[This month’s review is brought to you by occasional Kensal Reviewer at large, Ignatius J. Reilly]
The paucity of members at this month’s Review is symptomatic of the current malaise and cultural apathy amongst today’s chattering classes. But for the sake of morale, I set out to rescue the situation with lively small talk on puerile subjects that appeal to the salon demographic, viz., house prices, rude words and the price of cupcakes.
Some relief from the tedium was provided by Juliet when she declared herself dizzy (like we needed her to tell us) and proceeded to have one of her turns. I was hoping it would be enough to call off proceedings so that we may all slip away into the night and draw a veil over the whole embarrassing episode, but alas, La Kinsman simply flopped dramatically onto the chaise longue and the rest of us simply soldiered on, patting our wounded comrade as we trudged on by into battle.
Further welcome punctuation was provided when hostess Hannah (journalist for some lefty rag or other) produced a layered meal that was inoffensive to the pallet - unlike much of the swill we’ve forced down grimly on previous Review meetings. Just recalling Bruce’s asinine “bangers and mash” sends my valve into spasms.
When at last we tortuously got around to actually discussing anything of value, it seemed we all liked that month’s book, “The Confederacy of Dunces” - except Juliet, who found my character in the book too obnoxious to stomach. Silly girl is clearly unstable.
Hannah said she enjoyed the book (although this was probably only because of its Trotskyite themes).
Ridiculously upper class Dave, his head protruding from his roll neck jumper like an aristocratic turtle, added his usual unhelpful frippery. He seems incapable of any form of serious intercourse. I think he liked it, but the man talks in riddles.
Milly, still dragging out some illness or other, made a rare display of intelligence when she stated the book is one of her all time favourites.
Plastic hippy Bruce, who seems unsure of his sexuality at the moment, sporting as he does, shoulder-length hair that is part female flower child/ part judge’s wig, admitted (typically) that he hadn’t finished the book but enjoyed what he’d (bothered to) read. Then he started banging on and on yet again about his latest capitalist property venture.
Anne-Celine told us how the book made her laugh so hard she soiled not only herself, but also her partner in bed beside her.
Oh-so-important Ian was absent - apparently doing something else that evening that he thinks more lofty than cultural discourse - but he had the audacity to wire us page upon page of incomprehensible diatribe. It was unclear whether he disliked the book on feminist grounds or enjoyed it on post-modernist grounds.
By now my valve was throbbing painfully. Through the lens of an endoscope it would have surely resembled a puce donut.
Knowing I was on borrowed time, I had to move quickly and swiftly turned the conversation onto the other portion of culture to be reviewed: the film “In The House”, which I enjoyed despite it being made in the land of cheese-eating surrender monkeys. It showed wonderfully clearly some of the pathetic goings-on I always knew to be part and parcel of the stifling miasma of the middle-class home. No wonder half the group didn’t like it. They conveniently dismissed it as art house noodling typical of those moody onion-wielders.
By now I could bear it no more. My tortured ring-piece was about to force me to turf Juliet out of the KR sick bed. So with the strength I had left I called mother and told her to send a taxi immediately. On my return journey I fell into semi-consciousness and hallucinated giant glistening conkers crashing into one another while Rex slavered all over them. It caused me to have a small accident, but upon arrival home mother actually managed to do something useful for once, detaching herself from her glass of wine just long enough to clean the irate driver’s upholstery.
Small gatherings can bear great fruit, I believe was the motto for KR 22. It is of course always sad, when some of our most treasured members can't make it to the review to throw their beef on the table, because they are either stricken down with pneumonia, on the other side of the world or struck down in dorset, or was it Devon Lara? However, being outnumbered by men for the first time was by no means a sob story for Mary and I.
We quickly learned what a bifkin was (ask Bru, who also taught us about the pterodactyl I believe), that our beloved author Thesiger of the very endless Arabian Sands, (must we return to Salala old chap, or can we just call it a day there?) was in fact a lover, not just of full water sacks, but also of men. Our maiden minds had not considered this, but it gave the at times interminable story a lovely frisson - even if we only found out in hindsight.
Dave, who as our resident toff boy, knows the most about Eton games such as soggy biscuit, or spank the head boy, had no doubts about Thesigers love interest, when I asked, 'But WHY was he there for FIVE years?' He merely raised an eyebrow and said, 'To look at those men in peace of course.' A few of us remarked that there was no mention of the insects he was meant to be observing once he got the commission to do so, but rather a lot more focus on the dunes, and sparse vegetation. And there was of course lots of camel and fig chat.
The boys, although they found the read, a bit like walking through quick sand, knowing that you have run out of figs, were interested in persevering 'til the end. Granted, there were a few funny and interesting sections in the book, my favourite being the anecdote about the guy who died of generosity.
Mary and I meanwhile wanted to know, 'Why do we read travel books?' Not necessarily, we felt, to know exactly how a place is, but also and more importantly how the author felt there. What emotions ran through them? Thesinger, our fearless nomad, managed to write a good 300 pages without ever letting us know exactly how he was feeling. Hunger occasionally came into it but other than that, it was a bit too 'and then we climbed THAT dune' for me.
Despite the fact none of us had seen Ice Age Art we made a good go of discussing the show. I can't for the life of me remember what anyone said, but as is always the way at KR, one conversation segued beautifully into another, then another until Ian introduced us to the very much under-rated or under-exposed photographer Tony Ray-Jones, who by all accounts was an inspiration to Martin Parr. He had just purchased a print online and was enthusiastic about its arrival. What also brought much hilarity was Ian's involvement in a photo love story (black and white), just like Tony Ray-Jones's pics (you see how the themes link beautifully?), where he asks his lady friend 'Does anyone know where the disco is?' or something equally critical. Above another crucial moment from the nail-biting story. As we can see, Ian has always maintained great hair care. Unlike our chap Thesiger.
This month's write up comes to you courtesy of Soulmate's Dish of the Day Dave:
It was never going to be an easy evening. As mary explained, the “Mayan Prophesy is actually about now”; Bruce added “there’s an extraordinary amount of solar activity”; and perhaps most significantly AC moaned “her legs badly needed shaving”. We were in a desperate situation. In fact, the only person holding it all together was me: “Dish of the Day”.
So under these very trying conditions we agreed to assemble for our 6 weekly meeting at the Stephen Grosz talk, followed by supper at the Windsor Castle. I say "agreed", you should have seen the email thread that got us there. Inevitably, we didn’t last long at the restaurant and all marched out before ordering, losing poor Ian in the process.
As for Stephen Grosz’ talk, what did we think? Well, you could hardly hear him, he was so softly spoken. Still that didn’t stop three of us from asking him questions. Bruce asked if all psycho-analyists learn how to interpret dreams. AC And Hannah pondered how the author came to write the book and what the most common problems were that he encountered in his sessions; questions he spent a long time answering and clearly thought were very perceptive and thought provoking. He could tell the Kensal Review were in town.
Back at Lara’s house and tucking into some delicious but fattening Thai takeaway, we got down to the business of what we all do so well: intense, brain bending discussion. Ideas as always were spinning around faster than a brain in a moulinex. What immediately became apparent was that this group had done a lot of therapy. In fact the only person who hadn’t done any was Bruce, which we all thought was rather surprising.
In any case, drawing on our own experiences we debated the pros and cons of therapy. “The wrong therapist can actually cause you harm” argued Michelle. “In psychoanalysis all they talk about is money” remarked Mary “and child therapists tend to make awful parents”. For some however, it had been very beneficial and at least one of us couldn’t have coped without it. Lara pointed out that “the real shame is that it’s us who have to go through it and not the real culprits, our parents”. For my own part, an extreme loss of memory suggested to the others an inability to live in the present or at the very least, the first signs of early senile dementia; I’m not sure which is worse. And for the record, I really can’t remember if I did The Landmark Forum.
As to the book, The Examined Life: How we Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz: the verdict was an all round thumbs up. Its simple prose and uncomplicated language made the world of psychoanalysis readily accessible. Above all expressed Juliet “it resonates; you read it like a detective; uncovering the meanings; deciphering the dreams”. AC remarked that the chapter on loneliness reminded her of her neighbour who believes her children are raiding his garden. And we were all touched by the little boy who spat at the therapist as a cry for help; a plea to help him get fixed. In short the book made you ponder; it made you register the little incidents or dreams in our every day lives, which belie more significant meanings.
As is our fashion, we then moved onto the film, “Zero Dark 30”, a reference to when the marines took out Bin Laden. It was unquestionably powerful and intense. But said Milly, “why did the protagonist, played by Jessica Chastain, have to cry on completing the mission? The film didn’t need the tear. No man in that situation would have cried”. That as always, especially for the men in the group, was one of the problems: it wasn’t feminist enough. In that moment, we could have done with Ian and one of his post-realist feminist nuggets. The best we could find were some Thai chicken nuggets. All were agreed there was too much torture and the film made too many concessions to the Hollywood factory: “dancing to other people’s flutes” remarked someone poetically. Overall, we disliked the film: bad characterisation and no journey. And who killed the monkey and what was the monkey? A metaphor for the subjugation of an oppressed people by American imperialism. Or was it just a dead monkey?
And then the Kensal review drew to a close. We had discussed therapy; we had examined and been examined; it was now time to go. We gathered our coats, said our goodbyes, kisses were preferred, warm hugs exchanged; a few words of support. And then we set off into the night on our own separate paths, with only our cloaks of darkness for comfort. And as we walked back home; to our own private lives, we thought of the reunion and took solace that we are not completely alone. That there are others that care for us and we for them. That these last few hours had had their own curing effect. So screw the couch; what it’s best for is screwing on, we all know that. And for some real therapy, get into the group kind: an evening with friends, laughter and wine and chicken nuggets. It’s not long to the next one, just hold on, only six weeks or is it seven? I wish I could remember.
This month's write-up comes to us, praise be once again, to Ian-speedfinger-Mac:
“A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people's patience.” John Updike.
A typically dashing statement, Johnny-boy, but most of the Kensal Review might think you’re being self-reflexive there. It was a source of mystery and consternation to me that the Kensal Review broadly scuffled and laboured with the early parts of Rabbit, Run and then discarded it prematurely after repeated attempts. It was as if the girls of the group kept throwing themselves into a lake, only to bounce off the icy surface; like frozen water’s surface, the book was impenetrable and cold. To me, it was a joyous, long, languorous Summer swim. Bruce and Mary enjoyed it thoroughly, too.
True, some of the pages looked dense and never-ending, and some of the sentences seemed to scan with errors that tripped you up and left you on your knees. But, idiosyncrasies aside, its sweeping themes, tragedies, and desperate cast of characters were perfect and engrossing.
Where I loved the retinue of flawed and unsympathetic characters, many in the group felt disengaged from and irritated by their feebleness and inadequacies. I admired Updike’s skill in creating a set of splenetic and rather loathsome people, who nevertheless could elicit sympathy at the point their bitterness was exposed as fright or confusion. But most found them irritating and irrational, and incapable of carrying the moral narrative at the heart of the book.
Ultimately, Rabbit, Run works for me as a response to On The Road – as a sort of case-study of the mess and misery caused by abandoning one’s responsibilities and searching for freedom. For Rabbit, such a liberation of the fearful and small-minded means a rather pathetic short drive to a town close-by, followed by an intermittent cycle of dithering, return, flight, and boorishness. But as Hannah and AC said, should one have to understand the point of it up front, to enjoy it? This is a theme we’ve considered before; should art require an explanation, or should its meaning be self-evident? For me, at least, it changed my perception and increased my enjoyment of the book, knowing up front that Updike’s intention had been to explore the consequences of a cack-handed grasp for freedom.
Then again, what do I know? Bruce read it much more as a straight comedy. The cowardly Rabbit was a bawdy clown, the sniping parents were fecklessly funny, the Lutheran minister Kruppenbach was a booming ball of anger. Reading from the book is not something generally we do…perhaps it’s too pretentious, or perhaps it’s because silence and undivided attention are not that readily to hand in our wine-fuelled reviews. But the cacophony died down for Bruce to read a little of a memorable passage where Eccles goes to visit Kruppenbach:
‘The house shudders to the master’s step. Kruppenbach comes up the stairs into his den, angry at being taken from his lawnmowing. He wears old black pants and an undershirt soaked with sweat. His shoulders are coated with wiry gray wool.
“Hello, Chack,” he says at pulpit volume, with no intonation of greeting. His German accent makes his words seem stones, set angrily one on top of another. “What is it?”
Eccles, not daring “Fritz” with the older man, laughs and blurts “Hello!”
Kruppenbach grimaces. He has a massive square head, crewcut. He is a man of brick; as if he was born as a baby literally of clay and decades of exposure have baked him to the color and hardness of brick. He repeats, “What?”'
Everyone was forced to concede this was brilliant; clever, articulate, and with momentum, menace, and character. AC also said, if only Bruce would have read her the whole book, she thinks she would have enjoyed it.
Our second target this month was ‘Light From the Middle East: New Photography’ at the V&A. One delicious curry down, a few glasses of wine in, and wanting to explore Lara’s sumptuous new house, discussions on this (and possibly my ability to remember them) became a bit fragmented. The overwhelming feelings were we loved the show and had wanted more and more of it. Without sounding too precious, we felt a bit humbled, ignorant of a vast and vivid body of work being produced in another part of the world. London is so cosmopolitan and rich in art and exhibitions, yet we couldn’t help feeling a little bit left out and left behind when we saw the variety and potency of the photography on display. I also thought it was another show that was brilliantly curated – the 3 sections (Recording, Reframing, Resisting) were terrific. It made us thirsty for more information, more knowledge of the art and the artists. For me, it did that trick of making me realize everyone is pretty much the same, the world over. Some photographers were straight documentary, some used social commentary, some used heavily art driven concepts to make their various points. It was, just like London photography – it is, after all, human beings expressing themselves through photography.
Absent friends were toasted, news was related by those who’ve missed previous reviews. Catch-up was done. Lara has a beautiful baby, Bruce has a poorly father, Mary has an impending birthday bash, Hannah did a Hogmanay stomp up Scottish mountains. I told stories of bad dreams of zombies, and Mary told me nightmares are everywhere. It’s the electromagnetic solar storms, apparently. We’re all going to hell in a handbasket – NASA says so – and may be the Mayans were right all along. Of those who couldn’t come, it was Milly’s birthday (Happy Birthday Milly!), Juliet was stuck in an airport on her way back from New York City. And apparently, Dave is wooing an air-stewardess. Keen to know if she’s a keeper, Hannah said, typically cutting to the chase and want to size-up the cut of the lady’s jib: “Which airline?”
This month's guest edit comes to you thanks to Mary:
Despite being thrown in at the deep end, Tim Lott, or The Lott
as he has come to be regarded, settled in like a long lost member when he joined us at Kensal Review last Wednesday. Tim had logically assumed that we would be discussing his latest work of fiction, Under The Same Stars
, but instead we’d opted to review his deeply personally autobiographical tale, A Scent of Dried Roses. Bruce quickly distracted him with a trough of the finest melt in the mouth slow cooked chilli con carne while AC reassured him that “we tend to mostly talk about sex” and so another great Kensal Review began.
We managed to slip in a quick discussion about penis size at the start of dinner, but soon found ourselves way off-piste. The honesty of Lott’s writing is unnerving at times; the close examination of his own mental health and that of his mothers is both educational and emotional. When he arrived at Bruce’s dining table I think we all felt like we already knew him. Tim asked if any of us had ever suffered from depression and as we started to share our own experiences, he also talked candidly about his own. While we could all relate to the destructive power of depression, the possibility that it could also provide an opportunity for resurrection or redemption made his story satisfyingly life-affirming.
Forgiveness, faith, honesty, kindness and optimism are all present in his novel despite there being much sadness and pain. Bruce and Ian both felt a familiarity to the honest and optimistic world of Jean and Jack and their uncomplicated, traditional relationship. It reminded Michelle and AC, both unfamiliar with suburban England, of Grayson Perry where Lott’s tapestry is woven with unique descriptions of suburban Southall. Through vivid description we become strangely involved in Jean’s claustrophobic yet lonely world. Every detail is examined to try to understand why she had committed suicide.
Our evening with Tim did feel a bit like our post-Didion group therapy session (KR I). We all had a personal connection to suicide or some form of mental illness. I personally found the book particularly cathartic. My father’s death in 1994 was described as a ‘possible suicide’ because of his mental health issues. Over time I came to except that I would always have questions that would remain unanswered. And so, as the evening progressed, we found ourselves discussing the limits of scientific reductionism, the meaning of existentialism and the practise of Zen Buddhism. Who knows where we would have ended up if Tim had stayed longer? But sadly our time with him was over all to quickly.
After deciding to review a comedy show, but not quite managing to arrange a group outing, we ended up reviewing Jacques Audiard’s, De Rouille et D’os (Rust and Bone). Set in Antibes in France, this is a bleak love story between Stephanie (Marion Cottilard), an amputee and Ali (Mathias Schoenaerts), a bare-knuckle fighter who has a five-year-old son Sam. Matthias Schoenaerts plays a uniquely unemotional male lead and Marion Cottiliard was, AC decided, even hotter than usual teetering around on her shiny prosthetics with her baggy rolled up tracksuit bottoms.
When people mention Rust and Bone they instantly refer to the amputee sex and the violent fistfights. Michelle found the violence too brutal but no one had a problem with the sex. It was just regular sex except she had no legs, no biggie. Because Ali was so void of emotion, to me the sex and fighting felt empty not even animalistic, just flat. My feelings resided with Stephanie. I found it difficult to understand why she was attracted to Ali in the first place. But it was this dichotomy that possibly held all the disparate aspects of the story together. Stephanie’s emotional honesty shone through like a beacon of truth amidst the harshness of both of their lives.
In comparison to the rawness of A Prophet (Audiard’s first feature), some have referred to Rust and Bone as the French Free Willy. For me personally, the killer whale back-story was an essential part of the film. The sea-life centre provided a surreal location and the mysterious accident left us unsure if her legs had actually been bitten off. The killer whale and Stephanie (post-amputation) were both being held captive. The moments when she finally swam in the sea for the first time marked the start of her own recovery. And finally without the killer whales there would have been no Katy Perry Fireworks sequence. Say no more…
Ali was destined for some sort of breakdown to bring him back from the void. Cue cute five year-old son falling into a hole on an icy lake. This scene was one of those intense cinematic moments that stays with you long after the film ends. It also provided the classic sentimental Hollywood ending where father nearly loses son as a route to finding his own hidden feelings. This is clearly Oscar winning stuff. And just when you thought it was safe to put away your tissues Bon Iver’s, The Wolves begins. We all found the final scene a bit corny but with that soundtrack playing it hardly mattered.
This month's review comes to you all courtesy of Ian-the-magnificent-rocke- feminist (this should have been posted on the 18th Oct but due to Annie Alto's birth, a bit delayed soz):
It’s not always easy to understand a man who wrote the magnificent line: “the most repugnant bastard there is: the bastard-octopus” (Barthes, The World of Wrestling
), but after the gruesome ’Fifty Shades of Grey’ last time around Milly prescribed some Structuralism / Post-Structuralism for the Kensal Review to digest. Juliet, fetching in frock & pinny, served us a boat sized dish of cottage pie to digest & the slightly reduced* Kensal Review tucked in to both. The table was prepared for us by Juliet’s little girl, Kitty, & was festooned with flowers, trinkets & patterned napkins in a celebration of colour & anomaly that only a child’s eye could arrange. I looked for a corkscrew, & Juliet passed on Ricky Wilson
’s advice that, when travelling, one should always take not one but two corkscrews (Rioja ‘n’ roll, I punned shamefully).
We all agreed Barthes’ ‘The Death of the Author’ had been a thought-provoking & worthwhile read
. Authors have often muscled their way into our consciousness in the previous books we’ve read (Paul Auster’s Invisible
, or Jonathan Coe’s What A Carve Up
) whereas others have seemed to leave us alone to enjoy the text (Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad
, or (quite obviously) the Gita
). Barthes’ invitation to the death of the author (& the critic) appealed to us. As we dribbled cottage pie onto it, Bruce noted the fact we don’t think of the maker of the tablecloth draped over Juliet’s table.
We talked a lot about the oral tradition in storytelling & its focus on the story as opposed to the writer…the text being obscured by the authorial presence…the liberation of the writing
by the removal of the writer. The ‘creation’ of the author resonated a lot for me in comparisons with the development of the venerated singer-songwriter, & their agenda-laden folk seriousness of the ‘60s. The fact this piece was written in ’67 was raised more than once, it seemed to coincide with the emergence of mass media celebrity culture -- one can imagine its topicality & (pardon another pun) novel
ty when it first emerged. On the other hand, we also talked about the phenomenon of anonymity; the pragmatic need for women historically to hide behind a man’s nom de plume
, or the need for a crepuscular & clandestine Banksy
to avoid identification.
A companion piece to Barthes was Michel Foucault’s ‘What Is An Author?’
which some of the group read in conjunction with the Barthes. An interesting contrast is Foucault’s question: what is a work (final publication, first draft, notes in a margin, ideas discarded to a dustbin)? This also resonated with me in the musical context, where record companies now distort ideas of an original work
with endless reissues & outtakes compilations (150 versions of songs for the Stooges ‘Funhouse’
album, anyone?) In the end, do the concepts of both the author & the work become essentially commodities to be bought & sold, in this analysis?
The Kensal Review BLOODY loved Bronze at the Royal Academy
. It made us giddy. From marveling at the artistic dexterity of thousands of years ago, to swooning over the various modernism of Matisse, Brancusi & Kapoor, we were captivated. The educational pieces on how sculpture is created were terrific. The curator’s organization of rooms by theme (Heads, Gods, Animals, etc.) worked brilliantly. Having just about managed to stop myself bolting from Frieze the previous week with a Giacommeti up my jumper
, it was almost too much to have such gorgeous art within touching distance. Only de Kooning’s Clam Digger
generated some debate, Dave seeing it as ‘something I could have knocked up’ whereas Milly & I loved its darkness & nobility. Such is Dave’s genius, one could not doubt his claim, however.
As for next time, we fancy some comedy but could not quite find the right target. Discussing Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks & Stewart Lee was intermingled with both excited & melancholy discussions of love & loss, & we gradually dispersed into the rainy Autumn night.
As for my writing of this, think of me not when you read it. * Love & happiness to our founder & cultural compass Anne-Celine for having a baby on the morning of the review. Stern telling off for the timing #fail, though.
It was a welcome return to Kensal Review’s new school year in the stylish surroundings of Mary’s elegant, lemony kitchen. We caught up on news from the summer months and ate seconds of Mary’s delicious curry and the best tiramisu ever, bar none.
So to discussions on the Heatherwick Studio exhibition at the V&A. It was an impressive and emotional experience for most. We marveled at bridges that curved into sculptures, phallic buses, expanding furniture and a hairy building that exploded into a million little pieces.
Michelle thought the curating of the event was poor, the room too narrow and ‘it almost felt like a broom cupboard’. AC was most interested in the ‘work in progress’ exhibits; they revealed 'Heatherwick's way of thinking, the process of creation recurrent in the work. His ideas are pretty spesh’.
Juliet compared the room to a gapping ‘folder of work; a broom cupboard of ideas and prototypes.’ And Mary found it ‘a very intimate experience.’
Talking of intimate. ‘So the sex book…’ segued Juliet.
Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James is the fastest selling book of all time. ‘Why?’ was the question the creative minds of KR tried to unsheathe.
'Women like to be dominated by men,’ offered David. ‘Masturbating: that’s what it’s all about – it’s the hidden agenda, isn’t it?’ Perhaps not so hidden. Sex toy sales are up 600%.
The book has captured the world’s roving eye, ‘because this trilogy has allowed people to have fantasies.’ was one convincing theory. Some couldn’t put the book down; few could deny the narrative whipped along nicely. ‘It gripped me; I wanted to know what happened next.’ said AC. (Editor's note: DID I REALLY SAY THIS? HOW TRAGIC!)
Bruce was a late arrival and confessed he hadn’t managed to get very far with James’ Twilight fan-lit but asked, ‘So did people manage to get off on it?’
The general consensus was yes, on the odd scene, but there were too many ‘plunges’, ‘lengths’, bitten lips and million-pieced orgasmic explosions. The language tired us out more than the sex.
Hannah felt that it was the cartoon-like nature of the central characters that had put a stop to more vicarious fun: Anastasia a virgin beauty and Christian Grey a billionaire twenty-something – Cinderella with Thai beads.
‘I thought it was rather ordinary’ said David.
And perhaps that is the answer to our rigid ‘why?’ Fifty Shades appeals because it is truly terribly ordinary.
Our uniquely sex-chat-free September Review discussed two very different forms of British creativity: an exhibition room full to bursting with 3D designer playfulness and a red room with bits and bobs hanging from the walls. I know which I would rather spend time in.
Fifty Shades made sex mundane and functional. The Heatherwick exhibition made the mundane and functional very sexy indeed.
(This month's guest edit comes courtesy of Juliet):
‘Who here thinks Bruce looks like Grayson Perry?’ a
After a shaky email-related run-up to our evening (all you need to know: this is what a monster conference call
might look like) a hardcore cell of us turned up in Mortlake ready for a salady culture sesh at Ian’s.
Shall I be motherfucker?’ trilled Milly as she elegantly served up some our man Macca's spin on a summery roast. ‘Are you
my mother?’ asked David with his characteristic eyebrow arch and cheeky glint in his eyes.
After a few glasses of wine and some chitchatting about anything but Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Are You My Mother?
(not to be confused with the children’s book
by PD Eastman
about a bird or that other ‘graphic novel’ Shades of Wotzit) and Grayson Perry’s TV documentary All in the Best Possible Taste,
we finally got properly stuck into the meat of the evening…
Both book and doc tackle the subject of why we are who we are – but, boy, you’d be hard-pressed to find more contrasting narrators. My money’s definitely on Grayson – just like our Bruce – being more fun.
As ever, once we got going, there was some serious conversational mastication (*there’s a phrase this journo has never typed before. And wanky as it is, heck, if I can’t try out word combos like that for Kensal Review’s blog than What’s The Fucking Point?)...
AC had suggested the memoir from the ‘lesbian Woody Allen’ because she loved Fun Home (A Family Tragicomic).
‘Hmm, there was more comic relief in the first one,’ she mused about the cartoonist’s previous work. ‘More? Or some
,’ countered fellow KR mutha, Milly.
Jeesh. Hat’s off to our scribbling scissor sister from the States though, who was refreshingly open about her complicated relationship with her lovers and her parents, particularly her ma who weirdly decided when Alison was age seven she was too grown-up to need physical affection. Ms B’s illustrated psycho-scrutinising analysis was touchingly self-deprecating and profound, but generally deemed a tad too self-involved and, well, ‘lite’ on laughs: however good her drawings of cogitating people may be. The verdict was it just piqued your interest in Winnicott without satisfying your curiosity. (Thankfully that’s where Professor Google
comes to the rescue.) Sure there were some great Virginia Woolf parallels, and we did at least learn about True Self and False Self
‘Moments really grabbed me,’ enthused Women’s Studies graduate Ian. ‘I was totally into that politically active lesbian.’ Murmurs of agreement gave way to mutterings that they’d had more fun reading Tintin
and Calvin Hobbes
… 'Those are comics
stressed AC, not graphic novels,' urging non-believers to give Blankets
by Craig Thompson or Shortcomings
by Adrian Tomine a go – a last ditch attempt to make a proselyte of genre-refusenik, Milly. Meanwhile in Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells, the Cotswolds…
Our Channel 4 shows held class up as the main theme for Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry. Swoon. The perfect host and embed with working, middle and upper we all concurred: who couldn’t love his non-judgmental tone? ‘Can I say as a not English person the obsession with class is so interesting
…’ offered born-in-Chile-to-a-Kiwi-and-a-Canadian Michelle. (‘Taste, taste
, it’s about taste…’ David kept reminding us – but that’s probably just cos he’s the bona fide posho.)
The Channel 4 art-focussed three-parter of course led to anecdotes referencing our own mish-mash of backgrounds and raised some salient and potent points about how Ian lived on the edge of a council estate and had books and a piano and art in the house whereas the supposed working class stereotypes a few streets away all had giant tellies and Ford Capris... He no doubt made seriously thought-provoking issues and ideas in his usual articulate and erudite way – I was too busy thinking about whether I should get some of those Penguin book mugs
or take friend’s pink champagne and cupcakes to my friend’s Jamie At Home cookware party Saturday. NB: If you want to think deeper about this very poignant matter, Ian says read the book about Harold Wilson by Dominic Sandbrook, Seasons In The Sun
… We could chew over the topic by some overpriced shabby-chic vintage shite at my next Kensal Flea in September maybe? I’ll be the one by the organic heirloom carrots and mums discussing breastfeeding children until they're 12.
There you have it: ‘Class on a plate,’ said Ian summing up something perfectly, gesturing after a remark someone had made. But by then too much prosecco and Côtes du Rhone had flowed for me to recall exactly what. But I do remember: ‘I’m so comfortable with me
I’m almost asleep with my taste’. God I wish I could come up with such choice extemporaneous soundbites. Shit, the man even dropped in this corker: ‘The thing about working class and upper class kids is that they are who they are, and they’re cool with that – it’s the middle class kids who are all so self-conscious – just talk to the people who cast Kes
As for the actual telly assessment: we all totally loved the programmes in terms of them providing great TV with edifying content, great stories and for making us want to be
frock-rocking Grayson Perry. (Which is his True Self?) Seeing the actual six tapestries based on Hogarth’s A Rake's Progress at Victoria Miro Gallery was especially enlightening: there’s still time to go: Grayson Perry – The Vanity of Small Differences
shows until 11 August 2012. Funnily enough when I showed my daughter and her friend around I couldn’t bring myself to even reference the word ‘class’, referring instead to different folks and their strokes as ‘tribes’. How middle-class is THAT?
Eleanor Roosevelt said: ‘Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people’. Hopefully, like Kensal Review nights themselves, this blog post has been a delicious combination of all those highbrow and lowbrow morsels.Now. Who wants to see Bruce in a dress?
This month's guest edit by Ian:
Once, Lucian Freud looked upon Milly in a florist. He looked through her with intense, vivid blue eyes, like she was matter. The ladies of the Kensal Review expressed a wish for Lucian’s peepers to fall upon them with approbation, to light him up, to lie on his chaise unfettered by clothes, & to spend month after month being painted exquisitely onto his ample canvases.
Martin Gayford’s ‘Man With a Blue Scarf’ seemed a rather narrow, unremarkable & modest book choice to me but it was a revelation; congenial, beautiful & thought-provoking throughout. Everyone loved it (this is unprecedented in the Kensal Review). If, as the critics have mooted, we should ‘read’ a photograph as a decisive moment & a painting as a story, then Lucian Freud paints sprawling Proustian chronicles that take epochs to complete. This process is described brilliantly, as is the consideration of the sitter’s own ego & experience as the picture progresses. Freud pricks any conceit by comparing the portrait to a horse’s arse (he is, in tandem, painting the hind quarters of a piebald mare). The author begins to see the painting as a negotiation, a learning, & the extended process as integral to the end result. As Freud says: “When one is doing something to do with quality, even a lifetime doesn’t seem enough”. Anyway, everyone should read this book, & many of the extended Kensal Review family will be getting it in their stockings for Christmas.
Lucian Freud Portraits at the Nation Portrait Gallery was incredibly busy so not everyone made it. Those who did gave positive reports. Especially noted were the scale, & the almost abstract brushstrokes that make up the figurative works. Bruce must be mentioned in dispatches. Those who missed the NPG were due to watch ‘Beloved’ (‘Les bien-aimés’) but didn’t quite manage to organize it. Bruce, ever the cultural missionary, made the effort & went to see it on his own, on a rainy day with a hangover. It was shit. He didn’t even have anyone to feel his pain. Sorry Bruce.
Stockings & missionaries. This brings us not unexpectedly onto sex, the favourite topic of the Kensal Review. This month, huddled around mezze in a Kensal Rise restaurant with the balmy evening floating through the door, we discovered just how feral we all are. Tale after tale was related of al fresco couplings. Notably, an outdoor tryst with a young poet was remembered. The poet wrote a poem about it. Our nostalgic Kensal Reviewer reiterated the longing once again to be an artist’s muse, to coquettishly catch the eye of a Freud.
“I’m a poet”, interjected the hopeful man at the next table.
This month's guest edit by Mary:
As we hovered in the moonlight outside Dave’s mews house, reluctant to leave after another great review, AC dropped the final big question of the evening. Ever had yeasty fanny? The girls piped up unreservedly after a few bottles of fine pop. “Duh! Course... ” came the reply. After a moment AC said, “I was actually asking Bruce.” And so the evening ended as it had began, with fanny-related misunderstandings thanks to Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body
Basically the boys, except for Ian, never got the plot of the book, in that they thought the narrator was a bloke. Dave was literally in the dark until half way through the main course, while Bruce found it “generally confusing”. AC, who was gob-smacked by the boys inability to identify the gender, pointed out that “a bloke’s stream of consciousness would have been much more straightforward.” Ian, who had recommended the book, felt that maybe it wasn’t as groundbreaking as it had seemed 18 years ago, when he first read it. Why was that we wondered?
We all felt that Winterson’s writing was annoyingly self-indulgent. Perhaps it would have seemed brave and radical in the early 90’s? Ian certainly remembered being more moved by it back then. But Juliet felt some parts really did work. Winterson’s description of contentment as 'the positive side of resignation' summed up the general fear of commitment which pervaded all the relationships within the book; ‘it’s no good wearing an overcoat and furry slippers and heavy gloves when what the body really wants is to be naked’. Juliet read the passage out loud and we were left contemplating our own states of contentment.
Michelle hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that the main problem with the book was that there was nothing “fanciable” about the narrator. We all had a soft spot for ‘old slag Gail’, who 'smelt of dry rot', and dropped lines like, '"this isn’t War and Peace honey, this is Yorkshire". Gail guided the narrator away from her own self-centeredness and although it came a tad too late for some - AC dropped off around page 150 - it provided a welcome respite.
But most importantly, for a book with lots of sex in, no one in the group got even a teeny weeny bit turned on by any of it. Lara even found a few sections in the book made her want to puke. It was clearly time to change the topic of conversation as Dave’s lemon surprise arrived.
It would be fair to say that at first few seemed as moved or amazed by the fruits of Yayoi Kusama’s
mind as they did by Dave’s dessert. The very fact that there was a dessert threw a few reviewers totally off track. Dave’s dinner had already raised the bar to a new and unsurpassed level, what with the freshly picked coconuts from his palm tree and freshly plucked chickens from the back yard.
We rapidly descended into a state of lemony cheese-headedness, which one would have imagined to be the perfect mental state for contemplating Kusama’s papier-mache phallus’s and cosmic dots. But alas we all became increasingly soporific as Michelle administered deep tissue massage to Lara’s aching lower back and the rest of us attempted to guess the desserts incredibly sweet, but "virtually sugar-free" secret ingredient.
When the last spoonfuls had been shovelled in, we managed to focus briefly on the task at hand. AC loved the huge white Infinity Nets
and the phallus-covered rowing boat rocked most of our worlds. As an exhibition I felt it offered more of a journey into the mind of the artist than many. And while we all agreed that Kusama was clearly a little dotty, her work was likeable and full of playfulness. Despite her psychological difficulties, we all agreed that it was hard to not feel uplifted by her final installation. Her mirrored world of fairy lights, played with ideas of darkness and light cast against one’s own self-image. People were clearly lingering in this magical world, reluctant to move on.
And so the evening came to a close with Dave summing up the exhibition in his own unique style. It was, he felt, much better than the Hockney. The group nearly fainted in unison before someone asked “why Dave ,why?”. “Less people” was his main reason and we had to agree. There was very little hype about the Kusama exhibition and therefore the viewer’s journey was one of self-discovery with unexpected twists and turns. If Hockney had filmed himself painting a penis with blue polka dots the whole world would have known about it. Yet few could even recall the name of Japan’s best known modern artist, or visualise any of her work despite a career spanning more than 50 years. Kusama’s retrospective was full of surprise and wonder, and for that alone we had to love it.
Other highlights of the evening included Bruce’s tales of how he travelled to the Tate
by foot from Willesden Junction, the naming of Lara’s new baby (Chicory Hix
), and in case anyone was wondering why we all went rushing up and down the corridors and stairs at the end of the evening, the secret ingredient was condensed milk (only 40% sugar per can). Dave, you are the original, one and only man of mystery….