Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

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Wikipedia bound

5 June, 2009

Wikipedia by Rob Matthews, 2009
5000 pages, fully printed

The wonderful world of the interweb is evermore glorious when reminded of the sheer vastness of information that it contains. Even more impressive is the notion that it’s  all held together by a seemingly haphazard yet infinitesimally detailed overlapping of data that spans across networks in an ordered fashion. What better example of this than in the pages of Wikipedia, the massively successful partner of the now defunct encyclopedic project Nupedia, which too was based on collaborative user contribution (experts exclusively on the latter) for reference content published and available freely under copyleft license. Long gone are those days of Encyclopædia Britannica infomercials with special offers on gold-embossed A-Z volumes requiring a sturdy new bookcase of their own. Not even the online version of the classic American public school library mainstay has been able to compete with Wikipedia and its magnitude of documentation that (despite its increasingly sophisticated system of editing and global moderation) is seldom permitted for citation in academic research due to much whinging by the establishment over its accuracy and lack of official review.

But of course much has changed since Wikipedia was launched formally in 2001, today with a tally of wikis (‘quick’ in Hawaiian or ‘what I know is’ in backronym) spanning 262 languages at a grand total of 2.9 billion articles in English alone. And thanks to the brilliance of Brighton-based artist/designer Rob Matthews, his 2009 project rightly titled ‘Wikipedia‘ demonstrates its immense scale through the actual printing and binding of roughly 2,529 articles comprising the niche featured articles section. According to Matthews’ mission statement for the project, his aim is to ‘question its use as an internet resource’ by ‘reproducing [it] in a dysfunctional physical form’. This single volume (photo above) equates to 5000 pages literally standing at a fraction of around 1/1,140th of all existing (English) articles. And aside from the obvious fantastical sight of seeing a book that is so much taller lying down than when sitting upright, the dimensional challenge it poses visually whilst in print is one that truly reaches the core of what Matthews hopes to achieve through this bizarrely tangible display of the virtual web.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Great unveiling (pieces at random)

Typographer’s bible (pieces at random)

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Typographer’s bible

5 March, 2009

Many apologies for the rather erratic frequency in posting throughout this month and the last.  It comes as a result of two-timing (or four, rather) with other sites as a regular contributing writer. And alongside a likely impending move away from an increasingly weary London (all to be revealed soon), calibration of both overall work scheduling and correspondence has been far from finely tuned. So if the phrase ‘coming soon’ has cropped up here more often than usual about any given topic mentioned in passing, please bear with me until ‘soon’ eventually comes. I’ll also try to double-up whenever possible to compensate. In the meantime, here’s a little treat for fellow typophiles who can’t get enough of the eponymous online network and special features such as Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica. I had recommended a book for pre-order amongst other things in the Christmas gift round-up published back in December of last year. Surely enough, March is already here, and it’s time to celebrate the long-awaited first edition publication of The Typographic Desk Reference. To be honest, I’m more than a little excited about this, as I have a slightly if not bizarrely intense font fetish that has persisted since age five (though I suppose that would fit well with the job description).

It also helps if you have a thing for lovingly presented design reference and coffee-table art books. Published by Oak Knoll Books, it was written and designed by entrepreneur Theodore Rosendorf, who began his graphic design career with creating logos back in 1992. He is now the creative head of the Matador branding and communications company based in Decatur, Georgia. With clients as varied as Nintendo, CNN, the CDC and Coca-Cola, Rosendorf is obviously well-positioned to share his wisdom on the detailed world of kerning and foundaries. As such, the TDR has been broken down into the following sections for swift ease of use: ‘Terms (definitions of format, measurements, practice, standards, tools, and industry lingo), Glyphs (list of standard ISO and extended Latin characters, symbols, diacritics, marks, and various forms of typographic furniture), Anatomy & Form (letter stroke parts and the variations of impression and space used in Latin-based writing systems), and Classification & Specimens (historical line with examples of form from blackletter to contemporary sans serif types)’. These four will be preceded by a foreword written by designer and curator Ellen Lupton, who describes the book as ‘the ultimate tool for the type geek’.

Now I just wish I’d been closer to Atlanta’s (context) gallery to be able to attend the book release party on 20th March… The Typographic Desk Reference now available to order from Oak Knoll and Amazon, US$45.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Arabesque (pieces at random)

Ambient space (pieces at random)

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Going indoors

4 February, 2009

As the young Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude overlooked the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a tag was described in narration as being ‘a reply, a call to those who heard, like a dog’s bark understood across fences’. Set on the Heights Promenade in The Fortress of Solitude, a sentence from that chapter still lingers with me years after having read it: ‘Under oblivious eyes, the invisible autographed the world.’ It was through this monumental saga by Jonathan Lethem that I first began to understand street art and the multifaceted history that has brought it off streets and into galleries today. In a plot spanning generations in Brooklyn’s Gowanus projects between the 1970s and 90s, the Solitude‘s story was one painted by graffiti as representation of cultural identity, musical heritage and gentrification. Tags representing names were the artists’ signatures sprayed on the sides of  buildings and trains, to be displayed to the world en route to the next destination. A fine line running through the graffiti underground defined the segmented yet not entirely separate areas of self-expression, vandalism, and street culture that were so richly diversified by an impoverished creative youth and their livelihoods often stereotyped by gangs and crime. Yet since its very inception, the cryptic messages alluding to the characters bearing credit for colourful blurbs and stencilled imagery were just as much a mark of their own brands as it was their ideas.

The cover of the Faber edition of the Solitude pays homage to the tags within: ‘DOSE’ etched in black, sprawling in its myriad ways. Anyone from Gowanus would have known that it was the work of Mingus Rude. And Dylan Ebdus’ as well, although he himself had no ‘name’ of his own, and therein lay the metaphor of his personal conflict. Since before the time of Christ, the etches and inscriptions on surfaces (‘to scratch’ in Italian’s graffiare) served as signage to communicate messages for public consumption (initially believed to be that of prostitution). It’s interesting to think that even the current revival of graffiti in the Middle East, for example, can be drawn back to examples of proto-Arabic Safaitic in the Arabian peninsula region in prehistoric times. But ‘modern’ graffiti as we understand it today began to take its overt shape in the late 60s on the streets of cities such as London (‘Clapton is God‘), Philadelphia and New York. Implemented by music-lovers, activist ideologues and groups protective of their urban territories, New York City came to the fore as a graffiti centre in the 1970s, where the use of tags as ‘bombs’ was introduced onto the subway network, and the mirroring of a growing hip-hop music scene in both competitive quality and source of inspiration was undeniable. It’s this street sub-culture with its off-shoot terminology and music that’s conjured the names of Lethem’s characters (Bob Dylan and Charles Mingus) and the likes of Bomb the System.

Written by Adam Bhala Lougha, the award-nominated film features a group of New York graffiti artists and coincidentally enough, a fantastic score composed by alternative hip-hop artist El-P. But it took until halfway through the 1980s for street art to go indoors and formally enter the art world. The very foundation of the United Graffiti Artists in 1972 served the eventual purpose of drawing artists into a gallery environment that would spotlight their work with a respect often lacking in its habitual haunts of the urban built environment. Neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat was the graffiti artist formerly known as ‘SAMO’ (Same Old Shit) whose work bore the ‘wildstyle’ combo of hip-hop and spray-paint. Graffiti artist John Fekner was said to have demonstrated the plight of New York’s deteriorating standards in urban living through ‘art interventions’ portraying many concerns towards the social and political welfare of the city’s inhabitants throughout the 80s. Fekner is well-known for these word installations underpinned by contemporary urban issues and stencilled on buildings throughout New York. And consequently, as city officials moved to drive forward ‘clean-up’ campaigns to rid the streets of what they viewed to be vandalism, graffiti became more commonplace in galleries overground.

It is this move that helped to continue the ‘culture jam’ of political and socio-economic subversion dominating as artists’ themes. While a debate raged on as to whether or not graffiti was ‘art’ in the first place, Basquiat and others like him exhibited in their own studios. A show at the Brooklyn Museum in 2006 has since paid tribute to such graffiti legends, and designer Marc Ecko has long been an advocate of graffiti as art. Increasingly popular in the commercial mainstream over the years, advertising has picked up on graffiti in tactical account planning to push product hype: IBM launched a campaign in 2001 which saw the spraying of sidewalks in San Francisco with tags such as ‘Peace, Love and Linux’. Last year, Youdoodoll founder Sarah Lu launched a ‘paint-off’ in association with Pepe Jeans, stencilling some colour onto Portobello Road’s façade. And of course who can forget Obey Giant’s Shepard Fairey (headline photo) and his iconic posters for Barack Obama? Widening acclaim for his cross-hatched propaganda and street art has landed him at the Irvine Contemporary with Regime Change Starts at Home, and Manifest Hope over at the DC Gallery. Fairey has also collaborated with Syd Garon and Paul Griswold on N.A.S.A.’s debut promo for the track ‘Money’ — once more seeing the meld of hip-hop, street art and bold political statement.

The current exhibition of subversion artist Brad Downey over at StolenSpace‘s Dray Walk Gallery in East London is another fine example of street art being contained within the confines of a gallery setting. Titled An Honest Thief and running until 8th February as his first solo show in the capitol, Downey presents visual challenges to urban archetypes through the mangling of street signs and riddling of traffic markers (photo above). His concoctions of ‘found art’ in the urban spaces of Atlanta, New York, London and Berlin are founded upon his being a member of a family within which his upbringing inextricably bound him to the US Marine Corps’ itinerant lifestyle. As such, Downey’s understanding of varied systems of regulation endemic to geopolitical landscapes is one of the reasons why he is so fine-tuned in producing provocative displays of de-regulation in the public setting. Currently a lecturer on ‘unsanctioned public artwork’ (himself a graduate of the Slade School and Pratt Institute), his understanding of urban art within a framework of social context is translated into his assembled pieces. By removing the facets of mundane objects succumbed to the status quo, he re-interprets them only to then put them back in — infusing re-instalment with a new-found sense of meaning still relevant to their initial metropolitan situations set out by political city officials and ‘official’ urban planners.

Another exhibit I’ve visited (although almost exactly a year ago to date) was an Urban Angel retrospective in East London. The primary grassroots urban art dealer comprised of a small group of private collectors and affiliated artists diversified in the creative styles of stencilling, urban sculpture and contemporary street art is set firmly amongst my favourite of creative London rosters today. With the work of street artist PURE EVIL‘s Charley Edwards and his vampire bunnies featuring last year with pieces such as the pink-sprayed ‘FUCK ART LETS DANCE’ and infamous ‘LIVE EAST DIE YOUNG’, the space presented many more examples of graffiti artistry. Edwards, influenced by San Francisco’s skateboard culture and graffiti artist Twist, launched a spray-campaign in London to examine what he states as being the question of the ‘big picture’: ‘What does evil look like?’ The  positive reception it received is certainly far from surprising: February 2008 saw the industry puritan Bonhams‘ first auction dedicated to urban art, further anchoring the style in commercial mainstream. Having newly opened its permanent Art Lounge space on Redchurch Street this past December, the show titled XXI is previewing tomorrow by invitation and will run throughout the month with original features from artists such as Copyright, Derek Albeck, Dotmasters, Inkie, Know Hope and Zeus (of the distressed Chanel graffiti given mention here a while back).

And bidding us return back to New York is yet another specimen of London graffiti via the world-trekking Banksy. Obviously not needing any more formal introduction, Banksy exhibitions taking place since 2000 and his recent selling of works at auctions for unprecedented sums in the urban art world is news buzzing regularly through today’s media circuit. He is, of course, one of the most recognizable icons in the graffiti street art movement; and with a reputation that precedes him, he’s acquired fame despite his adamantly maintaining pseudonymity. In October last year, Banksy’s comical ‘Village Petstore and Charcoal Grill‘ sprang up in New York’s West Village (see video below), taking his incredibly intelligent style of satire to even higher levels. The tongue-in-cheek guerilla installation, as filmed by the talented filmmaker Seth Brau, pokes fun at everything from consumer culture and fast-food, to surveillance society and its own self-deprecation. The animatronics involved so greatly departs from anything else seen on street art’s urban horizon that it nearly inadvertently demonstrates the great diversity and potential in street art as an artform in its having done so.

And so it is in the midst of all such irony that it appears the artworld’s institutionalized industry of traditional, ‘un-street’ setting most famously adorns the greatest visual impacts of artists whose autographs are no longer invisible — and whose audience is not so oblivious after all… Filmed and edited by Seth Brau. Music title ‘Barefootin” by Daniel Holter and Kyle White of the Burst Collective. Courtesy of Burst Labs and Extreme Music (Sony/ATV).

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Street value (pieces at random)

Warhol v Banksy (pieces at random)

My playground (pieces at random)

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Costs of excess

4 January, 2009

«Tout s’achète : l’amour, l’art, la planète Terre, vous, moi…»
Frédéric Beigbeder

At last it’s 2009, and the bad economic news continues on like a low-budget sequel with a sorely disappointed audience. The economists and pundits all seem to have morphed into fortune-tellers in the last few weeks, gazing through interest group-affiliated crystal balls to write yet another twenty paragraphs about why the new year is destined to be a terrible hell of a downturn. Or let-down. Or not… So I will join them, because in the midst of the inclement forecasting are the monotone voices of politicians turning over leaves anew with self-contradicting views over neo-liberal capitalism and its unbridled financial institutions bound by the farcical (mis)effect of regulatory bodies formed to prevent precisely the thing that has happened after all. Perhaps one of the most painful aspects of recession so far has been being made to suffer whilst listening to political rivals attempting to one-up each other, trying to gain grounds through capitalizing on the misfortune of their disillusioned electorate. Our born-again leaders and believers of equitable society have conveniently re-remembered the man on the Clapham omnibus by acquiring that prophetic aura about them to impart the wisdom that a gross amount of wealth as be-all and end-all of human existence is, in fact, gross. And though intermittently placed between pleas to spend our way through to salvage the economy as per Keynesian theory would have it at micro-level, the notion of saving money (or at least not spending as much as we did before) is looking more attractive by the day.

So pauvre-chic is back in, and after the recent magnum success of Damien Hirst and ten inflation-adjusted landmark sales for artists such as Rothko, De Kooning, Klimt and Monet since 2006, the post-binge purge has become as increasingly apparent in the art world as it is on the High Street. Through a rising movement advocating the ‘it factor’ of unpretentious frugality, an industry that relies heavily on the pockets of investors most inevitably tied to Bernard Madoff by less than six degrees of separation is finding ways to beat the squeeze. ‘Jack Boul: Then and Now’, an exhibit showcasing work by the Washington-based artist, opened to much acclaim last month at the American University Museum in Katzen Arts Center. With an extra-loving emphasis placed on the intimate simplicity of his oil paintings, many examples of his work measure no more than thirty centimetres in width — a most certainly stark contrast to Pollock’s famed seven-footers. In a similar fashion (or ought that be ‘anti-fashion’?), the sixteenth edition of ‘Small is Beautiful’ which closed show in London’s Flowers East gallery yesterday has always been well-accustomed to rebellion against the ‘bigger is better’ aesthetic, with all featured multimedia pieces constrained by the annual series’ limit of a modest yet creatively stimulating 9×7 inches.

Even the art of speech hasn’t escaped the witch-hunt, with Lake Superior State University’s 34th annual ‘List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness’ tut-tutting at 2008’s superfluousness of words such as iconic, maverick, and not in the least bit bail-out. Frugal awareness in this regard may be more difficult to implement, as it’s easy to yield to ornate verbosity as manifested by stunted attention-seeking vocabulary without noticing. But even worse is the shameless hyperbole found on the newswire (‘credit crisis’, anyone?), and more distastefully in the ironically irrelevant and non-distinctive output of account planning. And this indulgent, sometimes sinister nature of advertising is fully demonstrated in a film unbeaten in my recent top-ten roster, 99 francs by French director Jan Kounen (last month featured in CINEMA16 with Gisèle Kérozènea). In his 2007 film starring actor Jean Dujardin playing the snide, self-involved and hyper-materialistic Octave Parango, Kounen has done with 99 F what Spike Jonze, Jason Reitman and Michel Gondry have done before him in terms of laying bare some of man’s most gruesome attributes and then some. Thrilling on so many levels not least because it’s based on writer and critic Frédéric Beigbeder‘s eponymous book,  this VFX spectacle of sex, drugs and copywriting interwoven by one man’s struggle to come to grips with a twisted yet awakening moral conscience is so well-done, I’d be short-changed to find any other film (or book) as good on the topic.

As in Klapisch’s L’auberge espagnole and its successor Les pouppées russes, the French modern narrative style plays in favour of first-person plot propagation, blending a great deal of Parango’s sardonic humour with the dramatic throws in rich ($) character development alongside actors Vahina Giocante and Patrick Mille. The conveying of advertising-on-Viagra is helped quite remarkably by a soundtrack fit for cause, much like the essential Farväl Falkenberg OST. And opening with Amina’s beautiful ‘Bienvenue dans le meilleur des mondes’, the 99 F bande originale offers twenty-three finely calibrated tracks ranging from narrative excerpts from the film to a balance between Parisian techno-house (Etienne De Crécy’s ‘Funky Bloody Beetroot’ is generic, but Garnier’s ‘Crispy Bacon’ is better), a chillout alterna-indie mix (think smooth St.Germain plus slightly annoying though poignant number from CocoRosie), and an enjoyably apt dramatic score. In short, it goes without saying that after viewing the trailer below (if anyone tracks down the English-subbed version, feel free to forward the link), allow for one last additional shopping spree and start off the year with the DVD. Because if it doesn’t give you ample reason to downsize your budget thereafter, then surely not much else will.

Sarah Badr © MMIX


See also: Jan Kounen (Official)

‘A prediction that’s a safe bet’ (BBC News)

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Oualata motifs

6 December, 2008

‘La grâce des femmes’ – Oualata, Mauritania

Yet another festival to add to the London winter events calendar is soon drawing to a close. The London African Film Festival, screening its last feature on Sunday, 7th December at BFI Southbank, has had a successful run thus far in showcasing an incredibly well-curated collection of forty films from a continent whose cultural scene is thriving as people increasingly voice their life views and experiences via the vehicle of cinematography en route. Hosted in partnership between the Royal Africa Society, Africa at the Pictures and the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, it has served to introduce emerging African talents alongside highly celebrated African directors whose classic films from over the decades are also featuring in revival. A mix of underground contemporary and rare archival work, the nine-day event has been funded, amongst several others, by the Commonwealth Foundation and Centre for African Studies. In the aim of reaching wider audiences than ever before whilst inspiring international dialogue and fostering cross-cultural understanding, ten of the continent’s most promising filmmakers have been scheduled to hold panel discussions related to their work and the great potential of African cinema. And as with events in the past including Channel 4’s landmark Digital Africa workshop, the 1991 ‘Filming Against the Odds’ conference on African film, and the 1993 African Women Film Makers Seminar (the latter two held at BFI Southbank), the African Film Festival 2008 is set to be the largest, most celebratory of its kind in London this year.

A highlight of the films featured and closing the festival on Sunday will be La Vie sur terre (Life on Earth), the 1998 debut directed by writer Abderrahmane Sissako, following Sissako from France to his family’s home in Mali to examine the Occident’s ‘Y2K’ hysteria as experienced and heard by the locals in radio broadcast emmissions. A thought-provoking comedic drama painting the juxtaposition of cultures and the rural versus urban contrasts of the age through colourful imagery and music by Anouar Brahem, Sissako’s film is a memorable study of post-colonial Africa. In addition, the film I have perhaps looked most forward to (screening at the ICA this afternoon at 4pm) is a documentary directed by the Senegalese, Brussels-based director Katy Léna Ndiay. An hour-long feature set in the red deserts of Oualata in the Mauritanian Sahara, En attendant les hommes (Awaiting for Men) captures the society of the small city so rich in tradition and dominated by the intricate rules of societal gender roles and religion. Zooming in on the lives of three women kept economically afloat through the trade and practice of traditional wall-painting (see photo above), the 2007 film intimately examines the dialogue and dynamics between them and their relationships with the society in which they are governed. Winner of the African documentary FNAC award and Best Documentary Award at the Real Life Documentary Festival in Accra, 2008, it will be screening alongside the experimental film Gubi – The Birth of Fruit.

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Africa at the Pictures

Neon Rouge Production

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Ambient space

30 November, 2008

M17 Omega Nebula ≈ 52,035.50 × 10ˆ15 m

In the words of the late Charles Eames, an all-time favourite aphorism of mine: ‘Eventually, everything connects.’ Four years ago, I was commissioned to design the brand for the MindWinder retail chain, whose identity was inspired by the Fibonacci spiral as manifested in one of my (and my client’s) favourite books from the Phaidon publishing house. Heaven & Earth, an impeccably packaged collection of images set to astounding distances and proximities of scale, demonstrates the beauty of nature unobservable by the naked eye. A scientific visual study on the infinite yet inherently related patterns of various topographies found in the realms of astronomy (macro) and biology (micro), its resemblance to the 1977 short film Powers of Ten is undeniable. Written and directed by the renowned 20th Century American design duo Charles and Ray Eames (of the iconic 1956 Eames 670 Lounge Chair), the nine-minute documentary portrays ‘the relative size of things in the universe’, namely through the addition of zeros in orders of magnitude ranging from 10ˆ-16 to 10ˆ24 metres. Opening scene overlooking the Chicago lake-front with narrative voiceover by Philip Morrison (former Professor of Physics Emeritus at MIT), it’s classified by the US Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’. Like Heaven & Earth, it too is a ‘modern’ adaptation of another book, the 1957 Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps by Dutch educator Kees Boeke, and has since been the inspiration behind a revised edition.

Obviously rather popular in theme as an item for remake and adaptation, the video below for Gas’ digitally re-mastered track ‘Microscopic’ aptly utilizes footage from Powers of Ten in real time. Not to be confused with the Gas moniker of Wolfgang Voigt, it is the third feature on electronic musician Mat Jarvis‘ classic ambient album Gas 0095, whose rare 1995 edition today retails for 460 dollars on eBay. Originally released on the twice defunct Em:t Records (a T:me Recording off-shoot), it’s been made available once more on Jarvis’ new Microscopics label. Em:t, a Nottingham-based enterprise prone to bankruptcy despite its cult status, helped to pioneer experimental electronica back in the 90s, whilst being rather known for its outstanding cover art as designed by Ian Anderson’s The Designers Republic (the Warhol/Hirst equivalent in the graphic design world — more on tDR soon!). Now that Jarvis has offered his seminal ambient soundscapes at 32bit/96khz with an impressive 32db dynamic range, those unable to afford Gas 0095 in vintage format have the opportunity to appreciate this rather awesome collection of a dozen outerspace-inspired works, beautifully crafted in what can be described as a dream-inducing fusion of Hexstatic and Monolake, with atmospheric references similar to those of programmer/musician Synth.nl. Hopefully much to look forward to from the Gas HQ, I’ll definitely be keeping tabs on Microscopics for further exciting releases in the pipeline…

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Eames Office

Gas 0095 (Last.fm)

The Films of Charles & Ray Eames

Master of the universe’ (The Guardian)

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Monkey and Gorillaz

2 September, 2008

Monkey by Jamie Hewlett

Thinking of the Gorillaz does not naturally conjure thoughts of the Opera and Orient. From the very beginning, however, the Gorillaz have undoubtedly challenged the essence of musical definition, divisions and style through their chosen virtual existence. Theirs is a statement in industry against the mega-producer’s conveyor belt; the much needed mockery of countless manufactured bands of the past few decades. In the phenomenon of pop culture masquerading as a cartoon band led by ‘2D’, ‘Russel’, ‘Murdoc’ and ‘Noodle’, perhaps it is no surprise then that Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett decided to foray into the foreign world of 16th Century Chinese novelist Wu Cheng’en. As a result, they’ve created a stage production not only in a language they themselves don’t speak, but also infused newly-created original musical instruments and original imagery into the older, more traditional style of Chinese instrumentation and visual culture dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

Indeed this 21st Century Monkey: Journey to the West is rather different from other interpretations of Wu’s work (the anime series my brother used to love, Dragon Ball Z, is case in point). Alongside actor/director Chen Shi-zheng (creator) and Jean-Luc Choplin (visionary), the Albarn/Hewlett duo worked together again to produce a dramatic, operatic adaptation by Chen. As well as a feast for the eyes thanks to Hewlett’s personal illustrative aesthetic, their staging sees Chinese singers, nearly a hundred acrobats and martial artists; meanwhile, the orchestra includes members of the UK Chinese Music Ensemble, Demon Strings and Sense of Sound. Premiering at the Manchester International Festival last summer, it has since travelled to France, the States, Germany, and most recently here at the London Royal Opera House in July. And for UK viewers of the Beijing Olympics, the above monkey may be familiar as a result of viewing the BBC’s ‘Journey to the East’ animation sequence spin-off on replay.

The time I started taking a liking to the Gorillaz project was shortly before the release of their compilation album D-Sides back in November of last year (admittedly in part due to having been a fan of Blur back in the heyday).  But having watched Alan Yentob’s fantastic piece on BBC One’s Imagine (‘Damon and Jamie’s Excellent Adventure’), my opinion transformed into something more characterized by deep-seated respect for them and the others who managed to bring together so many disparate cultural elements that a seemingly foreign audience can still synthesize and appreciate as one. I was sad to have not had the time to see Monkey at the Royal Opera, especially as the punkish, graffiti-inspired set (akin to Hewlett’s Tank Girl etchings) must have looked a wonder in plain view. But for those like me who couldn’t make it (and for those who went and enjoyed), Albarn’s original score came out on album last month — a definite purchase for those who like musicals and the Far East.

Monkey: Journey to the West out now on XL Recordings (video preview below).

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Journey to the West (Official Site)

Royal Opera House

Gorillaz