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Thursday, 24 December 2015
By Simon Withers, Gallery Assistant
Sun Ra (1914-1993): The Cosmo Man, installation view. Photo Peter Anderson.
 
For the current exhibition, Alien Encounters, I have undertaken Spot Talks in the weird yellow room devoted to the sights and sounds of Sun Ra, the Afrofuturist Renaissance entity from Saturn. These talks gazed into the world of British space rock. In this strange and amazing galaxy bands produced music composed of lengthy instrumentals, experimental guitar and keyboard sounds dominated by electronic organs and synthesizers. There was also much theatricality. The Ladbroke Grove circle that included Hawkwind and Gong fashioned acts in which outer-space lyrical themes intermingled with ambient resonances, poetry and liquid light shows. In the case of Hawkwind, integral to the performance was interpretive dance by Stacia, who performed topless or stark naked, her body decorated with iridescent or luminescent paint. 
 
Space rock emerged out of the 1960s psychedelic scene in Britain and was closely allied with the progressive rock movement of the same era. Groups such as Pink Floyd have frequently been fused to the space rock sphere, although Syd Barrett, perhaps the original acid casualty, claimed that he had no particular affiliation to science fiction, and it is possible that compositions such as Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive and Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun were more concerned with inner than outer space. Similarly, Roger Waters commented in 1987 that “The space thing is a joke, none of those pieces were about outer space.” 
 
The use of the recreational drugs LSD and Mandrax (a tranquilliser affectionately named “mandies” or “mandrakes” in the UK) facilitated journeys through the doors of perception to Never Never Land. In America, the Ken Kesey “Acid Tests” had a significant impact upon the LSD-based counterculture of the San Francisco area and consequently on the hippy movement. This was the creative context of the Grateful Dead, Silver Apples, Fifty Foot Hose and the United States of America, bands that also drew inspiration from the American electronic scene, composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Edgard Varèse, as well as from cinematic depictions of the future like Destination Moon (1950), Forbidden Planet (1956), Barbarella (1968), Planet of the Apes (1968) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (also 1968).  
 
My journey and the title of my talk, I Hear a New World, emanated from a concept album devised, composed and recorded by Joe Meek in 1959. Meek was a pioneer of experimental pop, but he is possibly best remembered for two incidents that made the papers. The first (and happier) was his 1962 Number 1 hit Telstar, performed by in-house group The Tornados. Telstar was the name given to various communications satellites, and that year one of these relayed the first television pictures, telephone calls and fax images to Earth from orbit, gifting Meek a topical title for a truly infectious single. (Telstars 1 and 2 continue to circle the Earth to this day.) Meek’s second claim to fame (or rather notoriety) is the tragedy that occurred in 1967, when he shot and killed his landlady before then shooting himself. 
 
The space programme fascinated Meek, and Joe was among the crowds who gathered in central London to welcome Yuri Gagarin to the capital in 1961. He believed that life existed elsewhere in the solar system and the aforementioned album was an attempt to create a picture in music of what might exist in outer space. 
 
Back down to Earth and to the land of Albion. The year is 1970. The month is July; the place is Worthing in Sussex; the happening: Phun City. This three-day festival of “kosmic” rock ’n’ roll is widely considered to have been the first large-scale free festival in the UK. Organised by one of the luminaries of the London freak scene – the UK Underground anarchist Mick Farren – Phun City also has the distinction of being one of the most shambolic and financially disastrous occasions in the history of festivals. 
 
Funding for the event was withdrawn at the last moment, but it went ahead regardless, with free performances given by The Pretty Things, Mighty Baby, Kevin Ayers, Edgar Broughton, Mungo Jerry and the proto-punk outfits MC5 and Pink Fairies (who liked to strip off while performing too). The Beat poet William S. Burroughs also put in an appearance. Ironically, the one group that refused to play for nothing, and so didn’t perform, were Free. The English counterpart of the American Hells Angels provided security. 
 
The Pink Fairies were perceived as a revolutionary group and directed most of their activity against the music business. They supported the underground press, the gay liberation movement and other radical causes by way of fund-raising happenings. As at Phun City, the Fairies often appeared at festivals for free, or established a “next door” event in opposition to a commercial one. But by the start of the 1970s their world was a-changin’. Twink – the drummer, singer and songwriter – has stated that, as far as he was concerned, flower power disappeared almost as abruptly as it began. He felt that as early as 1967 the air of excitement had been replaced by an overwhelming feeling of defeat; the money men had moved onto the scene and commercialised it.
 
Yet it was still rather too strong for some. The chief public health inspector, Mr E.T. Oates, said of Phun City, “The whole thing was offensive and obscene in many ways and you would have been surprised at some of the people there. There had been university people from America, Oxford and Cambridge and ordinary decent people. They just wanted to do what they wanted to do and they did it. I just cannot understand it”. 
 
Phun City was certainly chaotic. The audience was effectively left to police itself, and it is fortunate that a shooting of a girl did not result in her death. 
 
This ought, perhaps, to have been anticipated. The previous December, the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in California had seen considerable violence among the crowd, culminating in the death by stabbing of Meredith Hunter. These events, captured on film for awful posterity, took place to the sound of The Rolling Stones and are often held up as marking the beginning of the end of the hippy dream. 
 
Yet as Todd Rundgren sang, “a dream goes on forever”. So the spirit of hippy space rock continues, through the jams of Pinkwind and the music of Gong, Here and Now, UFO, Magma, The Orb, Simply Saucer, Zolar X, Von LMO, Chrome, Ra Can Row, ST 37, Ozric Tentacles, Spacemen 3, Loop and Factory Records’ Ad Infinitum, who only ever recorded one single – a cover of Joe Meek’s Telstar.  
 
Appendix  
 
While discussing my research into space rock with a colleague I began to consider the genre’s wondrous album artwork. Inspired by the journalist Steven Johnson and his eulogy to the emergence of the internet’s “curatorial culture”, I headed off into cyberspace to seek out my top ten LP covers.
 
I quickly encountered the curator’s eternal conundrum, however. How to choose? I decided to freak and simply go with my first instinctive reaction. Unfortunately I had to leave out Weekend Party, with a picture of Jane Fonda in a space suit on the cover, as well as The Ames Brothers LP Destination Moon, Khan’s Space Shanty, Blast Off! by Ferrante & Teicher, The Very Best of Nimoy and Shatner, The Spotnicks in Jazzland, Party Interplanetire and Robots-Music: Volume 3
 
There’s a vast universe of space rock art out there, just waiting for intrepid explorers. Here I present my own discoveries under the title Simon’s Nomenclature of Spaced-Out Albums.
 
Flying Teapot: Radio Gnome Invisible Part 1 (1973) - Gong
 
Clear Air Turbulence (1977) - Ian Gillan Band
 
       
Out There (1958) - Betty Carter
 
Out-A Space: The Spotnicks in London (1962) - The Spotnicks
                                                        
Never Never Land (1971) - Pink Fairies
 
Goodnight Vienna (1974) - Ringo Starr
 
The Space Ritual Alive in Liverpool and London (1973) - Hawkwind
 
Telstar (1962) - The Tornados
 
Trip to Mars (1958) - Jack Parnell
 
Phenomenon (1974) - UFO
 
This piece was inspired by Sun Ra (1914-1993): The Cosmo Man, part of Nottingham Contemporary’s Alien Encounters season, which can be seen until 31 December.
Posted by fohouse at 11:49    COMMENTS
Friday, 11 December 2015
By Chloe Langlois, Gallery Assistant

Ingredients:

          1 tablespoon of olive oil
          1 clove of garlic, crushed
          1 pinch of dried chilli flakes
          1 x 400-gram can of chopped tomatoes
          2 medium eggs
          1 tablespoon of grated parmesan
          salt to taste


To make the purgatory you will first and foremost need fire. There is nobody willing, or able perhaps, to give an exact account of the punishments that await the eggs there, but all agree upon the presence of a burning hot flame.

Put your pan upon that flame and fry the garlic and chilli flakes in olive oil for a minute. The garlic and chilli will pique your tongue, and by extension your heart, while you imagine the pain the souls of the little eggs will soon endure. Add the tomatoes and some salt of the earth, then heat until they resemble a bubbling conflagration.

Crack two eggs into the sauce. Released from their physical host, no longer latent energy, their souls will burst free into the cleansing tomato-based fire. You must now pray for your eggs; they cannot pray for themselves so the living must do it for them. The eggs must be in a state of impermanence for the prayers to work but luckily eggs always are – constant and temporary, not alive, not dead, a host for potential, for what might become.

(If you are making this dish during the Middle Ages, and happen to be rich, instead of praying yourself you can make your eggs’ stay in purgatory shorter by paying your local church to hold a mass for them.)

The pan serves as a vessel for in-between, its cargo not condemned to hell but not yet in heaven. The eggs themselves have been saved, they have no morality now. We pray for them to lessen their pain and to expedite their ascension to bliss, the scores of their shells settled. Some believe the pan is closer to hell than heaven, others that it occupies the realm in which the sins of the eggs took place. There are even some who believe the pan to exist in Sicily.

The last step in the preparation is to sprinkle the dish all over with parmesan, then cover with a lid so the eggs can be purified. To transform the egg, symbol of the universe, eternal and immortal, we must combine the elemental trinity of salt, sulphur and mercury. Parmesan adds extra saltiness to the first aspect, which pertains to consciousness and wisdom. The second aspect, sulphur, signifies the spirit of life – it is present in the heat of the flame, the chilli and the sun-like yolk. Finally, mercury, the water aspect and trickiest of characters, ambiguous like the egg – he is each part and the whole. He is the fiery tomato sauce of the underworld, the domed lid of the heavens, between heaven and earth, male and female, the great circle of rebirth.

Keep checking on the eggs to see if they have transfigured into a pearly mass with golden yellow suns. Their bubbling little albumen souls have been laid bare, transparent – no sins could be hidden. Now they are turned white with the glow of redemption. The fiery tomato sauce has punished the eggs such that their debts have been repaid and their restoration is complete. The duration is indeterminable, it is not for us to know or decide. Only God can judge when recompense has been made.

The time is up.

Danai Anesiadou, “Don’t commit suicide just because you are afraid of death” installation view. Photo Andy Keate.

Eggs in Purgatory is an ancient dish with numerous variants and relations around the Mediterranean. Its origins are lost to history, although many regions (Naples, for instance) lay claim to it. Danai Anesiadou’s installation “Don’t commit suicide just because you are afraid of death”, part of Nottingham Contemporary’s Alien Encounters exhibition, makes repeated use of images of the dish and can be seen until 31 December 2015.

Posted by fohouse at 17:59    COMMENTS

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