Turner (Prize) and hooch

Forget Islamic State, forget Scottish independence, forget Ukraine, only one news story should be on Radio 4 right now: Turner Prize nominations. That this annually unmomentous occasion is upon us once again reflects chiefly the fact that Tate Britain has decided not to axe it, despite assiduously chopping away at the rest of its contemporary programme (remember Art Now? That was art then).

Last year, four conspicuously non-English artists were chosen as the Prize was hosted for the first time ever in Northern Ireland, with the lovely French longshot Laure Prouvost coming in top trumps. This year, again, none of the artists live in London — James Richards has decamped to Berlin; Ciara Phillips is in Glasgow, as is Duncan Campbell (and as is another nominated artist who turned down the invitation — for that matter another nominated artist who also turned down the invitation is in Berlin); and Tris Vonna-Michell hasn’t even shown in the UK since 1997. Tris Vonna-who?

This year's Turner Prize list: the DLR would.

This year’s Turner Prize list: the DLR would.

It’s a funny-odd list, for sure, and when it was announced there was much talk about how young, and not even very well-known, a few of the artists were. Vonna-Michell, for instance, who had very early and explosive success, seriously disappeared off the radar until coming back full-force in this media circus — a risky career strategy, all you young artists. In fact he was the DLR’s go-to example for Bad Early Career Moves — do too much too quickly, and your work suffers —  but he seems to have turned out okay (we’ll see). That’s good news for Richards, the absurdly talented filmmaker whom the DLR would like to put in a bell jar and remove from all hype so he can just get on doing his own thing. Phillips is well-known in Glasgow — which might as well be a different country — but less so in London, except for her well-received Showroom exhibition, and Duncan Campbell, that wise old sage of found footage narratives, was the only artist, everyone agreed, who made sense on the list.

Ah, sure, the DLR would again.

Ah, sure, the DLR would again.

But the DLR has come round to this selection. Vive la jeunesse! The show adequately represents the move towards the digital and the internet (Richards) among young artists — as well as what they moved away from, celluloid (represented here by Campbell, who by the way is not actually that old). The banner of social practice — or, rather, the collectively made screenprint of social practice — is flown high by Phillips, and Vonna-Michell — well, we don’t know what he does because the last thing we saw of his was at Cubitt in 1997. They also all feel genuinely of the art world, which probably means the public will hate them, but the DLR likes the idea that the Turner Prize artists might show up in a non-UK biennial or two — international relevance is what we’re after here, not British (or English) nationalism. Indeed Campbell and Richards were both nominated on the back of their Venice installations.

So we shall see: an Aperol spritz, Irn Bru or whatever it is they drink in Brussels (monastically brewed fruit beer?) at the ready; the show opens in a week.

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Mad dogs and Northkoreanmen

It’s January and that means everyone is into purges. Dry months, caffeine enemas, herbal teas. You name it, the DLR is avoiding that nonsense.

In North Korea, though, a recent purge has followed a slightly different script. First, it began in December, before the usual annual orgy of excess that is, unsurprisingly, missing from North Korean tradition. And second, and this is arguably more important, it involved the summary execution of three generations of a powerful political family rather than abstinence from fatty foods for a couple of weeks.

The original execution of Jang Song-thaek caused a bit of a stir in the Western media. This was not only because he happens to be the uncle (by marriage) of international playboy and all-round chilled-out entertainer Kim Jong-un but also because rumours circulated, as they are wont to do, that the chosen method of execution was to strip Jang naked and feed him to a pack of 120 dogs that had been starved for three days.

Jang Song-thaek

Jang Song-thaek gets the traditional Christmas family treatment at the Kim household. 

That particular canine story was probably untrue, emanating from an unverified single source of a Chinese website. What is certainly true, though, is that the purge was unusual in its ferocity. Executions of officials are infrequent though not altogether out of the ordinary. However this particular purge not only involved a member of Kim’s family, but also fierce accusations in North Korean state-run media that Jang was ‘despicable human scum’ who was challenging Kim’s position and perhaps preparing for a coup. Now, it seems that the purge was also very comprehensive: Jang’s sister, brother-in-law and nephew (the latter the ambassadors to Cuba and Malaysia, respectively) have all been killed, as have the children and grandchildren of Jang’s two brothers.

How cheery. Not the family holiday everyone expects at that time of year. But what brought on this paroxysm of familial self-harm? It’s unclear whether there was a specific incident that sparked Kim’s ire, but it is the DLR’s hunch that he was merely seeking to secure his position. Jang was probably Kim’s regent, the young king being perhaps too inexperienced at the tender age of 28 to take on the various responsibilities of being the supreme head of state of a highly militarised and ideological society. At 28, the DLR was largely trying to emulate Jarvis Cocker (but probably looking more like Shaun Ryder instead), and would have been a dubious supreme leader.


Ladykiller Kim Jong-un

But Jang had his own power base too, particularly in the commercial world, so his removal not only leaves no doubt as to who’s in charge but also eliminates a potential rival. It’s perhaps no coincidence that only a few weeks after Jang was summarily removed, North Korea is electing the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly, the rubber-stamp parliament that likes to clap in unison and agree with whatever Kim says. This is the first SPA since Young Kim came to power, acting as a clear demonstration of his further centralisation of power.

Jang’s execution is also the latest in a line of sackings that have occurred at the top of the Korean People’s Army, as the young’un has tried to assert his own presence on the military — a clear consolidation of power as the mercurial Kim tries to ensure the longevity of his reign. Without Jang, and with a pliant military supporting him, he could be set for the next four decades in power. That’s a lot of basketball matches with Dennis Rodman to watch. (Side-note: on one of his trips to North Korea, images of Rodman and Kim at one of the latter’s palaces gave us the first glimpse of the supremely dear leader’s 200 ft swimming pool boat. It’s a swimming pool on a boat. That’s moored on water. What is the chuffing point?)

KJu and DR

BFFs 4 LIFE! These two have so much in common, it’s scary.

What does this mean for the outside world? Well, interestingly, since the purge of Jang, North Korea has adopted a notably more conciliatory tone towards its southern neighbour. Oh sure, there have been some warnings to South Korea, but the North Korean media also has recently claimed that they would end verbal attacks on the South Korean government and seek to build closer relations. This follows a New Year’s message from Kim that highlighted ending confrontation between the two Koreas.

So, it could well be that Young Kim is using his newfound stability to try and forge a better relationship with the South, thereby possibly buying more time for the development of its proto-nukes. Ultimately, though, North Korea’s strategic position has not changed, and while there may be much change at the top, there’s only continuity in its long-term interests and policies. Expect more batshit crazy statements and ructions from Pyongyang as Kim beds in.

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The triennial art funding bunfight

It’s Arts Council Cuts time again, the new Tory-led programme to get the arts off public subsidy and onto private funding, and, in the process, create virtually out of nowhere a brand-new job opportunity for posh girls in the arts: development officer for struggling art spaces. The supplications — sorry, applications — from art venues are not due till March, but already the rumours are starting about who’s going to get cut (basically, anyone without a digital strategy) as people stare sadly into the prospect of a rapidly dwindling pie.

First up for spite is, of course, the Serpentine, which managed to get negative press about their financial arrangements even before the Christmas holiday. Well done, Serpentine! In December, news flew that the Serpentine co-directors, Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist, the curator who can reasonably claim to out-network the internet, gave themselves whopping pay rises. The fact that they each make upwards of £140,000 and £120,000, respectively (when other director salaries hover around the £60K level) is not the only thing raising ire — it’s also the fact that the Serpentine, the most strategically located art space in history, receives around £900,000 in funding from the Arts Council, and that this figure is arrived at in a pretty unfair way.

summer party

From left: Julia Peyton-Jones, L’Wren Scott and Hans Ulrich Obrist all share a joke about the surfeit of names in their names at the Serpentine summer party.

Let us explain. The Arts Council has an apocryphal magic number, which is the amount of subsidy you are given, divided by the number of people who see what you produce. If that number is below a certain threshold, you’re doing well; if it’s very high, you’ll be put at risk. This serves to punish smaller galleries because they do not have the marketing budgets to get their shows seen by many people — and it’s a repeating cycle: they don’t get more money, therefore they don’t have the marketing budget, etc. (This is something the organisation Common Practice has been trying to call attention to.)

The Serpentine has long been seen as particularly egregious because they put their toilets after the marker after which one has ‘entered’ the gallery. Thus, allegedly, anyone using the Serpentine bathrooms — in the middle of Hyde Park, on a hot summer’s day — gets counted in the visitor figures, which are then used to calculate the amount of Arts Council subsidy. 

L'Wren and Sarah

We learn three things from this picture. One: L’Wren Scott is a giantess of immense proportions. Two: Sarah Jessica-Parker is a well-dressed dwarf. And three: the Serpentine, with its glitzy champagne-fuelled parties, is the perfect recipient of public funding dedicated to contemporary art.

This is particularly ironic because the Serpentine has among the best rates of private donations, particularly with its celebrity-fuelled summer party, in which such well-known arts figures as HRH Princess Beatrice and Kate Moss come to discuss the problems of third generation institutional critique in an increasingly neoliberal arts sector. The Serpentine, you see, is one of the few places that does not need the cash.

So stay tuned here for our #ArtsCouncilEnvyWatch, as the entire arts sector turns against itself in one big self-consuming heap of funding frenzy. Like the rats on that ship that’s supposedly (although not really) about to crash into Ireland.

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What a riot!

The DLR is not being republican (us? never…) when it turns to the subject of last year’s riots on the day of Queenie’s Diamond Jubilee. We like the idea of the Jubilee; we never use that Tube line, exactly, but it’s a word with a nice onomatopoeic oomph to it, and that’s enough for us.

That being said, let’s return to the riots — it’s almost been a year now, and they feel both  so long ago (what has changed since?) and so recent (what has changed since?). But The Guardian – congrats to The Guardian here! – has recently won an award for its data reporting following the Summer Riots (see what we did there? We capitalised it. It’s now official, like the Diamond Jubilee), and, having a look through it, we have to say – chapeau bas, Guardian Data Reporting Blog (ok, we’ll stop), chapeau bas indeed.

Do you remember the rumours during the riots that London Fields was too dangerous to cross through? That people had broken into a McDonald’s and were cooking themselves dinner? That they’d burnt the Dolphin? (And then that funny guy got on Twitter and pretended to be the pub? Good times, good times.) That rioters attacked the London Zoo? If you were glued to Twitter, as we have to say we were, these might have cropped up in your Twitter feed — maybe you shouted them out to your housemates or partner and freaked out a bit, and then an hour or so later they were debunked within the same feed.

The origin of life? Or proof that the Dolphin did not burn down?

The Guardian Data Blog took these rumours and counter-rumours and made a movie-of-sorts of them, so that you can see the rumours emerge, and then, as if mapping cells in a Petri dish, the emergence of tweets countering these rumours — and then the whole issue subsides. It’s an amazing example of the spread of crowd-sourced information during the period in a crisis when peer-to-peer information outpaces what news organisations and other authorities are able to report. It’s also a striking reminder of the evanescence of that moment — the information that isn’t recorded about the riots but still happened during that time. The DLR, with its inimitable good timing, was also in New York for September 11th, and remembers a period of about two hours when everyone thought the Towers had fallen because of explosives placed in the buildings’ basements.

The Guardian also requested all the information on everyone who was detained — not just their names but where they came from, and how they were treated during when remanded, so they could determine their socio-economic statuses (newsflash: the riots were linked to poverty), with their level of treatment, reasons for rioting — even how far they travelled to riot. The Guardian has a rep for being liberal, and this is pretty activist reporting — but perhaps because it’s data, with its undeserved reputation for objectiveness, it flies under the radar.

There’s lots under ‘Reading the Riots’ and well worth a look — we found out, sadly, that the Dolphin Twitter man did not make the 200 most influential Twitter users (nor did @DalstonPeople or @DalstonDin, more surprisingly), but that there was a four-day gang truce during and immediately following the riots. Maybe that’s what we need for some, um, stability here! Rain and rioting. Happy Jubilee.

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Here comes the shank, dobedobe

Are you depressed about the turn in the weather? Do you yearn for the sunny days of yore (or last week), when you could laze in London Fields with your hipster mates and desecrate the grass with your barbecues? Well, being of a sunny disposition, the DLR is here to give you a little boost to show you why it’s not that bad a thing for the weather to turn.

We see you, grass decorators, in your hats and sunglasses. Think of the blades!

It all started last Tuesday, when the DLR’s intrepid reporters were scouring the streets of Hackney for stories (read: cycling to a friend’s house for dinner) and were witness to a highly unfortunate incident. Well, we say highly unfortunate, we mean violent. For they were witness to a stabbing. Actually, a double stabbing. Lucky, lucky them.

Obviously, they thought ourselves pretty special people to have a front-row seat to such a rare event, but as we discovered later, other Hackney-based friends had been in the vicinity of stabbings that day. As it turns out, there was a series of three attacks involving five stabbings in Hackney within 24 hours.

Two days later, the DLR’s intrepid cultural reporters were attending an opening at the Chisenhale (shoutz to Amalia Pica!) and in high, summery spirits as we went to the pub with the art riffraff (and with none other than Chloe Sevigny, apparently, in town for that transgender hitman series). Little were we to know that bicycles were being merrily stolen outside, with heavy-duty locks severed by some heavier-duty cutters. There’s obviously no chance of finding the culprits, although now we think about it, Sevigny disappeared from that afterparty at about the same time as the bikes. Curious.

Such a spate of crime struck us as unusual, whatever Hackney’s reputation might be, and the explanation of a friend, that the warm weather brought it on, got us researching. Can weather affect crime? Does summer bring more violent incidents?

As avid early Spike Lee fans, we were naturally reminded of Do the Right Thing, a story of racial tensions in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn on one of the hottest days of the year. As the mercury rises, so does the racial tension as Italian-American pizzeria owners come to blows with residents in the majority black area.

You can tell it’s New York from the buildings. And you can tell it’s the ’80s by the T-shirt of the potato wearing glasses.

So, the idea of weather affecting levels of violence already exists in the popular discourse. But is there evidence to support this old wives’ tale? It turns out that the answer is yes. Empirical research has suggested that as temperatures rise, so tempers fray. But it’s not just a physiological/psychological issue, as it’s also to do with opportunity. As people spend a lot more time outside in nice weather, making it a lot more likley that they’ll run into each other. Sometimes they just happen to be running with crude bladed weapons.

The research suggests that temperature rises increase the incidence of assault, domestic violence and rape. It shows a good correlation on burglary (presumably because houses are empty for longer), is less clear on homicide and temperature appears to have little effect on motor vehicle theft or robbery.

Interesting, no? But our speculative research goes further. For one of the DLR’s crack reporters (as in a good reporter, not a reporter addicted to crack), perhaps tiring of Hackney’s crime-heat wave, has decamped to Southeast Asia (more on that later). And so we thought: why is there not more crime in this part of the world, where crime rates in places such as Singapore are remarkably low? Because every time we come here we are reminded of two adjectives: hot and sticky. Maybe a third: relentless. Of course, it’s likely that the main reason is the soft authoritarian government, but could it also be that when it gets too hot people become more lethargic, and hence can’t be bothered to fight? This is suggested by some of the research on temperature and crime, where temperatures above 85 degrees fahrenheit (that’s about 30 in fancy European language) lead to a reversal in the trend towards heat-driven violence.

So, next time you’re complaining about the rain, just think about the dampening effect this might have on Hackney’s shanking rate. Always a silver lining, eh?

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Did the princess seize my buddy’s boat? Aye captain.

Well, congratulations, Mitt Romney. Republican America has finally shrugged their shoulders and endorsed you. It only took your billions.

On this momentous occasion we bring the best fake lip-reading meme since someone overlaid Bush & Blair on that funny love song. Enjoy:

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The DLR is often described as ‘pedantic’

On Sunday, while suntanning its legs, iPad-Googling for bathroom light fixtures and hand-writing a magnum novelistic opus (sort of), the DLR scanned the New York Times‘s predictable three-day weekend article, which was headlined ‘Let’s Be Less Productive‘. You don’t need to read the article to get the gist of the argument, which is fortunate, because then you can save your slot of non-productive reading time for the other ten million things you have to do. Because the fact of the matter is: no one has any time any more!

But that shouldn’t excuse lazy journalism. In fact, if the events of the last few months tell us anything, nothing excuses lazy journalism. But we’re not talking here about invading people’s privacy or making grieving relatives think you’re alive. This is just about the minor writing construction: ‘often described as’. For example, from this Gallerist article on Hauser & Wirth, the London/New York gallery, and one of its principals, Iwan Wirth:

At 41, Mr. Wirth is often described as “boyish.”  

That simply means that Iwan Wirth is boyish, the writer wants to say he is boyish, but he realises in all the Google-researching he has done everyone already calls him boyish, so he has to at least signal the fact that his description is not going to be original. This is borne out by the fact that the writer then immediately lists the way in which Iwan Wirth is boyish.

He has a round face, ruddy-cheeks, falling curls and a “Let’s all do this thing!” demeanor, a contrast to the blasé, “this thing barely requires you” attitude embraced by other top dealers. 

(Though we have to say we weren’t prepared for this following statement: In addition to art, he collects axes. That’s slightly frightening but good detail. Savile Row pedestrians, beware; the man’s office has glass walls.)

If we had to choose one word to describe this man, it would be: axist.

Similarly, in the Guardian this past weekend, the Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel is “often described as a rock star professor” — a point corroborated by the BBC, just over a month ago, as well as by the Daily Beast, the Times of India and Thomas Friedman in the New York Times (maybe he was just being unproductive). Decca Aitkenhead, Radio 4, Tina Brown, Indian Maoists and Tom “friend of the postcolonial youth of the world” Friedman, we tar you all with our bloggish brush!

The quivering air guitar, the bloodshot eyes, the packed auditorium. Yes, there’s no doubt this man is a rock star.

“Often described is”, of course, another way to put something out there you’re not sure about and then disavow any responsibility if someone challenges you. Thomas Friedman, for example, is often described as relying too heavily on personal anecdotes to open his columns — “as I was saying to my friend Mahmoud as we were smoking shisha in Aleppo” — that kind of thing. But ha! Thomas Friedman is not often described as anything of the kind. That’s just our opinion. But if you quote us on it, we’ll pass the buck. A technique we learned, and this is not true in any technical sense of the term, from Rupert Murdoch, suggesting once again that one of the truest techniques of lazy journalism is that if you don’t have a new point to end on — bring your argument full circle.

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