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How do movements and dance in particular have an effect on our physiology? Do we think with our bodies? From our sexual drive to how memorising dance moves can help stimulate neural paths in our brains (proven to be beneficial for people suffering Parkinson disease), Dr Peter Lovatt (see him here) facilitated an evening in the in the context of a School of Life event where he unravelled some beguiling insights to research being done between dance and well-being. For sure, I’m convinced that we humans need to dance to be well. Unfortunately we are still far from creating everyday practices where dance for example becomes a staple to our daily regimes.

Indeed, in our seemingly hyper cognitive world, residing on our western culture, we still linger on this dichotomy between body and mind. Even if the neuro-scientists are more and more proving how our brains: complex and interdependent organisms, rely on the ‘emotional’ and ‘rational’ parts to function well and sanely, the societal structures preceded by those who we let run our societies, still fear the arts and the basic building stones of culture. Imagine if executives in organisations or politicians used dance as a strategic decision-making tool? Think, what would happen if in our curriculum at school, we all had to learn to tune-in and find our groove? We’d have to connect more to our embodied understanding of the world, our intuition, and lo and behold – negotiate more from a situated position. Now that’s a thought that gets me swinging, rocking and stamping.

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I entered the gallery space at the serpentine to see the show by Jonas Mekas, a well-known artist name to me, yet whose works I only knew a few of. Straight from the outset, I was touched by the text in the gallery written by artist himself. I didn’t document the words so I can’t fully remember the actual wordings, but he mentioned something like – in his long life it was daunting to do a retrospective, and yet he had the luck to remember mainly the happy events. Truth be told, either he has a selective memory or it was an artistic choice – it doesn’t matter as the show emanates a certain happiness of a life well lived behind the camera. Using outtakes from the multiple films and other media he has captured throughout his life as an artist in New York he created an atmosphere that to me felt like walking through a ‘family album’. The glimpses he offers are observations from his life and surroundings. Yet so many of the scenes conjured a sense of familiarity, and maybe that is where his genius lies – there is something universal about how he translates his perceptions and observations – something about the human condition. The works are visual poems, some short like haiku’s some maybe even like sonnets? The warmth and generosity in the way it was all put together was to me a reminder of how taking the time to observe, and in his case documenting, daily life and beauty in its multiple variations can indeed lead to a life well-lived.

Things & People is a lovely project that aims to show what things mean to people. In a world of hyper consumption, this project speaks strongly to me as it seeks to render visible the material connections we have with certain objects, perhaps banal to others but nonetheless each object tells a story; gives associations and uncover feelings. The objects offer an insight into their owners and their owners offer an insight into the objects. Each story portrays the owner and the object where the photos are taken at the person’s home. Sandy explains how the project developed from a small book that she designed for the tenth anniversary of her sister’s shop.

“I come from a family of small independent retailers, my mum has had hers for fifty years next year. When The Hambledon turned ten, I photographed ten customers for the ‘We Are Ten’ book. I shot one for each year that the shop had been open, with the object that they bought in a specific year. I loved the whole process so much, meeting people, photographing them, hearing about the objects that I didn’t want the project to end. I realised it didn’t have to – so things&people came about. Since I started photographing for the site the narrative has become even more important, the objects are not all heavily poignant, sometimes, like Chris with his crisp, they are silly and funny.”

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Edvard Munch, Gråtende kvinne, 1907-1909, Oil painting, 110,5 x 99 cm, Munch-museet, Oslo, Norvège
Addictive … detail of Damien Hirst’s Methoxyverapamil (1991). Photograph: Reuters

So what does Edvard Munch’s  and Damien Hirst’s work have in common? Currently the Tate Modern is showing two major retrospectives of the two artists, one floor above the other – with a hundred year between them (Munch was born in 1863, and Hirst in 1965). Both turn of the century artists – Munch (20th century) and Hirst (21st century) have become iconic artists of their times. Having seen both shows one after the other the superposition of the two became interesting to query. What is it that they as artists catalyse of their time? And, are there communalities to be found?

Both artists are indeed solipsistic; preoccupied with morbidity and death; compulsive as they replicate certain motives over and over again, like Munch’s Weeping Woman 1907-1909 or Hirst’s series of  Spot Paintings.

Munch’s world feels introvert and one can ask if to some extent they work as a self-healing agents? In Munch’s time the Spanish flu, tuberculosis and other illnesses ravaged, and the experience of this is exemplified in The Sick Child 1907. Munch’s expressionist style typically coincides with a time of painful existentialist questions as well as the drive for liberation of the self.

One hundred years later, Hirst’s medicine cabinets filled with pills in e.g. in Lullaby, the Seasons 2002, fills me with a sense of anaesthesia, and yet so adequately exemplifies our era of blatant consumption of pharmaceuticals. The slickness and manufactured gleam of Hirst’s work is in deed spectacular and renders us viewers as voyeurs too. And what does that say about our current times?

The funny thing about aesthetics is that one can like or dislike. Yet, taste is arbitrary, and aesthetics is much more than a matter of taste – it is a system for perception that in many ways encapsulates our time like a pulse or a litmus test. So whether one likes or dislikes, both these artists are undeniably iconic of their times.

© Anette Lundebye

Aesop's fables at Birmingham Central Library.

We live in a time when the role of libraries and books are changing with the advancement of digital media.  Some believe libraries will shift into learning and information centers, others insist that they will continue their role in storing and loaning physical books alongside enabling access to information technology. Whatever happens, providing the access and freedom to read is essential.

Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, Mette Edvardsen has created a performance project: “Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine”, that has reading and memory at it’s heart. Bradbury’s novel is set in a future where ‘ignorance is bliss’ and books are forbidden as they are considered dangerous.  Yet, an underground community of people learn books by heart in order to preserve them and pass them on for the future.

For this project a group of eight people/ performers have each chosen a book and committed to memorize it. The performers become their book for the time of the reading, as they recite the memorized stories to their solo audience. The performance is a constant process and as Mette says: “there is nothing final or material to achieve, the practice of learning a book by heart is a continuous process of remembering and forgetting.” During the Fierce festival anyone can come and consult a book of their choice and experience a reading session at the Birmingham Central Library.

For me, the experience of consulting a live book was quite emotional. My first book was “Aesops fables”. As the book started to tell the fables I was reminded of the vague bits of fables and morals that I have heard and stored somewhere in my mind. It felt quite intimate to be read to – probably because it reminded me of being read to as a child. It is a situation that demands focused listening, and whilst I was listening I was transported by my imagination to situations that the fables evoked. Afterwards I started to think about how many other people must have memorized these fables throughout history as they are estimated to be from c. 400Bc. And also, how the practice of learning by heart is fading as technology stores information for us. I realize how dependent I am on devises to not forget…

Forgetfulness is relentless. History has a few patterns to show for that. To memorize we have to go back again and again to the source. But with lived memories we cannot go back to the source. So how much of our memories become mere reinterpretations? Like xerox copies that loose definition and become fuzzy the more we copy a copy. Whilst written books provide a source to refresh our memories, to remind ourselves and to reconfigure interpretations; Mette says: Books are read to remember and written to forget. It seems like an ongoing cycle. So is practicing memory futile? Some might think the same of poetry and storytelling.

Film by Meghna Gupta

Where do your clothes go, once you’ve given them to a charity? Everything Must Go is an exhibition that seeks to make visible and tangible some of the flows of textile waste. The screening of Meghna Gupta’s debut film Unravel in the exhibition shows the journey of clothing waste from the UK to Panipat in North India. Here we meet some women in a textile recycling factory who work to dismantle the garments and shred them so that they can become recycled yarn. What is truly touching in the film are some of the testimonies that Reshma and her co-worker’s share in their encounter with certain western garments like, a swimming suit or embroidered underwear. With limited exposure to western culture, the garments fuel their imagination and preconceptions of western lifestyle, bringing both a sobering and humorous rendition of what ‘our’ clothes might say about our western lives from afar. The exhibition and film definitely provided some food for thought into consumption patterns in clothing.

Black - Performance by Mette Edvardsen

Table, table, table… Here, here, here… wet, wet wet… Black is a solo performance by Mette Edvardsen about making things appear, recently performed at The basement in Brighton.

“The space is empty. There are no things. Through spoken words and movements in space a world will become visible, where the performer is the mediator between the audience and what is there. It is a play in time and space where only the body is physically present, performing actions and handling invisible objects, constantly trying to bridge the invincible gap between thought and experience, between here and there.”

Indeed the gap between the spoken word and the empty space is at times awkward to bridge as a viewer. Yet with Mette’s persistence, using a ‘magic’ formula of ‘3’ –  the repetition of each word three times, she manages to conjure images in the empty space, and by the end the space is literally furnished with table, chair,lamp, shade, plant, glass etc. The power of imagination is tickled forth and if you agree to play along, you might just find yourself rekindling with imaginary places shared by chirldren in play. Interestingly enough the piece also gave me the association to Plato’s “Allegory of the cave” where the question of ‘real’ could in fact just be an illusion. Shadows on the wall, or enumerations in space, we sense and can experience a space through her actions and pronouciations. This fascinating process can transport you into spaces where everything seems so real and tangible – just like in a ‘dream’. The performance offers a moment of suspension, and I highly recommend  the experience! Check here for upcoming performances.

Dear Photograph is a blog project that invites readers to ‘ take a picture of a picture from the past in the present’. A simple yet very evocative concept using snap-shots. Everyday a new photo is posted, and great to see how people get involved and send their pictures in to share. The reptition of the method turns the collection into a shared family album  as the pictures tend to trigger familiar memories by proxy. Funnily enough many of the everyday scenes offer new memories to adopt. Many are nostalgic, many pay tribute to someone and some are just incredibly iconic. The caption obviously each time is like the first line of a story that we can continue to imagine. At times it’s rather uncanny and touching.