"What’s that programme called? Everything is Essex?" says our founder, AC. You can see why there was a need for her to have Kensal Review in our life. The place where Towie is not a hot topic.
By now you may be familiar with way our monthly Review sessions roll – we do our homework, meet up, eat and talk about our chosen subjects. And a lot else. High brow and low. So it was on that chilly November evening at Tong Khanom Thai on the Harrow Road, our conversational appetisers included juicy tales of Swahili-Bavarian weddings and some drooling over Ian’s new flat in Ham. (That’ll be in South London; for a long time I was mistakenly picturing our Ian moving to East Ham.) It is fitting that he’s found a unique Brutalism meets Victorian-brick creation designed in 1955 by James Stirling and James Gowan –a fitting abode for our most cultured Review stalwart. (“All my art is from 1953–1958” he tells us. Now if you didn’t know him this could elicit eye-rolling but let me tell you that he’s great fun, great company and very down to earth and Kensal review wouldn’t be Kensal review without him. He can’t help it if he’s such a smarty pants.)
And so it’s a big deal when Ian declares he loves something. And this is how we all felt about Haruki Murakami’s dense novel. There was some discussion about the translation – oh gosh and I’ve left it too long to write this up so I’m going to just assume we were observing how the reader always hopes the English version does justice to their language and how in this case British Jay Rubin's work may have actually enhanced it (the first translation was by Alfred Birnbaum). But I can’t be sure. (If this was a fable, the lesson you would also be getting here is “Always write things up while whatever it is you need to write about is still fresh in your mind and your hand-written notes make sense rather than looking like the ramblings of a crazy person who’s drunk too much beer in a BYI Thai restaurant.”)
We pondered the plot of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (which came out in 1994 but feels just as fresh today; its title is about a bird you can’t see but whose cry signals the bringing of bad things). Toru Okada is our protagonist. He’s a house husband. “She works, he doesn’t work – I can relate” chips in Dave. It’s complex and rich yet effortless to read. It’s believable yet the storyline flirts with fantasy with some dark characters. A spy guy gets skinned alive. “Very Japanese” says Dave. “Skinned alive but didn’t breathe a word.” One starts to wonder if Dave has had dalliances himself with Asian espionage. But that’s another story. All the characters are so dignified and calm, we remark. “Not sure what the point of the book is,” says Ian. And he doesn’t mean this disparagingly. “That was just my question,” adds Michelle. “But you can really SEE all the scenes. Good visual clues.” If you want me to explain why there are characters called Malta. And Creta. And Nutmeg. And Cinnamon. I can’t. Toru’s brother in law is called Noboru Wataya. Which weirdly is what Toru and Kumiko call their cat.
“Is it about meaning?” queries AC. All I know is that to me it provided a welcome window in what it is like or it means to be Japanese. Having never been I feel a little closer to their culture via this fictional whirl in suburban Tokyo.
And so to Beautiful Losers. Meanwhile our other assignment was a movie about artists who dominated the DIY movement of 90s NY. Which is a thing. Easy to watch but not sure there was a whole lot of meaning beyond what you saw?
Ian compared the 2008 documentary by Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard to the work of photographer Martin Parr. “They were just doing their own thing,” he observes. “I didn’t like the art but I liked the attitude towards the art,” says Dave. It charts 10 artists, including Shepard Fairey, Chris Johanson and Ed Templeton amongst others, who had no formal training and didn’t follow a conventional path but have impacted on popular culture. AC was inspired by the artists' need for creation and their support for one another, with no thirst for fame or recognition. "I so want to be in that DIY dingy gallery, where they all hung out, drank beer and discussed art." I’ve seen those little Lower East Side storefront galleries in action: https://www.instagram.com/p/4YTolmoNaP/and it’s great to hear and see some of stories that hail from the subcultures of surfers and skateboarders, champions of their own anti-establishment movements.