I’ve been dying for a while to see the work of ElAnatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor active for much of his career in Nigeria, who has drawn particular international attention for his iconic “bottle-top installations”—huge sheets of metallic ‘textile’ made of thousands of pieces of aluminium sourced from alcohol recycling stations and sewn together with copper wire.
Photographs of these have intrigued and inspired me, but because they are three-dimensional works with a lot of texture, photos cannot even begin to compare with seeing them ‘live’.
At the moment six of these works are exhibited at the Conciergerie in Paris, and a visit there exceeded my expectations. A former royal residence open to the city, the Conciergerie has had many uses over the centuries, including becoming a detention centre under the Terror.
Under the medieval vaults of the Salle des Gens d’armes (Hall of the Soldiers—the 14th-century refectory of the French King’s officers), El Anatsui has produced a poetic installation introducing five natural elements: water, wind, wood, metal and stone. He calls the installation “En quête de liberté” (Seeking freedom)
Besides the six metallic sculptures, using textile and video projection, he has conjured up a reproduction of the Seine, as if two of its arms run through the chamber on old railway sleepers, reflecting the images of waves traversed by the sun.
The sculptures, made from bottle tops and strips of flattened tin cans, hang in the fireplaces. I have taken some detail photos to show the texture, but the actual experience defies description.
Born in Ghana in 1944, El Anatsui creates objects based on traditional Ghanaian beliefs, and is interested in the destruction, transformation, and regeneration of everyday objects. Very few artists make it to the top while living outside metropolitan centres, but El Anatsui has conquered the planet while living and working in the Nigerian university town of Nsukka.
Being overawed by the endless patience it takes to construct these sculptures, as well as the vision necessary to design work on such a large scale, I became curious to see what his methods of production were. I came upon the following fascinating video:
I have the great honour of joining in my bloggy friend Geoff Le Pard’s tour to promote his new book, The Art of Spirit Capture.
Geoff has, in his spare time, written an astonishing number of books, just how many I did not realise until I saw the complete list. I am full of admiration (and envy, since he makes my own efforts seem pretty pathetic…) I also like his sense of humour and style of writing—and general take on life.
So, without more ado, here is the blurb for the book:
The Art Of Spirit Capture
Jason Hales is at his lowest ebb: his brother is in a coma; his long-term partner has left him; he’s been sacked; and Christmas is round the corner to remind him how bad his life has become.
After receiving an unexpected call telling him he’s a beneficiary of his Great Aunt Heather’s estate, he visits the town he vaguely recalls from his childhood, where his great aunt lived. Wanting to find out more, he’s soon sucked into local politics revolving around his great uncle’s extraordinary glass ornaments, his ‘Captures’, and their future.
While trying to piece his life back together, he’ll have to confront a number of questions: What actually are these Captures and what is the mystery of the old wartime huts where his uncle fashioned them? Why is his surly neighbour so antagonistic? Can he trust anyone, especially the local doctor Owen Marsh and Charlotte Taylor, once a childhood adversary, but now the lawyer dealing with the estate? His worries pile up, with his ex in trouble, his flat rendered uninhabitable and his brother’s condition worsening. Will Christmas bring him any joy?
Set in the Sussex countryside, this is a modern novel with mystery, romance and magic at its core, as well as a smattering of hope, redemption and good cooking.
Mystery, romance and magic, laced with cooking—what more can one hope for?
Here is Geoff explaining a little more about his process:
How To Find Your Characters; Death Becomes Them In the Art, the initial piece that started me towards this novel centred around a glass blower, Ben Wood who’d discovered how to capture a deceased’s spirit in a glass pendant.
I killed him off.
It didn’t take me long to realise I had to tell this story from the viewpoint of someone who knew nothing about these captures, nor what was expected of him with regard to them. If the person who made them, who’d invented them and created the rules around them, was still alive, it would become one of those irritating fiction devices to keep my main protagonist in the dark, to build suspense. But if he was dead, indeed had been for a while and those who’d come to depend on, at least the idea of Spirit Captures were waiting to find out if the secret had died with him, then the mystery, when told from the point of view of the main protagonist wouldn’t be a device but very natural.
Ignorance, at least in good fiction, is essential and bloody annoying for the main protagonist.
That having been decided I needed to develop a way in which the story unfolds as we see if indeed the secret is lost. You’ll have to read the book to find out; all I will say is the answer is neither obvious or straightforward.
And something about the Author, in his own words:
Who Am I?
For those who don’t know me, I’m an outwardly sixty-something Brit (Inside, I’m still in my late teens, wondering what life has in store), residing in one of London’s villages some five miles to the south of the Capital’s centre. In those six and a half decades, I have stopped: being self-conscious; practicing as a lawyer (you can only practice for so long before you realise you’re not getting any better); attempting consecutive cartwheels (now its single cartwheels and time spent in traction); being embarrassed by my hair; believing I should try and be politically correct; expecting to be called up to play cricket for England; buying new suits and wearing ties, save to hold up trousers; and weighing myself. In that same period I have started: writing in all styles and genres; volunteering; practising as a parent (unlike the law, you have to keep practising); baking with increasing competence; a deep continuing love affair with both my wife and Dog; a no doubt lifelong relationship with my lawn; nightly excursions to the bathroom; ballroom and Latin American dancing (I can waltz but I’m still one cha sort of the full set); and a determination to go green, though, I hope, not because of a creeping stasis that leaves me susceptible to developing mould. I find pleasure in small things (and I will leave the smutty amongst you to run with the obvious double entendre), inspiration in the opaque and opulent alike, and I have developed a firm belief that nowadays I need little stuff and loads of new experiences, which post Covid I intend embracing with the grip of an anaconda and the lack of embarrassment of my great aunt Ruby, whose attempts to offer free hugs to all and sundry in her small village were received, mostly, with delight, save for those few who were allergic to lavender. I can’t stand grapefruit or marmite, Tintin and Paddington Bear remain my heroes and in the eleven general elections since I was eligible to vote, I have put my cross next to all the main political parties at least once as well as spoiling my ballot though a poorly timed sneeze and voted for the Monster Raving Loony party merely to irritate my father. I am blood type A+ which annoyingly makes me very common.
And finally, here is Geoff’s author bio and link to his Amazon page. Do take a look, I promise it is worth your while.
Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry, short fiction and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.
It was a great treat to visit the Morozov Collection at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. The show, presented for the first time outside Russia, includes some 300 impressionist, post-impressionist and expressionist masterpieces amassed at the turn of the 20th century by the vastly wealthy Russian brothers Mikhail and Ivan Morozov, before being swept away by the Russian Revolution.
The brothers, born in 1870 and 1871 respectively, were the great-grandsons of a serf. With five rubles from his wife’s dowry, their ancestor set up a ribbon workshop, which he developed into a factory, and bought his family’s freedom. In a few generations, the family became wealthy, philanthropic industrialists.
Besides being fabulously wealthy, the brothers had very avant garde tastes, and built up the stunning collection which includes works by Russian as well as French artists. At the turn of the last century, the upper social echelon in Russia spoke French and the Morozov brothers created their collection on the advice of Parisian dealers such as Paul Durand-Ruel and Ambroise Vollard. Mikhail, who died prematurely from a heart attack at the age of 33, discovered Bonnard’s work in Paris and acquired the first paintings by Gauguin to enter Russia.
His brother Ivan took over the family business, abandoning his dreams of becoming a painter, and kept adding more French impressionists, post-impressionists and Fauvists to the collection, his favourite artist being Cézanne. In 1912, he commissioned Bonnard to decorate the staircase of his opulent Moscow residence, resulting in wonderfully luminous panels.
At the same time, he became close to Russian artists of his generation who advised him on his acquisitions and contributed their own works to the collection. I discovered with great pleasure and admiration the lovely portraits by Valentin Sérov, a painter I did not know.
In a twist worthy of fiction, it all ended with the Communist revolution of 1917 in Russia. Ivan was reduced to being ‘assistant curator’ of his own collection and his home became a state museum.
In 1918, the Morozov manufacturing company, whose real estate value was estimated at 26 million rubles, was taken over by the state and later that year the collection of artworks was nationalised by official decree.
In the summer of 1919, Ivan and his family secretly crossed the border to Finland and then emigrated to Switzerland. He died in Germany at the age of 49.
When the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941, the paintings were sent to be hidden in the Ural Mountains, where they stayed fairly well-preserved by temperatures that often fell to -40 degrees.
It wasn’t until 1950s that the Soviet government decided to redistribute them among the Hermitage, Tretyakov and Pushkin museums.
One of the most unexpected paintings in the exhibition is Vincent Van Gogh’s The Prison Courtyard (1890), which he made while in the Saint-Rémy-de-Provence psychiatric hospital. The artist’s brother Theo had sent him a photograph of Gustave Doré’s drawing of a London prison’s courtyard which Van Gogh reinterpreted into a primarily greenish blue-hued painting, the conditions of the prisoners echoing his own
And finally, two more portraits, a self portrait by Alexander Golovine,
and a portrait of Ivan Morozov by Valentin Serov, which features one of his paintings by Matisse in the background.
Since our school didn’t possess the necessary facilities, our annual sports day was held at the Athens Tennis Club, on one of the clay courts, which had a ‘grandstand’ from which the parents could admire their offspring.
For this occasion we wore white shorts and a white T-shirt, on which the letter of our class—Α, Β, Γ, Δ, and so on—had to be sewn by the mothers using blue ribbon. Every year we were issued with detailed instructions regarding the dimensions of this letter: the exact width of the ribbon, the height and width of the letter and its position in the middle of our chest. Each year most parents totally disregarded these instructions, so that some kids had a tiny letter attached to their left shoulder, some had a huge one going from neck to waist, and so on. No two T-shirts looked the same! My mother, needless to say, obeyed the instructions to the letter, and we were the proud wearers of the perfect specimen.
First there was a display of Greek folk dancing—for girls only—for which we pulled a blue skirt on over our shorts. Each class formed a circle, supposedly led by the best dancer. In our case, however, since both my sister and I were very tall for our age, and it would have looked strange to place us in the middle of the circle, we were made to lead our respective class, despite our evident lack grace and talent.
My mother, stifling laughter, once overheard the following conversation, between two ladies sitting in the row in front of her.
‘Why are classes Α and Γ led by older girls?’
‘They can’t be older, they have the same letter on their T-shirts as the others.’
‘Actually, I’ve heard there are two sisters in the school who are huge. It must be them.’
After the dancing, we pulled our skirts off and were joined by the boys to do basic gymnastics. Some of the exercises meant our backs came into contact with the clay court, so that when we stood up our back view was covered in red clay.
After the show was over, we were all treated to sour cherry ice lollies dispensed by a little man with an icebox on the front of his bike. These rapidly melted in the heat and dripped down our front—so that a little later, in the streets around the Tennis Club, groups of parents could be spotted going home with children who were plastered with red clay down the back, and stained red down the front.
A terrible catastrophe is taking place in Greece, where a large number of wildfires, caused by the worst heatwave in years, are destroying the natural environment to an unprecedented extent, while also causing untold damage to personal and state property.
The fires are raging in the suburbs of Athens, where they have destroyed the pine forests of Varibobi and Tatoi, up the slopes of Mount Parnitha,on the island of Euboea and elsewhere.
The situation is still at this moment far from being brought under control. Our neighbouring Turks are also fighting serious fires, so we are unable to come to each other’s assistance as we would normally do. Both countries have even been obliged to enlist the help of civilians. However, we have had assistance from Cyprus, France, Roumania, Sweden, Croatia and others, who have sent planes, helicopters and firefighters.
I will not go into details, which can be read in any newspaper. I would just like to express my gratitude to the firefighters; it is a real hero’s job in the worst possible conditions, especially since there are strong winds making everything inconceivably harder.
Wildfires have got much worse worldwide in recent years, which should certainly give us cause for thought. It is lamentable that governmental reaction to obvious phenomena is so slow, and always led by political and financial considerations rather than public benefit. The destruction of nature is really the saddest thing.
ITolis Voskopoulos (Τόλης Βοσκόπουλος) who has passed away aged 81, was one of the legends of modern Greek music.
Born to immigrant parents from Asia Minor, he was the 12th child and first boy in his family. His father, a well-known and popular greengrocer in the working-class neighborhood of Kokkinia, was so overjoyed to get a boy after so many attempts that he immediately changed the sign on his shop to ‘Haralambos Voskopoulos & Son.’
Tolis grew up following his father everywhere: in the street markets, at the shop, and observing his business dealings. However, he felt early on that the job was not for him and, aged 15, found the courage to tell his father that he wanted to be an actor. He expected to be ‘slaughtered,’ but his father just said, ‘Let’s go.’ He took him to be enrolled in the National Odeon of Manolis Kalomiris, which taught music and drama. It was the first time Tolis had left his neighbourhood and he was awestruck to see Athens.
He learned to play the bouzouki, got married at 20 for the first time and quickly found tremendous fame because of his looks, empathy with his public and attractive voice. He was called The Prince by his many admirers.
He wrote songs (both the lyrics and music) that he included in his personal albums but that were also performed by other artists, most famously his duet with Marinella “Me and you” in 1974 which made record sales and is still sung today. He collaborated with a wide range of the best Greek artists of his time, including George Zabetas, Akis Panou, Mimis Plessas and many others.
As an actor, he starred in multiple films including the 1974 hit ‘Oi Erastes tou Oneirou’ (Dream Lovers) opposite Zoe Laskari, with whom he had a torrid affair, and who remained close to him thereafter.
Among his admirers he counted people from all walks of life, from the world of working-class neighborhoods to the financial elite of shipowners and industrialists, and of course the late Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou.
Tolis Voskopoulos was adored and surrounded by women—he married four times, his last wife being Angela Gerekou, an actress and politician. They had one daughter, Maria.
It’s so lovely to be able to go to shows and museums again, albeit still with masks on. And let’s hope we will not be shut in again…
For now, though, on a hot and windy day in Athens, I took the opportunity to revisit the Eliza and Basil Goulandris Foundation, a museum about which I have written before.(here).
The couple’s collection is so extensive that it would take multiple museums of this size for everything to be exhibited at once, so there is a certain amount of rotation. It was an opportunity to see some new works as well as to bask in admiration of jewels such as this dreamy still life by Gaugin. The colours glow even in my moderate iPhone photo.
I’m also posting a few different photos this time.
A large sculpture be Igor Mitoraj, in bronze with a brown patina, called Luci di Nara.
Two lovely jade reindeer from the 17th-century Ming Dysnasty.
Some cool drawings by Francesco Clemente, always a favourite.
A sculpture by Barbara Hepworth.
An interesting monochrome by François Rouan.
And, last but not least, a mixed media abstract by Jean Fautrier. It’s called Manhattan, and represents an aerial view of the city at night.
The pandemic has had a lot of unpleasant side effects, one of which is the amount of plastic that is being discarded on a daily basis.
Over the last few years, supermarkets and many other shops abolished plastic bags, and people have started using bamboo straws and other recyclable objects.
Sadly this trend has suffered a reversal: at the moment one can hardly go for a walk without spotting a mask or two embedded in the bushes, or lying in the gutter.
Hospitals also are consuming veritable mountains of protective equipment: a friend who works as a doctor in a covid ward tells me she has to wear no less than three pairs of disposable gloves daily (as well as the mask, whole body suit etc.) When I visited the dentist, both she and her assistant looked like astronauts, covered from head to foot, including plastic bootees. I too was asked to don a pair, which went in the trash when I left.
We have also gone back to disposable cups, plates and cutlery, not all of which are recyclable. I find all this very depressing, because big efforts were being made to get people and companies to reduce plastic use, efforts which now seem to be partly wasted.
Beaches, and even the ocean floor to a great depth, are littered with plastic; and we are already consuming micro particles which have been found in the flesh of fish, so the future looks grim.
What could be a solution to this problem?
Scientists have discovered a kind of bacteria which eats plastic (anyone interested can read about it here), but I think the results are still quite modest. It’s a sad fact that humans litter wherever they go: the pristine beauty of Everest is nowadays marred by discarded oxygen bottles and other rubbish (even abandoned corpses) and even space is now getting to be full of trash.
Let us hope that human ingenuity can find some answers before the natural environment is destroyed for ever.
A silver lining of the pandemic has been the lack of visitors in historic sites, and May is a perfect month for exploring Greece, since it’s not too hot yet.
A recent road trip to the Byzantine city of Mystras involved a hike up to the fortress during which we only met a handful of other visitors.
Mystras is a fortified town in the Peloponnese, built in 1248 by Guillaume II de Villehardouin, ruler of the Frankish Principality of Achaea. In 1259, William of Villehardouin was defeated and captured, along with many of his nobles, at the Battle of Pelagonia, by the forces of the Nicaean Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. Two years later, the Nicaeans recaptured Constantinople, putting an end to the Roman Empire and establishing the Byzantine Empire. At this point, the emperor concluded an agreement with the captive prince: William and his men would be set free in exchange for an oath of fealty, and for the cession of Monemvasia, Grand Magne, and Mystras. Thus henceforth Mystras served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea in the 14th and 15th centuries, during which period the city prospered, culturally as well as practically, producing silk, citrus fruit and olive oil which were exported to Western Europe.
Wild flowers and butterflies were abundant, and the only sounds were the chirping of birds and the buzzing of bees.
It is a magical site, like so many others in Greece.
The city contains a number of beautiful churches, in different states of preservation.
And a view of the lovely Monastery of Pantanassa
An old map of the city
The hike made us hot and thirsty, so we descended to the village. After ice cold drinks under the shade of mulberry trees in the village square, we repaired for lunch to the village of Kastori. A small taverna with a garden full of roses at the back provided us with an excellent Greek salad and a simple meal followed by a bowl of cherries from their tree. This fortified us for another, this time shady, hike by a stream in the forest at the feet of the majestic Taygetos mountain.