Thursday, July 24, 2014

FEATURE 125 ~ Without You My Life Would Be Boring

The Knife have just released an album of remixes of old tracks, called Shaken Up, which, judging from what's on You Tube sounds pretty far out and FAB to me. This is a remix of Without you my life would be boring,  featuring, as is usual in The Knife videos, no one from The Knife, but this time numerous people in a hospital miming to the song. There is something simultaneously quite serious, sublime and stupid about it that I find myself giggling all the way through it. Anyway here it is.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

FILM REVIEW ~ The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson, well, you either like him of loath him ,right? Certainly I've been in the latter camp ever since I saw The Royal Tenenbaums. Too knowingly quirky,too contrived and mannered, telegraphing his often rather obvious, if not lame, comic conceits several moments before they happen, then flogging them to death, plus all the Hollywood elite falling over themselves to do a humble short cameo for dear old Wes.

That was until The Grand Budapest Hotel, which for some reason avoids the pitfalls of stilted artifice and archness present in his previous movies. It's genuinely off beat, but a pure delight from start to finish. Yes, it does have a cast list to die for, with all Wes's usual collaborators putting in an often brief appearence. Two things have helped transform my appreciation of his work. First, its the script, starting from the stories of Stephan Zweig, he concocts a ludicrous confection, light, frothy and insubstantial, but it has razor sharp dialogue and moments of quick witted light footedness. Its edited very well, with a fluent speed and an unflagging romping pace. He allows just enough time for the gags and then moves on, with none of Wes's usual strangling of every last ounce of humour from a situation until its dead. Second, he has found in Raplh Fiennes a really great comic actor to base his film around. His character Gustav H, is a fantastic cartoon creation, actorly and camp, but with superbly well crafted and judged comic timing. Without Fiennes this film may well have fallen into being the standard sniggering conceit of a Wes Anderson movie.

Gustav H is a control freak, the servant/lover of all his blonde female guests. He is there purely to serve their every need, and I mean every need. He runs the hotel like clock work, as he brings on his latest ingenue Zero as Lobby Boy. With the death of an elderly Countess, he finds himself bequeathed a highly valueable painting, and the vengence of her family knows know legal bounds to get it back. Its a wonderful farce, inhabited with the spirit and tone of a boy's own adventure.

 Taking place on the edge of conflict, there is a framing poignancy surrounding this story. A certain style and approach to life was already in the process of fading away, a flickering candle to be extinguished completely by the ensuing war. Gustav H upholds certain standards, never be caught smelling of anything other than a rare perfume even when escaping from prison and being chased across snow.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

DIARY 124 ~ Talky Talky Happy Talk

Even though my back is playing up badly at the moment, the muscles around my hips and shoulders are perpetually tender and painful, the pattern of my sleep seems permanently set on irregular and short, and the osteo-arthrutis in both my hands is slowly worsening, I am quite happy, at this juncture my life is good.
Why is this? Human beings, and I make no exception of myself from this, don't generally pause to wonder why they are happy, or what has brought this pleasant state about. We welcome it with open arms and, if we wonder about anything, its for how long it will last. Generally we are better at the causes of our suffering and pain, which we often catalogue and rail over in minute detail.

I would hazard a guess that the causes for this present good state are relatively simple. I've recently joined the Property Team at Windhorse:evolution, which I am currently rather enjoying. We are in the process of revamping seven or eight of our shops, in a much overdue rebranding. Initially I was drafted in to paint the new Evolution typeface signage onto planked panels. Much to my surprise I've done them to a really professional standard, and they look good up on the wall too. I'm also supervising the painting of uprights, shelves and assorted furniture & fittings for the shops. Its all gone very well, puts a feather in my cap, so my general self confidence levels are robust, if not high.

I'm only doing alternate shop fits, yet the intensity of these plus the unrelenting painting work prior to them, is I suspect the primary reason why my back is so troublesome at present. I feel constantly tired. I was aware last week that I'd been running for the last two or three months, pretty much at maximum capacity, given my continual sleep deprivation, its effect on my energy level, and of course my bodies numerical age. The three days of a revamp are full on, being physically, mentally and spiritually demanding affairs. By the end of the first day of the Norwich Shop's revamp. I was pretty pooped and tell tale early signs of strain in my back were wagging a finger at me. A week later I'm still nursing it and there's no sign of it easing off yet. Standing up or sitting down for too long are still an issue.

Since my Solitary Retreat At Home in April, my personal painting has continued to go from strength to strength. Pushing my artwork into fresh and often uncharted areas. Being able to practice 'Just Painting' quite regularly, taps into a deeper need for some form of creative expressive outlet in my life. So this is one very significant factor in my current happier disposition. There are, however, a few issues around that remain outstanding.

The website for my artwork is still unfinished after nearly a year. I haven't yet cracked getting consistently top quality photographs of my artwork. The main limitation is my camera, which is has a mini compact zoom, with a wide angle, that's unable to take photographs without bowing the edges of paintings. Any future plans I might have to sell printed reproductions, cards or any other use they might be put to, all hinge on photography good enough for reproduction. Until I'm over this hurdle, all these sort of ideas are a bit of a none starter. I have yet to find a gallery through which to try selling my work. which I was hoping to use my website as a promotional  tool for. I could go on, but I wont, for fear of soiling the mood.

So these few things are still hanging in the wings awaiting my attention or finding a workable solution. There's the lack of time, at present also energy, to resolve all the above outstanding issues. There is also the at times interminal struggles with my own apathy, which I do on occasions find frustrating. I am making it a practice to try remaining relatively cool without becoming insipid, about when these things might significantly move on. In my current lifestyle, I must acknowledge, there is not sufficient time to do more than keep painting. So I'm learning how to be more laid back ,if not patient about it, which in itself supports and encourages a happier visage for Vidyavajra.

Jnanasalin and I's civil partnership was two years ago this coming September. Though we each have our individual areas of strain and difficulty, in our relationship we are still happy, infused as it is with a sense of enjoyment and appreciation of each others qualities, and an easy compatibility. We are also committed to supporting each other in our respective creative and spiritual endeavours. This is a very significant positive factor, whose impact is easy to underestimate. I don't believe either of us would be attempting to do what we are currently doing in our work or creativity, if our relationship wasn't at present a consistent and stable one.

One should never take any of the above for granted, of course. Last night I was doing some preparation for Mitra Study on the Attandanda Sutta, from the Sutta Nipata. One of the lines that stood out for me was 'whatever things are tied down in the world, you shouldn't be set on them' . In other words, you can't be set, rely or depend on anything being permanent no matter how fixed or tied down they might appear to be in the present moment. Happiness, like any other phenomena, has a fluctuating transitory history. In moments of absentia it's likely to slip your grasp.

Sunday, July 06, 2014


Silence is an Irish film, directed by Pat Collins from 2012, which I seem to have missed noticing completely at the time. Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride plays a sound recordist living and working in Berlin. You first experience Berlin entirely through the sound he's recording, sounds drowning inside sounds, man made noises chugging,rumbling and screeching. He receives some sort of commission to record sound back in his home county in Ireland. Its a particular quality of sound they want, quiet sounds, sounds with no man made presence in them. It's never explained for whom he's doing this. There is a conversation with his girlfriend in Berlin, where she asks why he needs to do this. Significantly what he says gets drowned out by the sound of a freight train. Something is unsettled, not right with him, and their relationship. This takes you all of five minutes into the film.

The rest of the movie  continues as if it were a hybrid of an audio documentary, with visuals added as a beautiful afterthought. As the film progresses you find yourself paying closer and closer attention to the qualities and varieties of sounds. Sometimes its natural sounds, then sounds of someone singing or speaking, interspersed with old film recordings of a past Ireland, then the roar and thrum of wind, rain and sea, the sounds of a landscape speaking whilst mankind listens. As one voice says, silence is the space between noises. At various points he bumps into people, local folk giving their own slant on their quiet lives rooted in their sense of place and their belonging. The film, if its about anything, it is this search for a sense of belonging through sound.  The sounds of a place provide texture and definition to our experience of this. The main character has moved away, maybe kept himself away from home for fifteen years. Where indeed does he truly belong now?

By the end of the film he returns to his island home, a place so suffused with familiar sounds that he appears to stop recording them. What was previously a vicarious acquisitive collecting of sound, becomes more and more a personal recollection of it. The film concludes with him visiting the family home,now empty and much dilapidated. As he walks around its musty, damp, almost windowless rooms, the sounds of distant voices half remembered and indistinct are background sounds, as if emerging from out of the walls of the house. Recollected sounds of a place once filled with human activity and noise. Sounds of past lives, of his past life.

Silence, as a film, is more poetry than narrative, more an evocation than representation. Suffused with beauty and a poignancy that is never forced or laboured over. It reminds me of Tarkovsky at times, or John Cage's 4 mins 33 seconds, where what one hears during the pieces duration, are the sounds of whatever is happening in those moments in the concert hall. Like Cage, this film subverts the artifice that's obviously there. Mixing story and reality,actors and people playing themselves, it blurs the distinctions between drama and documentary, subtly and to really superb effect. Its a simple pure delight, that I suspect will repay repeated viewing.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Instructions for the Artist ~ No 8 ~ Putting Your Whole Attention Into The Work

The eighth in a series of articles based on Dogen's Instructions for the Tenzo, exploring how it might be applied to artistic practice and work in general.

'Put your whole attention into the work, 
seeing just what the situation calls for.'

I don't know about you, but my mind does wander off, losing focus and deliberative purpose. In the middle of a conversation with a friend my attention might be drawn away by something happening on the periphery of my awareness, a plane flying over or a phone ringing. My friend might be telling me a really interesting tale about what happened to them and yet I find myself wondering what led them to choose that T shirt or make judgements about them based on the unkempt nature of their shoes. Failing this then my mind will return to further ruminate upon some minor upset earlier in the day or in my life. In short, my attention wanders.

Our mind becomes drunk on experiences. In its inebriated state, it has two major things it leans upon for support; to look backwards, to remember, to try to reconfigure aspects of our past experience; or to look forward, to envision, to preconfigure or fix, in our minds at least, what the future will be like. This may not be entirely without practicality or usefulness. We do need to make sense of what has past. It could help us behave better if we reflected on and learnt from our previous experience, and be carried forward to influence future behaviour. This might make us better at handling whatever comes our way. If only all this were true.

The majority of our mental activity is useless activity, mostly trivial concerns, sometimes positively unhelpful, particularly if we are trying to improve the nature of our interactions, to be kinder, more beneficial or ethical. Our mental processes are dominated by selfish emotional impulses which proliferate along a rambling associative line of thought. Anxious, paranoid, neurotic, envious, vengeful, mostly selfish, or self-deluded thoughts, with poor self esteem running through it like an underground stream through rock. Against these thoughts our better nature struggles, to contain, to neutralise or overcome them.  So bringing our whole attention to our work will be of no small order.

Whether you're working or not, it's good to be able to concentrate on what you are presently doing. A good cook has to think ahead, to when things need to be cooked by. This shouldn't be confused with multi-tasking. It's about maintaining a broad awareness of ones purpose in the present moment, what you are trying to achieve, how you are to achieve it and when you want it achieved by. Remaining aware of the passage of time, recalling our past experience of cooking the recipe, what went well, what would improve it,what proved to be a mistake. In other words 'seeing just what the situation calls for'.

'Putting your whole attention into the work', might be seen as keeping ones attention in the present moment. If you've ever tried consciously to do this you'll know it requires an impossible level of rigid mental discipline. We intuit that being in the present moment ought to be possible, but find it is has a much more slippery fluid feel than that. It's something that cannot be taught. We come into alignment with the present moment through creating the conditions from which we might experience it. We train ourselves in meditation to calm our distracted mental state, eventually being able to bring this more and more tangibly into everyday life.

In everyday life, you have to remain mindful of what your overall purpose is. This includes everything that feeds into the present moment, what preceded it and what is yet to come. Being aware of ones past and current mental, emotional and physical state, what our habitual responses and reactive tendencies to those are, and where these might lead if we do or don't focus upon them. Attentiveness to the needs and state of the people you're working with, is also called for. Holding all these within a broad spectrum of awareness, without becoming hooked on them, and staying focused on the demands of the immediate task before us. You wont be able to stay in the present moment simply by design or desire, but by paying attention to what pulls your attention away from it. What or where is this present moment anyway? It can seem like a thinly sliced piece of ham, invisibly sandwiched between the bread of the past and future. The present moment wont be found if we see it as a destination, but if we become one with the nature of the journey, alive to when life is being fully lived.

Whilst working on an artwork, I travel back and forth from the past, to the present and the future of what I'm doing. I find if I think too much about a pieces future development I become tense and more anxious. The experience in the present moment is of confusion, creative direction becomes frozen, frigid even, as it is mired in the quicksand of uncertainty. If future thinking dominates, this usually indicates my ego, rather than the work itself, is now leading the creative process. Issues of self identity and reputation begin to infuse thoughts; the usual I'm a good artist/bad artist stuff; will this piece be rubbish or the most wonderful, ground breaking thing I've ever done?  Dwelling in the present, in the uncertain place that is the future inevitably does frighten you.

The past, is an imaginary place constructed around facts. All history has this illusory stability and coherence that we embroider around it. Everything we've ever experienced acquiring a sepia toned homogeneity, created by our endless remembering of it. To remember the past is to reconstruct it, to redesign and update it. Our desire in the present moment is to turn the past into a prediction of the future. Creatively, thinking of the past, has for me a depressive air,it smells of death and decay. It usually means I've become stuck in a habit, a comfortingly familiar idea or way of working.  Whatever we had in the past, has by virtue of time passing, been lost.  Past glories, past times, past endeavours, all tell you you have past it, whatever 'it' is. My artwork and creative process then becomes overly self-identified, a self designating rather than a liberating thing. This is what I am, this is what I do, this how I do it. Dwelling in the present, in the certain place that is the past inevitably does bore you.

I try to counter this past/future dichotomy, by trying to stay with whatever stage in the creative process I'm currently in. Actively discouraging myself from worrying about what I've done or where I'm going with it, and staying with what I'm doing. Sol Le Witt said  'If the artist changes his mind midway through the execution of the piece he compromises the result and repeats past results'  So there is artistic benefit in sticking with the zeitgeist of the present creative moment.  My mind still gets drawn back into past ideas or distracted by future prognostications. Yet similar to meditation, you simply bring your mind back to the focus of the artistic practice, which is right in front of you. Through listening attentively to what you are currently doing, you do unconsciously prepare the ground for whatever is to come next. You cultivate calmly abiding with whatever you are presently doing, give it your whole and undivided attention, and not drift off into past or future concerns. If I'm able to stay with whatever is happening right in front of me, then when a particular idea has been followed through and completed, whatever is to come next generally emerges quite clearly into my mind. It seems blatantly obvious to state, but the future always arises out of the present moment.

It's similar to tomorrows weather, we all read or hear the forecasts, but until you wake up to find it's gloriously sunny you won't decide to take that long walk along the riverbank, or to visit the seaside. You could spend time the night before worrying about the uncertainties of the English weather, and what you may or may not be able to do the next day if you wish. Until the conditions of the present moment arrive you don't really know what you actually will do. Its in the nature of the present moment to trigger the unexpected, to allow exciting things to arise. We all carry with us excess mental and emotional baggage, that encumbers our ability to give what we are doing right now our full attention. Once we are aware of what we bring to the present moment then we are more able to 'see what the situation calls for'.  Dwelling in the present does inevitably enliven you. For the present moment is the active energised place where we are simply being alive.