Wednesday 14 December 2016

Publicity eats itself

Damn it was cold, but the art show I enjoyed most this year was The Infinite Mix, ten video installations playing over the several floors (and basement garage) of a derelict office building in The Strand, London. Click here to see what was there. The ones I liked best: Stan Douglas, Cyprien Gaillard, Kahlil Joseph, Ugo Rondinone. I really liked those, and I – someone who doesn’t exactly rush to see video art – liked many of the others too.

It was free (it was a Hayward Gallery pop-up show, with a pop-up café too). The people who staffed it – directed you when you got lost, handed out 3-D glasses, talked if you wanted to talk but otherwise just let you alone – were friendly, despite being even colder than me. They wanted to be there. I doubt they got paid much. I went on a weekday afternoon, stayed a few hours, and it was busy – people moving through at a pace that the work itself seemed to determine, a number that felt the right amount, who were interested and patient. It hardly felt like I was in London. I mean, it felt like London at its best, when it’s not insisting on being ‘London’.

I don’t think there was much publicity. Word-of-mouth got me there. I think a lot of publicity – a lot of marketing, selling – just eats itself. This of course was a part of why I so liked this show: no one had told me to go there; I was finding it for myself.

I’ll go to the Rauschenberg at Tate Modern, but I know already that it will be a different experience. Must see. I’ll be going there after being told on the Tate home page in the imperative, the advertising imperative, ‘Discover the artist who changed American art forever’. So helpful, to be told what I’m going to discover, before I’ve even left home.

In theory, the UK has a large enough, diverse enough, rich enough, educated enough population to sustain a range of small-scale arts initiatives that can operate even without external funding, without budgets for publicity. These things happen in some much poorer countries than the UK. And they do happen in the UK too, just about. Precariously, of course.

Meanwhile, here is a this-week review of a book – published by CBe in 2013 – by a writer who out-Ferrantes Ferrante in his refusal to play the game: no readings, no photos, no social media, zero presence of any kind that publicity requires. The book is available here, from the CBe website.

Thursday 8 December 2016


Best postal service. Someone in Finland ordered three CBe books, and I posted them. Someone else misread Thailand for Finland. The royal Thai post system returned them. I re-posted, refusing to pay again and using the original ‘single-use only’ postage label, and today the books got to the right place, after travelling around 13,000 miles.

Worst train service. Not-so Great Western Railway. I’ve been on just four day-return train journeys this year, and two of those were GWR. The first, to Bristol: the train never left the station, because they couldn’t get the brakes off. The second, yesterday, to Taunton: the train got as far as the first stop, Reading, and then decamped all passengers and returned to London, because something had been triggered.

Best new font: Palatino Sans. Discovered last week on the cover of a re-issue by a Canadian small press of Anne Carson’s Small Talks (2015; first published 1992), found in an Oxfam shop last Saturday for £2.99. The book was designed by Robert Bringhurst, who is not only a master designer of books (and has a classic book on typography) but also has a very fine Selected Poems available here from Cape. Most sans-serif fonts lack wit and character; this one doesn’t.

PS: on the same visit to Oxfam bookshop, I picked up the DVD of the documentary film titled Helvetica. Sans serif. Haven't watched it yet. I know, I know: the country is going to the dogs, up shit creek, plenty clichés on hand, and Syria and Yemen are open wounds and I'm fussing about train times and typefaces.