Perfectly Useless – The Uselesquare

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There is an age old debate raging over the usefulness of art in society.  It is one of those timeless and endless questions.

Some people propose that art is absolutely integral to a community and that a society without art quickly grows stagnant. There are a great many practitioners who have proved the importance of art in the fields of politics, religion and human expression. Others however, believe that art is completely useless offering nothing but frivolous time wasting. More people still believe that art’s use extends no further than giving a moments joy or interest, and that to interrogate it further is against the spirit of art.

I can’t even begin to answer this question and I wouldn’t ever want to try. I do however have something which may (or may not) add to the argument.

What I have done, is created a perfectly useless piece of art, which I am rather proud of.

I present to you; the ‘Uselesquare’.

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One side of the Uselesquare

Now, I don’t know where inspiration for this came from. Perhaps from my sleep addled mind, perhaps though boredom or perhaps it was divine inspiration. But whatever the reason I have been tasked with presenting this piece of crap to the world.

The Uselesquare is made out of approximately 1.5 inches of gaffa tape ripped into 4 shreds and stuck into the exact configuration which ensures it is without any possible use.

Firstly, the Uselesquare is not ingenious, beautiful or even skilfully crafted. In fact, it is so unremarkable that anyone who is not the artist will forget about it almost instantly. The artist however, becomes completely obsessed with trying to find some sort of use or justification for its existence.

Two sides of the square are sticky on one side, the other two are sticky on the reverse. This means that the Uselesquare cannot be displayed easily, if at all. It can’t be stuck to a wall as only one half of it is sticky. It cannot be hung up in a space as the sticky sides will only collect dust. In fact, the idea of displaying the Uselesquare is simply inconvenient. The only way I can see to display it would be to frame it on both sides with glass, or inside a glass box and suspended it from the ceiling, but this is so much work and is so time consuming that it is not at all worth doing for this piece of shit.

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The reverse side of the Uselesquare

Even transporting the Uselesquare from Poland (where I made it) back to England was far more hassle than it was worth. I had to use probably 4 times as much gaffa tape than it took to make it in the first place, so that I could protect the sticky sides of the square from getting stuck to anything else. 
 

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A piece of folded gaffa has to cover each of the sticky sides

By creating the Uselesquare I think I have opened a great many questions for myself, but true to the Uselesquare, none of these can be answered.

Interestingly, I made this last week whilst I was in Poland taking part in a theatre festival in Gardzienice. For anyone who doesn’t know, Gardzienice is a small village in the south of Poland which hosts the largest centre for theatre arts in Europe. It’s basically a whole village of theatre and art. So, I wonder if the fact that such a useless, lazy, crappy creation which really shouldn’t be called art came out of such a creative environment carries any significance?

I’d like to say that with this piece I was making a comment on the uselessness of art, but firstly, I don’t believe that art is useless myself, and secondly, because the damn thing is impossible to display no one will ever see it meaning it even fails at this.

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Trying to display the Uselesquare

Simply there is just nothing good about this thing no matter how hard I try. Yet for some inexplicable reason I love it. I am simultaneously ashamed and proud of the Uselesquare and I just don’t know why…

In fact, now I don’t even know why I’m writing this post…what I’m trying to say with it…in fact I wish I had never begun.

And perhaps that in itself is the genius of the Uselesquare . The fact that…

you know what…

Forget it.

Leaving for Poland – Part 2 of 2

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It is roughly 8.50am and I am rising steeply and quickly into the sky.

The air outside my window is foggy and as we take off the land becomes almost completely invisible in a matter of seconds. Instead of the land then, I focus on the wings of our craft. Its simply incredible that these flimsy pieces of metal can lift and then hold us miles above the ground as they do. Watching them move and retract in that mechanical, robot-like way, I can’t help but visualise a Gundam model kit that I’ve been working on at home. It’s that sort of high-tech/lo-tech aesthetic. Something that came from the future but looks a hundred years old.

After a few minutes of grey wind and turbulence the sky suddenly brightens and the air clears. Blue sky reflects off of the wings and sun beams through the windows. I peer down out of the window and all I can see is an impenetrable ocean of cloud, a sheet so dense it looks as if you could walk on it. Above us, there are yet more aircrafts flying even higher than us, leaving a trail of visible air behind them.

I love flying. I don’t think I could ever grow tired of looking down at the clouds and feeling as though I’m a part of another world previously forbidden to humans. Or looking through the occasional breaks in the cloud cover at our land, which looks like a strange collage from way up here. A patchwork blanket of field, woodland, city and lake. I always sort of imagine myself, at this point, dissolving through my chair and the plane floor and tumbling back down to Earth. Through cold, wet, tangible cloud, cushioned by the speeding air and brought down, in free fall, to the soft ground. In my head this is a calming, meditative and almost enlightening experience, I suppose in actuality it would be kind of weird, then terrifying and ultimately very messy…

Just now I saw a wind farm in the distance. Obscured by cloud and mist I couldn’t see the land or sea that they emerged from, only what seemed like hundreds of tall, majestic structures, barely visible, spinning rhythmically miles and miles below.

I have been on the flight for about an hour now and have no idea where I am in the world. Ryanair doesn’t have one of those computer screens to show you what county you’re passing over and I couldn’t begin to guess.
So for now, I think I will sit back, close my eyes and just enjoy the strange sensation of levitating.

Leaving for Poland – Part 1 of 2

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It’s 4am and Stansted airport is heaving with activity.

The shops and currency exchange stations are open an doing good business, the overhead announcements are chiming in from all over the place and there are endless queues of people lining up to drop in their bags. Around me several other bleary eyed passengers are waking up and frantically checking their phones or watches to make they haven’t, by some cruel trick of fate, slept through the morning and missed their flight. Upon realising the time they look up, just as I do, and look slightly perplexed.

When had it gotten this busy?

I was awake, deciding to catch a moments rest only half an hour ago and the atmosphere had been almost the exact opposite of how it is now. Of course it had still been light, stuck in that perpetual artificially induced daylight that makes airports seem like another world altogether, but there had been no rush, no bustling travelers and excited holidaymakers.

In fact there had been almost no activity at all when I arrived at about 1.20am through until 3.30.
It had been quiet, the only sounds being the buzz of electrics and hushed voices emanating from a Pret at the back of the airport. Bodies had lined all the walls as people slept or waited or hid themselves away. It seemed to me as if there was some unwritten rule that no one would (or should) invade the centre of the vast space. Instead everyone huddled, either alone, in couples or even in the occasional group, close to the walls. Or they  lay underneath signage, behind bins, computer terminals or in any other nooks and alcoves they could find.
I remember feeling exposed walking through the centre of these low down, silent crowds as I searched frantically for a plug socket. Most of these had already been claimed by other creatures like myself who marked their territory by setting up whatever piece of technology they had, making that area a temporary home. Like them, I too retreated to the corners and edges of the room, found somewhere suitably safe, and buried myself between bags and under clothes.

But now, as I awake to find the place alive and bustling, again I feel exposed, this time for the exact opposite reason. Because I am not a part of the noisy eclectic crowd rushing around. I feel exposed as those tall, noisy crowds loom over me, throwing dark glances my way.

Shocked by this sudden change of atmosphere, as if I had just tumbled through a looking glass or stepped into a magic wardrobe, I stand, collect my belongings and slyly join the crowd, getting caught up in the tide of people searching for cheap coffee and tax free chocolate…

Killed by my Killer Concept!

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Out of nowhere, an explosion goes off in your head and you suddenly have the best idea in the world. It’s a beautifully complex and unique concept that is going to change everything! It’s fun, it’s edgy, it’s intelligent, it’s the Ironman of all ideas. Your eyes widen and you can’t believe it’s your own. Quickly checking to make sure you haven’t accidentally ripped off a Christopher Nolan flick you rush to the nearest sheet of paper, scramble to find the nearest pen and…

and…

Nothing…

Why can’t I write it down?

It’s so clear in my head but…

Just can’t put it into words…

Has any other writer, or any kind of artist, come across this before? When your own concept suddenly grows too big for you and you just can’t handle it?

I say suddenly, but it doesn’t have to be. Rather than a great idea being impenetrable right from the get go, it’s also more than possible, and in fact pretty common, for something to slowly grow and morph into something else entirely. The danger comes when the author of this work can’t grow and morph with it.

I’ve seen it happen a lot before in films or books. When I feel like the idea has run away with its writer and s/he can’t keep up with it, or when characters are so much smarter than the writer that s/he can’t write for them anymore.

Holes start to appear in plots which seem sound at first. Characters start using what I call the ‘Sonic Plotdriver’ (named after Dr Who, who is so guilty of this he ought to be put in a cage made from pure logic and made to think about what he’s done) in which a previously doomed situation will be resolved at a push of a button or some convenient, last minute techno-magic.

I actually stopped watching Who because I felt like anytime he was put in a mildly perilous situation it felt like the writers didn't know what to do so would just come up with an easy get out clause.

I actually stopped watching Who because I felt like anytime he was put in a mildly perilous situation it felt like the writers didn’t know what to do, so would just come up with an easy get out clause.

It’s annoying as hell to an audience member, but I have to confess I can see how it happens. Far too often I’ll suddenly hit on an idea that is so good that I’m sure if only I could write it down, it would be an overwhelming success. However, there just is no way to get it down.

In my head it makes sense, because in my head it doesn’t have to confine itself to any sort of linear structure. It can be as complicated and ingenious as it needs to be when its floating around in a non-formatted, imaginary bubble, but when it has to be trapped and pinned down by words or paint or choreography it suddenly seems as if the idea could never have made sense in the first place.

And then I’m left wondering: Am I having trouble committing it to words because it’s actually such an awesome concept that I simply can’t handle it myself? Or, does the fact I can’t work out how to write it down mean that the concept is actually pretty rubbish?

L and Light Yagami, two characters who I feel, in the tv show at least, got too smart for the writer who wrote himself into a corner and then had to take extreme measures to get himself out of. In a way this created an interesting situation where I as an audience member was genuinely shocked at where the story went, but it also meant that a number of 'quick fixes' had to be established to get the show back on track. I feel that ultimately, the show suffered.

L and Light Yagami, two characters who I feel, in the tv show at least, got too smart for the writer, who wrote himself into a corner and then had to take extreme measures to get out of it.
In a way this created an interesting situation where I, as an audience member, was genuinely shocked at where the story went, but it also meant that a number of ‘quick fixes’ had to be established to get the show back on track. I feel that ultimately, despite pulling the rug out from under my feet, the show suffered.

The Winter’s Tale – Re-imagined for everyone ages six and over

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imagesThe Winter’s Tale is an odd play at the best of times, what with its sixteen year gap and massive shift in tone between acts. It can only get odder if you imagine it through the eyes of a child. And that’s exactly what you can find at the Regent’s Park Open air Theatre right now.

Re-imagined for people ages 6 and up, The Winter’s Tale is a real treat for families. The play is, of course, cut down and simplified for kids, but that’s not to say the play is just simple and nor does it speak down to its audience. Shakespeare’s rich language is still present as is the jealousy, cruelty and death of the first act. The magic and festivities of the second are also handled with aplomb. What this production does wonderfully is hit the middle ground between being silly and serious.

As I said, the play is a bit problematic itself in the way that the first act is generally much more somber than the second, and especially with this production I found that it wasn’t until the second act that it really hit its stride. There were hints of the madness to come right from the outset, with happy-go-lucky dance moves, pop-culture references and a great visual gag involving a boat, but it really isn’t until the second act that it all comes together.

Beginning with the bizarre sheep shearing contest which was, in this case, realised quite magnificently, the second act seems to relish in the sheer absurdity of it all and is much stronger for it. The visual gags really come into their own and the performances also take off.

For me, the highlight though, was the audience! Kids absolutely loved this show and their reactions and interactions were just as entertaining as the show itself. It’s just excellent hearing some of the stuff that kids come out with. At one point, just as the notorious bear attack is looming near, one kid near us ominously said ‘He’s gunna die…’ and then burst into laughter when the fated attack happened! At another point we were all encouraged to call out ‘Sheer the sheep! Sheer the sheep!’ but some mischievous children behind us were instead shouting ‘Eat the sheep!’ and there was even one rather macabre little boy calling out ‘SKIN THE SHEEP!’ One final moment of note was watching an entire block of tiny children reenacting the Gangnam Style dance routine.

The performances are fun and easy, with a stand out performance by Dean Nolan. In general they handle the Shakespeare in a clear and concise way and switch nicely but simply between multiple characters. The show never really hits any of the play’s emotional highs, but instead is a wonderfully fun and rather silly afternoons entertainment. I’d highly recommend seeing it, if not just to enjoy the children’s reactions to the insanity on stage.

The show is on until the 20th of July and more info can be found here.

LEVEL UP! +10 INTEGRITY TO PLAYER 1

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Last week I wrote a blog on the blatant commercialism running rampant at E3 this year. Mostly, I wrote about ‘exclusive’ titles and Microsoft’s DRM policy which would give publishers the choice of whether or not to charge people for using pre-owned games, and also, a policy which would necessitate 24 hour online ‘checks’ to play games either on or off line.

Well, about half a week ago, Microsoft announced a complete 180 degree reversal on this policy. In an announcement called ‘Your Feedback Matters’ president Don Mattrick wrote that due to our feedback they have made some big changes to the Xbox One. He announced that after an initial set up players wouldn’t need to connect to the internet at all to play off line, and also that used games will be available for re-sale, rent and lending after all. The announcement closes by saying:

‘We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.’

Despite their insistence that their policies were valid and would in fact ensure a better experience for the consumer, I think that after the initial announcements Microsoft came up against such a wall of negativity that there was very little else they could do but abandon their policies. However, I wonder how this would have all panned out if Sony had not been standing right behind them making rabbit ears behind their backs.

E3 is always a battle of sorts between the companies and it was very clear this year that Sony had won. Not only did their showcase appeal much more directly to gamers than Microsoft’s, but they were also launching the new Playstation for about $100 less than Xbox One. Then there was their cheeky and oh-so-topical dig at Microsoft about how easy it is to share games on the Playstation 4.

I wonder if Microsoft would have backed down on their policies so easily had Sony had not recognised and subsequently capitalised on their mistake. Well, the answer is absolutely no. No matter how much they pretend that this is a result of our ‘valued feedback’, it’s very clear that they panicked that everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead, and so quickly did an about turn. And damn well they should because yes, everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead! No matter what, I think Microsoft have lost a lot of support and through this newest development they have also lost a lot of integrity. I think their about turn is too little too late, and that they’ve damaged their brand quite a bit this month.

Whether or not they were spooked or genuinely value user feedback, this is a good example of people standing up for themselves, not wanting to be ripped off and beating back a company. This is something that gamers seem to be very good at doing and there are quite a lot of examples to prove it.

I remember a story which captivated me a few years back regarding the MMO EVE Online. The developers (CCP) had wanted to introduce a new expansion for the game which would introduce microtransactions. When it came to light that these microtransactions would cost between $10 – $60 and essentially turn the game into a ‘pay-to-win’ affair, players suddenly started feeling distinctly like they were being ripped off. So, as any self respecting Space Rouges would, hundreds and hundreds of gamers demonstrated their disapproval by attacking an indestructible and iconic monument in the game. This overloaded the servers and basically gridlocked the in-game economy for a day or so. There was also a threat that a heck of a lot of players (who hadn’t already) would cancel their subscriptions to the game, which could have cost CCP over $1 Million in lost revenue. In order to sort all this out CCP payed to fly the player elected council in the EVE world to their HQ in Reykjavík to sort out a compromise.

I love that story! It’s like a digital world revolution in which the gamers won out against a commercial minded company. I feel like Microsoft’s policy reversal marks something similar.

So, well done gamers! 10 points to you. It just shows that with a little perseverance big consumerist companies can be reminded that without the consumer they’re nothing and that, in the end, we’re in charge.

The Disregarded Gamer

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a1029970023_10Every year in June, I sit down and watch as much of E3 as I possibly can. E3, for those of you who don’t know, stands for Electronic Entertainment Expo and is a conference held in Los Angeles (I watch it online). It’s basically a place for all the biggest gaming companies to show off new technologies and computer games in development.

Actually, I’m not a massive gamer. Sure, I like games. I like them well enough to have written my dissertation on the similarities between games and theatre and I also like them well enough to consider gaming to potentially be one of the most powerful and fascinating mediums for storytelling in existence. But I simply can’t afford to keep up to date with the gaming world.

So why I sit and watch E3 every year, I’m not sure. I just enjoy it I guess. I find the air of excitement alluring and I can feel the passion that comes off from both developers and fans when something new is unveiled. I find each technological innovation fascinating even if I wont actually shell out for them myself. I find it inspirational (it’s no coincidence that I was writing my dissertation at this time of year!), compelling and just generally excellent.

But, and this is a big but: I always find the commercial side of it so frustrating. I actually would go as far as to say that commercial gaming represents the very worst of humanity. Yep, big claim, but I hold by it.

Last year I was appalled by the blatant propaganda apparent in most of the games announced. I actually began making a tally of the number of game trailers which began with a white man murdering a non-white man, usually a stereotypical terrorist. In the end, I gave up because pretty much all of them were thus. Propaganda in games has always been terrible, hence why I’ve boycotted Call of Duty and the like, but last year it was so distastefully paraded that I ended up feeling a bit sick.

This year, it was to be another kind of evil: Commerce itself.

Gaming has always been a competition between a few companies. Sony and Microsoft always battle it out to become the most powerful and preferred party while Nintendo plays hopscotch in the back garden. This used to be a sort of necessary evil as companies tried their damnedest to outdo the other in terms of technical innovation and quality of games. But this seems to be changing a bit now. That is, the battle is the same, but the tactics are different and they seem to me; dirtier.

Firstly, we have the concept of ‘exclusivity’.

Each console, Playstation and Xbox (I’m leaving out Nintendo on account of them playing hopscotch and not really bothering anyone), have had exclusive titles. That is, titles which are only available on their own consoles. I find this whole concept problematic to begin with.

This doesn’t exist in any other entertainment or artistic medium in the world. Can you imagine if films produced by Dreamworks had to be viewed on a Dreamworks player? Or seen only in a Dreamworks cinema?

Now, if something is made on a specific piece of kit and will only work on said kit, then fair enough. But what Microsoft and Sony are doing are buying up as many game publishers as they can and limiting games which could easily work on both consoles to just one, making sure the buyer has to buy that one. Sure, a game might work better on one machine than the other, but it should be the consumers choice which to get. Instead, that choice is being taken away from the consumer and if they are not willing to fork out for both, then they will simply loose the ‘privilege’ of playing certain titles.

The reason I feel that this is out of order is because the companies are not necessarily doing anything to earn their sale, they’re just creating a system which forces the sale. In this scenario, it is the consumer who suffers not the companies. No matter which company gets more sales or more followers, the real looser of the competition is the consumer because s/he must either submit to buy both or be be shunned by one.

I understand that each company must make money, however they should really have to earn it, not just try to force it out of the buyer. It should be the privilege of the company that a buyer has chosen to purchase their product, not the other way around.

And on that note, I am brought to my second niggle with the whole situation. Now this one mostly just applies to Microsoft at the moment, as Sony seem to be being at least a little bit considerate of the consumer…for now.

For a while these gaming companies have been playing a sneaky game with their products. For years, the gaming community has had a thriving market for pre-owned titles. Shops which trade in games for cash or credit and then sell them on…I think we all get the concept because it has existed forever, for every product imaginable. However, now gaming is becoming a much more complicated affair in this regard.

There are already safeguards up for certain games making the buyer of a pre-owned game suffer a penalty of sorts for not shelling out on a new, fully priced product. Perhaps certain content that is free with new copies has to be payed for in pre-owned ones. Now though, things are really going awry.

Microsoft recently made a few rather vague announcements that their new console will limit the sale of pre-owned games and along with it the prospect of lending a game to a friend. It’s still a bit vague exactly how this will all work, but it looks as though game publishers will be able to choose whether or not their games will be usable pre-owned. There is a possibility that they can be, however the buyer must pay a fee. This would mean that the price of pre-owned games in the shops would go up, not really making it viable to buy them pre-owned anymore. It would also mean that a friend would have to pay a fee to borrow a game from you.

Again, this doesn’t exist in any art form elsewhere in the world. I can freely lend books, art, DVDs or anything. And again, it is the consumer who is suffering because the company wants to maximize their income. It is pure commercialism with a blatant disregard for the consumer – Actually what it sounds like, is extortion.

I’m not even going to get started on the fact that it might be mandatory to be connected to the internet for online ‘checks’ every 24 hours else you loose the ability to play games… O_o

All of this, shows the darkest, most careless side of capitalism. There is no care for the people actually paying to use these products and it really does seem as if we’re supposed to be privileged and thankful that these companies have blessed us with their technology. No, it should be the other way around. We’ll pay you for this stuff because you prove that our investment will be worth it. You deliver the very best product you possibly can, the most enjoyable and eye-blisteringly awesome games and you do it for us. Without the buyer there is no market, so why are gaming companies treating the buyer so badly?

It makes me sad because I genuinely believe in games. I believe that they could be the most innovative, beautiful and wonderful medium for artists and storytellers in the world. They have already proved that they really do have the capacity to transport the spectator to another world, to make the spectator’s own journey the real story of the piece. But at the time being, I feel like I’m getting kicked in the face by a business man who’s pointing at my wallet and laughing the whole time I’m trying to go on this magical journey.

A few things have been forgotten here. Firstly, art has been forgotten. There are some tremendous and wonderfully talented artists working in games today, but I feel as though their work is being bastardised by the commercial aspect of gaming. Also, the audience is being forgotten, I don’t mean the audience as in walking £££ signs, I mean the human beings who will involve themselves in the art of the game and take something from it.

To end; Jerzy Grotowski said of theatre: In order to exist theatre needs at least a performer and a spectator. These are the two most important elements bar none. The same is true for games; you need the game and the gamer. Without the gamer the game is meaningless. Irrelevant. Worthless. The gamer is the one who brings the game to life, who experiences it and remembers it.

It would do these big companies good to remember this.Porsche-Penis-extender