Thursday, October 27, 2016

2011 / Books of the year


Books of the year

From SF to politics, cartoons to history, Guardian readers choose their favourite reads of 2011

 John Madeley, Let Live: A Bike Ride, Climate Change and the CIA

Jeff Alderson, Oxford
Let Live: A Bike Ride, Climate Change and the CIA by John Madeley (Longstone Books). John Madeley is a well-known author and broadcaster on issues relating to development and social justice. This his second novel focuses on climate change as it has affected small farmers and others in Africa. He bases it on the experiences of a British journalist who sets out to bicycle through six countries. It is truly a thriller, with so much relevant to what is already having severe, indeed crippling, consequences for millions in rural Africa. The interplay with the powers-that-be, often of a dastardly nature, adds to the drama. It deserves to be read by those who remain unmoved and cynical about the reality of climate change, and too by those committed to mitigating its effects. 

 Kate Anderson Sheffield
Penelope Lively's How It All Began (Fig Tree) is honest but not mawkish about being elderly, and the frustrations of being physically more dependent. One expects the supreme prose, but this book has depth with a lightness of touch. In hardback it has one of the loveliest covers, epitomising for me an ideal retirement.

Kenneth Baker, Lord Baker of Dorking, House of Lords
Death in Florence: the Medici, Savonarola and the Battle for the Soul of the Renaissance City by Paul Strathern (Jonathan Cape). This is a brilliant history of how the wealth and power of Florence was challenged by a radical monk so successfully with the Bonfire of the Vanities that they had to burn him at the stake – Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Ludovico Sforza, and Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope, are in the premier league of Italian politics and make Berlusconi seem a mere pot boy. My second book is The Case for Working with Your Hands: Or Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good by Matthew Crawford (Penguin). This bestseller in America is the bible for those who work with their hands. Crawford, a philosophy don, also runs his own motorcycle workshop in Richmond, Virginia, and that is his inspiration and his satisfaction. Practical, technical, hands-on learning is behind the new University Technical Colleges.

Performance artist Marina Abramović / 'I was ready to die'

Marina Abramović

Performance artist Marina Abramović: 'I was ready to die'

In Belgrade, audiences cut her; in New York, they came in their thousands and wept. What will happen when Marina Abramović lands in London for her most radical show yet? Emma Brockes talks to the art superstar about lipstick, masochism – and why she's too much for any man 

 Have you got what it takes to follow the Abramović method? – video 

 Marina Abramović at the Serpentine

Emma Brockes
Monday 12 May 2014 15.43 BST

In 1974, Marina Abramović did a terrifying experiment. At a gallery in her native Belgrade, Serbia, she laid out 72 items on a trestle table and invited the public to use them on her in any way they saw fit. Some of the items were benign; a feather boa, some olive oil, roses. Others were not. "I had a pistol with bullets in it, my dear. I was ready to die." At the end of six hours, she walked away, dripping with blood and tears, but alive. "How lucky I am," she says in her still heavy accent, and laughs.

Marina Abramović / 'The planet is dying. We have to be warriors'

Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović: 'The planet is dying. We have to be warriors'

In an exclusive interview in Tasmania, the performance artist explains why she stays out of the studio, resists nostalgia … and how she ate three raw onions

Nancy Groves
Thursday 18 June 2015 04.18 BST

Let’s start with a quick quiz: what do Marina Abramović (Serbian performance artist) and Tony Abbott (Australian prime minister) have in common?
Answer: they’ve both been filmed eating a raw onion. A whole one. In fact, Abramović ate three. “The first time, the light on video wasn’t so good. The second, sound was lousy. Third, I couldn’t speak or talk, my throat was burning.”
The Onion is one of 13 self-portraits at the beating heart of Private Archaeology, a new exhibition of Abramović’s work at Mona, the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. Filmed between 1975 and 2002, these extreme video close-ups show the artist furiously brushing her hair, gnawing her cuticles, meditating, being strangled by a boa constrictor, and lying: under a pile of crystals, in shallow water, or upside down.
“Good art is never made in studio,” Abramović says. “Good art I make in life.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

2010 / Books of the year


Books of the year

Jonathan Franzen's family epic, a new collection from Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin's love letters, a memoir centred on tiny Japanese sculptures ... which books most excited our writers this year?

Saturday 27 November 2010 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In Red Dust Road (Picador) Jackie Kay writes lucidly and honestly about being the adopted black daughter of white parents, about searching for her white birth mother and Nigerian birth father, and about the many layers of identity. She has a rare ability to portray sentiment with absolutely no sentimentality. Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns (Random House) is a fresh and wonderful history of African-American migration. Chang-rae Lee's The Surrendered (Little, Brown) is a grave, beautiful novel about people who experienced the Korean war and the war's legacy. And David Remnick's The Bridge (Picador) is a thorough and well-written biography of Barack Obama. The many Americans who believe invented biographical details about Obama would do well to read it.

John Banville
William James, brother of the – in some quarters – more famous Henry, was that rarest of beings, a philosopher who wrote clear, elegant and exciting prose. In The Heart of William James (Harvard University Press), James's biographer Robert Richardson has put together a dazzling selection of this great thinker's work, with perfectly judged short pieces to usher in each of the selections.
Tony Judt, too, had a wonderful prose style, and his little book The Memory Chalet (William Heinemann), a collection of autobiographical essays, is beautiful and moving. Although Judt, who suffered from motor neurone disease, died earlier this year, this late work is more sustaining than sad.
Death stalks the pages of Seamus Heaney's collection Human Chain (Faber), but as we would expect from this most affirmative and celebratory of poets, the book in the end is really a meditation on life in all its fleeting sweetness.

Julian Barnes
Unfit for life, unsure of love, unschooled in sex, but good at washing up: Philip Larkin, in Letters to Monica (Faber), lays out his all-too-self-aware catalogue of reasons for being uncheerful. The reader is made slightly cheerful by the thought of not having had Larkin's life, but very cheerful that poems of such truth, wit and beauty emerged from it.
If Larkin represents native genius in its costive English form, Stephen Sondheim represents the fecund American version: Finishing the Hat (Virgin Books) is not just a book of lyrics (with cut and variant versions) but an exuberance of memories, principles, anecdotes, criticism and self-criticism.
Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes (Chatto & Windus) unexpectedly combines a micro craft-form with macro history to great effect.
Mary Beard
The most moving book of the year for me was Tony Judt's Ill Fares the Land (Allen Lane) – a powerful "living will" written as Judt succumbed to the complete paralysis of motor neurone disease. It is a marvellous denunciation of modern politics ("Something is profoundly wrong with how we live today"), written with all the grace and intensity that only the dying can muster.
On a cheerier note, I have only just caught up with Reaktion's series of books on animals. Robert Irwin's quizzical investigation of the Camel (one hump and two) and Deirdre Jackson's elegant exploration of the frankly rather dull life of the Lion will appeal even to those who would never normally pick up a book on the natural world.

William Boyd
Stephen Sondheim, who has just turned 80, is the unrivalled genius in the world of musical theatre with five or six masterworks that have redefined the form. A superb, generous melodist and a lyricist up there with Cole Porter and Noël Coward, Sondheim has now given us Finishing the Hat. His detailed commentary on his wonderful songs is honest, shrewd and fascinating. The ideal fix for Sondheim addicts.
Poetry addicts, meanwhile, should swiftly acquire Oliver Reynolds's latest collection, Hodge (Areté Books) – poems of beautiful precision that reveal their secrets slowly. And Samko Tále's Cemetery Book (Garnett Press) by the Slovak writer Daniela Kapitánová offers us, in a superb translation by Julia Sherwood, one of the strangest and most compelling voices I have come across in years. Muriel Spark meets Russell Hoban. An astonishing, dark and scabrous novel.

Anthony Browne
I was fascinated by the fattest book I read, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (Fourth Estate), an epic novel that tells a funny and moving story of an American family unravelling in the first few years after 9/11. It's about the problems that come with liberty, seen through the lives of what at first seems like the perfect couple.
In contrast, my second choice is a small, exquisite picture book, Eric by Shaun Tan (Templar). This is the tale of a strange foreign exchange student, told from the point of view of the host family. Eric is drawn as a tiny, shadowy figure living in a world of giants. The narrator hints at the "cultural things" that divide them. This is a true picture book in that the illustrations tell as much as the words do, and is that relatively rare thing: a picture book appealing equally to both adults and children.

How I became a convert to the cult of Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović
How I became a convert to the cult of Marina Abramović

'The grandmother of performance art' had people openly weeping at New York's MoMA. Zoe Williams spent a whole day in her presence at her long-anticipated London show. Did she break down?

Zoe Williams
Saturday 14 June 2014 08.00 BST

obert is a 46-year-old psychiatrist and Elisa is 28, and from Italy, and they both arrived outside the Serpentine gallery at around quarter to six on Wednesday morning. They were waiting for the opening of the Marina Abramović exhibition – Elisa had seen her three times already: on London's Southbank, in Milan and in Madrid. "I think she expresses something that was already inside of us but that we couldn't express." At last year's retrospective at MoMA, The Artist is PresentAbramović sat in a chair; people came and sat opposite her. Many were openly weeping during it. Lars, 36, a fine artist who is joint first in the queue, having arrived at 4.30am, explained: "In that show, she was just a mirror, as if you were facing yourself. That's why so many people got so sad and started crying. Because they couldn't actually face themselves."

Marina Abramović in new Australian tour / 'She's like the Beatles'

Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović in new Australian tour: 'she's like the Beatles'

Serbian superstar artist will return to Australia, more than three decades after a transformational trip to outback Western Australia

Nancy Groves
Thursday 19 February 2015 21.47 GMT

It was the place where she first fixed her famous Gaze. Now Australia is preparing to welcome Marina Abramović for a double season of art in Tasmania and Sydney.
The “superstar” Serbian performance artist will visit Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in June to launch a major four-month exhibition of her work, before travelling to Sydney to personally administer the 12-day residency at Pier 2/3, revealed in late 2014 by Kaldor Public Art Projects.

Marina Abramović / Quote

Marina Abramović

by Marina Abramović 

I change houses like I change socks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top 100 women / Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović

Top 100 women: art, film, music and fashion

Marina Abramović 

Yugoslavian performance artist famed for her gruelling, intimate works that are legendary feats of endurance, self-exposure and risk

he daughter of high-ranking officers in Tito's Yugoslavia, Marina Abramovic makes gruelling, intimate performances that are legendary feats of endurance, self-exposure and risk. She has invited audiences to manipulate her body, providing whips, knives and a gun loaded with a single bullet. She has sat among rotting cow's bones, scrubbing them clean while singing a tragic lament, a performance that reflected on the civil wars in the Balkans, and won her a Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Biennale. Her alarming art is leavened by great humour and tenderness. Abramovic is inspirational in setting the bar almost impossibly high for performance art.


Top 100 women / Emma Thompson

Emma Thompson
Top 100 women: art, film, music and fashion

Emma Thompson

Oscar-winning actor and human rights campaigner, recently working to raise awareness of sex trafficking

Emine Saner
Tuesday 8 March 2011 00.05 GMT

n activist since the beginning of her career, Emma Thompson, 51, is a longstanding supporter of the anti-poverty agency Action Aid, chair of the human rights organisation The Helen Bamber Foundation, and has been raising awareness of sex trafficking.

Refusing to be grand, she has rejected cosmetic surgery and talked about her IVF and post-natal depression – and is the first person to win an Oscar for both acting and screenwriting.

Top 100 women / Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney

The designer who has carved out her own successful career on her own merit, not just her connections
Stella McCartney's graduation fashion show might be remembered more for roping in famous friends Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell to model, but since then she has carved out a successful career on her merit, not just her connections.
Admired for staying true to her principles – it would have been far more commercially savvy to use fur and leather in her collections, but McCartney, 39, a lifelong vegetarian, has always refused – her clear vision for clothes that suit women of all shapes and sizes has won her loyal customers.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Top 100 women / Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman

American artist and photographer, famed for her self-portraits in disguise, subverting notions of identity and gender

Emine Saner
Tuesday 8 March 2011 00.05 GMT

he work is what it is and hopefully it's seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work," says Cindy Sherman about her art, "but I'm not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff." But feminists were eager to claim her, inspired by her photographs that were not self-portraits but spoke of gender, identity and power.

In her early Untitled Film Stills, Sherman, always her own favourite muse, appears as B-movie cliches – as sex object or domestic drudge. In her Centerfolds series, she appears as a seductress and in another as terrified and vulnerable. Sherman, 57, has become everything from career woman to clown, beauty to hag, doll to dead, playing with disguise and stereotypes.
Her work, spanning more than 30 years, has made her one of the most important, and collected, female artists in the world. Last year, a 6ft photograph of Sherman as a muddied corpse sold for a record $2.7m (£1.7m).

Top 100 women / Paula Rego

Paula Rego

Paula Rego

Portuguese painter who broke boundaries at the Slade School of Art and was nominated for the Turner prize in her 50s

o look over Paula Rego's body of work is to look over the landscape of women's experience: desire, abortion, rape, female circumcision, childbirth, family relationships, dominating and being dominated by men; her masculine female figures are sometimes lonely, but usually fierce and often bent on revenge. Success came relatively late in life – a graduate of the Slade School of Art at a time when female artists were taught how to support and inspire their "superior" male artist partners ("women were good either for going to bed with or making good wives – particularly if they came with their own money and could support the men".)

Rego, now 75, was in her 40s before her first big solo exhibition, and in her 50s when she was nominated for the Turner prize. Although she was made a dame last year, Rego was born in Portugal and in 2009, Paula Rego – House of Stories, a gallery dedicated to housing her work, opened in Portugal. Germaine Greer, whose portrait by Rego hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, says, "No other artist has ever come close to capturing Rego's sense of the phantasmagoria that is female reality."

Top 100 women / Patti Smith

Patti Smith

Patti Smith

The pioneering punk musician, poet and political activist broke through the male punk movement without chasing fame or money

t was the most electrifying image I'd ever seen of a woman of my generation," Camille Paglia said of the cover of Patti Smith's debut album Horses, which was released in 1975. That photograph, taken by Smith's friend and sometime lover Robert Mapplethorpe, revealed her as defiant and without pretension, with an unkempt masculine beauty – and she has remained that way ever since

She is inspirational, not only because she broke through the heady male punk movement, but because she has integrity and loyalty to her art, resolutely never interested in chasing fame or money. Smith, 64, is a poet, photographer, artist, mother, political activist and a voracious reader and writer. "All I've ever wanted, since I was a child," she says, "was to do something wonderful."

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Suzanne Vega / How we made Tom's Diner

Suzanne Vega: how we made Tom's Diner

‘It’s a real place and I’m mentioned in their menu now. But they call me Susan Vega – and I still have to pay for coffee’

Interviews by Dave Simpson
Tuesday 18 October 2016 07.00 BST

Suzanne Vega, singer-songwriter

When I was at college in Manhattan in the early 1980s, I used to go to Tom’s Restaurant on 112th and Broadway for coffee. I liked its ordinariness: it was the kind of place you’d find on any corner. One day, I was in there mulling over a conversation I’d had with a photographer friend, Brian Rose, about romantic alienation. He told me he saw his life as if through a pane of glass. I came out of Tom’s with the idea of writing a song about an alienated character who just sees things happening around him. I was walking down Broadway and the melody popped into my head.
The line about the actor “who had died while he was drinking” was true: William Holden’s obituary had been in that morning’s paper. The “bells of the cathedral” were those of St John the Divine up the street, though I made up the bit about the woman “fixing her stockings” and changed “restaurant” to “diner” to make it rhyme.


I imagined the song as some kind of French film background music, played on a piano, but I don’t play piano so I recorded it a capella for my Solitude Standing album and didn’t think much more about it. Three years later, I heard that two young English guys called DNA had put a beat to it – and I cringed. I’d just had a big hit with Luka, which – unfortunately, despite its dark subject matter, child abuse – lent itself to all sorts of parodies and covers, most of which I hated.

Tom's Diner -Suzanne Vega
I feared more of the same, but to my great relief I loved what DNA had done. I thought it would be played in a few dance clubs and that would be it, but it surpassed everyone’s expectations. I even got a plaque for it being one of the most played R&B songs – funny for a folk singer.

Suzanne Vega / ‘It’s taken me a while to say, You are what you are, it’s fine’

Suzanne Vega: ‘It’s taken me a while to say, You are what you are, it’s fine’

The 80s pop-folk star talks about her confused identity growing up, and her new album drawn from her one-woman play about US writer Carson McCullers

Andrew Anthony
Sunday 9 October 2016 10.00 BST

uzanne Vega, the youthful lone voice of folkish revival in the 1980s, is now a 57-year-old woman but she remains, as she always has been, a mysteriously protean presence. She’s elfin small with large blue eyes and a face that tends towards cool inexpressiveness. She tells me that she’s often mistaken in the street for other people. “I’ve been told I’m Cynthia Nixon, Beth Orton, Isabella Rossellini and Molly Ringwald,” she says, shaking her head with bemusement.

Which one, I ask, does she most enjoy being confused with.
“Oh Isabella Rossellini. I was like, holy cow, thanks!”

Small blue thing 
 Suzanne Vega
Vega says she’s fascinated by the idea of “pretending to be other people”, and she’s auditioned unsuccessfully for several high-profile film parts down the years. She was up for the role of the underground musician in Desperately Seeking Susan, but lost out to Madonna. She got rejected as a nun in Sister Act, because her audition was “too dark”, and nearly played opposite Tom Cruise in The Color of Money.

Suzanne Vega / One of the most brilliant songwriters of her generation

Suzanne Vega
One of the most brilliant songwriters 
of her generation

Widely regarded as one of the most brilliant songwriters of her generation, Suzanne Vega emerged as a leading figure of the folk-music revival of the early 1980s when, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, she sang what has been labeled contemporary folk or neo-folk songs of her own creation in Greenwich Village clubs. Since the release of her self-titled, critically acclaimed 1985 debut album, she has given sold-out concerts in many of the world’s best-known halls. In performances devoid of outward drama that nevertheless convey deep emotion, Vega sings in a distinctive, clear vibrato-less voice that has been described as “a cool, dry sandpaper- brushed near-whisper” and as “plaintive but disarmingly powerful.”

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Jenny Saville / 'I used to be anti-beauty'

Still (2003)
Jenny Saville
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2012
Photo by Triunfo Arciniegas

Jenny Saville: 'I used to be anti-beauty'

Saville made her name with giant paintings of fleshy, flawed bodies. She talks about being bankrolled by Charles Saatchi, how having children is changing her art – and the joy of late-night vacuuming

Emine Saner
Monday 25 April 2016 09.00 BST

t’s funny to think of Jenny Saville in her studio at 1am, music blaring, with vacuum cleaner in hand as she approaches one of her canvases and starts sucking great lines through her work. That it should be a Henry vacuum, the shamelessly anthropomorphised device, makes it even better: as he approaches Saville’s giant works, ready to wreak destruction, his expression will be one of eternal cheerfulness.

“I’m getting more sophisticated with working out how many suction techniques I can find,” says Saville with a laugh, as we stand in front of Ebb and Flow. This great tangle of bodies is part of her new show at the Gagosian Gallery in London.

Still (2003)
Jenny Saville
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2012
Photo by Triunfo Arciniegas

Saville is known as a painter, but this exhibition is of her drawings. It is a “massive” freedom, she says, to work in charcoal and pastel rather than oil paint. “Just because of the transparency of drawing, you’ve got the possibility of multiple bodies. It’s an attempt to make multiple realities exist together rather than one sealed image.” It means she can change direction quickly. “In two hours, you can put a leg in here, go right through a body, go right through genitals, one gender changes to another.”

Jenny Saville's first UK solo show opens – but mind the wet paint

Jenny Saville´s Reverse

Jenny Saville's first UK solo show opens – but mind the wet paint
Oxford exhibition includes the mountainous fleshy nudes she became known for in the 1990s, as well as days-old new work

Mark Brown, arts correspondent
Friday 22 June 2012 20.13 BST

It will astonish many people that Jenny Saville is opening her first solo show in a British public gallery, but the artist does not feeling upset or wronged.
"I don't have a complaint about not being fashionable, I don't feel I've been ignored. It's out of choice that I haven't shown in the UK," she said as she put the final touches to an exhibition at Modern Art Oxford.