About Me

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Blogger, baker, museum-goer and art lover. Not from around here. Likes: photography, single malt whisky and good writing. Dislikes: apostrophe abuse, blue cheese, and people who litter.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

This blog is now closed

I've migrated to The Northernist and taken the content from here with me. Please feel free to pay a visit over there and sign up for email updates if you so choose. 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

"Magritte: The Pleasure Principle" at Tate Liverpool

Last Friday I finally got around to seeing Tate's summer/autumn blockbuster Magritte show. There was a special evening viewing for Tate members and a visit from broadcaster Jon Snow in his capacity as head of the Tate Members' Committee. He was a genial speaker and did his best to fly the flag for increasing Tate's membership. I spoke with him briefly after his talk and he was very pleasant and obliging, signing autographs when asked.

The exhibition itself was worth seeing for the usual reasons, namely bringing together a large number of works, many never having been on display in the UK before, and showing another dimension to Magritte's oeuvre by including some of his commercial output, personal photographs and home movies. In that sense it bears some resemblence to the recent Picasso: Peace and Freedom and Nam June Paik exhibitions.

The actual experience of being in the first gallery was surreal in a sonic sense. It was an extremely windy night and noises from the roof (which at times sounded like you were beneath a bowling alley) combined with the periodic squeaking of a visitor's folding portable seat was distinctly unsettling. The grey and wooden walls, occasionally glaring lights and darkened windows added to an atmosphere heavy with uncertainty. Perhaps it was just my height or where I was standing in relation to the pictures, but I found the lighting to be overly harsh at times and dazzling to the point of obscuring the works. This may not have been an issue in the daytime, but it did affect how I was able to look at some of the paintings. One stand out in the first section was The Age of Fire which was far closer to Dali and Ernst in its use of Surrealist imagery than to Magritte's usual subjects.

Because the rooms were arranged thematically rather than chronologically, it was easy to see recurring ideas, such as the pipe. Works spanning twenty years were grouped together, making the interplay between image and language more interesting. Two versions of The Flavour of Tears hung side by side, possibly for the first time since leaving Magritte's studio, since each was created for a patron who didn't know of the other's commission. Artistically they weren't Magritte's strongest work, but raised questions of originality and reproduction similar to those Marcel Duchamp considered in his readymades and miniature versions of his best-known works, the Boites en Valises.

The final galleries were easier on the eyes, decorated in soothing blues to reflect the streetscapes of day and night and the sky of Golconda. There were also several female nudes and a gallery of erotic illustrations (discreetly curtained off from the main gallery space). Overall it was an impressive show in terms of quality and quantity and will doubtless pull a similar number of visitors when it moves on to Vienna next month.

Friday, 12 August 2011

A Pie for Mikey

The internet's a funny thing. Until a few days ago, I had never heard of Jennifer Perillo or her husband, Mikey. Then, via Twitter, I learned of his sudden death. Jennifer posted the recipe for his favorite pie and said anyone who wanted to do something to help her could simply make this pie in his memory and share it.

As these things do, the word spread quicky and even appeared on CNN's Eatocracy. I'm making this pie along with many other people, for many reasons. It's been a difficult and exhausting week here in several ways. Riots have torn across much of England, churning up issues many people would rather not acknowledge except to deal out punishment. My own city has been affected, reminding many that while Liverpool has changed a great deal since the Toxteth riots of 1981, desperate social problems still persist. And I'm standing at a crossroads in the dark, not knowing which path to follow.

Something I read earlier I know to be true: "One thing I love about cooking is that when things don't make sense, cooking allows you to DO something. Even if it is only baking a pie."

Right now, the world is not making a lot of sense to me. So when I didn't know what else to do, I made this:

Jennifer Perillo's Creamy Peanut Butter Pie

Shauna James Ahern has gluten-free and dairy-free alternatives (and some very heartfelt and moving words) over on Gluten-Free Girl

Serves 10 to 12

I've added approximate weight measurements, where not already stated, for those outside the US and because, and I can't quite believe it either, I prefer to bake with measurements in grams (or ounces at a push) rather than cups. This American never thought she could cook in metric.

8 ounces/225g chocolate cookies (I used the Co-op's Double Chocolate Chip cookies. It only came in a 200g pack, so I'd get a larger amount next time. I had to improvise the sides of the crust using some graham crackers, as you'll see below)

4 tablespoons/2oz/50g (approx) butter, melted

4 ounces finely chopped chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Divine 70% Dark Chocolate, but milk chocolate would probably be fine for the base)

1/4 cup/1 oz/35g chopped peanuts

1 cup/250ml heavy/double cream

8 ounces/225g cream cheese (Again, you may find the 200g regular pack isn't enough, but that's what I used. Get a large one and use the rest on bagels if you prefer).

1 cup/10 oz/285g creamy-style peanut butter (I used crunchy as that's what was in the house)

1 cup/5 oz/145g confectioner's sugar

1 – 14 ounce/397g can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 oz/25g melted chocolate to drizzle on top, optional

Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well. Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. Pour over bottom of cookie crust and spread to the edges using an off-set spatula. Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

I had a 100g bag of peanuts, so I just used them all.

Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use. Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioner's sugar. Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.

Stir in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the filling mixture (helps lighten the batter, making it easier to fold in the remaining whipped cream). Fold in the remaining whipped cream. Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan. Drizzle the melted chocolate on top, if using, and refrigerate for three hours or overnight before serving.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

March is review month

Or so it would seem. Seven Streets has posted my review of the new branch of Pi on Rose Lane. I'm chuffed to have a byline on one of my favourite Liverpool sites. I'll summarise if you don't have time to read: the beer is great, the pies are good, it's been very popular so far and well worth a visit. But please do click through if you get a chance.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

guest blog at Liverpool Daily Post

I can't quite call it my first byline proper, but a review I wrote on the Walker Art Gallery's latest exhibition A Collector's Eye: Cranach to Pissarro has been published on the LDP's Arts Blog

Thanks to Arts editor Laura Davis for putting the call out.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

so long A Foundation

Apparently it's been rumoured for a few months, but their press release of Feb 10 confirms that they have now closed. Seven Streets first announced it yesterday and an interesting discussion is going on in the comments about the extent this closure reflects wider threats to arts organisations across Liverpool as the funding cuts take hold.

I'll miss A Foundation. It helped begin the push to rebrand the Baltic Triangle area as a creative quarter and it really is a fantastic space. They put on exhibitions unlike any other gallery in Liverpool and while the quality of the art could vary widely, a couple shows have stuck with me in the five years they were open.

The exhibition that opened A Foundation was Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's collaboration, Silent Sound. Initially performed at St George's Hall in September 2006, then transformed into an installation that immersed you in layers of sound mixing subliminal messages and Victorian spiritualism with sonic architecture. I wish I'd written about it at the time, but I remember it now as mysterious, dark and enchanting. I remember making my way through the Blade Factory to its upper floor, not knowing what I would find or hear, but once I arrived I simply wanted to lie in the middle of the space and let their work wash over me. I've just discovered Silent Sound is part of their solo show PUBLICSFEAR at the South London Gallery, which runs until March 18.

A Foundation became a place to visit during Biennials; I can't recall now which exhibitions took place between 2006 and 2008, or even during 2008's 'Made Up.' I'm a bad art blogger. But last year A Foundation came back with two strong artists performing throughout the Biennial, Sachiko Abe and Antti Laitinen. Sachiko's Paper Mountain and Laitinen's boat of bark questioned boundaries of art, performance and dedication.

Occasionally the atmosphere was as cold as the building itself; some of the work in the New Contemporaries shows made me question what was coming out of art colleges these days (I've seen better degree shows). I really didn't appreciate the way guests were physically corralled and forced to leave at the PV of the last Biennial. And it was a schlep from the nearest bus stop. But these are quibbles; A Foundation leaves a gap in Liverpool's cultural landscape that won't be easily filled in the short term. I don't know what will become of the building, which is somehow greater than the sum of its already substantial parts. I hope James Moores takes on a new creative tenant or group. I would love to be able to go in and do something interesting with it: art space, event space, tech space, social media hub, bakery, cafe and rooftop bar. And a permanent home for The Swan Pedalo. Who's with me?

Monday, 3 January 2011

joyous machines

Happy new year everyone. 2011's calendar is up and the Christmas presents are (mostly) put away. As always, I'm not too thrilled to see the holidays end, but luckily January is full of exhibitions to take your mind off the winter blues.

Liverpool and Manchester are currently hosting two exhibitions where art and technology meet and occasionally collide. The retrospective of Nam June Paik at Tate Liverpool and FACT connects these two sites in a new way: with a laser beam projected between the two for the duration of the show.

Photo by Minako Jackson

Tate's exhibition focuses more on Paik's background; his years in Germany and early works which were more musically-related and strongly influenced by John Cage. He started experimenting with television as an art form in the early 60's and his collaborations with cellist Charlotte Moorman brought the visual and the musical together. Fragments of Moorman's music drift out of the TV Garden, a miniature jungle of houseplants interspersed with monitors of varying sizes. It's rather lovely and probably my favourite piece in Tate.

The works in FACT, particularly Global Groove and the Laser Cone, are quintessential works that make me think Paik may well be the godfather of MTV. Though many of Paik's works were originally interactive, but are no longer due to conservation reasons, the Laser Cone invites engagement by the mats placed underneath so you can lie back and watch the beams of light dance across the inner surface.

Photo: Art in Liverpool

Nam June Paik opened last month, whereas Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Recorders at Manchester Art Gallery closes at the end of January. Recorders is interactive in a wonderfully delightful way I've experienced more often in science museums than art galleries. Scanners that look into our carry on bags in airports now take pictures of the contents of our bags of our own free will. And I defy anyone to not feel a moment of giddy wonder after visiting the Pulse Room. What impressed me is that the technology works so well, at least on the day I was there. I hope to get back before it closes, and I urge you to go and see it if you can.