I’ve Been Foxed

I take some pride in being immune to viral internet phenomena and wall-to-wall coverage of slebs. Where slebs are concerned, my usual course is to ignore them and refuse to watch or read anything related to these needy people. It’s impossible not to know the names of course – that much I pick up by osmosis – but I will not inquire any further.

For example, I know there’s a tribe called Kardashian, the defining feature of which is that all its members have first names beginning with K. Apparently they even choose partners with the same initial.

The same with the recent royal rug rat. I know it exists. The name, George, has been forced on my consciousness, yet I’ve managed to avoid reading any news of it or seeing any pictures. This is due in part to a useful browser extension that claimed to remove all articles on the subject in the Guardian. I certainly haven’t seen any since, so for all I know the heir to the throne is a werewolf, as suggested in an episode of Doctor Who.

As to viral internet crazes, I’ve never yet seen more than a few seconds of the Gangnam Style bollocks, and mercifully forgotten even the name of the one before it.

But now I’ve been foxed. Tempted by a quirky spelling variant of Elvis, I clicked on Ylvis and discovered their horribly addictive vulpine friend. It’s the maniacal surrealism of the whole thing, combined with the pleasure of sound for its own sake. Almost 49 million YouTube hits so you’ve no doubt seen it before.

Nevertheless, here it is, my shame and delight.

Having dipped a toe in the water, I had a look at some of Ylvis‘ other stuff. Now I’m not only foxed but hooked. Brilliant, completely off-the-wall lyrics and a mastery of musical genres. Don’t know what’s going to come out of the singer’s mouth next, and that’s my highest accolade.

Another five songs for your delectation.

The Finishing Line

The Finishing Line is a British public information film, shown on television as a warning to children not to play on railway lines. Produced by British Transport Films in 1977, it’s a boy’s vision of what might happen if playing on the railway line were a school sports day, complete with teams, judges, and prizes. The predictable mayhem is amplified by the surreal spectacle of responsible adults orchestrating the events, while ambulance staff stretcher off the dead and wounded children. The change from excited competitiveness to stunned horror is reflected in the (surviving) children’s face.

This is a chilling film, so much so that it was replaced two years later by something less graphic, Robbie. Bear in mind that The Finishing Line was designed for children as a dreadful warning, so if your adult sensitivities flinch on seeing the film, then it was probably doing an effective job on the target audience. I thought the full film was not available online, but recently came across it on YouTube.

Little Birds

The Robing of the Bride (Max Ernst)

I like this sly, surreal poem by Lewis Carroll. It’s nonsense, of course, but there’s a hint of meaning in the lines. Like an itch I can’t quite get at for a proper scratch. You have to wonder what was going through his mind as he wrote it. I’m guessing the birds playing bagpipes on the shore refer to the persistent attentions of  itinerant musicians. And I like the suggestion of secrets, particularly in the “crimes in carpet-bags.” There’s some dirty work at the crossroads going on here.

Little Birds

Little Birds are dining
Warily and well,
Hid in mossy cell:
Hid, I say, by waiters
Gorgeous in their gaiters –
I’ve a Tale to tell.

Little Birds are feeding
Justices with jam,
Rich in frizzled ham:
Rich, I say, in oysters
Haunting shady cloisters –
That is what I am.

Little Birds are teaching
Tigresses to smile,
Innocent of guile:
Smile, I say, not smirkle –
Mouth a semicircle,
That’s the proper style!

Little Birds are sleeping
All among the pins,
Where the loser wins:
Where, I say, he sneezes
When and how he pleases –
So the Tale begins.

Little Birds are writing
Interesting books,
To be read by cooks:
Read, I say, not roasted –
Letterpress, when toasted,
Loses its good looks.

Little Birds are playing
Bagpipes on the shore,
Where the tourists snore:
“Thanks!” they cry. “‘Tis thrilling!
Take, oh take this shilling!
Let us have no more!”

Little Birds are bathing
Crocodiles in cream,
Like a happy dream:
Like, but not so lasting –
Crocodiles, when fasting,
Are not all they seem!

Little Birds are choking
Baronets with bun,
Taught to fire a gun:
Taught, I say, to splinter
Salmon in the winter –
Merely for the fun.

Little Birds are hiding
Crimes in carpet-bags,
Blessed by happy stags:
Blessed, I say, though beaten –
Since our friends are eaten
When the memory flags.

Little Birds are tasting
Gratitude and gold,
Pale with sudden cold:
Pale, I say, and wrinkled –
When the bells have tinkled,
And the Tale is told.

– Lewis Carroll

Angel of Anarchy

Angel of Anarchy 1936-40 by Eileen Agar 1899-1991
I saw Eileen Agar’s Angel of Anarchy in the cloth, as it were, several years ago at a Surrealist exhibition in London.  It’s a very disturbing object, which seems to reveal what it covers up, and yet we don’t know what it’s covering up.  It radiates all sorts of mixed messages.  Is that a bandage round the neck, with Frankenstein connotations?  But the fabric and feathers round the face are beautiful.  Is there a deception going on here?  If so, it’s a beautiful, tantalizing deception, with dangerous possibilities if you pursue the quest.

Made between 1936 and 1940, it’s impossible to ignore the historical context – the competing ideologies of Fascism and Communism – with their comforting certainties and sense of group identification.  Perhaps it’s a warning against that enticing allure, and the bandages round the neck go all the way up to the top of its head.  We know with hindsight what’s underneath them.

The title of the work certainly suggests a connection to Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming.  For the 21st century, there are many new possibilities.

I don’t know, and this is what art should do – pull the ground out from under your feet so you don’t know what you’re looking at.  Scatter the labels so there’s no neat definition and summary.  Make the viewer complicit in the interpretation.

A video of some of her other work.

A Midsummer Night’s Melancholy

A Summmer Night's Melancholy  Michael Sowa

A cat and dog in one painting, two tribes satisfied(?) in one post. This is either efficiency or laziness, or just because I got behind in my daily posts and now I’m infilling (and backdating) as best I can.

Michael Sowa is the latest Surrealist to grab my attention. I like the way his bland titles play with language, suggesting you’ll get exactly what’s on the tin, and of course you don’t. Though the title is always “factual” in some sense. The paintings are witty, whimsical and satirical, as you can see from his gallery at WikiPaintings.

This painting features a bare, empty room, which captures the mood of a summer night when nothing seems to be happening, yet we’re filled with an inarticulate yearning for something. Sowa’s dog and cat perfectly counterpoint this unfocused longing with the alert gaze of the dog and relaxed posture of the cat.

Here are some of his illustrations for Donna Leon’s book,
Handel’s Bestiary: In Search of Animals in Handel’s Operas.

No Time Like The Future

A rare heart-felt ballad from Vivian Stanshall (1943-1995), founding member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. They were a huge influence on my musical tastes, eccentric to perfection, in a peculiarly British way that was also groundbreaking in its effect on music and culture. Vivian Stanshall personified the intoxicating, surreal, art school, dada, music hall, trad jazz, psychedelic pop mix.

Stanshall appears in this 1991 BBC documentary, Crank, introduced by John Peel in a special obituary show. Anarchic genius.