I spied on the shelf of an Urban Outfitters shop in Stroget (ironic how I find myself buying a magazine I could buy in England in a shop I could buy from in England) - is a bound version of the blog with a few interviews and articles thrown in. It's a great mag, but I think I'll stick to reading the blog because it's quite pricey. I got it on discount, but I wouldn't buy it for its usual ~£10 price. Sorry guys.

4. & 5. As part of my visit, We went to the Danish Design School to talk to an admissions representative to see if I could get in. The result of the meeting was thus: it's gonna be damn hard to get in to the college, but here's some booklets anyway. I'd need to be fluent and pass some Studieproven test, etc etc, so it's not looking good in that respect, but these booklets are great and very contemporary. The work of DDS students inside is equally good, of course.

6. Last time I was in the Danish Design Centre, I picked up my design bible - a book about Jacobsen. Second time around, I bought a book about Panton. Might as well bulk out my bookshelves, at the moment they're looking a little too empty of decent design books and a little too full of Wallpaper magazines. This book seems to be a lot more about Panton's design philosophies rather than his life and complete works, but I don't mind, I'm not such an avid fan of his work as I am Jacobsen's.

7. I also returned to Det Kongelige Bibliotek - the royal library - and its extension, the Black Diamond (yeah, remember?) to sample some coffee and some photography. I hit gold with the library's current exhibition, a collection of urban sets by Gregory Crewdson, the centerpiece: Beneath the Roses, a set about the loneliness and dischord of suburban American life:

The photography has a similar perspective to the stories of Raymond Carver (who I've recently studied and appreciated in my English class), and the paintings of Edward Hopper (ie. Nighthawks, which I love), so it's no wonder this exhibition was music to my ears (in a photography way). The set Beneath the Roses, especially, drew out the bland anonymity of 70s American suburbia... remind you of anything? A certain album I have obsessed over? Yeah, though the set is not totally similar to The Suburbs, they have common ground. Just another coincidence about this exhibition. Yeah, I loved it.

8. The final thing in this photo (yeah, scroll back up to see it) is a bit of a strange one. And a boring one to most of you. Because, recently, I've become drawn to postmodernism, the design, art and architectural style of the 70s, 80s and early 90s, the time when designers etc. put a middle finger up to dull modernism and tried something different. Normally, I'd hate postmodernism, but I'm beginning to appreciate its justifications and reasons (mainly the emergence of the inefficient, thoughtless boilerplate modernism in the 70s) - though I still don't like the work itself. This book should help with my understanding of postmodernism, or at least that was my thinking.

And that's it! That was Denmark! Oh yeah, one final thing: when I was there, I turned a corner and bumped into one of my favourite buildings, Jacobsen's Danmarks Nationalbank. I always thought it was placed somewhere out in the Danish countryside, or in a Copenhagen suburb, but it turns out it was right in the city centre. It's got an acute angle on this corner, which stops it being as boring as it might be with a right angle, which was good to see. Jacobsen, you jammy dodger.


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Learning to drive

Good evening to you all. I'm in a good mood because, well, it's my birthday! I'd be cynical and rant on about how we get so excited about birthdays but they're just some stupid biological event (and not even that), and a step closer to death or something else Kafkaesque, but I don't want to spoil the mood so I'll leave you to read last year's post about that.

OK, onto this year. Being 17 means, mainly, that I can drive - and drive I will! Lessons, then the test, then the provisional license, then I'll be able to go wherever I like, once the extortionate insurance is sorted out. And, on that thought, I'm reminded of an analogy used in Arcade Fire's 'In the Backseat'. Sure, I'm getting way too obsessed with this band, but hear me out: the song uses the analogy of sitting in the backseat of a car to not have responsibility and control over your life. Learning to drive is you preparing yourself for being in charge of your own life, having your own problems, etc. In the song, Régine sings 'I don't have to drive / I don't have to speak / I can watch the countryside'; and this is exactly how it is. Kids, even teenagers, are led through their young lives by their parents, the 'driver', and simply need to enjoy the ride. This motif is repeated in 'The Suburbs', with 'in the suburbs I / I learned to drive' - adolescence is the period in your life when you start to take responsibility and control over yourself.

Anyway, back on topic, that's how I feel. That these new abilities like learning to drive are opening my life up into what it will eventually be, and I can't wait. Sure, there's all that fiddling around with money that I've yet to worry about properly, but other than that, adult life sounds brilliant. Plus, I'd be out of this goddamn school and doing what I love. Exactly what that will be, I haven't yet decided. Design is looking awfully good right now, since I discovered postmodernism (tasteless but very interesting).

In all honesty, I've done very little in the way of creative stuff since I started sixth form in September. That's one and half months, and I've barely touched my Lego, that second Suspension scene looking as far off as ever, let alone another bit of architecture. Design sketches have become few and far between, as, I'm sure you've noticed, have blog posts; but change is change. Simply put, I have a lot more in my life and something has to temporarily shift to make room. Not that I haven't been productive at all; I created a whole lot of school club posters a few weeks ago, and last weekend mocked up a website design, and I've signed up to do graphic design and set design for many school productions and events that seem too far off into the future to satisfy my excitement.

That's really all I have by means of an excuse, either for few blog posts or the lack of Suspension additions.  Half term's next week but even that won't give me much time to make a start on the second scene, as I'm off to Denmark for four days to sample universities and open sandwiches and such. I've been learning Danish at St Catherine's Church in London, so it will also give me a chance to try out my Daneglish.

Before I go, here's a picture I drew of how this evening went down, mainly as a thank-you to people on Facebook for 'remembering' my birthday:

Yeah, I know it's crap, that's part of the humour of it. I think. Basically, don't take it seriously. I don't.

~ John

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Flatlands, 2011

Long time no see, avid JOHNSPACE readers (ha ha, I'm making jokes already). A lot has happened since I last blogged and annoyingly you've caught me on another bad evening. Oh fun. Anywho, I figured I'd break my blogging silence and show you some photos of Iceland I got back from the developer after a few months of the negatives presumably sitting on their desk, and they eventually thought "gee, I guess we'd better develop and scan this for our only film customer". Nonetheless it's back in my grubby hands and I've got a short post of photographs to show you of my travels.

Firstly, let's get the title sorted with. I've called this short photoset 'Flatlands', which may seem odd if you know what Iceland is: a country full of mountains, glaciers and volcanoes. And yeah, it is odd. But I wanted to aim for something that didn't just state the obvious; something to use over 'land of hot and cold' or something cliché like that. So how to be different? Well, why not give it a misnomer that has some sort of meaning and things should be more interesting - hence 'Flatlands'. Yeah, it's a crappy reason for a title, but I like to think of it as 'social flatlands' or 'flatlands of civilisation', because socially Iceland is a barren rock. It does have a culture, of course, and enough nightclubs in Reykjavik to keep the country's population of 300,000 busy on a friday night - but in terms of the sprawl and the interconnected civilisation I know well, Iceland is lacking. Nearly half of its population lives in the capital, Reykjavik, or its suburbs. Other than that, it's hard for towns to really get their size up due to a barren, almost outback-like landscape and a small population that isn't too bothered in growing. It's this sort of whimsical happiness, combined with a historical cultural pessimism, that makes Iceland such a strange place. But I'm not complaining; with exports like Sigur Rós, Björk and clothing brand Vík Prjónsdottír, it's hard not to like the Icelanders.*

Anyway, on to my photos from my trip there. We stayed in a hotel in Reykjavik but I won't show you any pictures of the capital other than this one - because, to be honest, it was crappy; or at least the area we were in. A Hotel Björk, ironically. Reykjavik, though practical and the centre of all Icelandic civilisation, is essentially a bunch of houses, some nice shops and restaurants, and some offices. There's not much more to it, though we did visit Reykjavik Art Museum, which was... interesting. Modern art; I'll say no more.

The real Iceland, the bit you have to see if you're going there, the bit I loved, was the geography. There are countless national parks full of geysers, glaciers and volcanoes, but if you're stationed in the capital the best thing to do is travel along Route 1 and into Þingvellur National Park. Route 1, an unending and well-kept road that extends out of Reykjavik across the south of the country, was expectedly dull. But hey, there's always Icelandic radio to cheer you up on a long car journey (insert sarcasm here). Route 1 took us through the 'towns' of Hveragerði, Selfoss, Hella and Hvolsvöllur. I say 'towns' because, though marked on the map as major settlements, they were barely villages. Selfoss was the largest of the four and even that wasn't much; enough to have a Bónus supermarket and a few cheap cafés. But it gets worse; don't expect to find anything in the coastal town of Stokkseyri other than a closed-down ghost museum. Huh.

Þingvellur offered a lot of interesting sights, but if you travel out a bit more you can get to Geysir - the original geyser. Old Faithful's got nuthin on Geyir, unless you're measuring size or power, in which case Old Faithful trumps the Icelandic offering. Even still, Geysir is where we get the word 'geyser' from.

Also out somewhere east of Þingvellur are a few huge waterfalls: Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss (above). I'm usually not swayed by the spectacle of huge amounts of water dropping into some pool naturally, but Skógafoss got my attention. It's just so... pretty. Awesome in the original sense of the word. Huge, natural, wet.

Anyway, waterfall obsessions aside, I took a few other photos of the small farmhouses and barns scattered around Route 1 - one small clump of houses (no, it wasn't a village, not even by Icelandic standards) had a tiny white chapel. On the door was the key in an envelope, with a sign saying 'lock the door on your way out'. It was these details I loved the most.

Well, this post was shit. I was trying so hard to steer it away from being a journal entry that I ended up leaving out all the interesting 'where my curiosity took me' stuff. Ah well, at least I got the photos up on the blog. I can't guarantee when I'll post again, let's hope it's this month.

~ John

* ps. yeah, I love the language. Can you tell?