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March 2010

Newspaper Club

Last week, just as term finished, the team behind a school magazine, Black & White, published issue 72. What made this issue different was that they had chosen to run with Newspaper Club. Kudos to Tom Turner (Year 12) for leading the student team in this new venture. (I should make it clear that, beyond chatting early on with Tom about Newspaper Club, I’ve played, and play, no part in this.)

Black & White

I love what Newspaper Club is doing. I’ve got five of their things. Things Our Friends …

Things Our Friends Have Written …

The BBC/AHRC 8 Essays,

8 Essays

James’s intriguing, enigmatic and playful Immanent in The Manifold City — or, How To Travel Through Time In The Nineteenth Century, a celebration of Walking Stewart,

Immanent in the Manifold City

Buy it!

Chris’s As It Is To-Day, ‘A 12 page newsprint periodical collecting and collating the best of literature from travel guides, treatises, pamphlets, books, receipts and ephemera. Each looks through the lens “of to-day”, revelling in the present and present history, whether from the 18th Century or the 20th.’

As It Is To-Day

And now this from school:

Black & White

There was a very peculiar thrill to seeing the impact at school of Black & White appearing in newspaper format. Walking into our staff room and seeing it being read by several colleagues and knowing how it had been made … as clichéd as it sounds, here was something both familiar and new.

Chris’s newspaper went with me to London last week. I loved it. You can read about the background to it on his own blog: the past is a mirror of the future.

By the time As It Is To-Day got to me, I’d just about stopped treating these newspapers as things–I–should–handle–carefully and was actually ready to read them like newspapers. So on the train, amidst all the copies of the Metro and the Evening Standard, I read As It Is To-Day, issue 1, the London Special. I could quote lots here, but you should go buy a copy — it’s very good.

From Hints to Railway Travellers, 1852:

It is well to have a newspaper—or say this book—in your hand, to resort to in case tiresome people will talk—a purpose that railway travelling was never intended for.

From The Heart of London, 1925:

In two thousand years’ time will there be brambles growing on Ludgate Hill, I wonder, and will a shepherd graze his sheep in Piccadilly Circus? It happened to Thebes and Carthage … There are great days in store for those who will shake up our dust and worry our ghosts, and even attempt to discover our gods.

(And, of course, I liked this from London As It Is To-day, 1851: ‘Within a short distance of St Paul’s, is situated the Post Office, the Money Order Office, St Paul’s School …’.)


Who's programming the TiVo?

Jimmy Wales

Last Wednesday, it was my great pleasure to welcome Jimmy Wales to talk at school: ‘Wikipedia and Wikia : Free Culture for a Free World’. About 300 students and staff came to hear him, filling our main hall. Feedback has been very warm and appreciative (‘the best talk I’ve been to in my five years here’, ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity’, ‘the ethos of Wikipedia/Wikia is so inspiring’). We filmed the talk and Jimmy’s given us his slides and we’ll be posting these. I’m very grateful to him for coming, fitting us in during a short visit to London.

Early on in his hour with us, Jimmy asked how many of those there had ever edited Wikipedia. He reckoned about 80% of the students had. I wasn’t expecting that high a figure. As Chris said to me the next day, at the Guardian Changing Media Summit, the fact that that is going on, with no-one knowing the extent of it until the question is asked, is really appropriate to the nature of the project and the software.

There was a moment at the Guardian event that I hadn’t been expecting, either: Jimmy asked the media crowd how many of them had edited Wikipedia — about 30%. He then told them about the previous day: ‘yesterday I spoke at St Paul’s and the percentage was about 80% — so you’re behind. But don’t feel too bad about it: my daughter programs our TiVo.’ :) I heard some gasps from his audience.

The best unexpected moment on Friday of last week came when I was teaching ICT to a class of 13 year-olds: I must have said in passing how some folks at the Guardian event had tweeted about what Jimmy had said and, without my prompting, two of the class immediately searched Twitter (on “st pauls school”; “#cms2010 pauls” is, unsurprisingly, my search — same results):

2010-03-18_22.48.39 Wikipedia.jpeg

Two savvy, fast 13 year-olds, an impressed teacher and an excited class.

Just before Jimmy Wales came to school, I found out that we have a young student likely to become a Wikipedia admin. If this happens, he’ll be the second student (to the best of my knowledge) to become an admin whilst still at school here. (Alex became one in his final year with us — 2007/8.)

A parent wrote to me last week about his son editing Wikipedia: ‘in today’s interconnected way, this is the way to go and who knows what will happen then — expert status will allow him to develop other skills and is an asset in and of itself. It has also provided amazing learning for him.’

I find all this quite remarkable. We can grow so used to discussing change and the way young people now engage with the world, and we need experiences like those of last week to get us to look up and take stock again.

Wikipedia has played such a part in bringing about these new kinds of engagement.

Jimmy Wales

The electric garden of our minds

Last month, on my way back down the Euston Road after seeing the window displays at the Wellcome Trust, I had time to go to the Gagosian Gallery for Crash — Homage to J G Ballard. The experience was of overload, but I got the chance to pop back again last Thursday. Two visits certainly paid off.

… only a commercial gallery of this pulling power could manage the loans to flesh out Ballard’s text so grandiloquently; no museum could have responded so quickly, or quirkily, to the novelist’s death last year. The idea of a visual tribute to a writer is so marvellous and generous that one wishes it was as standard as a memorial service or an obituary. — Jackie Wullschlager, FT

As some reviewers have suggested, there are works on show here that seem … a little beside the point. All the same, some of these are striking:

Works with an, at-best, tangential connection to Ballard stand out, foremost being Paul McCarthy’s “Mechanical Pig”, an astonishingly life-like plastic sow cruelly wired up to machinery, twitching and heaving in a tortured coma. This freakshow attraction goes beyond sensationalism to bring us face to face with our mechanised use of livestock, and is a great example of contemporary art’s relationship with impact advertising. I was mesmerised by its laboured breaths, each one threatening to be its last. — Ballardian

I liked … the Eduardo Paolozzi:

Gagosian: Crash — Homage to Ballard

Three decades before Andy Warhol immortalized the Campbell’s Soup can, Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) was crowding childhood scrapbooks with images of American popular culture he found in old magazines, newspapers, and comic strips. … As the novelist J. G. Ballard noted in his introduction to General Dynamic F.U.N., “Here the familiar materials of our everyday lives, the jostling iconographies of mass advertising and consumer goods, are manipulated to reveal their true identities.”  Nothing is as it seems and irony abounds.  Lady Godiva rides a motorcycle; Christ’s image is profaned as a paint-by-number; flesh turns green and lettuce grows blue.  Paolozzi reconfigured unrelated images to form a tangle of references and connections, leading viewers in as many directions as there are ideas, images, and products in our modern world. — Saratoga Today

The artist’s friend and sometime collaborator, J.G. Ballard, described General Dynamic F.U.N as a ‘unique guidebook to the electric garden of our minds’. … For Paolozzi, the modern age, exposed as ephemera, is a necessarily fragmented collision of visual stimulus and influence, and his work is a ‘health warning for an uncreative and thriftless society’. — Southbank Centre

The Warhol, Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice), 1963 (reflected: Richard Prince — Elvis, 2007):

Gagosian: Crash — Homage to Ballard

The Jane and Louise Wilson DVD projections:

Gagosian: Crash — Homage to Ballard

Peter Campbell, writing in the LRB (about the exhibition’s catalogue):

On the page facing Allen Jones’s Archway (a sculpture in the Heathrow Hilton, Ballard’s favourite London building), you read that ‘sitting in its atrium one becomes, briefly, a more advanced kind of human being. Within this remarkable building one could never fall in love, or need to.’ Even when the overlap between a work and anything Ballard wrote is accidental, or vague, there is common ground in his attention to the look of things. He saw them as a painter might. His language was precise and often technical: his vocabulary when cars are involved is that of a maintenance manual; his sex scenes look like an atlas of anatomy.

‘I’ve always wanted really to be a painter,’ he said in 1975. ‘My interest in painting has been far more catholic than my interest in fiction … I’ve said somewhere else that all my fiction consists of paintings. I think I always was a frustrated painter.’ He not only envied visual artists, he believed in their power. ‘I didn’t see exhibitions of Francis Bacon, Max Ernst, Magritte and Dalí as displays of painting,’ he wrote in 2003. ‘I saw them as among the most radical statements of the human imagination ever made, on a par with radical discoveries in neuroscience or nuclear physics.’ … In the catalogue Will Self writes of Ballard’s ability to see the nature of what has grown up around us: ‘Bleak man-made landscapes, technological, social and environmental developments and their psychological effects – these are aspects of the dystopian society we all live in now. Ballard may have started out as a science fiction writer, but his texts now read as social fact.’ …

Ballard’s sense of something wrong with the world our appetites and ingenuity have created makes ordinary things – suburbs, roads and high-rises – look different, as they might in the lurid glow of an approaching storm. It is a gift to art that has been appreciated.

The Independent has a nice gallery piece where Charlotte Cripps talks to some of the artists involved. Loris Gréaud:

J G Ballard was not in the future but in the ultra-present.