SHE PREDICTED A RIOT

Protesters try to get their point across with riot police

At the end of day on the 1st of April 2009 my routine was broken by a complete disruption of bus services departing from London Bridge station. Caused by the G20 demonstrations that took place that day across Bishops Gate, Threadneedle Street  and the surrounding area around the Bank of England. It left me with no option but to go back home walking. I knew that at least it would give me the chance to check the demonstrations a bit closer.

Arriving at the East end of Cornhill I decided to walk down the street to watch a bunch of protesters facing a line of riot police officers, moments before they clashed. It was all a bit too fast and confusing. As I approached I saw a number of objects being thrown at the police, who in turn started advancing against the aggressors aided by tear gas. In a split second, the whole hell broke loose. Suddenly, I found myself looking at a good two hundred people screaming and running in my direction, so I thought it would be sensible to turn around and run too. It was in that moment that, on my left, I spotted another group of Metropolitan Police officers around a man lying on the floor but I didn’t have much time to think, just run and get myself out of that mess.

Met Pol officers finally persuade demonstrators to retreat

Back in Bishops Gate things were a bit less tense, although there was an incredible number of Met Pol officers, Riot Police and all kinds of security personnel getting in position. It looked like as if they were really preparing for a battle. Only then I started to actually notice the people taking part in the demonstration and realised that they too were a pretty heterogeneous crowd: punks, homeless, students, environmentalists, agitators and a whole lot of ordinary people who, like me, were extremely pissed off with banks and the government for the economic cataclysm they had created. Many broken windows and beatings later I finally arrived at the sacrosanct refuge of my home, and started pondering about what I had just witnessed. Sadly, the next day I found out that the man I saw lying on the pavement had actually died as a result of head injuries when he was violently pushed to the floor by the police.

Summits attended by heads of state are always likely to attract demonstrations. These groups of people take that as an opportunity to have their voices heard amidst the intensive media coverage that usually characterize such events. The tactics vary though. Some might try to cause as much disruption as possible in an attempt to ‘amplify the signal’, whereas others just do it for the sole purpose of defying authority and the establishment. Either way, it is thanks to independent intermediaries that some truth may emerge out of the extremely diffuse picture generated by that kind of event. The talented London-based, Scottish photographer Jane Stockdale has just done that. She put herself in the cross-fire between police and demonstrators and managed to capture arresting (in the figurative sense, almost) images showing the animosity with which authorities tackled the situation, but also the defiance of some individuals who artfully dressed themselves to look like jihadists or Sinn Féin hardliners.

Intimidating look with a bit of sense of humour

Pause for a fag between clashes with the police

However, it is not uncommon to come across situations where both text and image are edited/manipulated, making for an official version that works in favour of vested interests, be it governmental, corporative or both. For example, Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernnays, the pioneer of strategies of social control through Public Relations had among his clients industrial conglomerates such as GM as well as the US government. President Roosevelt himself requested Edwards’ services following widespread social unrest caused by the big crash in 1929 (anyone spotting similarities here?). Through manipulative strategies entrenched in Freudian psychoanalytical principles he even convinced the American people to back a military coup in Guatemala just so his client, United Fruit, could continue operating its exploitative banana business with the aid of ‘friendly’, pro-US  government.

Jane Stockdale (in the middle) disrupting the DJ set during the book launch at KK Outlet

Examples of mass manipulation and induced behavioural change are aplenty but it is remarkable that these strategies would probably not succeed without the extensive help of mainstream media. Therefore, resistance only makes sense if it too attracts media attention, or at least, the attention of independent mediatic actors like film makers and photographers. That’s why the collection of images such as the ones Jane Stockdale has shot during the demonstrations preceding the G20 summit can make a valuable contribution to create a more complete and veritable picture of similar events. To all of you who were not there being hammered or ‘kettled’ by the police, her new book ‘I Predict a Riot’ is a good (and safe) option to check what happened during that day in the comfort of your sofa or local coffee shop.

Available now at KK Outlet. Move, move, move!!!

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ENTER THE VOID: AND YOU MAY NOT FIND YOUR WAY BACK

The highly allucinogenic film title

My relationship with Rio Cinema is an odd one. Not only do I choose to watch the most eccentric features there – for it is one of the few screening rooms in London to retain an authentic indie character – but along the years it has provided me with a few interesting experiences: a friend who had a fit and passed-out during Lars Von Trier’s ‘Antichrist’; the company of a wicked, hell-raised audience of black metal fans cheering (read guttural roaring) at the creepy Norwegian documentary ‘Until the Light Takes Us’; and a partner who experienced severe drowsiness and sickness in the first 15 minutes of ‘The Bell and the Butterfly’ and left.

It was no different this time with ‘Enter the Void’, the latest film by Gaspar Noe – and yet again I was left on my own within the 10 minute mark (it’s a record break!).

Scenes from Enter the Void

Although not as shocking as the unforgettably disturbing ‘Irreversible’ (2002) – which still makes me have bad dreams, sometimes – it carries his trademark for aesthetic experimentation and elliptical narrative combined with sickening doses of crude reality.

Right from the start the director punches the audience in the very nose with a title sequence that is as schizophrenic and disorienting as it can get: the variety of Barnbrook-esque bold typefaces presented in day-glow colours at light-speed are  accompanied by a loud, pounding beat that made my brain flush so much adrenalin into my bloodstream that I felt my limbs incredibly tense for a good half an hour. After such a promising start you are immediately thrown into a highly hallucinogenic trip, remaining so throughout the film, which for some it might sound like a prolonged session of optical agony. But that is certainly not the case. Quite on the contrary, the film has the merit of accomplishing a remarkably aesthetic result and inventively refreshing the exhausted ‘subjective camera’. Both greatly help the audience to navigate along with Oscar, the main character, in his transcendental journey across Tokyo to stay together with his sister (the übber hot Paz de la Huerta). By doing so, Gaspar Noe also explores the possibility to build a multi-layered story where drugs, transcendence, suggested incest, and Oedipal love all come together to create a highly kinetic yet metaphysical cinematic experience.

Paz de la Huerta as Linda

I would go as far as to say that, with Enter the Void, Gaspar Noe has thwarted the likes of Darren Aronofsky, Danny Boyle and even Uli Edel in their attempt to portrait the experience of a real high on the screen, providing the viewers with a  drug-induced pseudo trip. But the film has more to offer than drugs, violence and sex. It tells a story of Western individuals in a foreign land, living on the fringes of an unfamiliar culture which inscribes them with the otherness stigma. Most of the characters are either American or European expats living off drug-dealing and prostitution.

Certainly not suitable for the faint-hearted, Enter the Void manages, once again, to pull the audience out of the safe zone and without digression it shows us the ugly face of urban life and the misfortunes of its inhabitants. As for me, I might as well go on my own next time.

LONDON OPEN-CITY 2010 (PART II) BALFRON TOWER: TRELLICK’S OLDER (AND POORER) SISTER

Balfron Tower, street level view

The second part of my Open House London runnaround was a visit to Balfron Tower in Poplar, East London. I was originally planning a viewing at Trellick Tower, on the opposite side of town in the affluent W10 postcode but it was obviously booked out the very minute reservations started to take place on the website. The alternative then was to go and check its predecessor in far less glamorous surroundings instead.

It is impossible to ignore the complex of building’s presence in contrast to other estates around it. Despite its derelict look the whole Brownfield Estate pays testimony to the poignancy of some architects who got involved in the rebuilding of East London during the decades following WWII. The complex, containing three buildings: Carradale House, Glenkerry House and Balfron Tower were conceived by Ernö Goldfinger, perhaps mostly known by his Bond’s namesake villain (it’s said that Ernö and Ian Flemming were disaffected neighbours which lead to the later indiscreetly teasing his friend with a such a honourable tribute).

The flat I visited was on the 24th floor with amazing views of, errr, Canary Wharf. Like 20 or so other artists, the flat was allocated to a painter who benefitted from Bow Arts Trust initiative to fill the empty premises with creatives aiming at, (1) helping these individuals continue their art practice by offering living-work spaces at a very low rent, (2) preventing the infiltration of rogue elements and particularly squatters. I must say, the view of Canary Warf was breathtaking, not to mention the amount of light filling the living room. It was a smart move by the local authorities I thought, one that promotes the reinvigoration of areas lacking in productive activities and contribute to positive change in poor, disenfranchised neighbourhoods. However, this can also mean a first step towards gentrification, I sensed. According to Open-City organisers, Tower Hamlets Council is planning a total refurbishment of the building meaning, relocating artists and, pushing the vast majority of residents out. It is clear that the architectural value of the complex along with their proximity to the financial district of Canary Warf make for an extremely profitable opportunity. For better or worse that’s the London way.

The funny thing though was the perplexed gazes we, visitors, received from residents walking in and out of the building. It is a fact that a lot of people in the city don’t actually like (or comprehend) this concept of architecture. Modernism, frequently dubbed ‘brutalist’ in the UK, is a far-fetched ideal for most of the people, be it at an aesthetic or functional levels. Thus the odd look fired at us while we were waiting to enter the premises. Just to prove my point, as I was resuming my visit with a few more shots of the facade a local resident on her mid-forties, along with her sturdy English bulldog, approached me and in a puzzled tone of voice asked: ‘why arh ye lads so fascina-ed by thiz buil-ings? Ta’in pi-tchas en aw. I think they arh pree-ey f***ing ugly, mate!!’

Ah, the joys of East London…

LONDON OPEN-CITY 2010 (PART I) LLOYDS OF LONDON: NEITHER A BANK NOR A CHEMIST (LET ALONE A DESIGN AGENCY)

The atrium inside the Lloyds Building in the City of Lonodn

I was eagerly awaiting for the London Open House (now rebranded as Open-City) that took place last weekend to have the chance to look inside some of those outstanding examples of architecture that we sometimes admire in awe when walking around town.

No doubt my first option was a private flat at Lauderdale House, in the magnanimous Barbican state, which, for my disappointment, was unexpectedly cancelled by the organisers… Notwithstanding, I was keen on catching up with something as there were plenty of other interesting places to see such as the world-renowned Lloyds building, which fit the bill very well.

It’s impossible not to draw references to Archigram when looking at the Lloyds’ façade, for example.  In fact, that is precisely the type of construction they would have pursued should any of their freaking crazy concepts have come to fruition. Instead, Richard Rogers took from where Archigram left and created a memorable piece of space-age architecture. What strikes me most is the fact that Lloyds started out in a mere coffee house on Tower Street in 1688, and over its 322 year history it has become the largest insurance market in the world. Originally dedicated to insuring risks for Maritime enterprises of all kinds (and yes, slavery trade too, regretfully) it grew to a structure of £2bn worth in assets. So, the bigger the numbers the bigger the need for accountability, right? The impression the building left on me was that besides its sheer dimensions there’s sense of openness that Rogers tried to create by means of vast open plans, and the use of certain materials such as glass in its interiors. It is almost as if the building’s structure, with its apparent pipes and ducts (80km of it, to be precise), open plans, glassed walls and a massive atrium work as statement about transparency and foresight. It’s like exposing the engine of this complex mammoth that is insurance business.

However unappealing the idea of working side by side with brokers and the like day after day I could not help but think how damn cool it would be to have an office in that place. If only creative industries were capable of generating similar amounts of revenue then maybe we would see something like a Pompidou-esque building being erected by the Thames to house the ‘creative syndicates’ operating in the ‘visual communications market’ or, the economies of the future.

For now though, not much we can do other than make the most of the premises in one of the famously converted warehouses/wharfs pinpointing Shoreditch and Clerkenwell. Right, I shall concede it holds its charm too.