3. Heartbeat

May 22nd, 2018

This digital collage seems to be about what happens to my dad’s heartbeat when he takes his last breath.

It shows me talking (on the right), and a colleague clapping my dad’s heartbeat (on the left). On either edges are (yellow on blue) images of the respective soundtracks. In the centre are successive images of a germinating acorn-heart. When my dad takes his last breath, the acorn-heart starts to split open. My tears water it into a fantasy-sprout.

After the sprout, my cold tears water a black-and-white tree, then a little black-and-white forest.

I’m trying to get over the sound and light and movement of the multimedia performance in the Showroom gallery.

Most importantly, though, this illustrates the Cycle of Life: my dad’s last breath and his last heartbeat lead into germination and ongoing growth.

Maybe some of it is also about my own heartbeat? My dad’s heart stops. And I then grow in some totally new ways.

The words of Heartbeat are hereCheck out the stories from before this  – of how my dad and I talked about his last skiing Black Run (1), and then he did some Deathbed Skiing (2). Afterwards, there’s a Cycle of Life story and image (4) from when I wash my dad’s body.

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3. Heartbeat: the words

May 22nd, 2018

Here are the words I said at the multimedia performance of Heartbeat at the Showroom gallery:

I knew.

Straight away.

When my dad took. 



I stood up. Put my hand on his chest.

And now.

I’m confused.

Cos his Heart.

Is Beating. Fast. And Strong. 

Keeping going. Keeping going.

Somehow. I’ve made. A terrible mistake. 

Somewhere. I find my stethoscope.

SomeTime. less than a million years ago. and more than a second later. I listen. 

And now. His heart. Isn’t beating at all. 

I kiss him. Kiss. His face. Hug him.

A great river of nonsense is dripping. Off my chin. Bunging up my nose. 

I lie down with my dad. Tell him.

How very very well he did. 

On his very very last black run. 

Tell him. How proud I am of him

Tell him. Everything I know. Everything I don’t know.

This. Is the first. AMAZING. Thing. In my Life  

That I won’t be able to tell my dad about.

There’s more here about the Heartbeat image – with its evocation of sound and light. Check out the stories from before this  – of how my dad and I talked about his last skiing Black Run (1), and then he did some Deathbed Skiing (2). A Cycle of Life story and image (4) from after it are here – about me washing my dad’s body.

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What tremendously thoughtful fun I had meandering round Birkbeck with a black mirror, gazing into a fairy ball! 

Sheila Ghelani had designed our route by placing one of the mirrors she’d created onto a map: we were going to meander around the black hole thus created. Decked out with palm-size pebbles of mirrors in black velvet pouches and incongruously unromantic leatherette bum bags, we headed off into the unknown of John Dee and his magic 16th century angels. 

It didn’t feel that unknown to start with, since our first stop was only in the square opposite Birkbeck. But we were reflecting. Literally, in our mirrors, and also with lots of the thinking sort of reflection. I pondered and confected. And the unknown gradually came into – or maybe I should say, out of – focus. Our black mirrors held deceptively small-yet-enormous universes. You really can see something remarkably close to 360 degrees when you angle them correctly.  

We sketched the landscape like an artist: a 17th-century artist using a ‘Claude glass’ to produce something as eerily picturesque as a Claude Lorraine painting. We acted like tourists: 18th century tourists so horrified by the awesome crags of the Lake District that we could only view them in our black mirrors by turning our back on them. Then like more modern tourists, trying – and generally failing – to get the perfect selfie-shot in, and of, our Fairy Ball.  

The nigh-on-360 degree views were, we discovered, seductively slippery. How many times did I perfect my view, to lose it when I tried to sketch or photograph it! And how many times did I discard an impressive vision of pillars or a tree (both, we discovered, were splendid subjects) – in the quest for somehow more perfect perfection. ‘Authenticity’ has sometimes been badged as a holy grail for ‘creatives’. And we kept on looking at, and so creating, authentic black mirror views. So authentic that you really do have to be there to see them. So uncopied, that they are nigh-on uncopiable. 

We walked between two green men with our black mirrors and fairy ball

We walked between two green men with our black mirrors and fairy ball

We discussed materiality as another unpredictable and evasive construct. ‘Claude lenses’ and our own black mirrors are glass: sand miraculously made into liquid. The oldest constructed black mirrors were Aztec polished obsidian: volcanic glass was used for divination and as a status symbol. Water is, of course, another ancient black mirror. So we looked out for, and thought about, the water we had overlooked: the drains and rivers trapped under the streets we were walking on. 

We noticed, too, how many modern black mirrors there are. Not just the mirrored sunglasses we had seen in Gordon Square, but all those blacked out cars and enigmatic urban windows. Of course, the ubiquitous mobile phones all have sleeping black mirror screens. We’re not that different from the Aztecs: our black mirrors, too, act as finely-graded status symbols and for 24/7 divination. 

We were so busy reflecting – in all senses – that we didnt get  time to do any scrying. This is what it is called when you look intently into a black mirror – and not simply for reflection. Scrying has been thought to act as a portal to other planes of existence. But maybe we did well to miss that. John Dee, master mathematician and polymath, was convinced by his scrying partner, Edward Kelley, that the angels had informed him that God required them to swap wives. Fake facts are obviously not a new phenomenon! Nor is #metoo: Dee’s journal reports that the task was achieved ‘after initial protestations’ by his wife.

It’s easy to point fingers at the inhabitants of the past-is-another-country. We were not (quite!) as ridiculous. Only a minority of the passers by actually stopped and stared as I processed down the pavement gazing regally into what must have looked something like a shiny black football. 

On reflection, though (ha! see what I’m doing here!), the black mirror and the gazing ball raised fascinating questions about how and what we can and do see.  The transitory nature of what could be seen is a great joy. I’m definitely going to keep on playing with the best souvenir present I ever got: my very own hand-crafted black mirror. Thanks. Sheila!

If you want to make your own, see: http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-your-own-Claude-Glass-or-Black-Mirror/

This was published in the Birkbeck Arts Week blog: http://blogs.bbk.ac.uk/events/2018/05/22/arts-week-2018-black-mirror/

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What can we learn from how we look at Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi?

I’m really interested in how we look at things. I already mentioned the Mona Lisa as an example of something that maybe we look at in the same way every time. I compared this with the ‘art’ on 15th and 16th century mosques and madras from what is now North East Iran. And suggested that perhaps the old Iranian ‘art’ was more challenging, more playful, for our eyes

Then came the Salvator Mundi

It’s another painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

Or maybe it isn’t

Christies mounted a huge international PR campaign about this ‘new planet’ of a painting and around 27,000 people went to see it.

Now – at  $450,312,500 – it definitely is the most expensive painting in the world

So how we look at it is surely very interesting.

Just to test my original idea, there is actually a video of people looking at Salvator Mundi. Here it is down below.

And I think the people here are more often staring or even gaping, rather than exploring- or playing-type-looking.

Clearly, though, this kind of looking is where the money is

Even if, less than 100 years ago, the painting sold at Sothebys for a mere £45. That was before the extensive restoration? See the timelapse here

But surely the art market wheeler-dealer magic also has something to do with it?


https://www.shootonline.com/embed/74042/640×390 https://www.shootonline.com/embed/74042/640×390

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Surface work

May 11th, 2018

Hedda Sterne’s 1963 Vertical Horizontal # 7

Hedda Sterne’s 1963 Vertical Horizontal # 7

Surface work in Victoria Miro ‘s Mayfair gallery  “reflects the ways in which women have been at the heart of abstract art’s development over the past century, from those who propelled the language of abstraction forward, often with little recognition, to those who have built upon the legacy of earlier generations … to open new paths of optical, emotional and even political expression”.

So I  was excited by the idea of seeing this exhibition. But, sadly, less excited by much of what I saw. Maybe it’s the spread over time of the pieces?

But here are few of the pieces that did catch my eye. As they say, these are in no particular order:

I loved the subtle colours to the left on Hedda Sterne’s 1963 Vertical Horizontal # 7

And probably (maybe/probably?) because of the trompe in RIBA’s Perspective exhibition, I had a good look at Svenja Deininger’s 2018 Untitled. When you get closer it’s even more entracing:

Svenja Deininger 2018 Untitled

Svenja Deininger 2018 Untitled

Svenja Deininger 2018 Untitled: detail

Svenja Deininger 2018 Untitled: detail

The show-stopper, though, was Adriana/ Verejao’s 2018 Azulejao (Moon). This was the stand-out in the display and got the biggest image on the gallery paperwork:

“A new cracked tile work by Brazilian artist Verejao evokes the traditions of Minimalism and monochrome painting while its ruptured surface speaks of a disquieting colonial legacy.” 

I couldnt help but think of the faux-Chinese ceramics I’m familiar with from Persia – with their scallop-pattern edges.

But I do wish I’d felt more excited. Is Surface Work really the best abstract women can do? Surely not!

Adriana Verejao’s 2018 Azulejao (Moon)

Adriana Verejao’s 2018 Azulejao (Moon)

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Here are the words I said in the multimedia performance of Deathbed Skiing at the Showroom gallery:

Later on my dad stops talking.

Gets less responsive.

More restless restless restless. 

I want to freshen him up.

Put his arms. Around my neck 

Sit him. Forward.

And He. Tries. to get out of bed. 

Goes. To stand up. 

I don’t want him to fall.  I try to help him back into bed. 


I realise.


He’s doing. 

He has got his feet on the floor by now.

And he’s in. An almost-perfect. SKIING POSTURE. 

He’s trying to ski.


He is skiing. 

He’s skiing into his very own BLACK RUN. 

A nurse arrives. Doesn’t see what I see. Tells me off. 

While I. keep on. helping. my dad stand.

Helping him SKI. One. Last. Time.

The nurse tells me he could fall. Could hurt himself.

I don’t listen. Don’t bother to explain.

He’s not hurting. He’s SKIING. How much more GOOD is there than THAT? 

You know when people say that someone died in someone else’s arms? Well. My dad. Has just skied in my arms. 

There’s more about the deathbed skiing image (2) here – with its traditional Islamic perspective. Check out the story from before this here – of how my dad and I talked about his last skiing Black Run (1). And here are the Cycle of Life stories and images from after it – about my dad’s last breath (3), and me washing his body (4).

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2. Deathbed Skiing

May 5th, 2018

This digital collage of Deathbed Skiing shows one of the the Korean ‘machines’ (the ‘story bus’) that underpinned ‘Dawn Breaks’. With me telling the story of how when he was so near death that he’d stopped talking, my dad got out of his bed. People that close to death never do anything like that! But my strong dad stood up as if he was skiing.

The nurse shouted at me – she said he might fall, he might hurt himself. She seemed to have forgotten he was in the hospice because he was dying. She definitely didn’t know he was Deathbed Skiing.

You hear of people dying in someone else’s arms, but my dad skied in my arms.

Read the words I said in the original performance here. Check out the story from before this – of how my dad and I talked about his last skiing Black Run (1). And the Cycle of Life stories and images from after it – about my dad’s last breath (3), and me washing his body (4).


Siege_of_Szigetvár_1566. Many of the multiple attacks and defenses are shown here.

From the art point of view, this image draws on traditional flattened, multi-focus Islamic ‘perspective’. This, in my view, can tell much more of a story than vanishing point perspective.

You can see an example of that in this Ottoman painting of Szigetvar siege.

I’d like to point out that it was Islamic theories of optics that spurred Europeans in the Renaissance towards their ‘new’ idea of vanishing-point perspective. And that the Muslims declined to use ‘Western perspective’ for several hundred years. But that ‘victory’ was as equivocal as that in Szigetvar. The Ottomans conquered the fortress and the defenders were wiped out. But this was the last battle of Suleiman the Magnificent, and it delayed the advancement of the mighty Ottomans for a hundred years.


Check out the preceding story of how my dad and I talked about his last skiing Black Run(1). Afterwards comes the story of my dad’s last heartbeat; and a Cycle of Life story and image (4) from when I wash his body.

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I loved making this My Perspective collage! It shows the Tate Turbine Hall. The assignment was to show perspective, and there’s an orange-line vanishing point here vanishing off into the yellow distance, under a white roll-out. The side steps are in orange, and there’s that I-dont-know-what-it-is yellow/black/chalk lit-up thing perched high up facing right.

But mainly this collage shows the massive blue volume of the Turbine Hall, and the hidden volumes of Bruce Nauman’s Raw Materials sound installation.

Plans for Bruce Nauman's Turbine Hall layout. Image: Tate

Plans for Bruce Nauman’s Turbine Hall layout. Image: Tate

You have to walk through Raw Materials to appreciate the words Nauman selected. There’s less work for My Perspective – but there is some: you have to turn over the paper flaps under the sharp ‘teeth’ of the words. After all, just like with Nauman, the words might be shocking.

The sound-teeth-words on the right are: DONT DONT TOUCH NO REACTION NO / I have no control no emotional response / dont touch no reaction I have no control

While on the left its AH AH Ah ah ah

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1. Black Run: the words

April 29th, 2018

Here are the words I said for the performance of Black Run at the Showroom gallery:

This is my DAD. He’s an Expert at LIVING. 

The Doctors told him his Cancer was TERMINAL. But my dad kept on and on EXPERTLY living, living, living.

Then one morning. He. Told me. That now. He was more DYING than living.

So that now. He wanted to be dead.

I got him in a hospice.


Beside him. On the floor.

Didn’t want him left lonely.

Kept on thinking how to make dying FUN for my dad.

As FUN as LIVING is for my dad.

ULTIMATE LIVING for my dad is skiing. So I asked him: “Tell me about your last BLACK RUN”.

Black runs might be Scary, Scary. But they’re Exciting, Exciting.

“Switzerland”, my dad beams. And now he’s on a SHEER mountain, SUN glinting off the trees, skiing down a VERTIGINOUS descent.

“I hit black ice”, he says.

“And when you hit BLACK ICE”, he says, “you have to keep going. Can’t stop or turn. You have to keep going.”

Now he’s back

Inside his head

Skiing that BLACK BLACK ice

On his last black run. 

Keeping going. Keeping going. Keeping going.

When he’s safely down, I speak.

“So”, I say, “when it got tough, you did it. All by yourself. You did it.”

The Silence

is Huge


to Swallow

a Mountain.

Until he nods. “It’s a really good analogy”, he says. “It’s a really good analogy”. 

And now 

I know

it’s going to be fine.

We both know it’s going to be fine.


There’s more here about the Black Run images – as shown on the Korean metalphoric theatre. Check out the stories and images from after this – of how my dad and I talked about this and he did some Deathbed Skiing (2), then about the Cycle of Life as my dad took his last breath (3), and I washed his body (4).

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1. Black run

April 28th, 2018

The images for the Black Run story were shown on the metalphoric theatre – one of the the Korean ‘machines’ that underpinned ‘Dawn Breaks’ at the Showroom Gallery.

I stood alongside telling the story of my dad’s expertise at living. Initially I had my back to the audience – I wanted them to experience the speed of a ‘mock’ Black Run, race-skiing down a mountain. When my dad had ‘skied’ to the bottom of the mountain, I stood out front to face and ‘talk’ to his life-size image. We ‘agreed’ skiing could be a good metaphor for his good death.

Lots of people wanted to know how I managed to do this: didn’t I find it upsetting? But I know my dad had a good death – as good as his life. So, actually, I had a great time ‘talking’ to my dad. After all, I don’t get to talk to my dad as often as I’d like to any more!

The actual words I said in this section of the multimedia performance are here. Check out the stories and images from after this – of how my dad did some Deathbed Skiing (2), then about the Cycle of Life as my dad took his last breath (3), and I then washed his body (4).


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