From the Archive; Aubrey Powell interviewed

Screen Shot of Pink Floyd's exhibition website

Screen Shot of Pink Floyd’s exhibition website

With the Victoria and Albert Museum staging the blockbuster exhibition, Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, and an upcoming talk by Aubrey Powell titled, ‘Art of Hipgnosis and the Album Cover’ (14/9/2017), here’s an interview with the man himself. Back in 2000 I spoke with Aubrey on the phone while curating an exhibition, Sound Design, for the British Council, which featured the very best British record sleeve designs from the heyday of Rock to the rebellion of Punk, the eccentricities of New Wave and the innovations of Rave and Rare Groove.

The exhibition included extracts of interviews with all the contributing record sleeve designers but the complete interviews were not published, even though the designers gave permission for them to be compiled into a book. The publishing industry being what it was, at the time, the book didn’t fly, so look out for more interviews on this blog. My questions were quite general; the aim was to get the designers talking about what interested them. The interviews were edited from longer conversations, but I tried to keep the designer’s tone of voice, and each interviewee signed off on the final version. What’s particularly interesting is that at the time vinyl had been replaced by digital technology in the form of CDs; Web 2.0, online downloads and MP3s were still ‘experimental’ and the first Apple iPod wouldn’t be launched for another year. The implications of the Internet for the music industry were beginning to be talked about but not yet felt.

Why am I posting this interview now? To celebrate the work of Aubrey Powell and his (late) partner, colleagues and clients, and the V&A exhibition that he helped to create, which I also hope to review. For more information on the exhibition visit the band’s exhibition website and the museum’s extensive programme, here. To see masses of images check out the websites dedicated to Hipgnosis and Aubrey Powell; for the best of Hipgnosis’s work in print have a look at Aubrey’s book, Vinyl . Album . Cover . Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue, published by Thames and Hudson.

Aubrey Powell, interviewed by Liz Farrelly on 5/7/2000.

Liz Farrelly: How did you start Hipgnosis?

Aubrey Powell: We started Hipgnosis in the 1960s…It’s not what you know it’s who you know and Storm Thorgersen and I came from Cambridge and Pink Floyd originated in Cambridge – Syd Barrett, Dave Gilmore, Roger Waters – we all came to London at the same time, around 1965/66 and were all attending various art schools. Storm was at the Royal College of Art film school, and I was at the London School of Film Technique. Syd Barrett was at Hornsey Art School. And we were very together, all coming from Cambridge. We shared flats; Storm and I and then Syd and Dave had a big flat in South Kensington. Storm and I were looking to get some holiday money and we had a connection to photograph some cowboy book covers, and at the time everybody was getting stoned and dropping acid and were very drug-oriented. We were right in the middle of that psychedelic revolution. We were all part of that. Pink Floyd were doing gigs in tiny clubs like the UFO club on Tottenham Court Road and had just released their first album and were about to have a hit called See Emily play.
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From the Archive; summer anarchy

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It’s the Summer Solstice and I’m re-posting this article as the Glastonbury Festival kicks off and protesters take to the streets for a Day of Rage. In heatwave temperatures (warmest since 1976), the soixante-huitards’ slogan, ‘les pavés, la plage!’ (translates as, under the paving stones the beach) is ringing in my ears. It’s twenty years since I went to Glastonbury; 1997 was a mud bath, two years before it had been glorious sunshine. Both times friends were made and tested, and despite the odds familiar faces popped out of the crowd. That era was all Parties & Protests and although my plans to visit a Euro Teknival didn’t materialise, later that summer I made it to Burning Man in the Nevada desert and learnt the mantra of hydration from the daily newsletter, Piss Clear!

Much has changed; the underground events mentioned in this article were organised without the aid of social media and minimal Internet coverage, even though I make much of ‘the daily mayhem of mobile phones, faxes and pagers’! One source of information (not mentioned in this article, but I wrote about it another time) was the indomitable SchNEWS, a photocopied newsletter reporting on legal and political campaigns and listing direct actions. It worked like this; you posted them a pile of stamps and they mailed you weekly issues. I met the photographer, Nick Cobbing, through SchNEWS, and by an odd quirk of fate have ended up living next door to their old office!

Now, come the summer there’s a stage in a field catering to every taste and subculture. Festivals are bespoke, niche, glampy affairs, with fancy dress, boutique beers, Insta-Stories and Twitter-Moments. This branch of the music, entertainment and events industries has blossomed, fanned by the British love of a camp-fire sausage and a piss-up in a tent. But I’d suggest that the roots were there back in the 1990s, as innovation and diversity were the order of the day. So I’m not complaining, just suggesting that an updated article would be a whole other story. On a more serious note though, the Millennials have discovered politics, and protest is once again in vogue…plus, we have the weather for it.
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Shopping Paradise; objects on display

Gallery

This gallery contains 33 photos.

Outside looking in, the glazed facade of Brighton’s premier flea market, Snoopers Paradise (“Snoopers”), projects domestic objects right into the street. Close-up window-shopping is only possible out of hours when external stalls have been packed away, but it draws people … Continue reading

Collecting and sharing; the social life of objects

First Instagram post, 23 September 2015

First Instagram post, 23 September 2015

In Russell W. Belk’s journal article, “Extended Self in a Digital World” (2013) (available for download, here), the notion that our digital and online presence extends our self – mind and body – into the virtual realm, builds on Belk’s initial thesis “Possessions and the Extended Self” (1988), which posits that “knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we regard our possessions as parts of ourselves”. And by parts, Belk goes so far as to suggest they become stand-ins, prostheses, building blocks even, of our selves. Belk’s update looks at how the digital turn both dematerialises the self and ups the ante by networking our presence into a diversity of locations, communities, identities and avatars; we can become “multiple characters” so as “to explore different personality possibilities”.

One particular complication was examined by Belk and co-author Kelly Tian in “Extended Self and Possessions in the Workplace” (2005); “the battle that can take place between the ‘home self’ and the ‘work self’ as the time and place boundaries that once distinguished the two melt”. Admitting and allowing such a “melt” to become a positive enhancement rather than a negative detraction has necessitated accepting social media as part of my practice and most recently, Instagram, the photo-sharing app bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1-billion dollars. From an indie start-up it growth in size and popularity at a rate is now outperforming the parent company by a factor of 7 to 1. Why Instagram? Because I was looking for a way to connect multiple strands of my life – work, research, hobby, leisure, obsession – and Instagram’s informality, flexibility and outreach makes it a potentially useful tool. I have a project in mind, and by restricting my usage of Instagram to that specific task I hope to employ social media without lapsing into narcissism.
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Imaging New Tate Modern

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From digital to analogue, consider this a signpost to a printed, published article in Blueprint, issue 345. After interviewing Peter Saville, reading Tate Modern press releases, navigating official webpages and searching the media coverage, I wrote a review of an image created by Saville and team that was commissioned to accompany communications about the extension and renovation of Tate Modern, aka “New Tate Modern”. Eventually the image will be incorporated into a revamped identity for the entire Tate empire.
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From the Archive (and now); Destroy, punk and DIY

So an email arrived inviting me to the launch of Punk.London at Oxford Street’s 100 Club, and I have to admit it didn’t totally intrigue me. Instead in gushed cloudy memories of a dark, sweaty cellar and an uncomfortable din, which I must have endured (it feels like) a hundred times over a couple of decades. But a closer look at the invite revealed this to be an occasion for nostalgia, a celebration of a 40-year anniversary marking London’s punk moment and the start of a movement, a subculture in fact, the long-tail of which has affected both attire and attitude.

Screen Shot from Punk.London website, designed by Brody Associates, inviting D-I-Y participation in a city-wide cultural event

Screen Shot from Punk.London website, designed by Brody Associates, inviting D-I-Y participation in a city-wide cultural event

“Subversive Culture” is the strapline (pardon the bondage-tinged pun), which it is claimed has fuelled creativity (now the Creative Industries) ever since. Over the coming year a host of venues will stage events big and small, backed by the Greater London Authority (GLA); shouting about London’s past punk credentials must have tourist-attracting potential. With an identity and online hub branded by Neville Brody (still demonstrating punk attitude by being “notoriously abrasive”, according to Digital Arts), for me the most innovative element is an prompt to organise your own event; tagged “D.I.Y.” the page offers links to branding and fundraising advice, via the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Regardless of designated anniversaries punk is perennial, and it doesn’t need much of an excuse to hit the headlines. In 1998 I reviewed an exhibition, Destroy: Punk Graphic Design in Britain, and because it isn’t available on the magazine’s website I’m re-posting it, see below. Yes it was cheeky of me to declare punk to be the only “memorable cultural event in the 1970s”, but that’s a clue to my age. I may have been “witness” to the “heyday of punk” but only just; the article is unapologetically London-centric, too, hardly surprising as I was still at school and London was home. What isn’t mentioned is that I was a lender to the show too, having amassed a substantial collection of vinyl due to a fascination with indie record shops. I sold most of the best bits (the vultures were already circling at the Private View) as I became nomadic, leaving London in April 1998, and had neither the means (no turntable) nor inclination (changing musical tastes) to listen again.
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Symposium; Hewison revisits heritage

Old postcard found on Pinterest.

Old postcard found on Pinterest.

Heritage in the 21st Century
Centre for Research in Memory, Narrative and Histories Annual Symposium
University of Brighton
Grand Parade, Brighton
7 February 2015

The programme promised critical analysis of literary guide books, prime-time costume dramas, gourmet vegetables and redesigned bank notes, the cherry on top being a keynote lecture from Professor Robert Hewison (Lancaster University), an academic legend, living and breathing. Professor Graham Dawson (Director of CRMNH) introduced the day by highlighting some issues; heritage is cross disciplinary and “slippery” and has supplanted “culture” as the buzz word du jour, but that doesn’t make it easier to define as, since the 1980s, its meaning has shifted especially in an era of the New Right and consumer capitalism. Plus, “tensions” between practitioners and critics, especially in the museum world, make it more difficult to question orthodoxies; leaving us with a big question to ponder, “how might heritage function in the 21st-century, in an age of austerity and new technology?” Co-convener, Professor Deborah Philips was also looking for definitions; “how do you describe heritage”, and provided a clue from The Oxford English Dictionary, which lists the root of the word as “inherited from the French”. I like that it’s borrowed from the language that also gave us “bureaucracy”, and also that Deborah went to the dictionary. Updating that methodology, the pr-installed Dictionary program on my MacBook includes “property, inheritance, value and preservation” in its definition. Then Deborah complicated the issue by suggesting that heritage has “many competing” definitions, and brought in a Guardian travel supplement offering “culture and heritage tours” as evidence, setting the scene for Hewison’s end of the day lecture. A PDF of the full programme is here.
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Sound Design UK Music and Graphic Design; reconstructing an exhibition

Welcome to Sound Design: UK Music and Graphic Design, an exhibition from 2000. Staged on the cusp of the digital communications revolution it has no online presence and is therefore “invisible”. This post is an attempt at digital reparation, an experiment in creating a “trace” for a long-gone temporary exhibition by providing details of the exhibition-making process. The idea for an exhibition on the graphic design of popular music came from David Elliott, then Head of Arts at the British Council in Japan and a keen vinyl collector. I was asked to pitch a concept that would fit the brief and then employed as curator. The exhibition was designed and organised in the UK by the British Council and toured Asia and Australia. Sometimes in a venue for just a few days, it proved extremely popular, surpassed all expectations and toured for nearly three years; before opening in Tokyo it was already booked into venues in Sydney, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. However, there is no British press coverage, probably because the exhibition wasn’t shown in the UK. Masses of media was generated in Asian and a pile of clippings probably resides in the Tokyo office; I saw the fast-growing folder, and recently found a review in The Japan Times (“The cutting edge of sound and vision”, by Jennifer Purvis, 3/12/2000). (Eventually the British Council realised it was missing a trick and started to give touring shows a short run in the UK, with a Press and Private View to provoke media interest).

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This is the poster, in situ, displayed at the entrance to the Tokyo venue, The Ground. Instead of installing the exhibition at the British Council headquarters, it opened in this concrete-lined bunker (not the easiest place to hang a show) close to the epicentre of Japanese trendiness (between Harajuku and Meiji-Dori). However, in some correspondence The Spiral is named as venue, which would have been an even bigger deal! David’s brief called for an exhibition of UK music graphics; from the golden years of vinyl when British designers helped to invent the genre of “album sleeve art”, to recent annexation of the aesthetic high ground by indie labels and various subcultures. The aim was to come right up to date with examples of ingenious CD packaging.
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From the Archive (& now); a moment of manga

Manga is a popular choice for museum exhibitions and displays: with boundless variations in content and style, it’s accessible but (still) culturally exotic; it mixes scholarly research with contemporary collecting; and whether PG-rated or not, attracts a diverse audience of geeks and gawkers of all ages. Not for the first time, the British Museum gives over the high profile Room 3 (can’t miss it, first stop on the right) to a manga-moment with Manga now: three generations, which features new and specially commissioned work by Chiba Tetsuya, Hoshino Yukinobu and Nakamura Hikaru. I’ll pop in to inspect it next time I’m on the hallowed ground.

Manga now, three generations
The Asahi Shimbun Displays, Objects in Focus
British Museum
Great Russell Street, London WC1
www.britishmuseum.org
3 September to 15 November 2015

Screen Shot from the British Museum’s website; three manga artists

Screen Shot from the British Museum’s website; three manga artists

Previously the same gallery featured the stunning display, Manga, Professor Munakata’s British Museum adventure (5/11/09-3/1/10), by Hoshino Yukinobu. Jane Cheng reviewed that show on Eye, here: “The juxtaposition of hugely enlarged with minutely detailed asks visitors both to lean in closer and to step back”. Jane’s post features great images of the life-sized cut-outs in situ – like walking through a giant pop-up book — and she highlights the interactive nature of illustration exhibitions (something I recognised too at the V&A’s Memory Palace show, and featured in a conference paper, here). Loving a museum-based-mystery, especially one that showcases perfectly rendered images of museum objects (and hat’s off, what a tie-in, when’s the movie?), I ordered said graphic novel from the BM’s online shop having received a timely email reminding me of the publication on the same morning that the new show opened; now that’s what I call museum marketing. The online shop also tells customers, “Every purchase supports the Museum” (rather than Amazon).
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From the Archive (& now); catching up with knitting

A new exhibition, What Do I Need To Do To Make It OK?, features Freddie Robins and the arts of stitching and knitting, which reminded me of a review I wrote a decade ago, of an exhibition fanfaring the reinvention of knitting, Knit 2 Together at the Crafts Council Gallery.

Back in 2005, knitting was at the vanguard of the DIY/Maker Movement, and while that movement is going from strength to strength, the boom in all-things-knitted points to how commerce and the media can hitch a ride on even the most unlikely bandwagon. As I mention in the article, a decade ago yarn shops were closing. But now it can be argued that, along with other independent shops run by enthusiasts and local-entrepreneurs, crafting shops are spearheading a high street revival; while “public knitting” was once deemed radical, now it’s helping shopkeepers build communities (a “user group” even) with knitting circles that “keep the lights on” after closing time. Crafting events in libraries, schools and museums are guaranteed crowd-pleasers; Craft Fairs and Maker Faires draw in punters looking for unique items (which chain stores could ever supply), and all of this helps fund the freelance economy. Another knock on effect of knitting is the boost it has given publishing; from how-to books to anthologies of radical craft, publishers, magazines and newspapers are benefitting from the expansive-yarn-economy. And while it’s a decade since Design Week published my article, the message is still current; Susan Jones recently declared, “Our future is in the making” in The Guardian (19/3/15).
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