Good Bye… for Now

Dear followers,

Thank you very much to the 62 people who have followed this blog over the past 16 months of its existence. It’s good to know I’ve not been talking/writing to myself 🙂

Sadly, as my translation work is growing, I have decided to reduce and refocus my blogging activities. Much as I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and researching for this blog, I must put this one on hold for now and may add to it as and when I find something inspiring to share. In the meantime, I have started a new blog (with fewer posts) on translation, which some of you may like to follow too:

Wishing you all a gloriously sunny summer!


The Tanks’ Aura

Last April, I finally visited the Tanks at Tate Modern and came back enthralled. When some thought that the ubiquitous plain white cubic space of art galleries could not be stripped down to a more minimalist decor, Tate tears the plaster-and-paint flesh from the walls, exposing the bare stout bones of its foundations.

In spite of the desolate and austere visual quality of the surrounding, with small flights of stairs going from an inaccessible overhanging platform to cemented doorways, there is an aura of dignity and welcoming warmth, as if those stern walls and pillars watched over you from the height of their old age and wisdom. While these structures are certainly imposing, there is nothing intimidating about the place. Indeed, the quiet atmosphere leaves you with a feeling of peace.

Although the appreciation of concrete as the final material in its own right is nothing new, other raw pieces of architecture such as Le Corbusier’s or the Arche de la défense (the foundations of which can also be visited) rarely give such a mighty aura, especially on such a small scale.

What do You Want to See?

Art is about to compete with marketing, or indeed take centre stage in our streets, as many commercial posters will be replaced by prints of artworks all around the UK for two refreshing weeks.

From the 21st June (tomorrow), the Art Everywhere project will open its virtual polling station to the broad public. By voting for your favourite 50 British artworks, this is your chance to influence what we see around the country between 10th and 25th August, making a visual difference to our urban landscape. As there will be tens of thousands of such posters, this will turn the UK into “the world’s largest art gallery”.

This is free, so get involved and get voting!

The Beguiling of Merlin, by Edward Burne-Jones

The Beguiling of Merlin, by Edward Burne-Jones


Art Over Civilisation

The “Ice Age – arrival of the modern mind” exhibition at the British Museum in London is proof that there is much more to art than mere depiction of our surrounding or visual pleasure. Something innate in the act of creating beyond the immediacy of survival and practicality is fundamentally linked to humans, as indeed art precedes the advent of agriculture and civilisation in our evolution.

The creativity, attention to detail and imagination demonstrated by Palaeolithic art is undeniable, particularly in the case of decorated antlers: some of these implements bear pictures that cannot be seen whole at a glance from one angle. (The fourth picture below shows the modern cast of such a carving “unrolled”.) Abstract patterns were less common but no less sophisticated, revealing an appreciation of beauty and a wish to apply it to functional objects too.

While we can but speculate as to the intentions and significance behind early Homo Sapiens art, many of these small and delicate pieces look so contemporary in style that we cannot fail to feel connected to our ancestors, as if the essence of our human nature had never changed: the urge to create, explore and experiment has spurred us on through the ages and has never left us.

(For a report on genetic research into our urge to explore and take risks, the article “Restless Genes” in the National Geographic January issue may be of interest.)


Sounds of Mongolia

Anda Union, a band of musicians from Mongolian grassland, “are on a mission to stimulate their culture and reengage young Mongols, many of whom no longer speak their own language” (cf their website). They are also breath-taking performers.

The group plays its beautiful instruments with frantic energy, the coordination and synchronisation is flawless, the music catchy, the rhythms lively, and the costumes – albeit fairly plain – are stunning (amusingly combined with jeans and trainers in some cases). Throat singing is impressive to witness, with visible tension and concentration on the singer’s face, and surprisingly melodious. The range of sounds from whistling and other vocal effects as well as from their two-string instruments is also beyond expectations.

Similarly to Far East languages, Mongolian seems to require some constriction of the throat muscles, giving a nasal resonance to most sounds. At the end of the performance I attended, there were CDs for sale and the band was available to sign them. It is interesting to notice the striking individual movement in each signature that makes their personal handwriting identifiable even to the non-initiate’s eye.

If you have the opportunity to see them live, be sure to go and expect to be amazed!


Photo: CD cover with signatures

Textural Exhibition in Bristol

Once again, Arnolfini in Bristol is host to a truly amazing exhibition. Cologne-based artist Matti Braun has taken over the three-floor art centre with his stunning texture works.

Galleries 1 and 2 present a series of paintings in which Braun experiments with a variety of media (UV paint, ink, lacquer, etc.), dark colours and textures on raw silk canvases. Parts of the works are matt, others glossy, with some fusion and interaction between colours and media, or with the support itself, thus creating a range of intriguing effects and textures. The fluid grace of the random, yet somehow balanced, compositions is simply beautiful. Floored with rough concrete slabs that make the ground slightly uneven, thus adding texture to a three-dimensional experience, and dimly lit with a few pairs of neon lights (one UV, one normal), Gallery 1 immerses the visitor in an atmosphere that makes Braun’s art all the more captivating.

In Gallery 3, the floor has been covered with a pond liner, then flooded into a dark mirror-like lake and dotted with wood slices as stepping stones. (The wood was sourced locally: a Douglas fir in Westonbirt Arboretum suffering from an invasive fungus had to be felled). The installation is inviting and fun as well as beautiful.

Three patolas hang in Gallery 4. They blend Indian traditional patterns with the modern, flat technique of print on fabric. Where one expects texture, there is none. In Gallery 5, the soft light plays on the rich glaze of the large bowls that appear to be made of fused glass. On getting closer, the expected transparency of the material evaporates like an illusion and we realise they are ceramic bowls.

A must-see before the 6th January.

¡Arriba Tomates!

Festivals are explosions of culture that take place around the world, celebrating in all sorts of forms and colours, welcoming anyone who cares to join. At a higher humanitarian level, festivals bring harmony and peace; at an individual level, they are exhilarating and can bring a lot of fun.

As India has Holi, so does Spain have La Tomatina. On the last Wednesday of August in Buñol near Valencia in Spain, the population paints the town red. While the thought of wasting and playing with food is somewhat disturbing (even if the sacrificed tomatoes are allegedly of a quality unsuitable to the consumer), the festival makes for an opportunity to take fun and brightly coloured snaps.

Photos: jadwigasz,,

Art for Ecology and Economy

Estuaire is a threefold biennale on the Loire estuary, between the city of Nantes and St Nazaire on the Atlantic coast of France. In 2007, 2009 and 2012, artists from around the world have dotted the river banks with their work, some of which will stay permanently. One such piece is Serpent de l’océan by Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping, a skeleton snake on the edge of the sea to be colonised by marine life at high tide and visible at low tide.

The estuary is known as an industrial area with a long history of shipbuilding. There are, however, large unexploited spaces, mostly marshes, where nature has remained intact. By taking art outdoors, Estuaire not only makes art accessible to all, it also encourages people to visit the area, has prompted the creation of cycle paths for eco-friendly access, and has brought a few small businesses such as crêperies and hostels.

Thanks to this contemporary art project, the area, which was previously perceived as dull and devoid of public interest, is now enjoying a novel wave of curiosity, a feeling of community and a developing economy, all revolving around a love of nature and sustainability.

This is a rare instance of wild land being used in a profitable manner with respect for the environment in mind. It has already raised interest from other European cities that may consider following suit. Meanwhile, Voyage Ă  Nantes, the city’s next art project, will attempt to maintain the creative momentum.

Serpent de l'océan by Huang Yong Ping

Photo: AFP / Getty Images

Independent Member of the AAH

I have finally joined the Association of Art Historians (AAH) as an independent member.

Being an MCIL (Member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists) and an Associate of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders shows professional commitment in what I do as a linguist, but one cannot stand out in a crowd of peers. Being an independent member of the AAH will bring my linguistic skills closer to the industry I work with the most and highlight my specialism and expertise.

Exciting times…!

Anniversary – An Act of Memory

Artist Monica Ross has been on a UK tour since last year with her project Act of Memory. This performance act consists of people volunteering to join her to recite the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in front of an audience, in English or any language that the participants choose. The performance is about choosing and memorising one (or several) article(s).

On the 17th February, Anniversary – An Act of Memory took place in Bristol (Act40), and brought all sorts of people together, from various backgrounds and ethnicities, all coming together with a belief in equality. Someone recited in British sign language, while a person with learning disabilities did a short article in plain English. I recited Article 5 in Spanish, French, English and German as I was keen to stress the international relevance of the UDHR.

The setting was informal: we all stood or sat down in a circle with the public, so there was no distinction between performers and audience, highlighting the relevance of the Declaration to each of us. It was a truly lovely event.

Act41 will be in Birmingham on the 31st March, outside the cathedral. There will be a total of 60 Acts, all in the UK. If you wish to participate or simply attend, have a look at the website. The events are filmed and photographed.

Photos: Bernard G Mills. Anniversary — An Act of Memory, Monica Ross and Co-Recitors, Arnolfini, 17/02/012