The Prisoners


‘Michelangelo Buonarroti is one of those touched supposedly by the hand of God as a kind of Renaissance saint, even though he continually emphasised that his achievements were hard-earned. The artist left us a vital clue as to the real origins of his brilliance in his series of sculptures that became known as The Prisoners. These statues are haunting, mesmerising works, in which the half-finished writhing figures seem to be for ever trying to wrench themselves free from the stone. The illusion, of course, is that they are the stone, and Michelangelo was a genius not for what he added, but for what he removed. In doing so, he revealed, perhaps in unparalleled terms, the vast potentiality that lies within things and the ingenuity needed to bring it out.’

- On Fritz Wotruba & Michelangelo for Studio International

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The Fourth Man


‘We are moving across the landscape in a morning dream, a grey-green misted landscape punctuated by churches and palaces. The spires look gothic, Romanesque then eastern, a reminder that the Ottomans were once at the gates and stayed in the sense that an absence can become a presence. The horizon dissolves into the sky until it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins and we’d be lost without the train-tracks, guiding us east. The land vanishes altogether as we enter the tunnels and an underwater pressure forms in the head like the mountain closing up around the Hamlin children. I flick through the history book. Wolves have been sighted within the walls of Vienna. The English ambassador disappears on his journey home. Mozart is buried in a mass grave. My business, if I have one, is elsewhere; to track down the ghost of the poet Georg Trakl…’ Continue reading

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Books, damned books and twitter feeds

52a8a2d2345b0cc15fa20bea30b9b707 I had the pleasure of speaking to Tanvi Misra for CityLab about the forthcoming Imaginary Cities book and the accompanying twitter feed. You can read it here. Continue reading

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Icons of iconoclasm

Bild 205

‘The portrait has always had the problem of the pose. The most interesting portraits are those that subvert the pretence of the sitter and the situation. This can be done through brutal and beautiful honesty, as evidenced in the work of Rembrandt, Lucian Freud and Jenny Saville, or by suggesting narratives (Vermeer) or symbolic clues (Jan van Eyck). It can be achieved through biting satirical mischief, as in the work of Otto Dix and Raoul Hausmann, or by showing the subjects in positions and scenes that no rational person would want to be publicly viewed in, as in Francis Bacon and Edvard Munch. The greatest icon-makers are often the secret iconoclasts…’ Continue reading

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No Man’s Land

memento mori

All writing contains an element of memento mori, a trait much easier to detect in the writing of say Dostoevsky than the Yellow Pages but it’s always there if you look and think deep enough. Even the most ridiculous scribblings and advertisements and lists will one day be invested with some unintended unforeseen significance when their author is long dead and time has moved sufficiently along to make our present the foreign country it will one day become. It’s just a question of seeing far enough ahead and then turning to look back – a Lot’s wife view of history. People will sift through the wreckage of our age just as we do the ages that came before us. The monumental will decay and the trash will be elevated into antique. Continue reading

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scoreP‘For a cold lifeless sphere of rock and dust locked in orbit around our planet, the satellite has had many protean identities. It has been a symbol of love and chastity, lucidity and madness, eternity and death. It never changes and it never stops changing. Poets have serenaded its femininity and its solitude and have, in the case of the Chinese poet Li Bai, drowned attempting to embrace its reflection. To the grand-cynic Philip Larkin, it was a “lozenge of love” and a “medallion of art”; its celestial light aiding his stumbling path from the toilet. Above all, it is clear that the moon has and always will be, as long as there are people to observe it, a canvas. Continue reading

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The Hidden Rooms


I’m in Vienna at the moment, exploring the streets and museums as much as old war wounds will allow, searching for the ghosts of Trakl, Schiele and co, as well as buildings (unbuilt or otherwise). Continue reading

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