These days most of my television viewing consists of regurgitated programmes
watched on the BBC iPlayer or Chanel 4’s On demand library.
While grazing through the latter's drama archive I stumbled on
director Chris Pettit’s mesmerizing film Content 2010. It is 76 minutes of
Petit, famous for his 1979 cult road movie Radio On once again
returns to the hypnotic quality of shooting through a car windscreen. Content is a ‘tour de force’ - a fusion of new and archive footage juxtaposed with
postcards and memories. It draws the viewer into a bleak world on which Petit
observes as narrator and meditates on the meaning of life, why we are
here and what we have and are doing to our little planet.
21st century culture is built on the greed of consumerism.
We have created anonymous landscapes filled will bleak warehouses that populate
the world. We
drift pass them on motorway journeys knowing little or nothing about their
content or purpose.
Petit also uses the German actor Hanns Zischler
to act out a parallel
story of our relationship with the internet and the unreality and fantasies
that we can experience in this vast digital playground.
I found the film a profound, beautiful and disturbing piece of work that
comments on our brief lives on this planet we call home. The use of music too
is exceptional, totally electronic composed by Antye Greie. It is well worth
the effort. To See ‘Content’ click here.
I have been out of digital reach while staying with my friends Tim and Deborah
at their charming farmhouse in the emerald hills above Poppi in Casantino,
Under normal circumstances I would be very active – zipping about in the car,
helping with chores and cooking etc as well as writing, taking photographs,
drawing, thinking about projects or just letting my mind go wild. But no not on
On leaving Pisa airport in my rented car I started to feel queazy and light
headed. During the three-hour drive to Poppi things became increasingly
difficult. I was travelling with my youngest daughter who, being used to my
appalling sense of direction, predicted that I would get lost. Of course I did
by inadvertently taking a wrong fork off the motorway, which added an hour to
When we eventually arrived I was feeling so ill I had to say my hellos and
retire to bed, where I scrunched myself into a foetal position in and attempt
to alleviate the most horrid stomach cramps.
Just three weeks before the same thing had happened and I was diagnosed with a
nasty strain of e-coli – apparently we all have the good strain. After a course
of antibiotics it seemed to have disappeared. Or so I thought.
So here I was among these beautiful hills just wanting to be in bed. The next
day I went to see an Italian doctor who prescribed yet more antibiotics.
As I drove back up the hill ominous black clouds were gathering over the
mountains and the distant booms where already betraying the coming of an electric
storm. I made it back to bed before the first lighting struck.
There followed a storm worthy of the Second World War. Back in bed I lay in a
semi delirious state enfolded within a large duvet while listening to the first
hesitant pitter patter of the rain as it hit the terracotta tiles above my
head. It increased in intensity and volume settling into comforting white noise
layered with thunderclaps and shafts of brilliant lightning.
It was so beautiful that it was almost worth being ill. As the thunder ebbed
away I slipped into a soporific sleep. My point of telling you this is that you
can always find something positive in adversity...
And an extra joy provided by the heavens free of charge...
The following days were spent sitting on the vine-shaded patio looking across
the valley to Poppi Castle…
This sedentary predicament gave me the pleasure of watching my friend Tim
painting. It set me on this train of thought…
The act of seeing.
I was struck by the intensity and rapidity with which Tim was observing the
landscape he was painting. Being a classically trained artist he paints what he
sees before him.
Unlike a camera, which captures a frozen moment in time,
painting captures many moments and each incrementally changing. Assessing those
changes was what was going on inside Tim’s brain as he looked at the landscape
then at the canvas. All the decision-making information was being fed to his
hand and eye. Questions of colour, texture, composition, depth, light were
being considered in spilt seconds.
It made a connection with Stanislavskian trained actors (something have written
about in an earlier post). Stanislavski wanted acting- less acting. Through many
months of rehearsal and character assessment the final performance becomes real
and believable, very much happening in that moment for the first time with no
two performances ever being the same. The ability to act like this is built on
layers of understanding of how the human psyche works. All of this information
can be minded at any given moment to contribute to the believability of the
Tim too is ‘living in the moment’ when he paints. With every stroke of his
brush, over the minutes, hours, days, and weeks he makes a piece of layered
history of that landscape he has captured on the canvas giving it a life and
depth that you can experience every time you look at the finished painting.
Here is little photo essay when I finally surfaced from my bed...
One of my favourite haunts is second hand bookshops. By that I mean the cavernous type with myriads of passages - the sort that one can take in a packed lunch, thermos and sleeping bag and spend days there without being bothered.
These book purgatories, where volumes sit quietly awaiting their fate have always held great fascination for me because one can revel in the design evolution of the book cover, jacket, or wrapper – whatever you want to call them – in a series of geological like strata right in front of you. There nestled between orange spined Penguins of the Tschichold and Smhmoller period rubbing shoulders with Faber & Faber paperbacks sporting covers by Berthold Wolpe, Herbert Bayer and McKnight Kauffer. All of the stylistic shifts of time become visible. It is the book cover more than anything else that one can see the effect and importance of those shifts in design. All of the ‘isms’ are present.
Over the past few years the reissuing of many old Penguins have been metamorphosed into the ‘Great Ideas’ series design. They are pure exercises in the styles of earlier times. All lovingly crafted by their creators to capture a kind of cosy literary nostalgia. They have become ‘cool’ objects to nochalantly flaunt when reading in the park, café, or on the bus or tube...
Only time will tell if they will contribute to the story of book cover design. What it does confirm is the fact that design is an endless merry-go-round that regurgitates itself at regular intervals. But for every well considered, intelligent and often beautiful cover, there are a dozens of crass, insulting, vulgar travesties, visually polluting our life.
One of my regular second hand book repositories is Skoob Books at the Brunswick centre in WC2...
Not only do I always find the book I am looking for there, but I often have the surprise of finding an old friend lurking there on a lonely shelf. This is a beautiful example…
The Corgi Modern Reading series published in the mid 60’s were designed by Corgi’s then art director John Piper and illustrated by the very talented Ken Sequin. I think they still hold up beautifully. If anyone has the rest in the series I’d love to post them.
The other great second hand bookshop is Shakespeare and Company and can be found in Paris at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, 37 rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris.
It is the most eccentric place with beds blocking some of the labarynthian passageways on which the student staff sleep at night.
And when you purchase your book is rubber stamped with Shakespeare and Company’s charming little logo...
Well worth whilinga couple of hours when in Paris. For Skoob Books click here. For more about Shakespeare and Company click here.