29 May 2014

Doncaster and UKIP

According to the Guardian on 27 May:
Nigel Farage will launch an audacious attempt to steal Labour's clothes by unveiling his manifesto in Ed Miliband's seat of Doncaster and promising answers on the cost-of-living crisis and the NHS. … In a particular warning to Miliband, the MEP said he had chosen Doncaster as the perfect place to launch Ukip's general election manifesto in September 
… "We have already been doing substantial work on the NHS, on defence, on education, on public spending and other areas, and we will unveil our outline manifesto for the next general election, and we will do it in a town called Doncaster," Farage said. "It is a town in which Ed Miliband is the MP, it's a town in which yesterday we topped the polls, and we will have an honest conversation with the British public about the cost-of-living crisis and about how we can make life better and more affordable for ordinary families in this country. Policy will happen in Doncaster in September."
Both the Guardian and Farage were misleading in so far as the town of Doncaster lies within the Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster which has three parliamentary constituencies. Some of its wards form the parliamentary constituency of Doncaster Central. Ed Miliband’s seat is Doncaster North which, as its name suggests, includes some of the town’s northern wards and other wards in the countryside beyond. The Don Valley constituency is similarly arranged to the south of the town. The Doncaster Metropolitan Borough is part of the South Yorkshire Metropolitan County which in turn is part of the Yorkshire and Humberside Region of England.

I thought it might be of interest to pull some relevant electoral statistics together following the 2014 elections for the European Parliament. The results for the Yorkshire and Humberside region are the responsibility of Leeds City Council who have recently provided the following for the Doncaster Metropolitan Borough:

In chart form:

which can be compared with the 2009 Euro election result when there was a slightly larger turnout:

Clearly the votes in 2009 were more widely spread and the two largest parties had only 42% of the vote in contrast with 69% in 2014. At first sight it would seem likely that in 2014 UKIP benefited from the collapse of the BNP and also acquired a large part of the Tory vote. Indeed, in 2009 the combined UKIP and BNP vote had been greater than Labour’s. Labour’s vote in 2014 was increased relative to 2009, matching the decline of all the other contestants apart from UKIP, but particularly that of the Liberal Democrats.

The 2010 Westminster election (combining results across the three parliamentary constituencies; data from the three Doncaster constituency links above) had shown how the smaller parties find it difficult to sustain the number of their voters, let alone their shares of the vote, when the turnout goes up:

The pie charts give a better view of the way the vote share alters. The areas have been adjusted to match the numbers of votes cast in the three elections:

As for the 2015 parliamentary elections? Who knows – some Lib Dems may return to the fold at Labour’s expense and some Ukippers may go back to the Tories. But for UKIP to defeat Miliband, a large proportion of the 2014 non-voters who are expected both to turn out and to vote Labour in the 2015 Westminster election would have to transfer to UKIP.

28 May 2014

Bordeaux’s Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez

Visitors to Bordeaux with an interest in contemporary art should try to find time to visit the Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez. The Institut opened in 2011 in the Château Labottière, not far from the city centre. Until 20 July it is offering a show between shows, Entre deux expositions, exhibiting some of the Institut’s recent acquisitions for its collection.

Before entry the visitor encounters an arresting neon on the Pavilion, Bernard Magrez’s own ‘Autograph’:

A successful entrepreneur, who now owns four major wine-producing chateaux, Magrez is stating the Institut’s mission based on his own four cardinal virtues:

Vivre debout The strength of Living Upright
Respecter l’autre The justice of Respecting the other
Jamais renoncer The courage to Never give up
Gagner en tempérance The wisdom to Gain temperance

These provide a counterpoint to the other neon attached to the building, Le réveil de la jeunesse empoisonnée (The awakening of poisoned youth, 2011?) by Claude Lévêque:

Inside the Pavilion, three videos are being screened, one of them, by Benoit Maire and commissioned by Magrez in 2010, is on the theme of Jamais renoncer. Another, Tracking Happiness (2010), by Mircea Cantor is a hypnotic film of women sweeping sand (left). British visitors may be reminded of Carroll’s “seven maids with seven mops” but can be reassured that its duration at 11 minutes is less than “half a year”, (if slightly in breach of Red Alan’s rule 5).

There are also three large and detailed paintings on paper by a Franco-Serbian artist, Nebojsa Bezanic, exploring the history of three of Magret’s Grand Cru Classé Chateaux (La Tour Carnet 2010, below left) and, as you leave the Pavilion, another neon by Claude Lévêque, advises Riez! (2012, Laugh!, or perhaps more appropriately, Have Fun!):

After the Pavilion the visitor moves on to the main exhibition in a new space adjacent to the Chateau. I won’t attempt to report on all the recent additions to the Collection, but I was struck by the Belgian Wim Delvoye’s Untitled (Car Tyre) 2007 (a hand-carved car tyre, below left) and Serge Poliakoff’s Composition en cinq couleurs (Composition in five colours, 1956-57, below right), one of the earliest-dated works in the collection.

Photographing the exhibits was difficult because of reflections, but prints by Andy Warhol (Depardieu, 1986) and Peter Doig (Canoe Island, 2000) are recognisable, below left and right:

More of the collection is to be found in the main building of Château Labottière which provides a handsome background for sculpture like Jean-Michel Othonier’s Le nœud de Babel, (Node of Babel, 2013):

and for photography - Jean-Marie Périer’s 1966 portrait of Françoise Hardy in a Paco Rabane dress couldn’t be further from Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl of 1985:

Just as much of a contrast are Damien Hirst’s Painted Skulls 2 (eyes open) (2013, below left) and Pierre et Gilles’ Le Désesperé (The desperate one, 2013, below right), more sedate than Vive La France, their previous appearance on this blog.  Another YBA photograph recently acquired for the collection is Sam Taylor-Wood’s large Self Portrait suspended 1 on display near the ticket office.

Finally, although the collection seems to be mainly focussed on two-dimensional representation, as already mentioned it does include sculptures including this piece in the Chateau garden. By Shen Yuan, Crâne de la Terre (Skull of the Earth, 2011) was made in stone and cement and its contrast of skyscrapers and rough stone can be seen as her comment on contemporary China.

Vistors to the Institut’s collection will find that it is well-documented in French and English. It is open Thursday to Sunday, 14:00 to 19:00 but, as always, it is advisable to confirm this on the website.  British visitors might like to think which of their countries’ artists they would to see added to the collection – my suggestions (for what they are worth) are Peter Howson and Julian Opie.

Entre deux expositions ends on 20 July.

26 May 2014

Grayson Perry’s 'Red Alan’s Manifesto'

How to explain? Alan Measles is “a 50-year-old teddy bear, dictator and God of the imaginary world of artist Grayson Perry” according to Tweeter @Alan_Measles (who is actually Grayson Perry, RA).

In 2012 Perry, who requires no description here, produced a ceramic sculpture of Alan Measles, Red Alan. In his BBC Reith Lectures, Playing to the Gallery, last year, Perry provided food for thought for anyone interested in art – whatever that might be. Now, he has produced an artwork for the Royal Academy, Red Alan’s Manifesto. For future ease of reference to its precepts, I’ve copied it below.

This post owes much to an article by the Royal Academy’s Amy Macpherson.

22 May 2014

Philippe Claudel’s ‘Before the Winter Chill’

After the award-winning I’ve loved you so long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime) in 2008, Philippe Claudel wrote and directed Tous les soleils (2011), a comedy which has not been shown in the UK. His latest film (again with his script and direction) has come out here under the title Before the Winter Chill, a clunky translation of Avant l'hiver. Like I’ve loved you so long, it features Kristin Scott Thomas, whose presence probably secured the film’s release in the UK market.

Rotated in translation!
Scott Thomas takes the part of Lucie, wife of a neurosurgeon, Paul (Daniel Auteuil), who late in his career finds himself drifting into a strange relationship with a young Moroccan woman, Lou (Leila Bekhti). Claudel once more keeps his audience in a state of mild suspense as to the outcome while leading them in the wrong direction until late on. The main triangle is complemented by another between Paul, Lucie and their psychiatrist friend Gérard (Richard Berry), who clearly won’t hesitate to take his chance should their marriage start to crumble. The secondary characters help to sustain interest in an essentially slow plot. For example, Gérard helps Lucie in dealing with her sister Caroline’s illness, Paul bickers with their banker son, and there is a minor drama in his surgical team. Nonetheless, the two central performances are excellent: Auteuil gives a convincing portrayal of an intelligent man who, once removed from his métier, is an innocent abroad, while Scott Thomas gradually reveals Lucie’s increasing awareness of their problem, eventually, wounded but self-possessed, having to ask Gérard «Un patient ou une patiente?» (A man or a woman patient?)

I’m not sure where the film is set. Claudel was born in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in the Lorraine region of north east France. His two previous films were set there, in particular partly in Nancy. Avant l'hiver seems to be located not far away, possibly in Luxembourg. Paul’s wife is played by Luxembourgeoise Vicky Krieps, and when Paul says he went to Mudam, he is referring to the Musée d'art moderne Grand-Duc Jean in Luxembourg. Certainly the standard of living seems like the Grand-Duchy, even if the number plates in the film look French. In an interview with AlloCiné, Claudel emphasised his film’s seasonal significance: ” … a man – a couple - before the winter of life, moving from a flamboyant autumn … a gradual loss of brightness. Despite the gloom which unfortunately accompanied all the filming, one feels, I hope this moisture, mist and cold, and the passage of time in the garden. The beauty of this image should be almost inversely proportional to the turbulence and chaos of feelings that shake the characters."

There are some obvious parallels between Avant l'hiver and another film recently posted about here, Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition. Both are concerned with the angst of upper-middle class couples who live in Modernist houses, though the France/Luxembourg one is more firmly in the Mies van der Rohe style. But whereas Kate Muir in The Times gave Exhibition 5/5, their Wendy Ide gave Avant l'hiver 3/5. Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian, who had shared Muir’s marking of Exhibition, went down to 2/5. Mark Kermode in the Observer again awarded 3/5. Well, I suppose it’s obvious that Claudel’s budget was many times Hogg’s, but I am, nonetheless, in no doubt as to which I thought the better film!

21 May 2014

Hossein Amini’s ‘The Two Faces of January’

The novelist Patricia Highsmith is probably best remembered for her five stories published between 1955 and 1991 concerning the felonies and misdemeanours of Tom Ripley. A cultivated but utterly ruthless man, he murders without hesitation for money and self-preservation. Originally American, but thoroughly Europeanised, he lives not far from Paris with his French heiress wife in their home, Belle Ombre, - which translates into English as Beautiful Shadow, the apt main title of Andrew Wilson’s Life of Patricia Highsmith, published in 2010.

The two male main characters in Amini’s The Two Faces of January, which he has based on one of Highsmith’s other novels originally published in 1964, certainly display Ripleyish tendencies. Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen), a New Yorker, is on holiday in Greece with his young wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst). They strike up a friendship with tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac), an American student. Events turn this relationship into a disastrous conspiracy, not eased by Rydal’s interest in Colette. Isaac portrays Rydal as being a more intelligent and less flawed character than his Llewyn Davis, by the way.

Amini’s adaptation and direction carefully retained Highsmith's setting of Greece in 1962. The locations and costumes, and the deployment of lorry-loads of props and bus-loads of extras, make the film attractive to watch and Amini justly praises his “brilliant production crew” in Crete. Taken as a whole though, some people may feel it lacks pace but fails by way of compensation to provide much depth of psychological insight.

19 May 2014

El Niño and Ed Miliband

The invaluable Ballots and Bullets Polling Observatory at the University of Nottingham’s School of Politics and International Relations recently produced their 36th summary of opinion polling of voting elections since the last election:

When I posted about their 28th summary last September, I suggested that there were two axes of symmetry. One showed Labour’s poll rise reflecting the Lib Dem’s decline, the other axis the same relationship between UKIP’s rise and the Tories’ decline. This idea now seems to have broken down. The Lib Dems still seem to be stuck on a plateau below 10%. The Tories seem to have done slightly better in the last six months – if that’s because some UKIP supporters have returned home, then UKIP has nonetheless kept its numbers up, perhaps at Labour’s expense.

Once the European Parliament elections are out of the way, UKIP may enter a long decline until 2015. If it does, it will be interesting to see if that benefits the Tories, or Labour or both. And some Lib Dems may return to the fold, mostly at Labour’s expense probably. John McTernan is a centre-left commentator whose opinions are, in my view, always worth considering. (For example, see his piece for the Guardian, John Smith would have led us to a decent world, on the 20th anniversary of the Labour leader’s untimely death). In the Scotsman on 8 May, McTernan concluded that the 2015 election will be hard to call:
The Tories will prosecute an apparently simple argument: the economy is working, don’t let Labour wreck it. … For Labour, the nightmare is economic growth quickening, incomes rising swiftly.
The fear of the government will be that events beyond their control will overwhelm them. One of the biggest is an interest rate rise. Former chancellors Norman Lamont and Alistair Darling are both warning that there is the danger of a housing boom. Voices off are one thing, but what if the Bank of England decides to act? So many families are stretched financially that the smallest increase in mortgages could be enough to tip them over the edge. The other is an NHS winter crisis. This is what did for the Tories under Thatcher and Major – patients on trolleys in corridors would be disastrous for Cameron, as they would be the emblem of public service cuts.
And of course, these possibilities are not mutually exclusive. But, as far as the NHS is concerned, the 2014/15 winter seems a long way off on a balmy day in May. This is particularly so when the last winter was so mild. To quote the UK Met Office:
Mean temperatures over the UK were well above the long-term average for all three months {December, January and February] with a mean winter temperature of 5.2 oC which is 1.5 oC above the average and the fifth highest in the series. There was a notable absence of frosts, and the lowest UK temperature of the winter, -7.7 oC at Altnaharra, Sutherland on 17th February was the highest such winter value for at least 50 years.
whereas the year before:
The mean temperature over the UK for winter was 3.3 °C which is 0.4 °C below the long term average. December was equal to the long term average for the month, January was 0.3 °C below, February was 0.9 °C below and at 2.8 °C was the coldest month of the season. Spells of notably mild weather occurred in late December and early January, and notably cold weather in early December, mid to late January, and the latter part of February.
The difference between the two winters comes out in the charts below (blue indicating below and red above average temperatures).

2013/14 (left) 2012/13 (right) Mean Dec Jan Feb temperature anomalies
Health planners are, of course, well aware of the effect of winter conditions on the demand for health services. For example, Public Health England have a Cold Weather Plan for England 2013, Making the case: why long-term strategic planning for cold weather is essential to health and wellbeing. This points out that:
Evidence shows that there is an increase in hospital admissions from cold-related illnesses, as the temperature falls … Admissions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease increase as temperatures fall, particularly in those most socio-economically deprived. Hospitals and social care commonly face winter pressures. These often result from a high demand for beds and difficulties in discharging patients. This may be compounded by staff shortages due to illness. Cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious diseases with a seasonal increase, as well as weather-related accidents – contribute to raising the number of admissions. Prolonged in-patient episodes can result, either due to medical complications or a delay in discharging patients because of lack of suitable accommodation.
Increased levels of illness due to cold weather can put a strain on local NHS services such as general practices and hospitals. There is evidence that cold weather may prevent people from accessing these services.
It would obviously be helpful for planners to know what the weather will be like next winter. The Met Office (in Exeter, Devon, SW England) has a team of researchers engaged on monthly to decadal prediction with one specialising in the El Niño Southern Oscillation, known as the ENSO. Just how the warming of waters in the tropical Pacific ocean affects weather in the northern hemisphere is complex with other factors to be taken into account, and is certainly a subject for experts. But in 2008 the Met Office did state that:
"We have shown evidence of an active stratospheric role in the transition to cold conditions in northern Europe and mild conditions in southern Europe in late winter during El Niño years".
So it was interesting to see a fairly high probability US consensus forecast for an El Niño event this year:

Not that it means any distinct probability of El N coming to the rescue of Ed M. Better to leave that kind of forecasting to John McTernan who, despite the uncertain start to his article, ended on a more confident note:
But while the big parties fight for tactical advantage, the result of the election will probably be determined by the two minor parties – the Liberal Democrats and Ukip. The Lib Dems’ fate is easily described. In 2010 Clegg sold sincerity to the public. He broke his word on tuition fees and broke his party. They have lost votes irreversibly to Labour and will lose seats to them and the Tories. Ukip is the wild card. It takes votes from the Tories – which is bad enough – but they are also dragging Cameron from the centre ground, which is worse for him. Elections in Britain are always won from the centre, but Nigel Farage has derailed the Tories. 
So, the centre-left is united behind Labour and the centre-right are split between three parties – the Tories, Ukip and the Liberal Democrats. This is a massive advantage for Miliband. Labour is currently on 35-38 per cent in the polls, a historically low level but in 2005 Tony Blair got a 65-seat majority with a similar figure. The reason? Ukip took 2,000 votes from the Tories in every seat. It was enough. No-one doubts Farage will raise that level next year. It’s advantage Miliband.

5 May 2014

Joanna Hogg’s ‘Exhibition’

Three years ago I posted here about Joanna Hogg's second film, Archipelago, and later added something about her first, Unrelated. Now her third film, Exhibition, has been released in the UK. It is a portrait of a marriage with three people in it, or to be more precise, a childless couple and their house. The pair are identified in Kafakaesque style only as D and H, and are played by Viv Albertine and Liam Gillick respectively. Albertine was born in 1954, lives in Hackney and is probably best known for being a guitarist in the female punk band the Slits. Gillick was born in 1964, lives in New York, was a YBA and is now a conceptual artist. The house was built in 1969 in Kensington (inner West London) as a late Modernist residence for its architect, James Melvin (1912-2011), to whom the film is dedicated. From recent interviews (eg with cinema scope and the Guardian) it seems that Albertine, Killick, Melvin and the house are, or were, well-known to Hogg.

D and H, after twenty years residence, have decided to sell their house with the help of estate agents (US: realtors), so providing a cameo role for Tom Hiddlestone. He appeared at length in Unrelated and Archipelago but has been busier since. The couple are both artists with workspaces on separate floors of the house, not that they seem to work very intensively. They often communicate, but not about much, using the internal phone. This is understandable since moving between floors involves either traversing a spiral staircase or business with a tricky lift (US: elevator). We see a lot of D nervously moping around the house - she doesn't get out much. Whether the source of her unhappiness is professional, marital, sexual or selling the house, or all four, is opaque, as is their reason for selling or where they are going. Perhaps there has been an intruder, D is nervously security conscious. Apart from the estate agents, the other characters are minor and tiresome. There are numerous sequences centred on D which may be dreams, fantasies or, in at least one case, flashbacks. Hogg continues to avoidusing those cinematographic conventions such as tracking, zooming and panning which usually help carry the viewer along with the screenplay, so D and H's farewell party with a fire eater and a metaphorical demolition of the house comes as a relief. It seems to cheer them up no end, too. Finally, as they pack some books, D tells H that she has been offered a solo show, or, as he then refers to it, 'exhibition'.

I should point out that most of the film critics in the serious media seem to have a high opinion of Exhibition. For example, Kate Muir in The Times awarded it five stars (out of five) and enthused:
Hogg wrote and directed Exhibition and the ideas developed in her films Unrelated and Archipelago have been given full expression here in a drama of sharp intelligence and insight. Some may find it slow and pretentious, dealing as it does with the privileged classes’ First World problems. But if Hogg is an acquired taste, I have now acquired it.
Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian also gave 5/5 and warned off those of us who like their envelopes the way they are:
Joanna Hogg is an artist and film-maker who entrances and enrages. After the first wave of praise from fans (such as me), her movies tend to get a backlash of incredulity and scorn from those who would prefer the envelope unpushed and unmolested. In the runup to its release, this latest film has already provoked some giggles and putdowns online. Some of the tweets I've been getting have felt like seat-bangs from some derisive digital walkout. It only makes me love her more.
Mark Kermode in the Observer was less generous at 3/5 and commented:
As with Hogg's previous films, Unrelated and Archipelago, there's an underlying desire to scream at the suffocatingly insular bourgeois ennui; certainly, Exhibition requires both patience and tolerance to get beneath its chilly surface. But under the uninviting skin there's an honest depiction of the ebb and flow of a long-term relationship between two people whose passions affix to objects other than each other; who remain co-dependent, if distant; and whose often queasily frank interactions (played out in unforgiving single takes) seem utterly genuine and not a little uncomfortable. Add to this an element of surreal invention (past and present intertwining, personalities fracturing) and Exhibition reaffirms Hogg's status as a distinctive, singular and challenging voice of British cinema.
In the face of such enthusiasm from those whose views count, I will only offer the opinion that I thought Exhibition to be less satisfactory than Archipelago, and, not for the first time here, resort to facts as a substitute for offering an opinion ("not raving but droning"). But DIY'ers of both sexes might like to know that Ikea's BEKVÄM step stool is available as a flat pack for £11 in the UK (only 9.99 euros in France). As Ikea explain: "Hand-hole in the top step makes the step stool easy to move" and "... you can treat it with BEKVÄM glazing paint to make the surface less slippery and more hard wearing and personal". Indeed.