Wednesday, July 04, 2012

B&B .. A Jolly Sporting Summer

Summer has officially arrived, unpacked its bags and popped the cork on a bottle of chilled wine. Shirts are off; shorts and sandals are on, and tinted glasses that shield the eyes from the searing brightness of the long days complete the wardrobe.

Yes, it’s been an eventful few months, and that doesn’t even include how exciting it’s been for the Queen celebrating 60 years of uninterrupted service to the crown, the great football nations participating in the European Cup or the Olympic torch making its way around Britain in the hands of celebrities, war veterans and patriotic volunteers on its way to London for the grand spectacle of sporting champions and logo-competitive corporate sponsorship.

Between teaching at the elegant and exclusive resort hotel with its 35 swimming pools, squeezing in early summer youth classes with students from the Ukraine, working on my tan and planning a relocation for the autumn, I’ve been back and forth to the UK a couple times and travelled a bit along the coastline of Turkey and islands of Greece to visit favourite sites of interest.

And of course, I’ve been trying to stay in touch with friends near and far and dropping in to galleries and museums whenever and wherever I can.

It was fortunate that after a few days doing coursework in Birmingham I had some free time, providing me the opportunity to see DaVinci’s drawings as well as so many other fine artists on display in the museums this second largest of England’s cities has to offer.The contrast of seeing both Paolozzi and Leonardo, a man who helped change the approach to drawing, together yet from their separate eras, was spellbinding.

I also stopped in to a few commercial galleries to see if there was anything of interest and nearly purchased a limited edition Dali sculpture, but alas I have already stored most of my small collection.

Hopefully, later this year I’ll be arranging to pick-up a beautiful and vibrant painting I saw displayed on Simon Withers’ website,

though I could opt for a limited edition Billy Connolly line drawing or naively executed watercolour by the prodigiously talented Bob Dylan!

Once again though, it was the masters of colour and form that inspired me, and some of the contemporary artists on display reminded me just how worthy modern art can be when connected to significant subject matter.

Whether it’s the rough public sculpture of Anthony Gormley (with fortunate placement of a bird's nest 'halo' behind) or the neat placement of a William Wilberforce likeness (the anti-slavery campaigner spurred on by his faithful wife whose absence is notable), Birmingham clearly appears to value visible arts.

The emblematic fa├žade of the Bullring shopping mall, the stunning Symphony Hall and National Institute buildings greet visitors wandering along the inner city canals. If architecture is your interest, this town has constructions of the exceptional and unusual.

With restaurants and shops aplenty there’s always something to entertain those with cash to burn in Birmingham. A season of festivals and concerts provides an endless variety of music and arts for the culture-minded, while pubs and clubs cater to the noisy after-hours set looking to drown in tasty cocktails and dance to the latest thumping rhythms.

I only recently started going out in this city, but I heartily recommend a couple days sightseeing and exploring for those who manage to escape the pretentious madness of London this summer.

It seems a time of crisis, whether global economic disruption or military conflicts against apparently threatening nations, creates a need for the pomp and circumstance of national flag-waving entertainment.

The Romans were expert at diverting public opinion during unsettled times through the use of circus performance and staged gladiator battles, and the states of today (though they’ve yet to learn the importance of bread for everyone) have learned that lesson well. After all, who doesn’t enjoy the spectacle of sports personalities strutting across our television screens; and the regalia of imperial symbolism and celebrity fanfare paraded through the streets do wonders for the loyalty of the masses overwhelmed by the overheads of an ordinary life.

With audiences regularly in the hundreds of millions each of these glorified happenings provide a sensational opportunity for the multinational companies to bombard us with yet more vaguely enticing commercials for all kinds of things we didn’t know we needed till we couldn’t live without them.

As the running shoe and leisurewear manufacturers gear up their factories magazines go into overdrive to promote the high standard of living that most people aspire to attain. Gorgeous models, stick figures in designer outfits, shake their asses and rattle their on-loan jewellery to persuade the celebrity-obsessed hoi polloi that all it takes to be somebody important is the correct seasonal accessory.

Hand-held technological devices assembled in developing nations are becoming increasingly essential to our every waking moment, and their ubiquitous appearance alongside athletes waving medals suggest that you too can be successful with the power of today’s media at your fingertips.

Middle-eastern airlines and specialty beer brands compete in neon and flash lighting across advertising hoardings around the fringes of major arenas for our hard-earned cash, transferred electronically of course.

With the right razorblade, tasty nibble or exclusive scent of some Hollywood heroine, anyone it seems can be part of the club. Sleek, gas-guzzling autos designed by those with more available resources but less common sense than most environmentally sensitive people, are promoted on billboards and in video games played by children. Subsidised by petroleum conglomerates to race across computer displays driven by recognisable faces these pollution machines are heating the world that our constantly running a/c units try to cool down in a race to equalise the ecosystem.

Pop stars happily dance onto the stages of the mandatory commencement concerts and groovy summer festivals and sing of love and consumerism under the blasting fireworks of closing ceremonies for princely sums, as overt advertisers sell yet more reasons to accumulate plastic trash and be part of the all-too-cool-for-school in-crowd.

Yes, the bold and the beautiful are radiating wealth and positively glowing in the beacon of light that is financial freedom.

The eternal torch, that icon of liberty to a synthetic world, is still snaking its way round the Isle of Britain and only recently passed through Derby and Nottingham where friends and family gathered to watch it wind through the streets on its way to the capital city.

As the world awaits the Olympic games, many in less fortunate circumstances suffer through the ongoing oppression caused by famine, greed and war. We should give that a thought.

Millions are starving in scorched central African nations while renegade soldiers turned politicians endlessly debate and negotiate the best deals for themselves in the exploitation of mineral rights in these parched locations. Some of these bastards (oops, I mean international representatives) were even invited to politely dine with the Queen of England at her sixtieth anniversary banquet, and pop-up occasionally to celebrate royal weddings and such, so obviously they’re important as business partners and we shouldn’t complain about the heaps of bodies of dead children in mass graves whose blood is on their hands. Maybe that’s why Her Majesty always wears gloves.

The Formula One calendar races into England for the annual event next week and no doubt all the best people will be in attendance. With so much up for grabs in the reputation stakes it will be yet another highlight of a summer that has Andy Murray thrashing his way through Wimbledon and British drivers topping the F1 leader board.

All this excitement in one summer for a country dealing with ‘austerity measures’ put in place by the barely elected coalition government just seems so very antithetical to the economic difficulties that define the entire state of affairs. There’s a serious depression in European banking circles, people are being made poor and out of work, and there’re wars in places where real people are dying, not to mention a lack of funding for the National Health Service and .. oh, never mind, let’s have a parade! There’s plenty to choose from this year.

Even though winter was long over when last I was in England and the sun was shining warmly throughout my stay, it was still cool enough in the evenings to require a jacket. I spent evenings surrounded by friends old and new around the comfort of a log fire; accompanied by the familiar flavour of locally brewed ale they reminded me why I still enjoy visiting that damp and windy isle.

For all its faults it is a special place and tourists continue to flock to its white cliffs and ancient castles, its massive medieval cathedrals and gothic towns, its trendy and exclusive shopping districts and fashionable nightspots, the famous landmarks and recent attractions and of course everyone hopes for a glimpse of the Queen or, at least, Pippa’s derriere.

Time rolls on and the celebratory occasions that mark the passage of ages are repeated for each successive generation, allowing those who cling to rocks against the sirens’ wail to believe in the special presence of their moment. No amount of sporting leisure or political exercise can turn back the clock of history, and many people are slowing awakening to a realisation of the counterfeit truth behind these extravagant gestures of the privileged.

Competitions are essential to sport – the difference between other leisure activities and sport is the arena of challenge against another participant. But competition has no place in the arts. Whether poetry, music, painting or film, arts are subjective and personal and certainly can’t be evaluated on results in the same manner as games.

To attempt to play out the arts in a forum of competition is always value-laden and biased according to opinion and personal preference of style – who can say whether Magritte is better than Rubens or Titian better than Degas, Bowie better than Sinatra or Beyonce better than Ella, Whitman better than Ovid and Keats better than Goethe or Coppola better than Kurasawa?

Let's not even discuss oranges; as the John Everett Millais painting 'The Blind Girl' illustrates it's difficult to describe the beauty of a rainbow but it can be equally exacting to capture it visually. First shown in 1856 this moving now resides in Birmingham. Though a pre-Raphaelite he painted landscapes and portraits equally with another of my favourites 'Bubbles' at the Royal Academy in London.

Tennis and football are determined in a match played between equals to determine a winner; the arts are a different animal altogether and should never be confused with the activity of competitive sport lest they defeat themselves with the politics of opposition. Then again, as everyone knows when art is bad, agreeing on what is better or best is purely futile and locks one into politics rather than creativity. Collaboration but not committee is the more fruitful option.
It is high time we gracefully accept that we’ve moved on from spectacles of status and changed course, or we become caricatures of the equality and freedom our ancestors strove so hard to achieve. To those in the future who will need real progress and maturity of decision-making to manage the complications of their time, this generation will doubtless appear a superficial example of corruption, consumption and waste.

Life continues in spite of crisis and age and time are no barriers to discovery or experience for those who expect something more meaningful than the circus of daydreams populated by soiled performers of transparent ancient rites and self-congratulatory corporate puppets.

Of course it’s time to enjoy the frivolous festivities of summer, I certainly do, and for now we should all feel free to laugh in the face of adversity even as it encroaches on our everyday lives.

We can dance in the sunshine to the music of love, for this is our time on the earth and we should soak up the pleasures it has to offer, as fruitless as some of the activities may occasionally appear. However, keep in mind that in this age of competing austerity and unbelievable wealth, when some live in luxury and others die for lack of food, in the cognitive dissonance of contemporary society where we turn on the news to be assaulted with horror before a karaoke night out at the pub, the piper is the one calling the tunes, and for sure he’ll want to be paid when the sun goes down and the music fades; and the price will be: our future.

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