Saturday 28 December 2019


Written by Dennis Spooner
First broadcast Aug/Sept 1964
Plot Spoilers? Medium-to-Light

“The crew get caught up in the French Revolution.”
- from the BBC episode guide

A Land Already Mapped By Fiction

When did those peasants first become revolting? The date of the French Revolution was of course 1789. But was Baroness Orczy's 1903 play and 1905 novel 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' which turned historical event into location for genre fiction. The fixation upon Aristos fleeing the cruel guillotine, the corollary obsession with disguise, the little-islander depiction of the continent (and in particular the continental city) as the locus point of disruptive barbarism – not to point the finger, but all this proto-Brexit baloney stems from her titled hand. And those stories have hung around… Pimpernel stories had been repeatedly filmed already (most recently in 1950) and televised (in both 1955/6 and 1960).

And here it is again. You could almost set your watch to it. We first run into some fleeing Aristos, who make a big point of saying they’ll listen to the travellers at whatever personal cost. They all then get captured by some Revolutionary soldiers, who make an equally big point of refusing to let them speak while simultaneously pronouncing them guilty. (“Prisoners are not required to speak”, interrupts the Judge brusquely. The universal right to a fair hearing being a noted feature of the Ancien Regime.) The Aristos are nobly blithe about Barbara being from here. The Revolutionaries conversely are plotting to invade England – an act of sheer malevolence seeing that the countries had been best pals until the Revolution, and that Royalist Britain had no interest whatsoever in destabilising France.

But to list all the historical errors would be a category error. For they are not in France in 1794 at all, and they're not really pretending to be. They are in a land already mapped, already delineated by fiction. They are in Orczy country.

Of course there are differences, some of them significant. Neither the stern and patrician Doctor nor the solid, dependable Ian are corollaries for the Pimpernel's dashing, romantic hero. The Doctor could even be at his furthest away. He's a wanderer who frequently finds himself in scrapes but who sees his main duties as to his fellow travellers, while the Pimpernel's the pre-eminent emblematic hero – defined by the fact he actively goes looking for trouble. (All of which would change for the Doctor, of course. But not yet.)

But the biggest difference to Orczy is in the tone. Though a minority of scenes have given 'Reign of Terror' a somewhat inexplicable (and rather name-belying) reputation as a comedy, it's actually quite a bleak story. Partly, as we'll come on to, through it's fatalistic conception of time. But chiefly through that persistent shadow of the guillotine.

Whereas, befitting the gallant and spring-heeled title character, Pimpernel stories tend to be lightweight and adventurous. As Lord Anthony, one of the Pimpernel's band, puts it in the original novel “I vow, I love the game, for this is the finest sport I have yet encountered. Hair-breadth escapes – the devil's own risks! - tally ho! - and away we go!” Such a romantic view of course contrasts with the fanaticism of the revolutionaries, allowing us to have our Cavaliers counter Roundheads all over again.

The 1950 Powell and Pressburger film had originally been planned as a musical, a plan Broadway finally brought to fruition in 1997. And with the Carry On film 'Don't Lose Your Head' (aka 'Carry On Pimpernel'), (1960), it's difficult to tell whether 'the Black Fingernail' is a parody or simply another entry to the canon.

Still, despite those differences, Orczy's scenario has become such a centre of gravity that Spooner is soon pulled into it. But there's a gravity that's stronger still, an almost perpetual pull in this era of 'Who'...

Different Time, Same Page

If 'Reign of Terror' is darker and less dashing, it’s not even confirming the viewers’ fiction-filtered prejudices of an era so much as grafting on their prejudices from quite another. At times like this, you can’t help but wonder if the Tardis has some secret homing beacon. Theoretically unbound in its travels across time and space, it unfortunately suffers from a greater limitation – the mindsets and prejudices of its scripters.

Things may look a little like revolutionary France. But of course beneath the hood its yet another Nazi occupiers vs. French Resistance story, with the Aristos taking on the role of the ‘true French’. This rule is only ever really broken to show the Revolutionaries in a poorer light, for example to portray their troops as an ill-disciplined rabble. You know, Nazis who aren't even dressed nice. (“You can give them uniforms, Lieutenant, but they remain peasants underneath.”)

Though even this was in many ways prefigured by the Pimpernel, and Orczy’s insistence the continent was somewhere to escape from. The war years had produced actual historical figures labelled respectively as the Tartan, the American and the Black Pimpernel, not to mention a second Scarlet one (the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican). War fiction often re-used Orczy's escape and disguise tropes - the Aristos normally replaced by downed airmen who could mimic their upper class manners, keen to get back to Blightly to continue the fight. Before their Pimpernel film, Powell and Pressburger made 'One Of Our Aircraft is Missing' (1942) with precisely this scenario. The later TV series 'Secret Army' continued it for three seasons (1977/9).

Of course, as we’ve seen, 'The Daleks' was a stand-in Nazi story too. But, while the historicals certainly shouldn’t be merely dismissed, perhaps science fiction has intrinsic advantages as a metaphor-producing machine. With 'The Daleks' the imagination was freed from the need to find real-world parallels, enabled to build up a psychological portrait of what might make a Nazi tick. You use a metaphor or analogy to show the original thing from a previously unseen angle. If you’re simply substituting one label for another for the sake of novelty or variety, it’s simply not interesting. The result is merely a set of lowest-common-denominator parallels – greed, avarice and the like.

The Reign of Re-enactments

The can’t-change-history line from 'The Aztecs' is back, but what was once a source of narrative tension has now become a given. Of course we wouldn’t want a simple reprise of previous themes. But the problem is reduced to a plotting issue. If the travellers only observe events the story becomes a mere travelogue, and would be un-involving. But if they do influence things, how come we don’t read the results in our history books? The problem is exacerbated by their swift siding with the nobly losing Aristos.

The problem is resolved by a simple cheat. When engaging with made-up characters, involvement is considered okay. But if the viewers at home have already heard of someone (Robespierre, Napoleon) events suddenly switch into Historical mode, and everyone immediately has to pull up a chair and simply watch. It’s like Time Cops suddenly turn up with lots of blue tape – “Sorry sir, historical event. Please step back. Only to see here.”

...and the point where that boat truly beaches itself is in the appearance of Napoleon. And why does Napoleon appear? So we can see Napoleon! Because really, not much else happens. It really doesn't feel so different to inspecting a Napoleon effigy on a school trip to some waxwork museum. In the later storyline, 'The Chase', after watching time-travel space TV (don't ask) Barbara explains “I didn’t really want to know anything, I just wanted to see Elizabeth’s court.” We're asked to feel pretty much the same way here.

In fact history isn’t just a given, it’s actively an encumbrance. If 'The Aztecs' is the upside of the historical, this expresses their limitation. 'Reign' takes 'The Aztecs' as the template it was never intended to be, then fails to even get that template right. History in 'The Aztecs' is like the Father in 'Miss Julie' - it happens offstage. We never meet Cortez or Montezuma, but the fact that we know of them presses their presence upon us all the firmer. While here the tale of derring-do and rip-roaring escapes is frequently interrupted for these stagy am-dram reconstructions. (With Orczy The Pimpernel's primary antagonist is the handily fictional Citizen Chauvelin, even if historical figures do crop up now and then.)

Worse, this device is not only a contrivance, it repeatedly draws attention to its own extemporisation. Ian holds one of the Aristos back from aiding Robespierre during his arrest. But the Aristo is of his time, how does Ian know his actions aren’t preventing history from being changed but actively making it?

How could such a mish-mash happen? This was Spooner's first script, while David Whitaker was still script editor. (A relationship which would soon enough reverse.) Arguably, his Pimpernelesque inclinations towards high adventure clash against the need to conform to Whitaker's already established model of historical re-enactment. Later Spooner stories will... well, we'll get to that.

Perhaps this lack of content might be less noticeable if the form was stronger. But the plotting here feels perfunctory, sometimes no better than a series of stock events strung in an arbitrary order. It really is the standard ‘capture, escape, re-capture, re-escape… have we reached Episode Six yet?’ There may be other stories in 'Who’s history which used this structure. (Just as I may be using understatement there.) The problem is more that there's nothing going on in the foreground to distract you from this so-basic back-and-forth. It's like a buffet so insubstantial that you end up staring at the plate.

And its made worse when characters suddenly appear just when someone is in need of some assistance, for example the boy who rescues the Doctor for ill-explained reasons. (Then again perhaps we should be thankful there’s no ‘Escape Through Ye Olde Ventilation Shaft’ sequence.)

We’re best off just accepting some contrivances, such as the way nobody even attempts a French accent. But there’s frequent outbreaks of laziness when these contrivances contradict themselves. The companions all contrive themselves into a handily placed set of period clothes almost upon arrival, allowing them to blend in. But the Doctor doesn’t get his set till the third episode, with no-one up till then thinking to comment upon this.

'Reign of Terror's reputation as a comedy probably comes down to the comic interludes being more effective than the main story. (Plus the historical hindsight of knowing Dennis Spooner’s next script was a genuine comedy.) A cynical satisfaction lies in watching the ancillary characters, such as the hapless Jailer, shifting from one power-broker to the other. Combine these with the setting and at odd moments it feels almost reminiscent of 'Black Adder.' However, if the drama’s no rival to 'The Aztecs' the comedy’s no more a match for 'Black Adder'.

Taking A Spanner To History

For all that, 'Reign of Terror' isn’t without its moments. For example there’s Barbara’s sudden outburst to Ian - “the Revolution isn't all bad, and neither are the people who support it... You check your history books, before you decide what people deserve.” It's thrown in like a spanner, as if Spooner's attempting to disrupt his own narrative. It’s as if the roles from 'The Aztecs' have been reversed.

But there's a limitation to this line – its really just a line! Barbara doesn’t up and change sides at this point, or even change her behavior in any way. The spanner momentarily holds things up, then is removed and the works continue as they did before. While the critique of their own actions was woven into the fabric of 'The Aztecs', here it merely waves at us in passing. In essence we’re told “things are a bit more complicated than you think, you know. But anyway, I’d better let you get on. You have some oppressed Aristos to help escape, I hear.”

And even this apparent jarring moment is seeded by Orczy. She deliberately introduces characters who, once sympathetic to the revolution, have turned from the dark shadow of the guillotine. The u-word is soon reached for, and the descent of the Revolution into the Terror made inevitable - “destroying a society in order to try and rebuild upon the ashes of tradition a new Utopia, of which a few men dreamed, but which none had the power to establish.”

And how could it be otherwise? No-one who knows more about history than Michael Gove would suggest the French Revolution was causeless, an outbreak of mass hysteria which unfortunately occurred when some sharp implements happened to be left lying about. It would be like King Canute dissing the tide.

So even Orczy, herself one of the titled clan the Revolution sought to overthrow, didn't try to deride it in this one-dimensional, entirely dismissive fashion. She was writing, after all, not in the heat and fury of 1792 but the cool contemplation of 1905. By that point it was obvious, if only to be implied, that in the long term both the French and the English Revolutions had resulted in bourgeois rule. In short, they led directly to the world Orczy – and, after her, Spooner – lived in. The plebeian revolution that didn't happen is inflated, like a monster to frighten children, in order that the bourgeois revolution that did ensue can be sublimated, naturalised.

Hence Orczy devises a character such as Marguerite St Just as a former sympathiser to republicanism. But this avowed egalitarian is simultaneously described as “tall, above the average, with magnificent presence and regal figure”. She requires a bourgeois revolution for her innate talents, her “above the average”-ness, to emerge. For the good of all, careers must be thrown open to ability, not held back by the choking hold of heredity. Unfortunately during the working-out of this some bolshy peasants and workers got all worked up and over-excited, and this unleashed the Terror. Barbara, a traveller from 'our' time, a later era where even she a woman can vote, arrives to emphasise the point more strongly. But it was a point which was there to be made.

Though perhaps Barbara’s line is picked up somewhere else in the story, in the depiction of Robespierre. As much a troubled as a tyrannical character, it’s disappointing that (after a big build-up) he’s given so little screen time. His arrest also provides a neat irony. In a rare moment of historical accuracy, he’s deliberately shot in the jaw to restrict his ability to defend himself. His refusal to allow arrestees the right to speak thereby rebounds upon him in a literal sense. (Fannishly, I was reminded of Davros denying the Daleks the concept of mercy and later being destroyed for it.)

For, though this might simply be damning with faint praise, Spooner does give a little more balanced picture of the Terror than did Orczy. At the onset of the Terror the Revolution was already four years old. Despite Orczy's fixation with the health of her own class it was more a civil war, more like Maoist China's Cultural Revolution, than a simple egg hunt for hiding Aristos. So, contrary to popular myth, the vast majority of the victims were workers and peasants. And more lost their lives at the hands of mobs than to the guillotine. 'Reign' does to some extent acknowledge some of this savage factional war, even if it doesn't truly break with Orczy's hide-and-seek obsessions.

Another upside won’t sound like much until you watch other early episodes. The travelers are captured soon after disembarking from the Tardis, are taken to Paris and only when their exploits come to a close are they able to return to it. In too many other episodes there’s some contrivance to make the Tardis inaccessible – it’s missing a part, it’s stolen, it’s lock is stolen, a bunch of rubble falls on it as soon as they step out etc etc.

Here things get along quite happily without any of that repetitive rubbing-in business, their being taken away from the Tardis is quite sufficient. Moreover, the time-distance to Paris is conveyed by the straightforward device of the Doctor having to walk there. It’s the sort of simple act that breathes life into a storyline, but no time would be found for it today.

The King Is Dead, The Doctor Is In The House

But perhaps where this story most comes alive is in the character of the Doctor. Demonstrating the degree to which he’s changed since the first episodes, he tells that afore-mentioned rescuing boy he will simply walk to Paris and save his friends from those pesky Revolutionaries. He succeeds with nothing more than audacity, force of personality and a keen judge of character – not even (as we’re reminded) any local currency.

His disguise as an official gets him taken to Robespierre. We fear he’ll be uncovered, but he uses the opportunity to chide the man for the Terror as if he’s an errant child. “My voice seems to carry some weight,” he notes sagely.

Noted 'Who' sage Andrew Rilstone has called the Doctor “a gentleman amateur”. He always feigns surprise when called upon to adventure, even when it happens every week. So his actions are always extemporised, even bumbling, but he will achieve things the professionals can’t.

Of course, the twin-word term is double-edged. It is partly the Doctor's gentlemanliness, his innate authority, that allows him to be as successful as he is. His voice carries weight, his natural authority trumps the usurped power base of the post-revolutionary bureaucrats - he is a walking, talking refutation of the revolutionary principle that the natural order can be overturned. Minions call him 'citizen' but respond to his commands like a dog to a whistle.

And here there are some points of similarity to Orczy's hero. The Pimpernel is something of a trickster, gaming his enemies rather than overpowering them. And here we have, for example, the Doctor using a gang master's own greed as a means to defeat him. Along with the “blood on this knife” scene from 'Tribe of Gum' and confronting-Dalek-whilst-armed-only-with-lapels from 'Dalek Invasion of Earth', (upcoming) this may be one of the defining Hartnell Doctor moments.

Alas, while the Doctor is depicted so well the presentation of Susan reaches an absolute screaming-for-Gallifrey nadir. Would someone who had faced Daleks really be so scared of rats? It’s like some law of macrocosmic balance is afoot. Susan’s best story, 'Unearthly Child', is paired with the most out-of-character Doctor!

Overall, ’Reign’ has become rather over-valued in estimation. Rescuing the historical stories from being overlooked by the science-fiction fixated is commendable. But as soon as you start talking up this story the pendulum has swung too far the other way. The first season largely escaped the BBC’s dreaded loss-of-episodes syndrome, the exceptions being 'Marco Polo' completely wiped and two episodes missing from here. The fact we lost 'Marco Polo' to keep this almost gives weight to the conspiracy theories that the BBC execs set out to destroy this show.

For the first season, historicals tended to both take their assigned era quite seriously, and foreground the time travel element. (Even ‘Tribe Of Gum’, however unlikely the viewer is to take it seriously.) But soon they effectively become historical romances, in fact more so than the science fiction stories are planetary romances) with the time travel element just there to inject the regular cast into the right setting for a genre adventure story. It’s the difference between a guide’s tour of the Acropolis and a theme park ride.

And it’s the misfortune of ‘Reign Of Terror’ to fall between these stools and so become fundamentally confused about itself. As the adventurers start to run around and ride the rides they find themselves bumping into thosewaxwork figures arranged in tableaus. It's neither one thing nor the other. But it has enough of each to stop it becoming the other.

Postscript:'Reign' officially ended the first season, hence Hartnell's tacked-on closing narration about our destiny lying in the stars. Which marks a suitable point for our classic ’Who’ reviews to go on hiatus, for fear they’d get lost in all the sound and fury over the forthcoming new season.

Something I am unlikely to write about myself very much. If it pulls off another individual exception like ‘Demons of the Punjab’ then I might make my own exception. But I’ve already said what needs saying: “Chibnall isn’t even good enough to be particularly bad. The word for him would be perfunctory.” I’ll say something else when he does something else.

Saturday 21 December 2019


Tate Modern, London

“Why should the inspiration that comes from an artist’s manipulation of the hairs of a brush be any different from that of the artist who bends at will the rays of light?”
— Pierre Dubreuil

”Photography is all about finding new ways of looking.”
Gallery guide

To The Essence

The last Modernist photography exhibition the Tate ran, ‘The Radical Eye’, effectively scuppered the standard model. The claim was no longer credible that photography served Modernism by taking from it the rote task of faithfully recording stuff, like a servant carrying out his master’s chores. Instead, it was seized on as a Modernist medium in its own right. As said at the time: “The lens was taken up as an artists’ instrument as much as the paint brush or sculptor’s mallet, if not a tool for modern times which rendered its predecessors redundant.”

But that show’s chief focus was the human figure. Abstract photography might mark a bigger jump. In fact it strikes many as actively self-contradictory. Surely photography is always contingent, always of something. The coiffured celebrity, the scenic view, the significant event… that comes first, and then draws the photographers to it like a magnet.

This is because many define abstract art quite narrowly - as the non-representational. Mondrian’s coloured squares are abstract because they’re not based on an actual scene he happened on, and so on. But it also means ‘to remove from’ or ‘reduce to its essence’. Both of which come up in this show. As Aaron Siskind says: “When a painter paints a picture it can be immediately abstract… A band of paint is simply a band of paint. When a photographer makes nature abstract, an attempt is made to transform a realistic scene into an abstraction.”

So abstract photography does see the real world but only as raw materials, to sift through and utilise. Man Ray’s quoted as saying “instead of producing a banal representation of a place, I’d rather take my handkerchief out of my pocket, twist it to my liking, and photograph it as I wish.”

And it was ever thus. The entire basis of composition lies in boiling art down into a set of shapes and forms, which can then be arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner. These then attract the eye, an eye which only later recognises what those shapes and forms have been made to represent – cylinders resolve into torsos, ellipses become heads, and so on. Abstract art just does away with the unnecessary final stage, and makes the composition the end-all. So just like ambient music is really a way of listening, abstract is less an art style and more a way of looking, where composition is prized above representation.

Photography, precisely because it has to be contingent on something, is a good way of accentuating this. Significantly, Paul Strand named his pieces ‘Abstract’ then gave away their origin in the rest of the title, as with ’Abstraction, Porch Shadow, Connecticut’ (1916, below). The point wasn’t to hide away the way they were made, like in a magic trick, but to display it.

This show is more about the interrelationship of photography and abstract art than abstract photography in itself. Following the example of ’Camera Work’,
a photography journal run by Alfred Stieglitz between 1903 and 1917, it often sets up side-by-side comparisons of photographs with paintings, the labels clustered together. So for example a Mondrian sits beside German Lorca’s ’Mondrian Window’ (1960, below).

Different Eyes

A driving force behind Modernism was that we now live primarily in a made world, so there’s little sense clutching to the aesthetic rules or subject-matters of our forefathers. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s quoted as saying “we see the world with entirely different eyes”. So Lorca’s combination of rigid geometric forms is something we’re likely to encounter, despite its absence from nature. The fact that it’s a window, something you’re supposed to look through rather than at, just emphasises the way it’s about reframing things.

And of course Mondrian was inspired by the geometry of urban environments in the first place, particularly New York. Though I’d suggest Lorca works better than Mondrian precisely because the image is captured rather than composed out of nothing. Things work almost the other way up. Because we’re looking at a photo of a made object not something painted by hand, it’s the imperfections which we notice. And it’s those imperfections which look so glorious.

Also, if the urban environment gave new views it also provided no viewpoints. Such as the sheer towering cliff of a tall building, so regularly punctuated, of Aleksandr Rodchenko’s ’Balconies’ (1925, below).

And once this new way of seeing is established, we bear its imprint. We carry our different eyes with us everywhere. So Bill Brandt’s ’East Sussex Coast’ series (1957, example below), features a human figure in a natural environment, but abstracts from them regardless. In its contrast between the contours of the human form and the flat horizon, it’s similar to the sculpture of Henry Moore.

But the weakness here is the obvious one. Continue insisting that photography is the cousin of painting, and it will only ever be the poor relation. Modernism’s liberating promise to painting was that it could see itself as a thing in itself, it didn’t have to imitate to survive in polite company. It should do no less for photography. However, as the paintings start to thin out mid-way through this (chiefly) chronological exhibition, maybe that story has a happy ending.

As said photography is always of pieces of the world. Yet it contains no inherent sense of scale. Those limbs Bill Brandt snapped on a Sussex beach, couldn’t they be monumental in size? We can, if we want, blow up a pin to wall size or reduce a city to a postage stamp. Cinema jumps between these scales from one second to the next. And the cumulative effect of this show is similar. Our eyes dart continually between all of this - scales, angles and viewpoints - until we no longer even notice.

So a work like Karol Hiller’s ’Heliographic Composition XXIV’ (1936, above) takes on a Malevich-like mysticism. It could be an aerial view of a modern city, a close-up of machine parts, or simply some geometry Hiller himself assembled. It’s not obvious whether it’s bigger or smaller in scale than our everyday senses, merely that it’s outside of them. The forms become idealised, floating in a space not subject to the norms of physics. The term ‘Heliographic’ came from his desire to unite photography, painting and graphic design, ideally within the space of one artwork.

Subjective Photography

Another advantage of photography is that it seemed inherently a more democratic medium. It was simply easier to take a snap than paint a painting. And even those who didn’t, or did so in merely a casual way, might respond less credulously and more critically when presented with a photography exhibition. The Bauhaus for example sought to level hierarchies among the arts, if not between them and the crafts. Which led to them, as the show explains in a slightly Finbarr Saunders moment, “encouraging experimentation in the darkroom”. Their tutor Maholy-Nagy, already quoted above, started as a painter but soon took to photography. And his photos, at least in my view, eclipse his paintings in quality.

This extended to subject matter. Rodchenko’s primary purpose was to capture the modern urban environment. He might well have developed his own authorial style while doing so, but the subject matter was accessible to all - requiring no specialised knowledge. The above should be seen as a range of ideas, and different artists might have adhered to them to different degrees, but which point in a broadly similar direction.

Meanwhile, other works question artistic intent altogether. Take for example Brassai (the pseudonym of Gyula Halász). His series of ‘Involuntary Sculptures’ (example above from 1932) were essentially found abstracts, everyday items he’d photograph in great close-up. What would otherwise seem ephemeral became foregrounded. As he said at the time “There is nothing more surreal than reality itself. If reality fails to fill us with wonder, it is because we have fallen into the habit of seeing it as ordinary.”

Brassai also held a fascination for Parisian graffiti, example above. Rather than try to persuade you of the artistic merit of their subject, his photographs present these scratchings as inscrutably strange as rock art. In one way there’s an overlap between this and the way Abstract Expressionist artists such as Mark Tobey would evoke ancient, indecipherable hieroglyphs. But in another…

Someone, obviously, must have made that graffiti for it to be there. But that’s not where Brassai’s interest lies. Paris isn’t a canvas for his subject, it is his subject. As most of his examples are scratched or scoured into the wall, it’s often hard to tell deliberate mark making from accidental wear and tear. Perhaps one sometimes led to the other, the way cave paintings sometimes exploited unusual shapes of rock.

Aaron Siskind took similar photos in America, such as ’Los Angeles 3’ (1949, above). And with Siskind the notion is stronger of chance discovery as a means of accessing an otherwise invisible underlying process. For at Black Mountain College he taught alongside the Pope of Chance John Cage. (Rauschenberg was one of his pupils, and it shows.)

These photographs reflect the spirit of the magical aphorism “as above, so below”. The vast cities of Paris and Los Angeles are too big a fit for the most wide-angle lens, but can be captured in microcosm. The dilapidation is important, as it contrasts with the artifice of the urban environment and shows a humanised, lived-in space. (Just as there is no rust or peeling painting in those Bauhaus or Constructivist images.)

But it doesn’t work in the social crusading sense of exposing urban decay. It’s inaccurate to read them as presenting Modernist idealism gone rusty. It’s more that they have an aesthetic all their own, the way older people can develop character lines. It’s more that they act as a map of the cities’ spirits just as a more literal map capture their streets.

A different approach is taken by Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé with ’Jazzmen’ (1961, above). The residue of overlaid torn posters is something that has always fascinated me whenever I come across it. It’s interesting to note what this is not. Cubism took a hammer to letters as much as it did bottles, guitars and heads. But it always took a single image and fractured it. Whereas this is clearly multiple images superimposed, as if jostling for space. The show tells us his interest lay not the posters themselves but the act of tearing them, which he saw as “a spontaneous art of the street”.

However he has given this work the title “Jazzmen”, and the image seems centred around the guitar-sporting torso. Like Jazz did with music, de la Villeglé is taking apart and recombining something previously familiar.

And how would we represent a city sonically? The City Symphony films of the Twenties, took their structure, as it says here, “from the movements and motifs of orchestral symphonies… rather than the dynamics of narrative pacing.” They largely assumed a modern city was as grand, as cohesive, as composed as an orchestral work. Morning traffic was like fanfares, and so on. Yet if that high-minded notion ever matched the way we actually experience cities, it didn’t survive that optimistic decade.

Whereas, unlike these films (and also unlike Brassai’s found graffiti), the jazz analogy does not assume a city can be condensed down to a single item. Instead it’s composed of neighbours who do not choose one another but find a way to get along; a city is a collage to its very heart. But, more than that, the analogy assumes a city is in a continual process of being reworked and repurposed, a neighbourhood built for one thing transforming into something else, one façade put up over another but then itself starting to fray.

Anti Subject Matter, Anti-Photography

Let’s do the ‘meanwhile’ thing again, and cut to pure abstract photography. The show describes this as “focused on the tools of the medium rather than real world objects. They used photography to consider the inner mechanisms of the world and explored the possibility of creating photography that could break free from subject matter altogether.” Belina Kolarova enthused over it, “how little is needed for its creation!”

Bronislaw Schalb, in works such as ’Untitled’ (1957, above), burned, scratched and painted straight onto the negative. And the non-title is significant, there isn’t a porch shadow that if followed might lead us back to the world we know. Perhaps what’s interesting is that even as you’re told this your mind recoils from the information, still tries to find a way to associate the photograph with things around us. You try to make it into an aerial view of a parched landscape, an experiment in a petri dish and so on. And, as so often, it’s the art that’s irresolvable which is the art that lingers.

Yet while widespread these approaches weren’t universal. Otto Steinert, despite being part of the Bauhaus, later formed the ‘fotoform group’. Their credo of “subjective photography” re-emphasised the photographer’s role as “decision maker”, essentially reversing the perspective back onto the button-clicker and confirming the photographer had an artistic spirit after all.

Alfred Stieglitz went further, in his ’Equivalent’ series (1927-31, example above). He’d photograph clouds, as we all could, but in much the way a Romantic would have painted them. He spoke of their expressing his “inner resonances”, nature as an externalisation of the self. And these can be effective works in their own right. There’s no requirement for abstract photography to march in a single direction. It’s an approach, not a genre.

Evading Photography

The show is hung roughly chronologically, and as we get nearer to the present day I started to think more and more about getting nearer the exit door. Some of these later works do entertain interesting notions, but to which the actual artworks seem just an afterthought. While others just seem callbacks to earlier ideas, given a Post-Modern gloss. (Admittedly I’d have been more excited by Ed Rusha’s aerial views of sparse Californian parking lots had I not already encountered them at the Barbican’s ‘Constructing Worlds’ show.)

Of course that might sound like something I always say. But painting and sculpture ceased to be culturally cutting-edge a long time ago. While photography could hardly be any less prevalent. But perhaps that’s the problem…

Perhaps the ubiquitousness of the digital camera and its incorporation into the mobile phone, has meant that photography has become too easy, that a Goldilocks moment has been passed and being photographed no longer had any significance. But that doesn’t seem the whole of it.

The two best works (ironically two of the most recent) provide an anti-photography but of a different kind, one which kind of fetishises its limitations. Photography is associated with demarcating, with providing hard evidence. A camera’s version of events trumps a person’s. “Photos or it didn’t happen” is a phrase. Isn’t it time to start screwing with all that? And notably other works attempt a similar thing, just less successfully than these two.

First let’s look at Maya Rochat ‘A Rock In a River’ (2018, above), providing what the show describes as “fragmented pictures of digital textures, geological forms and organic matter.” It covers the final wall of the gallery with a backdrop combined with a projected lightshow. Though appealingly we also see a version of this over the entrance, as if it envelops everything contained within.

Its colourful degeneration of form calls back less to the Bauhaus than the Sixties. Though arguably it’s formlessness is not part of the psychedelic era which gets most recycled, which has more to do with the ‘sharp’ look of the post-mod hippie. It doesn’t just counter resolution with the incohate, it suggests that chaos is the primal state of things. Rochat has commented “each person has an experience that’s unique - just by being there you are activating the show… each moment is there for you, and then it’s gone. You can’t really document it.” Which means, not for the first time, I comment enthusiastically this is something you can’t just cut around, capture and stick on the internet. Next to an internet image of it I've stuck on the internet.

While E.I. City 1’ by Antony Cairns (2018, above), the poster image for the show, takes a modern city image then subjects it to a “complex developing process” I don’t claim to understand, but which seems designed to recreate the organic processes of early film. Contrary to Maholy-Nagy’s futurism, this is like framing our world through yesterday’s eyes. His images are postcard rather than wall size, suggesting a circle being completed.

And what gives these works their appeal? As I said previously “today we’re filmed for simply walking down the street.” Only in May a man was fined simply for attempting to avoid facial recognition technology, despite being on no wanted lists.

It’s not just there are more cameras, it’s that current urban environments are designed to be camera-compliant. Under advanced capitalism, all is not just a panopticon but a smoothed down surface built around observation. The outdoor space we pass through increasingly resembles an open-plan office.

Of course these days people are always photographing themselves, then publicly uploading the minutiae of their lives. This is often used to claim that, if they’re also being filmed, that can’t be considered oppressive. But this misses the insidiousness of the way it works. It’s become a process which turns us into subjects rather than autonomous agents. To be watched, to be viewed over, isn’t an imposition on your existence. It has become your existence. So of course we then subjectify ourselves. Photos or you didn’t happen.

Ironically this may have best been described by the Situationist writer Raoul Vaneigem back in the Sixties, before much of this technology existed:

“We think we are living in the world, when in fact we are being positioned in a perspective. No longer the simultaneous perspective of primitive painters, but the perspective of the Renaissance rationalists. It is hardly possible for looks, thoughts and gestures to escape the attraction of the distant vanishing-point which orders and deforms them, situates them in its spectacle.

”Power is the greatest town-planner. It parcels out public and private survival, buys up vacant lots at cut price, and only permits construction that complies with its regulations. Its own plans involve the compulsory acquisition of everybody. It builds with a heaviness which is the envy of the real town-builders that copy its style, translating the old mumbo-jumbo of the sacred hierarchy into stockbroker-belts, white collar apartments and workers flats. (Like, for example, in Croydon.)”

In short surveillance is no so widespread that the Modernist presumption of ‘The Radical Eye’ has now been inverted, the ability to exist autonomously lies precisely in not being photographed, not being catalogued and indexed. But to be outside the frame no longer seems a realistic option.

So our refuge has come to lie in the motion blur, the lack of resolution, the file error, the last few imperfections left. They appeal to us as a hole does to a hunted rabbit. Even the logo of the show is rendered out of register, an enticingly fuzzy glow to convey how homely imperfection can feel.

Saturday 14 December 2019


First broadcast May/June 1964
Written by John Lucarotti
Plot spoilers: Medium

“What is the point of travelling in time and space? You can't change anything – nothing!”
- Barbara

Whose White Burden?

Out of the decidedly mixed bag of the first series, 'The Aztecs' is prized by fans as a story that works. In the great Outpost Gallifrey Poll it was voted second-favourite Hartnell story, ahead even of the seemingly more fan-friendly 'The Daleks'! Ostensibly it authentically conveys a period setting convincingly and takes the concept of time travel with refreshing seriousness.

And in fact, it does succeed - but for neither of these reasons. First, let’s put paid to those myths...

Writer John Lucarotti had lived in Mexico, and held a fascination for Aztec society. And, it is true, they are presented more convincingly, as part of a culture more sophisticated, than the Equity-cardholding cavemen who clogged 'Tribe of Gum'. However, while everyone rushes to the word ‘Shakespearean’ in discussing 'The Aztecs'without the necessary ‘cod-' prefix, they are right. Just in a way they don't mean.

It’s set in the same fuzzily foreign ‘other-place’ where most of Shakespeare’s plays happen, a place distant enough that stories can occur there. There’s some tokens of specificity, but like most historicals these are more reiterations of things we we think already know about the time than items for us to absorb. (“Is it true, Daddy, that there were these funny people with their human sacrifice and their chocolate?” “Yes, little Timmy, it’s true.”). Beneath these, there’s no attempt to simulate an Aztec mindset. They’re just as much a stand-in for a set of modern values as were the Daleks or Thals.

It’s not just that the Aztec characters are less memorable than the regulars, that might be expected given their lesser screentime. It’s the nagging feeling that they were devised as mechanisms, precisely for the effect they might have upon those regulars. They're assigned. The Doctor has Cameca, Ian Ixta, and (while Susan gets roundly ignored) Barbara nabs two – Autloc and Tlotoxl. And these last two turn out to be the pivot on which the whole thing turns.

Lucarotti’s interest lay in the “sharp contrasts” he saw in Aztec society, scientifically and technologically advanced but practicing barbaric rites like human sacrifice. Susan describes this as “beauty and horror developing hand in hand”. Except they don’t. The paradox of them being civilized yet barbaric is ultimately conveyed via Barbara's two figures - Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge and Tlotoxl, the High Priest of Sacrifice. (With a sideline, it would seem, in Overacting.) The hands aren't intertwined like fingers but juxtaposed, as if ‘good’ and ‘evil’ were tattooed on rival sets of knuckles. 

Consequently we don’t need to ask how someone could be so civilized yet believe in human sacrifice, the way an actual Aztec would, because no-one here really does. Autloc, described by Ian as “the unusual man here”, questions its wisdom before the travellers turn up. Tlotoxl meanwhile is something of a swivel-eyed panto villain, given to gurneying into the camera, so as not to beset our minds with problematic notions too much. They divide neatly into the proto-modern who are really trying very hard to become more advanced, and the primitives obstinantly staying just as they are. (And in many ways mirror Marco and Tegana from Lucarotti’s earlier ‘Marco Polo’.)

It's notable that this counterposition is a common way to frame early civilizations. Ancient Rome, for example, is virtually epitomised our minds by the Colosseum – great, accomplished architecture housing barbaric, bloody games. In fact, rather than a storyline seeking to explain the apparent anomaly of human sacrifice but failing, the reverse seems more likely – the Aztecs were chosen in the first place to serve up this juxtaposition. It's a way of parsing two contradictory feelings we have. How come they were so like us yet so not? Well people like us were already around, but not in sufficient numbers to crowd out the rest. You see?

Deified and Defied

As for the time travel element, most time travel stories are (if you’ll pardon the expression) a waste of time. For one thing I’m philosophically opposed to determinist or fatalist approaches to history, as come to be on offer here. As the old saying goes: “The book of history stands open. The future is unwritten.” The past is only unalterable through being inaccessible to us, like a locked room. If we ever did gain a Tardis-shaped key, the past would soon become as unwritten as the future.

Moreover, as soon as a story becomes about the pitfalls and paradoxes of time travel, it becomes particularly pointless for those of us who don’t have our own time machines. It’s like watching a road safety video if you’re never likely to drive a car.

Consequently, the best time travel stories aren’t really time travel stories at all. Ray Bradbury’s short story 'A Sound of Thunder' is an ecological fable in disguise, telling us to be careful how we place our carbon footprint before the term even existed. Richard Kelly’s film 'Donnie Darko' is focused on a mixed up teen trying to find his place in the world but folds in time travel motifs for symbolic value.

And 'The Aztecs' is a story about power.

And its central paradox is to be a critique of power from the perspective of power.

These kind of ‘mistaken deity’ storylines, where the arriving white man naturally gets mistaken for a saviour, are of course a well-known trope, going back at least to Henry Rider Haggard and transferring easily from such colonialist adventures to science fiction.

Here it’s given a twist, handily summed up in the way the white man’s burden falls to a woman. Barbara turns out to be something of an Aztec expert, so naturally then gets mistaken by them for a deity. She then tries to use our white-folks privilege for the good of those more primitive.

Some while ago I rashly claimed in print that the essence of 'Doctor Who' was shamanic, that it was fundamentally about a medicine man who travels to heal the sick. But these early episodes are not like that at all. They're not about the questing but the lost, about (to coin a phrase) wanderers in the fourth dimension.

Storylines are predicated almost entirely upon escape rather than intervention; events first conspire to part the company from the Tardis and are then strung along them trying to get back there. When they do intervene it’s usually because their escape has become dependent upon it. Keys go missing, the Tardis gets nicked... there's not been an episode so far where they simply forget where they’ve parked it, but I expect that’s to come.

'The Aztecs', however, takes these elements and re-jigs them. It’s a story where escape is weighed against intervention. In fact escape takes on a commitment as equally principled as Barbara’s interventionism. And in these early days it’s the Doctor himself who’s anti-interventionist, with his now-famous rebuttal to her: "But you can't rewrite history! Not one line! What you are trying to do is utterly impossible.”

Contrast events to the 1975 film 'The Man Who Would Be King', where the protagonist becomes accepted due to a Masonic ring from his culture, which unknown to him is revered by the natives in a kind of cargo cult. Whereas Barbara puts on a genuinely Aztec necklace after recognizing it, placing her in this position precisely because of her knowledge of them.

But from that point things flip – the man who blundered into divinity soon finds he likes the way it feels. The titular Man Who Would Be King falls through a combination of unawareness of local customs and a virulent bout of hubris, when he comes to believe his own divine PR. Barbara conversely is quite precisely not the woman who would be Queen. When Queenhood is thrust upon her surprised head, she immediately acts for the perceived betterment of her people. She put on that necklace herself, but it becomes her burden of office. She sticks to type throughout, a well-meaning schoolteacher trying to instill into her charges some essence of decency. And it's these best of motives which lead to the worst of outcomes.

And so it proves, in a story which becomes a parable on the limitations of power. Barbara, like Emperors immemorial, theoretically has absolute power - which is circumscribed the moment she tries to use it against the priests’ wishes. She's deified and defied in equal measure. Barbara’s first act is to stop a human sacrifice, whose intended victim promptly gets affronted and tops himself anyway. The crew do finally escape – but this time their response is not so simple as being glad to get away. For a show aired for a family audience who were most likely having their tea while watching, things ends on a remarkably bleak note – “we failed, didn’t we?

True, her insistence that the Conquistadors would have left the Aztecs alone had they not practiced human sacrifice... that might suggests she hasn’t studied the era very much after all. "Oh, don't you see? If I could start the destruction of everything that's evil here, then everything that's good will survive when Cortes lands." No, Barbara, we don't see. If you really want to help, tell them to hide their gold.

Remember the famous scene in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' where the big guy does some fancy flourishes with a scimitar and Jones just shoots him dead? Colonialism was like that, endlessly recurring, except people were less often killed singly and more often in their hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands.

It was of course previously peaceful societies such as the Aboriginals who were slaughtered the soonest because, unprimed for conflict, they didn't fight back so effectively. As soon as the musket-toting Europeans showed up, distrust and aggression were pretty handy ways of prolonging your life.

So 'The Aztecs' takes the 'white saviour' trope and undermines it from within. But from within, is that actually the best place from where to undermine the thing? Perhaps the success of the story lies less in it's limited progressiveness and more in the snapshot it takes of it's own times. Because, inevitably, it captures Sixties Britain much more accurately than pre-Columbian Mexico.

When was 1964? Soon after the last significant British colonies, in Africa and the Caribbean, had finally uncoupled themselves from the benevolence of our rule. (For example, Jamaica in '61 and Trinidad the following year. Though the sorry saga wouldn't truly be over until the end of the Nineties.) In the Sixties, then, colonialism was simultaneously a live event and a done deal. 

'The Aztecs' may mark the white man, as he packs away his pith helmet, looking back over history and reflecting how far things had gone from his original high intentions. A perspective which of course looks at colonialism by the fine words inscribed on its lid rather than the bullets and bayonets it was actually packing. But a perspective, nonetheless.

It’s tempting to see ‘The Aztecs’, in fact ‘Doctor Who’ in general, as marking the limits of liberalism. Fan defences often point out how it would be hard for the show to go further while remaining within its premise or its broadcastability. The response to which is “yes, that’s the point we’re making”. Yet there’s not the formal frontier that ‘limits’ suggests. It’s more entangled, an irresistible force of well-meaningness running into an immovable object of incomprehension and self-contradiction. The script itself becomes like Barbara, trying to press it’s good intentions forwards but driving itself deeper.

Making Mummies Gods

But if colonialism was on the way out, not everything around it was. There is something of an under-taste of misogyny to the whole enterprise, as if the problem lies not with power itself but on overabundance of mummy power and a corresponding lack of daddy's tougher love. (Perhaps making Autloc a kind of mummy in daddy clothes.) The Doctor and Ian take so definitely against Barbara (and Susan is so sidelined) you can’t help but sense an assumption - that events would have turned out quite differently had either of them slipped on that rather fetching bracelet. It’s notable that she's the supposed reincarnation of a previously male god. Just as it's notable their escape is based on the two classic representations of male power - science (the Doctor building a pulley) and violence (Ian fighting single combat).

Interestingly, Malcolm Hulke later submitted a script where Barbara was again a matriarch, of a doppelgänger earth ruled by women. (At the same time we should perhaps note that Hulke’s script was dropped and Barbara saves the others’ bacon several times – most notably in 'Edge of Destruction'.)

Needless to say, all of this is based upon a sleight of hand. Intervening in events on Skaro changes its history just as surely as does intervening in events in ancient Mexico. It’s just that one is more abstract to us than the other. And of course the insistence on a fixed past is as likely to be a genre limitation as a psychological conviction. “Not one line” is a line that's simply easier to write. Once the whole course of history has been changed the whole course of history must then be rewritten, with all the legwork that entails – no more landing our travellers in another set of familiar furniture. However, we are better off looking past all of that and seeing 'The Aztecs' both as a kind of parable and a stand-alone item.

Not a New Wheel

Some nay-sayers persist in dissing the historicals, claiming they’re best consigned to history themselves. If we’re picking from the first season, ‘The Aztecs’ is your best riposte. It’s only really this story that can rival ’Unearthly Child’ as a truly classic episode from the first season. (Even ’The Daleks’ is more of a flawed gem.) (While second-best historical would be ‘Marco Polo’, as coincidence would have it another Lucarotti story.) But there’s an irony to that...

Despite the BBC's gag about this being the time the Doctor reinvented the wheel, ‘The Aztecs’ isn’t the storyline which patents anything. It’s not even a signpost to a future path never taken. As a prototype, as a step in the development of 'Doctor Who', it’s functionally useless. It’s insistence on what the travellers couldn’t do was a one-off trick which would never sustain a series. Perhaps thankfully, the series itself would come to recognise that.

With the (eventual) dropping of the ‘historicals’ such questions stopped being a perennial, like 'Star Trek’s not-so-binding Prime Directive, and instead became an occasional worrying tooth. But taken on its own terms, it’s a high point. For all it's peculiar mix of perception and reaction, I wouldn't change it. Not one line.

But perhaps the clinching winning point for 'The Aztecs is something far more prosaic – it’s only four episodes long! A helpful phrase for appreciating early 'Who' might be “four episodes good, six episodes bad.” (We could add “seven episodes still worse”, but than might make it less catchy.) Longer stories were more common, giving us ample examples of this trend. Of the first season, only 'Tribe of Gum' and 'Edge of Destruction' were shorter - with the latter an extemporised filler. While 'The Aztecs' still doesn’t exactly race by, neither does it drag in the way of some others we might mention. In fact, we will mention...

Further reading: Jack Graham's view is somewhat more scathing than mine...

Coming soon! What say you we skip 'The Sensorites' and ask what the weather’s like in France?

Saturday 7 December 2019


Chalk, Brighton, Thurs 28th Nov

Blanck Mass is the solo project of Benjamin John Power, one half of the inimitable Fuck ButtonsWikipedia describes his “musical style… as drone music, post-rock, electronic and experimental." While I caught him at the Mutations festival four years ago, this was the first time I’ve been immersed in the full-length gig.

The backdrop filmshow dropped out a couple of minutes in, leaving him looking a little nonplussed. After some backstage shenanigans, it resumed. And proved a perfect complement to the music, flickering rapidly between abstract coloured shapes which may once have been distortions of images, abstract coloured shapes which just looked like abstract coloured shapes, animal scenes and advertising images. (Disclaimer: this list should not be seen as exhaustive.)

Like the filmshow it was often hard to tell where the musical elements came from. There were pure electronic sounds, what sounded like treated samples, distorted voices (sometimes supplied live) and what may have been machine parts. (Disclaimer: this list should not be seen as exhaustive.) All hurtling past your ears at far too fast a rate for you to stop and analyse.

Or, for those who haven’t seen the backdrop filmshow, it also reminded me of the surrealist collages of Eduardo Paolozzi. (In fact the cover art to the most recent release ’Animated Violence Mild’, a bitten and bleeding apple, is itself something of a Surrealist collage.) Mid-set, he went into the most abstract noise, sounding almost like a field recording of continental drift in action. Which he them followed by the most straightforwardly dancey section of the whole thing. But more often he’d overlay such elements, piled teeteringly over one another with cavalier disregard for musical norms. Like Paolozzi, his aim was to bombard you into a point past processing

Also, Paolozzi frequently used commercial advertising images - but not necessarily in an ironic or adversarial way, more like his eye was genuinely drawn to those bright shiny colours. As I said after an exhibition of his: “Instead of elitist disdain, we should revel in the situation, bathe in the cathode ray bombardment.” Similarly, Power can bring in dance tunes… at times quite regular party-time dance tunes, as if he simply loves the way they get people dancing. At the very same time he mixes them in with the most incongruous elements.

Then at other times he’d go into full-on power electronics mode, proving the point that this is the real punk music of today. The set finished in a sheer screamathon. It hadn’t lasted for much more than an hour but felt like two or three hours of music input had been compressed into one. Had it gone on any longer, I think my receptors may well have burnt out. With gigs finishing so early these days, it was bizarre to emerge from so different a reality system and be back on the sofa to watch ’Question Time’.

Right tour, but Madrid not Brighton…

Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, London, Thurs 5th Dec

Regular readers of Lucid Frenzy… that gag never gets old… will know I’m a fan of Spectralist music, and in particular the Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas. And the programme to this event quotes him to give perhaps the best summation of its twin tenets I’ve heard:

“Twelve tones… per octave are too few for me. I need smaller intervals, finer nuances. And I want to compose expressive, emotional music which moves and takes hold of people.”

After seeing his classic ‘In Vain’ five years back, I commented how his music is often “made up not of individual notes but something closer to sound fields”. Here this proved most true of the strings. A ten-strong string section dominates, playing minimal agitated strokes, with much more variation in the bow-wieding left hand than in the neck-holding right. But even when they all do the same thing they rarely do it at the same time, constantly slipping out of step with one another.

The composite effect is that of a swarm, buzzing like a flurry of disturbed bees. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever heard instruments swarm so much before! This would repeatedly stir itself into motion, grow bigger and more agitated, and then subside. The piano and percussion worked as a kind of counter-weight, much slower, much more assured, possibly even melodic.

I’ve said before that Spectralist music shouldn’t be assumed to be difficult, that it really is expressive, emotional music which takes hold of people. This, however, was perhaps on the more difficult end of the Spectralist spectrum. It lasts only forty minutes, but makes you work for each one of them. It’s formula, something very much like repetition but which isn’t actually repetition, presents something of a challenge to the listener. Do you chew on it, or just let it wash over you? But the results are worth the effort.

As the name might suggest the composition was a tribute to the acclaimed Op artist Bridget Riley, currently on show at the nearby Hayward gallery. (A show, alas, I’m unlikely to make.) After ’In Vain’, I commented how I loved the piece but didn’t think I’d have got the theme (opposition to fascism) unaided. And I’m probably the same here.

But then that’s not really the point. There was a brief pre-concert filmshow which ended on one of her paintings. This led me to briefly fear they’d slideshow her works through the piece. Happily they left comparisons more open and associative, less deterministic.

On the other hand, once you were tipped off it did provide a particular perspective on her. Haas finds the basis of her art not in the repetition or patterning but in the dynamism. As the programme puts it “they are crowding in some direction, cohering in some larger design, impelled by some force.” And this piece portrays her almost as a sorceress, evoking some inexorable force of nature which couldn’t be constrained.

Coming soon (ish)! More Spectralism!
Coming sooner than that! Back to the classic ’Doctor Who’ posts.