Wednesday, June 27, 2007

End of an Era

I wasn't in work today, so I watched the daytime coverage of Tony Blair's last speech in the House of Commons. It was quite moving actually, he got a standing ovation from the House, and even David Cameron was nice to him! Even though I haven't always agreed with his policies, making Labour electable again was the best thing he did, for so many people.

Growing up with the Thatcher government was so depressing, it seemed never ending and it must have politicised a whole generation, not just me. Every time they appeared on the news with another policy initiative, it felt like they had absolute contempt for most of the working classes, I'd never felt so patronised by such an apparently smug bunch of politicians before. It really felt like they were putting the boot in sometimes, and were kicking ordinary people when they were down and just needed a bit of help. Maybe I got the wrong impression, but they really seemed totally heartless to me at the time.

Sometimes I see ex-Thatcher cabinet members doing their shopping round here. It's interesting in this area, as quite a lot of politicians have flats here because it's near Parliament. It's quite weird seeing them, they're just like their Spitting Image puppets, but buying their fruit and veg in the market, or collecting shoes from the menders, or (really scarily, if you're ill!) waiting in the doctor's waiting room at the local GP surgery (not to be treated though!). They look surprisingly benign in real life, considering some of the policies they came up with. Even the one described as having 'something of the night about him...'

I think I'll always remember when Labour got elected again, because it felt like a horrible all-encompassing toxic cloud had just disappeared. I doubt it would have happened that way if Tony Blair hadn't been leader, so that's quite a legacy. And it'll be interesting to see what Gordon Brown does next.... apart from welcoming more defecting Tories, maybe!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Visit to Kubrick archive

The archive of the work of late film maker Stanley Kubrick has been acquired by the University of The Arts London, and should be open to the public in October 2007.

Some of Kubrick's films were 'Spartacus'; 'Lolita'; 'Dr. Strangelove'; '2001: A Space Odyssey; 'A Clockwork Orange'; 'Barry Lyndon'; 'The Shining'; 'Full Metal Jacket'; 'Eyes Wide Shut'.

Even if you're not a film historian, many of the themes in his work are still thought-provoking and relevant today, including war, nuclear threat, urban breakdown, crime, youth gangs, technological change, artificial intelligence, space exploration and changing sexual attitudes.

Someone in my department arranged an 'office outing' for us to check it out, as it's a collection which would be useful for some research projects, and the archive is keen to attract future collaborations.

We were shown props from films (a few masks, a model of a severed head), cameras, boxes of publicity materials for 'Clockwork Orange', including original copies of newspaper reports, and other ephemera like the iron-on patch (above). The archive includes scripts, production notes, research, correspondence, storyboards, annotated books, sketches, photographs, 35mm film and out takes, videotapes, scores, sound recordings, models, set designs, props, costumes, lighting plans, equipment and memorabilia.

There are boxes of British and international comics, from the late 20th century Comic Collections, stored there too. I had a poke about in boxes of Doctor Who and Batman, which reminded me of all the American imports we had when I was a kid living in Zambia, and some of my colleagues swooped onto boxes of Ironman.

It's all housed in a purpose built location at the London College of Communication, in south London. It's got 'high-tech' temperature control, shelving and lighting, and a very impressive glass entrance and doors too - beigey-coloured, opaque glass, so you can't actually see into the rooms when you arrive, as if the the walls and doors have been lined with brown paper on the inside. Then with a flick of the remote control, the whole glass frontage becomes clear, revealing the interior of the archive entrance! Apparently it can be used as a screen to project onto, and is made of LCD technology.

Then we went to the pub to have our weekly team meeting... and someone had the brilliant idea of starting a film club at work, so fairly productive and a nice change from being in the office all afternoon!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ear-shapers and other curiosities

The Wellcome Collection opens its new galleries on the 21st June, with a mixture of permanent displays and other exhibitions.

It's got over 1500 exhibits spanning six centuries, looking at the development of our understanding of the body, wellbeing and human identity.

As it notes on the website, "where else could you find an ancient mummy, Napoleon's toothbrush, Darwin's walking stick, a DNA-sequencing robot and a Marc Quinn sculpture all under one roof?

"From the macabre to the bizarre to the beautiful, you can view objects as disparate as a giant jelly baby and the guillotine blade used to execute Jean-Baptiste Carrier (an extreme Jacobin who reportedly committed atrocities during the French Revolution). "

I'm quite excited about it, as other exhibitions I've seen from that collection (Medicine Man and Dr Death) have been fascinating and quirky. You don't have to be a medic or a scientist, just have an interest in people and being human!

There is quite a bit of death-related stuff, prosthetics and odd things relating to the body- the website has more examples. Also quite a few strange wearable contraptions and garments, such as this ear shaper (above).

"The cloth and string 'Claxton' earcap, patented by Adelaide Claxton and used between 1925-36 to correct "outstanding" ears. Designed to be worn at night, there was no evidence they worked. It was also available in silk and worn by children."

Presumably today you'd would be whisked off for a bit of minor cosmetic surgery, rather than endure your parent's attempts to control your sticking-out ears with corrective garments like this. The advert says it's "comfy", but I wonder whether the person who wrote that caption tried it out first?

Ban on cat and dog fur trade

The EU have decided to ban the import of cat and dog fur, in an attempt to curb the millions of cats and dogs slaughtered in China. The animals are bred specifically for their fur, to export to Europe and the US to feed the demand from the fashion industry. The fur is not a by-product of the meat industry, and the animals are killed or skinned in really disgusting circumstances.

According to the BBC MEPs report that shoppers sometimes buy goods made from this fur unknowingly as exporters attach false labels. There was a horrible coat made from several golden retriever dogs on the ITV news report last night. Even fur labelled as 'faux fur' is actually cat or dog sometimes, according to DNA tests for the report. Worryingly, synthetic fur costs more than real cat and dog fur from China.

Wearing coats made from cats and dogs might all seem a bit Cruella de Vil (in One Hundred and One Dalmatians) or for Simpsons fans, something the slightly evil Mr Burns might wear, as in 'Two Dozen and One Greyhounds'. It's not a cartoon though, but happening in real life because there's a demand for it.

If you've ever had a pet, it makes for very unpleasant reading:

* Up to 10 adult dogs are needed to make a fur coat.
* Up to 24 cats needed for a cat fur coat.
* Cat and dog fur is also used in hats, gloves, shoes, blankets, stuffed animals and toys.
* Dog fur is sometimes labelled as: Gae-wolf, sobaki, Asian jackal, goupee, loup d'Asie, Corsac fox, dogues du Chine, fake or exotic fur.
* Cat fur can be labelled as: house cat, wild cat, katzenfelle, rabbit, goyangi, mountain cat.

The RPSCA gives tips on avoiding buying this type of product, and has given Good Business awards to TopShop and Marks and Spencers for their 'fur-free policy'.

It's a good idea to know a bit about how your clothes are made, and then decide what you think about it, and what you want to do (if anything) when you've got all the facts. Issues like this raise lots of questions, particularly when you work in fashion and design education.

By the way, sorry if you're having your dinner or something while you're reading this, I was yesterday while I was watching the news report, and squealed out loud in disgust and felt a bit sick. But one should know what's going on really, nasty or not...