Sunday, 27 January 2013

Reina Sofia: A trip through some of my favourite artworks

The Prado may be the most famous museum in Madrid, home to some of the greatest works in Spanish history by the likes of Goya and Velázquez, but I've now been to Madrid twice without stepping inside its doors. Instead, I'm always seduced by the Reina Sofia, home to key pieces from some of my favourite artistic movements. While my last visit was taken up with postwar art, especially Fluxus, (plus a room full of Dalí that I couldn't find anywhere this time), on my recent visit I finally made it to the centrepiece of the museum: Picasso's Guernica.

I've grown up with Guernica on the wall of my living room, but seeing it full size (11.5" x 25.5") still had an incredible impact on me. Picasso's 1937 protest against the fascist bombing attack which destroyed this civilian Basque tow confronts you the full terror and despair of the Spanish Civil War, and remains one of the most iconic pictures of all time. Reina Sofia adds to the original painting with preliminary sketches, photos of painting in progress and countless other anti-Franco/anti-Fascist works which put the piece in context. 

While many people apparently go straight to the Guernica and then head off to the Prado, it's a gallery where you really need time to study the pieces on display and learn about their history to really appreciate them. There is far too much in the galley to do this for everything, so I'd love to live in Madrid and take a room or two at a time until I'd seen the whole place properly. The Reina Sofia is like a walk through the European Avant-Garde class I took in second year - my favourite of all the courses I've ever taken - in which we explored Dada, Futurism and Surrealism. All of the key pieces from those movements are there, from the Lumière Brothers' hypnotising Serpentine Dance (1899) to Francis Picabia's Portrait of a Young American Girl in a State of Nudity (1915), exploring in very different ways the power of the machine in creating modern identities. I particularly loved seeing an original copy of Blaise Cendrars' poem The Prose of the Transiberian and the Little Jehanne de France beautifully illustrated by Sonia Delauny (enough copies were made so that if they stood end to end they would reach the top of the Eiffel Tower).

As well as the European Avant-Gardes, Reina Sofia is home to twentieth century Spanish greats: Mirò, Tapiès, Picasso (as we've seen above), Dalí, and lesser known artists like Juan Gris, all of whom prove the immense, unparalleled creativity emanating from Spain.

Picasso, The Painter and the Model, 1963
Joan Mirò, Woman and Dog In Front of the Moon, 1936
I'm looking forward to my next trip, when I can take more time to discover some new pieces.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Voodoo Love Orchestra @ Southbank Centre

Mexico meets New Orleans with a hint of Africa in Voodoo Love Orchestra who performed at the Southbank Centre for free on 29 Dec as part of their festive celebrations. 

While orchestra invokes an image of stuffy seated musicians in suits, the VLO are the exact opposite. They shuffle onto the stage looking unimposing and a little scruffy, although their skeleton make-up is striking. The following performance is completely unpretentious and they don't even seem to care if anyone is watching - to them, all that matters is the love of performing their music. As that music is infectious, it doesn't take long before toe-tapping and nodding turns into a full on fiesta, and by the end of their set the VLO are leading members of the audience in a samba snake around the floor. The best bit was how the many young children in the audience were enjoying it as much as the adults and dancing away at the front of the stage.

The Voodoo Love Orchestra are playing next at Rich Mix on 25 January. Follow them on Facebook for more details of upcoming gigs.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

2012 Round-up

Somehow we seem to be almost two weeks into 2013 already, but my brain doesn't seem to have left 2012 behind just yet. It's time to take stock of my most cultural year ever and look back fondly on some of my favourite things from the past year.

Countries visited: 3 - Iceland, Germany (a weekend in Gelsenkirchen) and Belgium (Brussels).

Festivals attended: 7
Ffresh Film Festival, Newport; Wales One World Film Festival, Cardiff; Minas - Heart of Brazil, King's College London; Arts and Humanities Festival, KCL; London Spanish Film Festival; London Latin American Film Festival (never got around to blogging that one, but it was good!); RADAR: Signals from the New Writing World, Bush Theatre, London.

Films watched: 126 (not counting films watched two or three times)

Favourite film of the year: Christophe Honoré's Les Bien-Aimés (Beloved)
I'm a huge fan of Christophe Honoré, especially his previous musical Les Chansons d'amour (Lovesongs), so when I heard of Les Bien-Aimés I couldn't wait to see it. As well as the rare skill of uniting Alex Beaupain's hugely catchy songs with a beautifully tragic story, Les Bien-Aimés has the added bonus of bringing together real-life mother and daughter Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni. I also have a weakness for stories that tie individual dramas to major historical moments (see Any Human Heart) and all the period details. When I first saw the film at Chapter, I felt it was a little too long (not feeling well didn't help, neither did being surrounded by elderly viewers disapproving of some of the racier scenes), but it still made me cry when I left. I've since watched it three times, and loved it more every time, as I've noticed the tiny details that mean so much more when you know what they are pointing towards. Not just my film of the year, but now one of my all-time favourites.

I was going to write some runners-up too, but looking back over my list, there are too many films that I've loved this year, I couldn't decide between them. If you're really bored, the whole list is here.

Books read: 45, a mixture of fiction (lots from Venezuela unsurprisingly  and essays/textbooks (only ones read cover to cover get on the list). The list.

Favourite book read: Blue Label/Etiqueta Azul by Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles (Caracas: 2010)

This was quite a hard decision as I've read a lot of amazing books this year (one of the many perks of a literature based PhD!) but I love pretty much everything about this book: the way it played with my emotions, how genuine the characters seem, the use of language, the non-linear timeline, the interweaving of Venezuelan politics with the story, the fact that I've already written two papers about it and I've still barely scratched the surface, and how it has made me love Bob Dylan's Visions of Johanna

Theatre trips: 31, I think, counting from my reviews page, ranging from student performances to full on West End blockbusters.

Favourite show: Pippin @ Menier Chocolate Factory.
It was the first of many many shows this year, and yet it remains unbeaten, for the mixture of incredible cast, catchy songs and above all spectacular staging, turning the show into a computer game complete with Twitter revolutions and porn pop-ups. There seems to be no recording of this production anywhere, which is a real shame. However, you can watch the entire original 1982 production on YouTube, which is some consolation. The wonderfully inventive staging is missing, but you still get the songs and the Fosse choreography

Gigs attended: 4. We Are Augustines @ Thekla, Bristol; Elephant Talk @ Bath Folk Festival; Mozaiek Musik @ Beursschouwburg, Brussels and Voodoo Love Orchestra @ Southbank Centre (something I'm meaning to blog at some point). Rubbish! I still love live music but seem to have had very few opportunities to catch any this year. They were all great gigs though - Elephant Talk and Moziaek Musik involved lots of crazy flailing, and being in the front row for We Are Augustines' grizzly rock was a fan-girl dream, even if their set was cut painfully short by the stingy curfew.

Favourite albums: Old-school style, I actually bought a CD this year - Julian Ovenden's If You Stay. It seems like the sort of album that should be on a CD, even if I always listen to it on my headphones... I absolutely love it for the ecclectic mix of songs and Julian's voice, but I realise it's not really a normal thing for someone of my age to be listening to. I can't say I've listened to a huge amount of albums all the way through this year, but my favourite has to be Two Door Cinema Club's Beacon. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes joyous, thoughtful, experimental without being too weird...just lovely. I wish I was seeing them in February! While We Are Augustines' debut Rise Ye Sunken Ships, which shares lead singer Billy's pain at losing his brother to drink, drugs and crime, has a couple of songs I tend to skip, it also has more stand out songs than Beacon and is a great motivator if I need an energy boost.

Favourite song: FUN - We Are Young. I don't think I'm alone here, but this song has so many great memories attached. It was played every five minutes on Icelandic radio, at my favourite club night (Stereotypes @ Moles, Bath), and constantly in the Social Programme Office.

A very close runner-up is the cover of Young the Giant's Cough Syrup by Darren Criss (aka Blaine from Glee):

Most watched YouTube clips: I seem to get stuck in YouTube loops most days, in the background while I'm working, usually consisting of songs from musicals, Glee or Venezuelan rock/dance. I've watched each of these at least fifty times:

Sierra Boggess and Julian Ovenden, with the John Wilson Orchestra, performing The Balcony Scene from West Side Story at the BBC Proms this summer:

Ben Vereen and the original cast of Pippin performing Glory live in Toronto, 1982.

Biggest TV obsession: Glee. When it comes to TV, I'm still a 15-year old, and obsessed with Glee in general, and the Kurt/Blaine relationship in particular. It amazes me that TV has the power to make me care so much about completely fictional characters. I've also just realised that I somehow managed to watch all four series of The O.C., all six series of Gossip Girl, the first series of Smash in two days, and a lot of American sit-coms this year, hmm... 

So that was 2012 for me. What films/books/music/TV/productions did you most enjoy? I'm always interested in recommendations!