Tuesday 31 December 2013

31 Days of Summer

Everyday for the month of January, I'm going to post a favourite track from 2013. On January 31 I'll culminate with a playlist of all the songs.

As these tracks were collected throughout the year using SoundCloud, there's an emphasis on various forms of pop (Scandi, dream and glitter noir) and R&B (new wave and electro). Hip hop I mostly listened to through EP downloads and on Spotify - Freddie Gibbs, Danny Brown, Killer Mike and Run the Jewels, the continuing goodness of Kendrick Lamar and Angel Haze, the eventual warming to Drake, and my breakout album of 2013, Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap mixtape.

To meet in the middle though, I'm going to kick off this 31 Days of Summer with my favourite remix of the year - Ryan Hemsworth's magical mash-up of A$AP Mob and Britney Spears.

If you feel like really digging into the year that was in purple prose and music clips, try this Storify thread, where throughout the year I collected tweeted snippets of linguistically-astounding music blog posts and the tracks they were referencing.

Friday 27 December 2013

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I, like every other sentient being on the planet, have been thrashing Beyonce's new album for the last two weeks.

Rather than sharing my own opinions, I suggest you check out the inimitable Nico Muhly.

Okay: one opinion. Both Drake and Frank Ocean are wasted on this album. Ocean's best release this year was the ridiculously short snippet 'Wildfire'; Drake's best feature in recent years was on The Weeknd's 'The Zone'. Over and out.


Friday 20 December 2013

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After nearly a full year of listening, my single favourite album has to be Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap.  My recommended tracks: the first, the last, and Cocoa Butter Kisses. And the best thing is that, like The Weeknd's breakout mix tapes, it's free to download.

Wednesday 18 December 2013


When I look back on the last five years of my career, there's a cluster of influential people who have shaped the way I think dramatically. I've been lucky enough to spend time with Michael Edson, Seb Chan, Shelley Bernstein and Nina Simon through my involvement with the National Digital Forum (in itself one of the best reasons to first build up your confidence and become a speaker, and then pull finger and become an organiser). 

This year in particular, as I fit myself into and around The Dowse, I've been following Nina's observations about evolving participatory exhibition design into programming explicitly focused on social bridging at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. Her piece from earlier this year on social work and museums provided a crucial piece in my mental jigsaw puzzle, and was a corner-piece of my talk this year at NDF (I'll post those notes in the new year).

A new interview with Nina on The Incluseum extends these thoughts and I found the following extract particularly powerful:

When we talk about working with communities that don’t have a historical relationship with a museum, often, the best thing to do is be present as a partner in their space first. These art activities are in their community center–a place where they feel safe and welcome. Should we be trying to invite them to the museum to connect with people who are unlike them? Or can we connect with other groups in a third place entirely? How should we think about this complex issue? 
Another example is our teen program, Subjects to Change, in which teenagers work together to change our community through art. When we started it, we knew we didn’t just want the “A” students who are looking to puff up their resume. We wanted to include kids who come from different walks of life in our community. We started talking to people who run different youth development programs in town. There are some programs that focus on youth who are really struggling–with drug addiction, or coming in and out of juvenile hall. In talking with people who run these programs, we realized that we are not able to serve those teens because they require a level of staff involvement and expertise that we just don’t have. We had to get comfortable with the fact that we are not going to bridge kids in juvenile hall and kids in prep school. Instead, what we do is focus on geographic distribution, different high schools, and focus on kids with wide-ranging ideas about educational attainment and involvement. We have a very diverse group of teens, but we know there are limits to what we are able to do in terms of social bridging based on our capacity. That is something we continually have to confront and be realistic about.

Colin McCahon painted about necessary protection, and Stephen Bambury took that and made necessary corrections. Those are two phrases I think about a lot at the moment. 

Monday 16 December 2013

Three punchy words: A much more detailed explication

From ArtNews, a surprisingly informative and insightful article on how exhibition titles are chosen (no, not necessarily with this).

At The Dowse, titles are usually generated in one of three ways:

  • By the artist
  • By the curator (often by looking at quotes from the artist on their work or their life)
  • Around the table in our programming meeting, bashing ideas against each other until something sticks.

Like most textual problems in life, my best advice: make sure it's easy to say out loud.

Friday 13 December 2013

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This week, EMA came back and that made me very happy

In a more alt-Americana way, I discovered Samantha Crain

And because no week is complete without a breathily mournful sounding man

Wednesday 11 December 2013

On the radio

Today on the radio I'll be doing a recap of art events and stories from 2013, including moves around the public galleries, the Venice Biennale, and reading for Christmas.

Tuesday 10 December 2013


If I had more time and was funnier (there's some New Year's resolutions right there) I would port this Reddit user's list of ways to recognise works by famous painters for our New Zealand context.

Sunday 8 December 2013


It's been a while since I blogged about perfume, but this year my adventures have continued apace: I added Robert Piguet's Fracas, Keiko Mecheri's Cuir Cordoba and Oliban, Chanel's Coromandel, and Musc Ravageur and Vetiver Extraordinaire from Frederic Malle to my shelves, along with Jean Claude Ellena's Perfume (but not the insufferable The perfume lover).

Just in time for Christmas, another book has been released - blogger Barbara Herman's Scent and Subversion: Decoding a century of provocative perfume. To test if it's for you, check out this extract on Jezebel.


There is something about design blogs that, like most visualisations, I find somewhat disheartening. Or ... disenheartened. Un-gripping. Page after page of smooth-skinned furniture and unblemished book design. But when I fell over these furniture designs, the literal reproductions of rough pencil sketches, for once I was struck enough to go back not once, but twice ... and hence blog them.

Furniture designs by Daigo Fukawa for his 2013 senior thesis exhibition at Tokyo University of the Arts, via Spoon and Tamago.

Friday 6 December 2013

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A grab-bag of tracks from my November trial list:

The new-classic electro-tinged R&B - Ella Eyre, 'Deeper'

The belt-it-out-with-the-car-window-down anthem - Ages and Ages, 'Divisionary (Do the right thing)'

The so-many-things-I-like-in-one-place mashup: Tink, Kitty, Sasha Go Hard, produced by Ryan Hemsworth and little cloud, 'Spotless'

The sad-movie-closing-credits crooner (this song reminds me deeply of another, I wish I could pinpoint it) Solander, 'All Opportunities'.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

More insight

Following on from this first visualisation of the Tate's collection metadata, another piece of work by Jim Davenport analysing the heights and widths of works in the collection.

Read his (short, very digestible) post on the oddity he found, and see why I am reminded of Joachim Bandau.

Monday 2 December 2013

A to B

What once was known as 'signage' is nowadays known as 'wayfinding', and New York's New School is, with the help of Ruedi Baur, taking an approach that says 'welcome to a building where the people go on the stairs, not always on the elevator'.

Friday 29 November 2013

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The past couple of weeks, I've been listening to a lot of Streets of Laredo (a thoroughly Brooklynised ex-Auckland band).

Kindly, you can listen to both their EPs through Spotify and Soundcloud, and download them from their website. You can also - shock, horror - pay for it on iTunes ot Bandcamp. Good people.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Thank you

Recently at work I blogged about a problem we're seeing at The Dowse; schools who can't afford the transport costs to come and use the LEOTC programmes we run, funded by the Ministry of Education. It's a widespread issue, affecting most LEOTC providers I've talked to.

The blog post was prompted by an article in the DomPost about the issue, and a conversation I had on Twitter after I tweeted it. On Twitter, I was asked how much it would cost to get a class to The Dowse. In the blog post, I gave the figures (depending on distance and length of visit, the charges for the subsidised bus we have available to us come in between roughly $55 and $100).

I wrote in the post that we're about to start fundraising so we can offer that bus for free. And amazingly, kindly, amazingly kindly, Pauline Dawson - a dedicated art supporter - spontaneously gave us a donation to help out.

Pauline's written a blog post about why she did this, reminding us how galleries and museums can provide those 'wow, it's a big world out there' moments so important in a kid's life.  In turn, her gesture is a reminder that sometimes, when you ask, good things happen. So from me and my team Pauline - thank you so much.

Wednesday 20 November 2013


Every so often, I get a bee in my bonnet about visualisations. Sometimes I even do wanky pie charts making fun of my own frustrations.

But then occasionally, I see something that really works for me. Like this investigation of the Tate collections by Florian Kräutli. Kräutli uses fairly simple graphs to get a feel for the shapes of the collections, and then to drill down into the shapes that strike him as strange (why the bump in 1814? why 'one big balloon and a lot of awful tiny dots'?).

It's a lovely bit of writing and best of all, I learnt things about the Tate collections by the time I got to the end of it, things that I wouldn't have absorbed so markedly if it had just been s short essay. Love it. More, please.

(It's worth noting as well that these visualisations are made using data released by Tate on GitHub.)

Monday 18 November 2013


Via a friend at the Alexander Turnbull Library, the Auckland War Memorial Museum's Unsolicited Donations page. It impossible to look at this little array without being moved, in that very specific way that abandoned miscellaneous objects seem to move you.

If you hover over the images, you get a brief decription. This one cannot be beaten: Deep ocean rock. Green coloured silicious rock; believed to be deep ocean. Found by depositor and dropped off because she believed it to be cursed. Received 2008-09.

Sunday 17 November 2013

On the radio

This week just gone: the death of art philosopher Arthur C Danto and the revelation of a stash of Nazi-looted art in Germany.

Friday 15 November 2013

High rotate

Another week with more writing and more wordless music. This time, it's been Jon Hopkins' soundtrack for the movie adaptation of How I Live Now. Full of foreboding throughout, the final track does capture some of the tenderness, sadness, anger and commitment of the book's conclusion.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

The architecture of reassurance

Last week I woke up to an energetic flurry of tweets back and forth between Seb Chan and a bunch of other overseas folks I follow over his blog post "Completion", participation and purpose. In it, he asks whether we care enough about - or have any way of measuring, "completion" of the experiences (be they online or physical) museums make for visitors.

Amid that flurry, Fiona Romeo got called in on the basis of a talk she'd recently given at the Pratt Institute on storytelling and exhibition design. Romeo promised to write up and publish her talk, and she duly has.

I find her observation reassuring pragmatic. Romeo covers the claims museums make for storytelling and the issues that get in the way. Firstly, we assume visitors will follow our story in order, and they usually do not. Here's where Romeo's background as a designer of digital experiences for Disney parks gives her a fascinating perspective. Quoting from Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The architecture of reassurance she notes that "Each Disney ride was designed as if it was a film, with establishing shots and jump cuts" and exratcs this quote
Vehicles swivel as they move forward, putting the passenger in the position of a moving camera that looks first in one direction and then another.
Second, visiting shows is tiring and we get sick of standing up and reading. And thirdly, the ternal struggle to use language that conveys concepts and an artist's or curator's intentions, while being (a) extremely broadly accessible and (b) compelling and/or entertaining.

Romeo then describes two exhibitions she worked on that tried hard to deliver on a narrative structure. These were complex, highly interactive, large-scale shows and her write-up makes for good reading. The puncline? Both exhibitions resulted in books being written to make the most of the narrative that was developed. Highly recommended reading.

(Plus, Romeo name-checks The Phantom Museum, which I really love.)

Monday 11 November 2013


Over on The Dowse blog I wrote up a few notes from the Curator's Hui held at Te Manawa in October. While I only made it to one of the two days, I'm still processing what I heard. The presentations were a lovely mixture - often within the same talk - of the very abstract and the very concrete, and I asked a lot of questions. (I always ask a lot of questions.)

We put up our hand to host the next hui in 2015. We're currently looking at a date in the second half of October. More information as it comes to hand.

Friday 8 November 2013

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Three songs unconnected by much except the fact I played them a lot this week

Streets of Laredo - 'Hey Rose'

Rökkurró - Killing Time

Ella Eyre - Deeper

Thursday 7 November 2013

Being grateful

If you know me well, you'll know it's been an up and down 18 months or so in my life. I try not to be sanctimonious and over-sharing online about this (in person, I'm probably quite often both) but I have learnt a lot about the importance - and occasional difficulty - of understanding and accepting what makes you happy, and then working with great intent to live your life according to that knowledge.*

I'm such a lucky person. I have my dream job. It demands a great deal from me. I never stop feeling like there is more I need to know, need to understand, need to do. I never stop having ideas, and I never feel like I'll be able to deliver on half of them. I get tired, cranky and emotional, and I work really hard to stop that flowing over. But every speck of energy I put into this job I get back from it, and pretty much every week there's a moment when I walk into the galleries and something small yet amazing moves me close to tears.

That doesn't mean I don't often feel like I'm drowning in expectations and obligations and duties. And often when I sit down with someone and they ask "How's it all going?", the first response I give is an exhausted sigh, before I gather up my enthusiasm and try to recount some of the good stuff.

So yesterday morning at work I did something so sensible that I am kicking myself for not thinking of it sooner. I gave myself three hours off answering the hard emails and writing the hard documents and returning the phone calls and I just let myself do the things that make me happy. I trailed a school group around, and I checked out what our after school programme has been up to, and I researched a couple of leads for a show we're developing for next year, and I did a bunch of tickling on a little project I'm running that I'm excited about, and I tweeted vociferously on my own and the work account on different topics, and I relentessly promoted the job I've currently got open, and I remembered why this is all so great. I would highly recommend it. In fact, one of the things I did was send an email to a couple of special people about what I was doing, and suggest they do the same.

As an example of what I got up to, here's a series of tweets from The Dowse account:

It's only when I sat down to write this that I realised how unintentionally pat this all is. Making the decision when I walked in the door to divert from my office to the creative workshop and see those kids' work, which is all about being grateful, changed my whole morning and my whole mindset. So I'm going to risk being all sanctimonious and over-sharey here, because seriously - this is the most powerful thing I've done in a long time, and I don't care how cheesy or nutty it sounds. The joy was worth it.

*That sentence makes me cringe but I've learned the really hard way that it's true for me.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Two verbs

I often get this swirling sensation in my head as I try to boil a set of ideas down into a form that is concise, precise, and easily grasped by others.

Every so often during this struggle, someone else puts a framework out there that just goes bang!, and everything you were trying to say suddenly sits nicely. That was my experience the other week with Nina Simon's piece on attendance and impact, and her use of the two verbs 'igniting' and 'sustaining'. Go read it.

Monday 4 November 2013

Speak up

Along with "wherefore libraries in the digital age?", one of the most well-worn tropes in articles about the internet and our wider cultural sector is "criticism in the age of the internet".

This recent article by an Australian dance critic can be read as a stand-in for most of these articles; even just the title ("Everyone's a critic in the digital age ...") sums up the whole genre, though it ends unusually positively ("but the perspectives augur well"). I read it on the same day as I spotted this article about a project to review museum and gallery shows on Yelp by art critic Brian Droitcour, which has now been turned into an online exhibition by the New Museum. I had not previously thought of Yelp as a museum reviewing vehicle - the facilities, yes, the content, no. But I bet American museums are watching their Yelp reviews closely to improve their visitor services, and I wonder if we will be soon too.

Friday 1 November 2013

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I have given in and started listening to the Drake album, and it is an immaculate, if not exciting, bit of work. So for today, a couple of covers:

Holy Ghost! bring the synth glitter-pop to 'Hold On, We're Going Home'

So nerdy but the flow wordy ... Childish Gambino raps over Drake's 'Pound Cake' on a Sydney radio show a wee while ago

And because months and months on, I am still listening to it - Drake remixes Beyonce

Wednesday 30 October 2013

On the radio

Today on the radio I'll have my second attempt at talking about the new exhibitions at the Adam Art Gallery, look at new research on the makers of ancient cave paintings, and attempt to gloss the legacy of philosopher and critic Arthur C Danto.

UPDATE We didn't make it to Danto, I'll save that for next time.

Monday 28 October 2013

Design and imagination

An interesting article/spread (I do like their constant layout innovations, though the image cut-offs in this one are a bit strange) in the New York Times on Rain Room and its brethren: products, objects and experiences that sit in the liminal area between art and design. Features a way to make music using the human body from the suspension cables on bridges and a light sculpture that explores the phenomenon of entrainment.

Friday 25 October 2013

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This week I've been writing a bit more than usual, and going back to my romantic minimalism as a result. Timely then that Nils Frahm has a new album out in a few weeks. You can listen to one of the tracks, 'Says', now

Wednesday 23 October 2013


A write-up of my talk with Bill Culbert at The Dowse last weekend, over on the work blog. What an incredible privilege.

Monday 21 October 2013


I often hear people say, "Ugh, the art world is not interested in what I do!" And I think, "No, it probably isn't. You don't seem that interested in what the art world does, from the look of your work."

Friday 18 October 2013

High rotate

Three songs I've been playing in conjunction this week ...

Haerts' 'Hemiplegia' - kinda Young Galaxy, a bit glittery but also a little bit anthemic

I am unsure about the movie adaption, but I'm quite sure about Jon Hopkins' score for How I Live Now and his remix of Daughter's 'Home'

And I've shared this before, but it's part of this triplet: Wolf Alice's 'Blush'

Wednesday 16 October 2013

On the radio

Today on the radio I'll be talking about the exhibition of John Panting's work and Peter Robinson's new installation at the Adam Art Gallery; the effects of the shut-down on American museums; and evidence to suggest cave paintings were made by women.

UPDATE: So, I totally got bumped by a live cross to Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton. I couldn't have been more pleased, and I'll catch up on the above in my next segment.

Monday 14 October 2013

On the other radio

Reminded by Julia Turner through the Slate Culture Gabfest endorsements, this weekend I went back to Planet Money for my ironing podcast accompaniment. In a long-running series on producing the Planet Money t-shirt, this week they were covering a topic that has long bewildered me: why does it take so long for money to be transferred between banks

While I was there, I saw that they were repeating an episode from three years ago on the economics of the art world - or specifically, the pricing of artworks on the primary and secondary market. This is a topic I spend a lot of time covering with non-art world friends, usually very rational people who are often left aghast as what they see as the vagaries of value when it comes to art works. When you're familiar with the system (one version of which dealer Ed Winkleman outlines, for pricing emerging artists work, on the podcast) it starts to make sense, but at first blush it's just as bewildering as money transfers. The podcast doesn't get deep into the topic, and focuses for too long on one of the aspects I find least interesting (stocks or art works?) but it's a typically stylish piece of reporting. 

Friday 11 October 2013

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The two albums I've been thrashing this past week: Danny Brown's Old and Freddie Gibbs' Cold Day in Hell. But when it comes to singles, let's go for remixes and unexpected appearances....

Alice Boman's 'Waiting' is one of my favourite songs of the year - 1987 make it colder, less intimate, but still haunting

Shlohmo's 'Bo Peep' feat Jeremih is another doozy from the past year - here he chops up and runs out Laura Mvula's powerful 'She'

Can't figure out how it happened, don't know if it makes sense, doesn't really matter: Flume feat Freddie Gibbs

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Rainy day

It's a grey, windy, rainy day. I'm watching the Imagination Playground get a thrashing from visiting families seeking respite from the weather through one set of windows, and below the window in my office, the next exhibition (drawn from the Chartwell Collection at the Auckland Art Gallery) being installed. Bill Culbert's Light Plain is looking particularly magnificent - even without the room it's in blacked out yet, the floating lamps are magical.

When I'm not looking out the windows, I'm reading about the Queens Museum of Art's rather extraordinary ArtAccess programme. In particular, I'm looking at the work they're doing with families affected by autism, such as this six-week sensory art programme, 'Beautiful Oops!'. An open letter from one of the parents who has participated in these programmes shows what a difference they make.

From day one, AJ has been allowed to just be himself. The staff members have been accommodating to his sensory sensitivities. They have done their best to keep him focused and engaged in what works for AJ in accomplishing the project at hand with flexibility and with LOVE. As special as my son is, I will say that this treatment is not singled out just on him – this treatment is given to and shared with every child that enters the room.

All of this amid a bunch of secret-project emails and some Wordy templatey stuff. And all accompanied by this rainy day playlist.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

On the radio

On the radio today I talked about the six proposals for London's Fourth Plinth, skated through Christchurch's SCAPE public art festival, and danced over City Gallery Wellington's 'New Revised Edition'.

Image galleries are available at the bottom of the show page on the Radio New Zealand site.

Friday 20 September 2013

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Three pieces of upbeat indie-pop for the weekend.

The winsome lead-in to The Blackwhite's 'All Of Your Voices' doesn't signal the forthcoming stomping chorus

Speaking of choruses, Satellite Stories have produced an enormously satisfying one in 'Campfire', a story of summertime love

And you also can't sniff at Magic Man's 'Every day, every day, every day, I want you in my life' in 'Every Day'

Wednesday 18 September 2013

A man who no longer lives with a woman

Thanks to a link in one of the New Yorker's Letter from the Archive columns, I've been slowly digesting Janet Malcolm's 1986 article on Artforum and its editor, Ingrid Sischy (part one and part two), which pans out into an exploration of the concerns and personalities of the American artworld in the 1980s.

It's a slow and very enjoyable read, for reasons like these:

John Coplan's loft, on Cedar Street, has the look of a place inhabited by a man who no longer lives with a woman.

... every year he and his wife would drive down to Las Vegas, and he would take maybe a hundred dollars and gamble as long as the money lasted. The he would come home; he had purged himself of frivolity for the year.

(the phonetic spellings that leap off the pages of the transcript - "Grancoozi," "Saint Gordons," "DeSuveral," "DeEppilo," "Modelwell," "Manwhole" - testify to the gap that exists between the ordinary literate American and the tiny group of people who are the advanced art public)

I once watched Sischy chop tomatoes. She took a small paring knife and, in the most inefficient manner imaginable, with agonizing slowness, proceeded to fill a bowl, tiny piece by tiny piece, with chopped tomatoes.

She is less afraid than anyone I have ever met of expending energy unnecessarily. 

Monday 16 September 2013

A reason to celebrate

I don't read nearly as seriously as I used to right now. Four out of five days still start with a clean out of my feeds (using Feedly now - recall the laments for Google Reader, so strong at the time, so vaguely remembered now ...) and then work, of course, is made up of a lot of swift review/reading (the kind where you're reading almost more for the exceptions and aberrations, the little thorns that catch your eye, than for sense). Outside of that, my reading has become focused almost exclusively on young adult fiction - strong narrative, memorable, often comforting. Lately I've been back through Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books, read Neil Gaiman's latest, and am currently halfway through Patrick Ness's new (and distinctly uncomfortable) More Than This.

Poetry in particular has fallen away, as I don't get to the public library nearly as much as I used to, and this was where I did all my shelf-skimming. Still, a pointer from Bill Manhire on Twitter led me to four new poems by Alice Oswald (linked to from the right-hand column here), and that indeed is a reason to celebrate.

Oswald's Memorial blew me away last year. Of these four poems, it's 'Living under the digestive system' that gives me the same tingle (although this, a comedy of manners and visceral detail, bears little relation to Memorial's nature-soaked chant). It's formatting however is impossible to reproduce here, so before you go read that, try on 'Aside'. (It's the 'hear-through' that kills me here.)

In Berkshire somewhere 1970
I hid in a laurel bush outside a house,
Planted in gravel I think.
I stopped running and just pushed open
Its oilskin flaps and settled down
In some kind of waiting room, whose scarred boughs
Had clearly been leaning and kneeling there
For a long time. They were bright black.

I remember this Museum of Twilight
Was low-ceilinged and hear-through
As through a bedroom window
One hears the zone of someone’s afternoon
Being shouted and shouted in, but by now
I was too evergreen to answer, watching
The woodlice at work in hard hats
Taking their trolleys up and down.

Through longer and longer interims
A dead leaf fell, rigidly yellow and slow.
So by degrees I became invisible
In that spotted sick-room light
And nobody found me there.
The hour has not yet ended in which
Under a cloth of Laurel
I sat quite still.

Friday 13 September 2013

High rotate

Life is a blur. Why else would I recommend you listen to a Miley Cyrus cover?*

*Apart from the fact that it is AWESOME.

Friday 6 September 2013

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This week, a playlist - made in honour of a friend's birthday. A smattering of happy rock, concluding with two party songs.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

On the radio

Today on the radio I'll be talking about

Gabby O'Connor's new show at Toi Poneke in central Wellington

The New Olds design show at The Dowse (breaking my own house rule of not talking about our shows on the radio, but it's very good and only on for a short time)

The Cooper-Hewitt's acquisition of the iPad app Planetary

Monday 2 September 2013

Intergalactic, planetary, planetary, intergalactic

If you've been hiding under an internet-free rock, you might like to emerge and check out Seb Chan and Aaron Strauss Cope's long blog post on the thinking behind the Cooper-Hewitt's decision to add Stamen design's music visualisation app Planetary (no longer in active production) to their collection as an example of interaction design and data visualisation. I'll be having a bash at talking about it on the radio this week as well.

In addition, I really enjoyed Cooper-Hewitt intern Rachel Sakai's review of using MOMA's new audio guide. An attentive and optimistic response.

Friday 30 August 2013

High rotate

This dropped a few weeks ago - a tiny little gorgeous snippet from Frank Ocean

Actually, let's go back a ways to an old favourite Frank Ocean track, pre-Channel Orange

Icona Pop and Zebra Katz dropped this cover of My party just in time for a friend's 30th this week

And for no other reason than the fact that we can - Tears For Fears' cover of Arcade Fire's Ready to Start.

Monday 26 August 2013

Tweet this. No, *this*.

I've wondered over the last few year whether public speakers are crafting their slides and their key points for optimal tweetability; say, 100-120 character long type-bites, to allow for their handle and a hashtag to be included. When you spend a lot of time on the platform - as I do - you start to experience a familiar sense of let-down as your favourite lines of essays and poems prove to be those crucial few letters to long to share easily with the world.

Clearly others have been thinking about this. Reading this article about Saturday Night Live auditions in the New York Times magazine, I saw for the first time this automatic tweet extracter:

The subtle little tweet icon (the text and icon highlight when you hover over them) carries over the text to your Twitter client, so all you have to do is click send

As you can see, it's not necessarily a direct extract. The edited tweet is adjusted for the medium, adding handles and a link. It's like the services that let website owners add a link to copied and pasted text (such as Tynt), which capitalise on what Alexis C Madrigal calls 'dark social', only someone has put a second level of thought into how the content might be best shared, as well as written.

Going back and looking at the work Seb Chan did at the Powerhouse a few years ago, using Tynt to trace which parts of collection item descriptions were most frequently copied and pasted, and suggesting that this analysis could be used to craft those descriptions, I wonder whether we'll soon start seeing this method used on museum websites, especially on event and exhibition listings and news items. It's an extra layer of content creation, but if newspaper editors feel it's worthwhile now, I have the feeling we will too soon.

Friday 23 August 2013

High rotate

Next month I'm driving up to the opening of MTG Hawkes Bay (check out their awesome blog). Naturally, this means roadtrip playlist! Few things excite me more these days.

I think the key to a good roadtrip song is an emphatic riff or chorus that holds up well when belted out while driving that little bit too fast. On that basis, some recent listens that have made it onto my playlist ...

Haim's Falling - the combo of the repeated 'I know!' and 'Falling ... falling falling .. falling ... falling falling'

Let's have two Haims, actually, since I've been thrashing their stuff lately: the Shania Twain-esque The Wire is also damn appealing ... 'It felt right ... HEY! ... it felt right'

Fabienne's Smokescreen takes things in a more R&B direction with a great shout-along chorus: 'In between, in between / you and me / stop stop stop stop / building up the smokescreen'.

The Cooper's Summer's Child is every throw-away summer guitar-led pop song you've ever heard, but 'Sun shining on your face  / you are a summer's child' is sure fun to yell along to.

And because you also need something moody and croony on a roadtrip playlist, and Banks does moody and croony so well - 'What if I never even see you cos we're both on a stage / Don't tell me listen to your song because it isn't the same / I don't wanna say your love is a waiting game'.

(Though again with Banks; you should learn all the words to "Before I ever met you" - preferably this Sohn remix - and rage along with that some time that you need to. )

Wednesday 21 August 2013

On the radio

Today on the radio I'll be talking about the Judith Dobrzynski article I posted on last week, and a court case in New York over privacy versus First Amendment rights.

High Culture Goes Hands-On - New York Times

Judge upholds artist’s right to photograph unsuspecting neighbours - The Art Newspaper

Monday 19 August 2013

Do what you love

You know how sometimes a writer puts together an article on a thought that's bounced around in your head a lot, but when you see it written out, you think 'Oh, wow. You miserable old bugger'. Well, yeah.

Try reading it with a soundtrack of Machines Are People Too's 'Do What You Want'

Friday 16 August 2013

High rotate

Swim Good's 'Summer Solstice' is one of those songs that, as you're listening to it, you're sure you've already heard it. Catchy, poignant ... pity about the petering out ending.

More catchy, summery guitar-led tunes, this one courtesy of Atlas - 'Coin'

And more of my current crush - Oh Land's 'My Boxer', a slightly eerie song with a great hummed riff. Sadly no embed available, but you can listen on Soundcloud.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

All hands

A recent article in the New York Times by Judith Dobrzynski ruffled a few Twitter feathers earlier this week. Titled High Culture Goes Hands-On, the opinion piece asks whether our arts institutions, in an effort to meet the demands of an audience that increasingly thinks in terms of 'experience', are forsaking their traditional strengths and becoming more homogenous as a result.
Some of these initiatives are necessary, even good. But in the process of adapting, our cultural treasuries are multitasking too much, becoming more alike, and shedding the very characteristics that made them so special — especially art museums.
It's an interesting argument. The Sleep No More phenomena - which had museum thinkers flogging themselves to think of ways to bring the aesthetic and involvement of interactive theatre into galleries - caused me to wonder whether museums and galleries have a quiet but deep envy of their more immediately, physically affecting cousins: dance, theatre and music.

At the same time, decrying the programming of a Martin Creed work as experience-seeking - a desire to 'activate' the museum - seems a little offbeam.
In ages past, art museums didn’t need activating. They were treasure houses, filled with masterpieces meant to outlast the moment of their making, to speak to the universal. Visiting one might be social — you went with friends — but fairly passive. People went to see beauty, find inspiration, experience uplift, sometimes in a spiritual sort of way. Museums housed their heritage, their raison d’être.
The Creed work Dobrzynski focuses on - Work No. 965: Half the Air in a Given Space - is interactive, experiential. That's how the artist made it. That's how the museum is obligated to show it. Any other decision would lose integrity. And that seems to me to be where Dobrzynski goes a little off-kilter here: it is not necessary the museum approach that has changed, but the art. Sure, museums are responding to the reactions they see from audiences (who do, by and large, enjoy experiential works) but they are also responding to generations of artists who have decided to make the viewer or visitor part of the work.

Dobrzynski concludes
For decades, museums have offered social experiences — the fact that you can talk while you’re in the galleries has always given them an edge over the performing arts — and that is good. Now is the balance shifting too far to the experience? Are they losing what makes them unique? Should museums really follow the path of those “experience” businesses?
This made me think about standing in front of Duchamp's Étant donnés at the Philadelphia Museum of Art earlier this year. That work needed me. It needed me to press my eyes up against that wooden door in order to make it seen. Did this make my visit any less reverential, moving, unique? No. It made it what the artist wanted it to be.

Friday 9 August 2013

High rotate

Let's get happy, shall we?

Polarsets' 'Just Don't Open Your Eyes Yet' is one of those songs that when you first hear it, you already feel like you know it - in a good way. Play it LOUD. Maybe even dance around a little.

Dive In's 'Let Go' is one of those catchy summer songs - cheerful, disposable, and none the worse for that.

Oh Land's 'Renaissance Girl' has a bit more edge to it, but still that uplifting falsetto chorus
And finally - who doesn't need a bit of A$AP Rocky mixed with Britney Spears in their life?

Thursday 8 August 2013

On the radio

This week on the radio, I talked about two examples of conservation with lasers, a major digitisation project at the New Museum, a museum in a liftshaft, and gave a quick plug to the ongoing good work at circuit.org.nz

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Coming up

Things are a little erratic at Best of 3, as I work through a bunch of other commitments.

One of these is reprising aspects of the talk I gave on (well,a round) Ben Cauchi's work at City Gallery earlier this year for the Photographies in Transition seminar at Massey University on August 17th. The evening before, Geoffrey Batchen will be giving the Peter Turner Memorial Lecture, this year on the topic of Anterior Futures: Photography and Dissemination. Batchen's 'Dark Sky' at the Adam Art Gallery was one of my favourite exhibition of last year, and I'm very much looking forward to his presentation.

2013 Peter Turner Memorial Lecture
Geoffrey Batchen Anterior Futures: Photography and Dissemination
Friday 16 August 6.00pm – 7.30pm
Adam Auditorium, City Gallery Wellington
Admission free
RSVP by Monday 12 August

Photographies In Transition seminar 
Saturday 17 August, 10.00am – 6.00pm
Te Ara Hihiko, Block 12, College of Creative Arts, Massey University, Tasman Street, Entrance E
Admission: $50, (students, unwaged, $20). Registrations on the day from 9.30am.

Friday 26 July 2013

High rotate

Woozy and sparkly - The Hic's 'Lines'

A collaboration between one of my favourite composers, Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Wiltzie under the joint name A Winged Victory For The Sullen - 'Steep Hills Of Vicodin Tears'. You can't embed it from Soundcloud, but you can download it from there.

And rounding it out with complete, and completely competent, trash, from new girlband Neon Jungle, which I think might be this summer's 'I Love It'

Thursday 25 July 2013

On the radio

Yesterday on the radio I talked about the James Turkington exhibition at Rotorua Museum, California Design at Auckland Art Gallery, and the Romanian woman who may or may not have burned a stash of stolen paintings.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Gather reading list

This weekend at Gather I took our well-worn reading recommendations session out for another spin. Here's the list the ~40 people who came to the session recommended.

2013 Gather conference reading list

If you have extra suggestions:
  • leave a comment here
  • ping me on @auchmill
  • add directly to the list on Goodreads if you're a member
P.S. If you've recommended a book and it doesn't appear on the list, it's not because I'm judging you. It's because either there was a disconnect between your memory of the book's name and my transcription, or the title you noted doesn't appear on Goodreads.

Past reading lists

For the past three years at KiwiFoo, Nat Torkington and I have run a 'What are you reading' session: a very simple session in which whoever turns up in the room shares recommendations for books that intrigued them, informed them, inspired them, angered or confused them.

I've turned the recommendations we've gathered each year into Goodreads lists:

2013 KiwiFoo reading recommendations

2012 KiwiFoo reading recommendations

2011 KiwiFoo reading recommendations

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Creative Commons on the radio

Last week, in my role as a member of the Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand advisory panel, I took part in two gigs.

On Tuesday night, along with Victoria Leachman from Te Papa, Mark Crookston from the National Library and Brenda Leuwenberg from NZ on Air, I was part of a panel talking about open heritage and culture at Nethui. Following that, CCANZ's public lead Matt McGregor and I recorded a short piece with Lynn Freeman for Arts on Sunday on copyright and what it means for the creative sector.

You can listen to the audio above. To learn more about Creative Commons, head over to the website: Matt is also very happy to run workshops in workplaces, schools and universities to explain how you can release your work for creative reuse, while still maintaining the level of control you desire.

And for an interesting insight into how CC licences should - and sometimes don't - work, check out Sage Ross's piece on how his CC-licenced photos of Aaron Swartz were picked up and used by the media following the internet activist's death this year.

Monday 15 July 2013

Aural magpies

Over the past year, I've rediscovered music. I've returned to hip hop after an absence of nearly half a lifetime, I've been overjoyed to see the resurgence of R&B, I've developed a new taste in Scandi pop, and I've got long playlists with titles like 'Elevator dancing', 'Sad-eyed boys' and 'Romantic minimalism'.

I get most of my new music from two blogs that I follow - Pretty Much Amazing and Line of Best Fit - and I've become very fond of the idiosyncratic writing style of the contributors, who clearly work very fast and as a result often write in Tyrianly purple shades of prose.

This year, as well as sharing what I've been listening to through regular high rotate posts, I've been collecting some of my favourite phrases from these write-ups using Storify - I tweet the bits that catch my ear and then usually throw in a link to the tracks occasioned them. Here's where I'm at now.

Friday 12 July 2013

High rotate

Hey guys! It's mournful Friday! Because the best time to listen to sad music is when you're feeling chipper.*

Sailor & I 'Tough Love'. I'm obsessed by how his autotuned and natural voice seem to twine together here.

The title track from Phantom's debut EP, 'Scars'. Atmospheric and cloudy.

In contrast, Broken Twin's sparse and clean-edged 'Beaches'

And, okay, okay. One upbeat tune to pull your day back together. The Preatures' 'Is This How You Feel?'. You're welcome.

*The best music to listen to when feeling sad is Scandi pop. Fact.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

On the radio

Today on the radio I'll be talking about painter Ian Scott, who died on June 27th; the Moana - My Ocean exhibition at Auckland Museum; and rumours (firm rumours) that Amazon will be partnering soon with dealer galleries.

And now with audio ...

Monday 8 July 2013


A week or so ago, I read an article about Accurat's 'Visualising painters' lives' project. The very detailed infographics (or, really, great big wallpapers - I'm still dicey about a lot of this infographic stuff) take the events and creations from ten 20th century painters' lives and attempts to depict them using visual motifs drawn from each painter's work.

I stopped watching the video half-way through, to be honest. It felt unnecessarily complex, and I couldn't keep up. But it got me thinking about how essays and biographies might be illustrated at room-size. As always, I turned first to McCahon. How might a wall look, mapped out with his works against his various travels, homes, relationships, influences, and world events? Like an illustrated appendix writ large and - more importantly - as a journey, an object to walk by.

And this got me thinking about a topic I return to reasonably frequently - colour in McCahon's paintings. I don't know why, but like dotted lines and vessels, it's just something I mull over every few months. And, remembering that the University of Otago has recently added the Hocken's collections to Digital New Zealand, I decided to do a small experiment and try to lay out as many of McCahon's paintings as I could find in chronological order, to see if I could discern any pattern.*

It's not as simple as colourful first, khaki in the middle, and black and white at the end (especially as DigitalNZ only contains works from those New Zealand's public collections who are content partners, and private and corporate collections aren't represented here). I'm actually not sure that there are patterns to be seen, and I was constantly surprised along the way (these two works from 1958, for example, feel much later; the North Otagos of the late 1960s meanwhile feel much earlier). Still, it was an interesting exercise, and made me wonder what would happen if you ran every work from the McCahon database through a colour abstractor (having pulled out the sketches and prep drawings first) and then laid those out chronologically. Does it say anything about the work, or the painter's life?

*The ordering of the images is a little wonky, due to metadata oddities. I checked dates whenever things felt tangibly wrong to me, but please don't expect my chronology to be 100% accurate.

Friday 5 July 2013

High rotate

Just try getting M.I.A.'s d-d-d-d-dem-d-d-d-d-freedem out of your head after listening to 'Bring the Noize' (and enjoy the all-gold version of the music video while you're at it).

#yolololo hashtag or no, I've been thrashing Lolo's 'Weapon for Saturday' for the past few weeks, all growly lyrics and soaring strings and thumping beat

And Killer Mike and El-P's 'Run the Jewels' collaboration hit the streams about this time last week. Currently, '36" Chain' is my favourite track

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Buy and sell

The discussions around the potential sale of the Detroit Institute of Art's collection to help the city pay down its crippling debt have generated a lot of coverage. Last week, Nina Simon did a sterling job of sumarising the ethical guidelines museums have self-generated around deaccessioning, and how the proposed DIA sale conflicted with these. Simon also captures some wider thinking on the topic:

I feel conflicted about this whole question. On the one hand, it drives me nuts that the ethical rules around deaccessioning force museums to protect objects in a way we do not comparably protect other core aspects of our work. There is no requirement that if you cut an educational program that you have to use the funds saved from that to fund other educational experiences. I've worked with museums that have hefty collections and restricted acquisition funds but are closed to the public because all of their dollars and assets are wrapped up in objects and none in public service or access. I can also see the argument that it actually makes museums MORE relevant if our assets are considered fair game in a situation like Detroit's--just as important and just as endangered as other core services.

At around the same time, an article in the New York Times covered Dia's decision to auction works from its collection in order to create an acquisitions fund, and the exchange and promised gift system MOMA has undertaken with Ellsworth Kelly and several private donors to improve their holdings of the painters' work. (I saw the Chatham paintings when I was in New York last month. They made me cry.)

Monday 1 July 2013

Flocking logic

Pretty quickly, I got a good looking swimming tuna but then right down the rabbit hole I went. 

Robert Hodgin's write-up of making an animation of a marine boil-up (an underwater tornado-shaped feeding frenzy) is one of the best things I've read in ages. He captures not only the effect he was aiming for, and the lengths and compromises he had to go to to try to achieve that, but also the nervousness of working at a distance for a client (Auckland Museum, for their recently opened Moana exhibition) you don't have direct contact with.

It's a beautiful piece of work, even if you don't know what flocking logic, Cinder C++ or multithreading are. Highly recommended.

(The video above shows a piece of test work, in which Hodgin used a pre-made model of an Airbus 350 to stand in for a diving gannet.)

Friday 28 June 2013

High rotate

The electronic moan in Breach's "Jack" distracts you from the fact that this song has only one line (and the video has more hair and fur than a Vivian Lynn installation)


I have been obsessing over Dream Mclean's 'Weatherman', and was slightly shamefaced to twig that one of the reasons I've taken to it so fast is that it opens with the same notes as Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe'. But it's a terrific piece of British grime-pop, with that particular pleasure of hearing an English accent flowing over a beat.

And to round things out, Erased Tapes is releasing a small set of remixes of Nils Frahm tracks, titled Juno (Reworked). Various collaborators add more electronica and reverb to Frahm's spare compositions. You can stream the EP here.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

On the radio

Today on the radio I'll be talking about Shane Cotton's exhibition at City Gallery Wellington and the recent discussions over the proposed sale of the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection, to benefit the failing city.

(Update - I ended up talking for quite a while about the Shane Cotton show, and briefly about a strange story about an Egyptian statuette at the Manchester Museum; no Detroit.)

Monday 24 June 2013


It's been a long time between poems (mostly because I've been re-reading lately, and therefore not reviewing, especially Rebecca Lindenberg and Mark Leidner). But here's something I stumbled over in the weekend, by Adam Zagajewski and translated by Renata Gorczynski.

To go to Lvov

To go to Lvov. Which station
for Lvov, if not in a dream, at dawn, when dew  
gleams on a suitcase, when express
trains and bullet trains are being born. To leave  
in haste for Lvov, night or day, in September  
or in March. But only if Lvov exists,
if it is to be found within the frontiers and not just  
in my new passport, if lances of trees
—of poplar and ash—still breathe aloud  
like Indians, and if streams mumble
their dark Esperanto, and grass snakes like soft signs  
in the Russian language disappear
into thickets. To pack and set off, to leave  
without a trace, at noon, to vanish
like fainting maidens. And burdocks, green  
armies of burdocks, and below, under the canvas  
of a Venetian café, the snails converse
about eternity. But the cathedral rises,
you remember, so straight, as straight
as Sunday and white napkins and a bucket  
full of raspberries standing on the floor, and  
my desire which wasn’t born yet,
only gardens and weeds and the amber
of Queen Anne cherries, and indecent Fredro.  
There was always too much of Lvov, no one could  
comprehend its boroughs, hear
the murmur of each stone scorched
by the sun, at night the Orthodox church’s silence was unlike
that of the cathedral, the Jesuits
baptized plants, leaf by leaf, but they grew,
grew so mindlessly, and joy hovered  
everywhere, in hallways and in coffee mills  
revolving by themselves, in blue  
teapots, in starch, which was the first  
formalist, in drops of rain and in the thorns
of roses. Frozen forsythia yellowed by the window.  
The bells pealed and the air vibrated, the cornets  
of nuns sailed like schooners near  
the theater, there was so much of the world that
it had to do encores over and over,
the audience was in frenzy and didn’t want
to leave the house. My aunts couldn’t have known  
yet that I’d resurrect them,  
and lived so trustfully; so singly;  
servants, clean and ironed, ran for  
fresh cream, inside the houses  
a bit of anger and great expectation, Brzozowski  
came as a visiting lecturer, one of my  
uncles kept writing a poem entitled Why,
dedicated to the Almighty, and there was too much  
of Lvov, it brimmed the container,  
it burst glasses, overflowed  
each pond, lake, smoked through every  
chimney, turned into fire, storm,  
laughed with lightning, grew meek,  
returned home, read the New Testament,
slept on a sofa beside the Carpathian rug,
there was too much of Lvov, and now  
there isn’t any, it grew relentlessly
and the scissors cut it, chilly gardeners  
as always in May, without mercy,  
without love, ah, wait till warm June
comes with soft ferns, boundless
fields of summer, i.e., the reality.
But scissors cut it, along the line and through  
the fiber, tailors, gardeners, censors
cut the body and the wreaths, pruning shears worked  
diligently, as in a child’s cutout
along the dotted line of a roe deer or a swan.  
Scissors, penknives, and razor blades scratched,  
cut, and shortened the voluptuous dresses
of prelates, of squares and houses, and trees
fell soundlessly, as in a jungle,
and the cathedral trembled, people bade goodbye  
without handkerchiefs, no tears, such a dry
mouth, I won’t see you anymore, so much death  
awaits you, why must every city
become Jerusalem and every man a Jew,
and now in a hurry just
pack, always, each day,
and go breathless, go to Lvov, after all
it exists, quiet and pure as
a peach. It is everywhere.

Friday 21 June 2013

High rotate

Four completely dissimilar tracks:

Alice Boman's sweetly forlorn 'Waiting' (which Soundcloud doesn't have embed code, but which you should nonetheless go listen to now).

Schoolboy Q featuring Kendrick Lamar in the rollicking 'Collard Greens'

From the Michael Jackson-inflected school of new R&B, Dornik's high-pitched 'Something about you'

And the rock-steady new Arctic Monkey's track 'Do I Wanna Know', with its very appealing video.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

More reads

Like most people on the internet, I've been following James Bridle intently for a while now - not agreeing with everything, but fascinated by what he says (I used his writing extensively when I talked about Ben Cauchi's work at City Gallery earlier this year).

Vanity Fair is now up with the action, profiling Bridle in anticipation of his exhibition at the Corcoran. Bridle has also put up two new posts recently: Hacking the word ('A manifesto/rant about online literatures') and The New Aesthetic and its politics ('On the politics of computation, and seeing clearly').

If you're not feeling up to the reading, how about running The Deletionist over the pages instead an enjoying a deterministic programmatic poem?

Monday 17 June 2013

Long read

A great long NYT piece on James Turrell by Wil S. Hylton, on the occasion of Turrell's three-museum retrospective.
Other pieces by Turrell are even more disorienting. His “Dark Spaces” can require 30 minutes of immersion before you begin to see a swirling blur of color, while some of his rooms are so flooded with light that the effect is instantly overpowering. Stepping into one of his “Ganzfeld” rooms is like falling into a neon cloud. The air is thick with luminous color that seems to quiver all around you, and it can be difficult to discern which way is up, or out. 
Not everyone enjoys the Turrell experience. It requires a degree of surrender. There is a certain comfort in knowing what is real and where things are; to have that comfort stripped away can be rapturous, or distressing. It can even be dangerous. During a Turrell show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1980, several visitors to a piece called “City of Arhirit” became unsteady in the bright blue haze and tried to brace themselves against a wall made of light. Some of them fell down. A few got hurt. One woman, who broke her arm, sued the Whitney and Turrell for more than $10,000, claiming that the show made her so “disoriented and confused” that she “violently precipitated to the floor.” Another visitor, who sprained her wrist, sued the Whitney for $250,000. The museum’s insurance company then filed a claim against Turrell, and although a member of the Whitney family put a stop to the suit, Turrell still gets sore thinking about it. He spent $30,000 to defend himself, but it’s not the money that bothers him the most. It’s the lingering feeling that the work didn’t . . . work. 
“On some level,” he told me, “you’d have to say I failed.”

Monday 10 June 2013


Best of 3 is on holiday! Posting should resume around 17 June.

Saturday 8 June 2013

High rotate

Three pop tunes that I have been thrashing incessantly ...

Rookie magazine asked Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee and Allison Crutchfield of Swearin‘ to record a song, and they chose to cover Grimes' 'Oblivion' - same witchy lyrics, more crunchy guitar.

I wish Disclosure's 'F For You' had been around when I was 17.

And I keep finding more and more to like on the new MS MR album. Like 'Ash Tree Lane' - which sadly Soundcloud won't let me embed, but go find it there instead.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

The verbs

A while ago I stumbled upon this lovely piece by Tont Coles, a paon to moulded plastic and fine, grimy detail.

Scrolling through his post titles, I was struck by his categories:

Obsessive stuff
Smelling stuff
Reading stuff
Writing stuff
Visiting stuff

It made me wonder what the verbs of my own life might be. I concluded that I spend a lot of time

Reading stuff
Pondering stuff
Writing stuff
Sharing stuff
Discussing stuff

Most of these things happen on my computer, but also with people. Part of the reason that writing feels like such a companionable act for me is that the same device upon which I write offers at least three separate channels for me to be talking to people with. I have almost forgotten how to work alone.

Then there is

Listening to stuff
Seeing stuff
Visiting stuff

Listening and seeing are becoming interestingly intertwined. I often listen to music when visiting exhibitions now, for example, and the songs become intertwined with the art. (Bill Henson's photos at the Adam, for example, will now forever be associated with The National's High Violet inside my head.)

When I think about work though, the verbs becomes very colourless very quickly

Checking stuff
Signing stuff
Meeting stuff
Managing stuff

That's the glass-half-empty way of looking at a work day, of course. And if I was less coy, or more confident, I might opt for

Enabling stuff
Making stuff

Leading stuff
Inspiring stuff

Michael Lascarides said at the NDF conference a few years ago that we should "get better problems". I'm now thinking about getting better verbs.

Monday 3 June 2013


While I disagree with many of conclusions, this piece on the disappearing art of charm by Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic is a lovely piece of writing, filled with observations that ring very true for me.
In short, [Cary] Grant suddenly and fully developed charm, a quality that is tantalizing because it simultaneously demands detachment and engagement. Only the self-aware can have charm: It’s bound up with a sensibility that at best approaches wisdom, or at least worldliness, and at worst goes well beyond cynicism. It can’t exist in the undeveloped personality. It’s an attribute foreign to many men because most are, for better and for worse, childlike. These days, it’s far more common among men over 70—probably owing to the era in which they reached maturity rather than to the mere fact of their advanced years. What used to be called good breeding is necessary (but not sufficient) for charm: no one can be charming who doesn’t draw out the overlooked, who doesn’t shift the spotlight onto others—who doesn’t, that is, possess those long-forgotten qualities of politesse and civilité. A great hostess perforce has charm (while legendary hostesses are legion—Elizabeth Montagu, Madame Geoffrin, Viscountess Melbourne, Countess Greffulhe—I can’t think of a single legendary host), but today this social virtue goes increasingly unrecognized. Still, charm is hardly selfless. All of these acts can be performed only by one at ease with himself yet also intensely conscious of himself and of his effect on others. And although it’s bound up with considerateness, it really has nothing to do with, and is in fact in some essential ways opposed to, goodness. Another word for the lightness of touch that charm requires in humor, conversation, and all other aspects of social relations is subtlety, which carries both admirable and dangerous connotations. Charm’s requisite sense of irony is also the requisite for social cruelty (see, for example, the excruciating interrogations to which Grant subjects that virtuoso stooge Ralph Bellamy in both The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday). 
I'm fascinated by how charm is a personality muscle that can be built up with time and practice. A conversation with a charming person is almost a physical experience - or perhaps more accurately a visceral or sensual one. There is a beautiful, effortless sense of give and take, of passing ideas and observations between two people, of connectedness. which lives within that charmed place. More charm, I say. Bring it on.