A Fantastic Woman : A Film Review


A Fantastic Woman

Directed by Sebastián Lelio and written by Lelio and Gonzalo Maza, Produced by Juan de Dios Larraín,

Pablo Larraín, Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza.

Cast: Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, Francisco Reyes as Orlando, Luis Gnecco as Gabo, Aline Küppenheim as Sonia, Amparo Noguera as Antonia, Nicolás Saavedra as Bruno, Antonia Zegers as Alessandra, Trinidad González as Wanda, Néstor Cantillana as Gastón, Alejandro Goic as Doctor.

Music by Matthew Herbert. Cinematography Benjamín Echazarreta. Edited by Soledad Salfate. Production company Fabula, Komplizen. Film Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. Duration 1hr 44mins. Country Chile. Language Spanish.

It is the first Chilean foreign language entry Oscar since Pablo Larraín’s No, and the first ever Academy award for Lelio, in this follow-up to the highly rated Gloria.

Daniela Vega plays Marina Vidal, her lover is Orlando (Francisco Reyes).


General synopsis

Marina and Orlando are in love and planning for the future. Marina is a young waitress and aspiring singer. Orlando is 30 years older than her, and owns a textile company. They celebrate Marina’s birthday one evening, Orlando falls seriously ill. Marina rushes him to the emergency room, but he passes away just after arriving at the hospital. Instead of being able to mourn her lover, suddenly Marina is treated with suspicion. The doctors and Orlando’s family don’t trust her. Marina is a trans woman and for most of Orlando’s family, her gender identity is an aberration, a perversion. So Marina struggles for the right to be herself. She battles the very same forces that she has spent a lifetime fighting just to become what she is now – a complex, strong, forthright and fantastic woman.


Gender fluidity

Gender fluidity is a subject no longer hidden or made unreal. It is a feature of human beings often misunderstood or not seen clearly. There is no such ambiguity in the portrayal of Marina who is played by Daniela Vega as A Fantastic Woman. She has become transgender and is sharing a relationship with Orlando played by Francisco Reyes, a well off textile company owner whose love for Marina is unqualified. Orlando is a fifty seven year old and Marina an unspoken twenty eight year old or thereabouts. They share an apartment with a docile Alsatian dog called Diabla. It begins after a scene of fluidity in a wide opening shot of one of the wonders of the world Iguaçu Falls, formerly Victoria Falls on the Iguassú River, on the boundary between Brazil and Argentina. This film is set in Chile’s capital Santiago where the city life is international and commercial. Opening with Orlando in a male sauna with its steam and busy masseurs pummelling backs and muscles, his thoughts are on Marina and the gift he has prepared for her birthday.


Simple choreography

Scenes are choreographed almost as rigid set pieces as the story is without any complexity other than the elements and range of emotional responses each conveys. First contact is through their eyes meeting in a club where Daniela Vega who plays Marina Vidal, is a singer and she sings “Your love is like yesterday’s newspaper” while fixing her gaze on her lover Orlando as the love story is revealed. From this introduction they enter a luxury restaurant to celebrate Marina’s birthday and the night continues with them dancing at another club and after to the apartment and a love scene.

What happens is a life changing moment. Orlando suffers a stroke which in a very short time kills him. It sets in train a whole accompaniment of conflicts and dramatic arrangements which involve the families with to a greater degree, Orlando’s family which includes a wife, child and several brothers and extended family. There is a funeral to be arranged and public persona to be kept in this still conservative society.

Marina is with Orlando throughout his last moments except when they are separated in the Hospital Emergency Rooms. The choreography is taken very thoroughly through roles and expectations with the arrival of an older brother, Gabo or Gabriel played by Luis Gnecco, who is aware of the relationship and knowingly accepting of Marina’s depth of love and loss. He asks the authorities to pull back on certain intrusive investigations but there are a sequence of very invasive examinations and a part in this is played by a Medical Officer specialising in gender relations and sexual crimes. The medical officer, Adrienne Cordez establishes quickly that no non consensual criminal acts took place and is does not suspect any abnormal events to have taken place. She is conscious through her own history and long experience of what is going through the mind of Marina when these assaults on grieving and adjusting are taking place. Memory is prominent in Marina’s mind.



The way Marina takes control of the situation is by keeping quiet and not reacting by showing her frustrations and she has to keep down a job as a waitress at the splendidly carnivalesque fun-fair themed restaurant she works at. Marina’s understanding boss is a savvy woman who does not interfere when she becomes aware something has happened as she witnesses a detachment and less ‘gay’ employee. The way the film builds is around these relationships and the comparisons of alternatives in acceptance of Marina for what she is. It is hard always for Marina to be stoic and strong in this grief and it is clear it brings in the prejudices and heightens them in this modern but conservative setting.


There are a series of rebuttals and Marina is faced down by several entities. By showing outward calm this is a way of dealing with the loss of Orlando. His spikey son Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra),turns up at the flat unannounced and reads the riot act, insists in calling her by another name, and stakes a claim to being the bigot of the piece. Others line up throughout to wrest the claim of bigoted and homophobia embittered lives stalk the city. Dignity is a sword Marina draws on constantly as she weaves her way through the arrangements which are not as she was prepared for and which are detaching themselves from her despite her efforts.



Difficult as it may be to put oneself in her shoes. High heels are her mode of walking transport. The outward appearance is precious and a barrier to naysayers and bigots. Transgender life is seen to be a battleground in which the feminine genes are contested by male and female protagonists with crudeness and superficiality. The place of subtlety is oblique. Rendering first a barrier and a convention which for the most part is seldom questioned in everyday situations with Marina’s non-androgynous feminine movement and composure. They simply are to be navigated but always there is an anxiety present for the viewer, hoping it carries at every point and seeing negative aspects arise. The quest for normalcy is shared across the screen. No Culpa, negligence or guilt is worn by Marina.


That Spanish word is latinesque in its casting back to ancient sexual diversity and ‘queer’ practice. An improperia of Catholic censure is evident in this Chilean society. Unbraided intemerate live’s are expected where in reality the worst of things exist and pervade and menace society entirely separated and detached from sexuality and it’s nature. The culpa is seen as self-reproach, avoided by Marina in the most part while in a relationship but now it begins to challenge. The challenge which may have existed earlier when the realisation occurred is revisited. Some of this self-reproachment is delivered in visual questioning, the persecution is real in an event which goes to the depths of hatred without going to extremis. Unatoned parallels are present in this revised world for Marina and happiness will it seems, once again be hard to achieve.


Fortitude and strength

The strengths of the film are in its simplicity and its strong story of a struggle by Marina as a young transgender person in a highly conservative nation trying to achieve their right to happiness and be comfortable and making a life with purpose and meaning unfold as God intended. This is achieved by the continuity of the narrative unfolding. There is a beautiful choreographed set of relationships or scenes of encounter constructed through the film. A relationship which neither would have chosen to have is that between Orlando’s ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim) and Marina. It features heavily in the centre of the story and it causes a bit of drag which is one of the films few drawbacks. The middle is slightly larger than is necessary and some tender moments would have had better preference in my viewing of it. The sideline characters are one dimensional although the sides of Sonia are sympathetic in deference to her own dilemma in part giving an alternative perspective. In some passages the hyper anxiety of Marina comes out in hallucinatory experiences. When she is trying to escape the present by going to seedier but safe clubs she is confronted by the overseeing memory. Late on a new dimension of Marina is shown in its full glory with her attending an elderly tutor whose own love for Marina is not hidden surfaces. This aspect of the film is glorious in its modest framing and brings in a major lift and ultimately cathartic moment which is brilliantly created in a requiem of repose for the soul and living beyond. Director has been saving up some very graceful and harmonic notes for us in releasing the grief in an expansive denouement and finale. The musical score by Matthew Herbert’s and the visually gripping cinematographer Benjamín Echazarreta‘s work which makes use fully of the electric gaze and demeanour of Marina. The sea is an undercurrent of the theme of turbulence as well as perpetual life outside human control as is manifest it seems in the events occurring and how they throw the weaker ones to the rocks.


Directors note

I see A FANTASTIC WOMAN as a film of aesthetic splendor, narrative vigor, tension and emotion. Polytonal, multi-experiential, multi-emotional. It’s a film that is both a celebration and examination of its main character: Marina Vidal. What will the viewers see when they see Marina? A woman, a man, or the sum of both? They will see a human being who constantly changes before their eyes, who flows, vibrates, and modifies herself. But what they are seeing isn’t precisely what they are seeing, and this condition turns Marina into a vortex that attracts the viewer’s fantasy and desire, inviting them to explore the limits of their own empathy.

-Sebastián Lelio

Conclusion ####4

The sumptuous and well paced delivery of a story of grief and its aftermath is cleverly and sympathetically played out here and no part of the films object is ever seem to be implausible or overarching. It is a delicately handled story of tensions not least of transgender understanding by outsiders of a relationship which is loving and cherished. The imbalances of wealth, position, status, are seen as barriers which Marina and Orlando have made a pact with. Orlando’s private life and public life are kept separate except from trusted few and also through the break up of Orlando’s marriage. There is an immediate warmth to the film in its beginning and a few red herrings including almost key which turns up as a constant issue as well as a grim and unpleasant medical intrusion set a difficult set of circumstances alongside the rather straightforward and argumentative parts of conflicts around the actual funeral and the keeping up of appearances in a bourgeoisie upper class family. For all its predictablity in terms of – oh her comes a confrontation to type – a Doctor, Policeman, Son, Brother – only slight irritation is taken as the transactions are comfortingly disturbing for the expectancy is borne out of prejudice and bigotry which wrangles and causes the tension to build in the viewer against such unfeeling societal urges. The cast delivers an excellent thought filled movie and carry the dynamic and magnetic Daniela Vegas literally transformative part on to a very high level.

There have been other films of late, Loveless, Insyriated (others appear on the list) which count a great deal more in my mind of pioneering work and A Fantastic Woman is Fantastic as another piece of enlightenment and a very good cultural interpretation of a global issue and human gulf of understanding of non binary sexuality and how the manifestations of gender fluidity need better understanding and most of all acceptance and assistance. The achievement of an Academy Award is an immense lift to the profiling of the issues it raises and is well worth the added momentum. The more political films are obviously going to be less able to be lauded in such a commercial arena as Hollywood given its love of money and selling issues back to people via. stories of ‘atonement’ ‘endearment’ ‘unreality’ ‘creature-features’ and fables of many kinds.

John Graham

5 March 2018


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Dark River : A Film Review


Dark River

Written and Directed by Clio Barnard. Produced by Tracy O’Riordan. Cast : Ruth Wilson as Alice, Mark Stanley as Joe Bell, Seán Bean as Richard Bell, Esme Creed-Miles as Young Alice, Aiden McCullough as Young Joe, Shane Atwood as Tower, Steve Garth as Jim, Una McNulty as Susan Bell, Jonah Russell as Pete, Paul Robertson as Dec, Music by Harry Escott, (credit with PJ Harvey song of An Acre of Land), Cinematography by Adriano Goldman, Edited by Luka Dunkley, Nick Fenton, Production companies, Film4, Left Bank Pictures, Moonspun Pictures. Distributed by Arrow Films. Duration 1hr 29 mins. Certificate 15. Language, English. Country United Kingdom.  Supported by BFI and Wellcome Foundation.

Directors words

The third (after her The Arbor and The Selfish Giant) Clio Barnard film Dark River is a stark rural set familial drama which is unrelentingly grim and a reflection of contemporary unspoken and also prominent incidences of sexual abuse that are now surfacing as never before with revelatory troubling concerns. How Dark River is an example of the hidden domestic sexual abuse which is a scourge of society and is very hard to uncover is brought through the skilful yet sometimes evasive and metaphorical direction taken.  The water of the river in the Yorkshire setting is a place where it is both custodian and cleanser of the revelations made. Dark River is credited with a connection having been made to the book Trespass by Rose Tremain in its title closing credits.



Alice played with grace and substance by Ruth Wilson is returning to the place which is where she was once abused.  Having opened the film with her shearing sheep with equal speed and ease as men on contract farm work the sunny disposition of a shared lunch break is overtaken by the need to return home and lay claim to the farm she left fifteen years earlier.

Here she finds her brother Joe who is played by a strong oxen type of a young man in his thirties by Mark Stanley who must and does create a brooding sometimes menacing and broken keeper of the land of their father.

It begins with a lovely song by PJ Harvey, whose voice like that of Nora Jones, is set back into the folds of radio playlists for late time listening. Seldom is the story as close to the brooding melody and words of “An acre of land.” Differently it is to the scapes of the dales Clio Barnards cinematic eye is cast which is as a mostly dark and seldom warm environment. Beautiful it is but it foreshadows the emotions soon to be brought forth. The Bradford of The Selfish Giant is Beyond this environment. Where the poverty and determination sometimes playful and joyous in that film appeared occasionally no sense of joy is seen here. The landscape is the lasting thing but having returned to where she grew up, the home is too much a haunted place full of recurrent traumatic memories.

There is no mention of any substance to their mother and another departure is not made to explain the relationship which is like having a table with a missing leg. Instead the darkness is kept to be contained in the reaction and emotional torment faced by Alice in all kinds of confronting forms. By choosing to go back she is laying down a recapturing of her rightful legacy as a form of affront to the misdeeds and dreadful abuse she suffered there.



It is not possible or easy to reclaim the land in a bonding or empathetic sense, which is where Clio Barnard is taking the film. The river is not cleansing but is a habitat itself suffused with memory. Water is a splendid cinematic medium as a certain recent film testifies to. Alice in going back is troubling from the outset. She is firstly unable to live in the house. She instead chooses to life in the adjacent prefab. She has immediate flashbacks. The flashbacks are with her also in the life she has just left. Esme Creed-Miles as Young Alice, Aiden McCullough as Young Joe, create a bleak vision of the childhood tensions brilliantly and others such as Shane Atwood as Tower, provide a range of solid character parts.


As well as visits to agricultural markets and the occasional pub, the landscape is significantly large as the land is shown with Yorkshire itself a broad scoping individual of a natural territory which the lens follows a formidable elemental beast. The North Sea is not far away from the river running to it. The weather and conditions are harsh and uncompromising. The skies are huge. The fields and boundaries wide. Some opening shots show the idyllic stone wall close cropped fields and padlocked animals as well as the straggling electricity pylons marching across the land of the white rose of Yorkshire as some behemoth. In exploring the two sides of the story. The land and its occupants it appears as though an attempt which Is unfortunately not achieved of a divination of some sort being sought or impending doom at the door.



Joe is the custodian of the land and is brought to consider the harm caused by his father and carries with it an unspoken sorrow and guilt in having been there and unable to stop it. As well as his own lack of fatherly guidance to find a rebalancing for he is deeply at odds with the cruelty of the world and the bigger picture is someway seen through his innocence. There is talk of the big big world and his sole or limited excursions away from the farm concerned delivery of potato seedlings to and from Ireland.


That is seen as another green field. Where the grass is greener and the ways strange but a set of values of equivalence but not if his own. Such a position as we know is a gigantic misnomer. Keeping with Noe his sense of belonging is more complex than the film is able to document. It relies on conversations of alternative means of farming when challenged by Alice to make it work and go forward. The strength was and is in the soil and I heard Michael Longley speak of the isolation in Co. Mayo in its remoteness and his muse Carrigskeewaun. The town land of the place giving a broad expanse for the imagination to go wild and be entrained by belonging.


That land is mostly empty through immigration and escape to the towns near and far. Yet it remains a muse.

Here my imagination

Tangles through a turfstack

Like skeins of sheep’s wool:

Is a bull’s horn silting

With powdery seashells. extract from M. Longley’s poetry.



The land is cast almost as the ultimate boundary and to it, nature we all return. The lines of Longley’s poems infuse this sense of separation by the necessity of language, names , nomenclature to express their permanence as they newly cast out repetitions of themselves in life’s great mystery of binary codes. The powdery shells of calcium carbonate cast off.

Different lands but primordial things speaking back to us through the land as nature sustains location.

Dark River takes care to reveal this in Joe, and Alice is similarly a symbol for the land. How it is conveyed is through the absence of the connectiveness she yearns for that Joe possibly still possesses. The drama is the conflict of the two as metaphorical damaged people. The harm being internalised in Joe and he does not even know but Alice soon becomes distraught apart from her own remaking sense of belonging. Joe is approached by a land agent after Alice applies for tenancy rights. He is taken aback by the arrogance of Alice with her citing neglect of the farm and decline down to him. The buildings are in disrepair, the land boundaries broken in some places and tillage and unkept fields not consistent with tenancy agreements.


Mending fences

There is a period when the differences could be mended though Joe points out some home truths. The clear inability now she’s back, of Alice to unburden the hurt and harm and the unwitnessed haunting and recurring themes which we visit by flashback. The river is a retreat and a temporary escape. In previous times Alice had made her lover a young farmer called Spider and he is an occasional entry to the film. Joe is deeply disturbed by the possible change of role and the methods Alice uses to work the farm.

When Joe applies for the farm he is approached by land agents who want to remove both of them whatever the methods deployed. Without criminal or lawless action but by manipulation and blackmail the land agents set in play a set of irreversible actions.

There is a confused end to the film in which retreat is to flashback to carry the fathers hurtful and saturating part in the story. Alice is confronted by a set of new challenges which unfold from Joe’s disturbed mind. There is no remission from the causes of harm nor any satisfactory outcome possible but time is constant and this is a period of both their life’s which set them in conflict with each other and in need of repair.


Conclusion ###3

Very occasionally a film comes along to reach into the dark corners of domestic abuse and also the wider incidences in institutional abuses. Sports, entertainment and many Religious institutions are presently in the headlines along with organised criminal and community sexual abuse being uncovered across these islands. This tires hard to tackle the subject through a story taken from the core of the book Trespass by Rose Tremain and visualising and dramatising a single woman’s story.

This story departs greatly from the land ideal and the places ‘genus loci’ being ultimately eroded and land speaking like Longley’s Carrigskeewaun being almost a skeleton of the earths bones being seen again after mans tilling and ancient furrowing of its surface to raise a life on. An Acre of Land – the song speaks of ancient giving and the scrawny legacy it represents unkept. The environment is key as is our relation to it is the message and the human being is sinful in every respect and often unworthy as a keeper. Alice is a retrieval missionary but is thwarted by the sibling ownership of equal resonance. Almost the child is the father of the man in Hugh Leonard’s sense.

from the graphic violence and incest visited on Audrun by her father and brother to Anthony’s near-romantic love for his careless and selfish mother. Then, engineering them into an impossibly volatile situation – kickstarted by Anthony’s immediate attraction to the crumbling Mas Lunel, and Audrun’s determination that it should not be sold – she leaves them to reap the consequences of their wonky desires and impetuous actions.” A reviewers take on Trespass.

The subject matter is a momentous multi layered one which is hard to dial into. Landscape is evoked as a contestable territory where vices are in conflict through the unresolved past and methods and approach’s carry the leaden crook sacrifice of innocence as the nature is fought with and contested without remorse, solace or forgiveness. Like many cases the time has past where the perpetrator has long gone and ultimately the sins of the father are left as remnants of history to be picked over like crows on a sheeps skull. A difficult slightly wandering and confusing watch but a worthy effort on a subject so difficult to handle or bring insight to.

John Graham

02 March 2018


Showing on 02 March 2018 until 08 March 2018 at Queens Film Theatre.

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J’Oscar’s 2017 : Film Review Awards

J’Oscar’s    A glass half full?

Here’s the envelope. Thanks. Oh this is exciting and after last year no mistakes, right? Oh it can’t be – didn’t it star, well he was under a white sheet most of the time, but surely you can’t give it to this movie. Didn’t he get embroiled in some sleaze about behaviour onset? OK, there’s no mistake.

The J’Oscar for Best Picture of 2017


……. goes to A Ghost Story

Through clenched fingers up to my face and I Place at No. 1 of all the films I saw throughout 2017 the remarkable A Ghost Story.  As a Film is greater than the individuals and one should not destroy a films validity I discard malice felt towards an actor whose case has boot been publicly aired from a decision on the meet of a film. While some and those privately hurt by any actions that may have taken place will have their own reasons to denounce such a position it is to be balanced alongside,


1. Where it known, would the man have been given the part?

2. Does the entire cast and crew making this astonishing film have to be dismissed along with the actor making their achievements null?

3. Should film producers not have a role in calling out misdemeanours and passing on details to authorities outside the businesses instead of muck slinging inside it which becomes friable as a result when newspapers and other media get to speak of it?

Creating such a remarkable film David Lowery does not deserve to be snubbed in recognising the immense quality of the whole ensemble including Rooney Mara and the editing sound and cinematography contributions.  Blazingly brilliant film.

Perpetuity in a singularity 

A Ghost Story is a film about perpetuity and the ever moving wonderous world we inhabit and has a touch of heaven about it.  Surreality is dictionalised yet the reality is with us as we pause in watching this film to consider the outcomes we have been apart of and how the future will happen regardless of our presence.  The Ghost is us looking in on the immovable constant moving on.

Other awards go to ………

Mary Queen of Scots was a Platform for two brilliant performances from actresses, Ireland’s Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Australia’s Margot Robbie as Elizabeth the First. With them both having accomplished great roles and performances in respectively I,Tonya and Ladybird the closesness to Best Actress must be a sharp call. They are also challenged by Meryl Streep who many are in awe of despite the performance in The Post being lauded largely because it creates a large canvas and she as a fine actress has the skills of ‘pause and reflect’ timing which is allowed here due perhaps to the eras pace not the rush through a more contemporary part would have pushed upon us. So the Oscar goes to – see below!

The I,Tonya story is an excruciating piece of drama for lovers of fair play and points to the winner at all costs mentality pervading many sports. From dodgy injections in footballers to dampen pain before a very crucial match, to the Olympic level drug and substance abuse to the on road ‘replacement therapies cyclists partake in to get to the head of the pack, the story rarely is covered by cinema. No one loves a cheat and the scenarios are usually not pretty. The last time I liken an athletes grime story and reinstatement was the brilliant Matthew Maconaghy in The Dallas Buyers Club which was an epic and underated dramatic off road, road movie. The endurance and counterpunches of Margot Robbie whose immersion was instantly believably in my mind skated off with the Best Actress Award.

The J list



Hogh flying films such a short Killing of a Sacrificial Deer and Insyriated will last long in the memory and of course are worth seeing several times.

The Farthest was a remarkable documentary worth mentioning and revisiting.

Notable hypes include Dunkirk and Real Actresses Don’t die in Liverpool.  Along with the over rated – exceptional though of the mark In his choices of going off on his own reading of the man is Gary Oldman. Darkest Hour.  The films Shape of Water and Ladybird rank highly but not notably and it is only through the gifted direction and playing of Saiorse Ronan does Ladybird achieve the distinction of a near miss director award.  That went to a someone whose films are gaining the storytelling and visual connection with audiences. (Jordan Peele – Get Out)

Much more can and will be written about this turn around year for Film making. Jennifer Lawrence is off on Exec. Producing the #metoo as a series. It will unearth and keep the profiling of the film industry high but not unfortunately with the added distinction of keeping belief in a fictional portrayal as a means of entering an issue or providing very important insight on aspects of humanity. Most is seen in the minutiae of drama in the big picture and The Florida Project was a sensitive other form of insight which is near the top in terms of films I rated this past year. It and other stranger ones.

John Graham

28 February 2018


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Speculative Skins & Amanda Turner Pohan : An Arts Review

The Meditative one

Science is made fiction and the body is altered. In the NI Science Festival a co-operative installation by Rachel Steinberg of SOHO20 Gallery Brooklyn is commissioned by The Naughton Gallery Belfast to produce the exhibition Speculative Skins. Known in the festival under the title Science Fiction and the Body it explores the boundaries of ‘where does a body end and a piece of technology begin’. I found one piece in particular engrossing and integral in the open thought bringing those boundaries which are constantly under revision as our potential futures are explored by art investigations in media, propositions of artists in music word and the visual arts, while along with scientists bring new meanings and alterations to our perceptions. The exhibition is supported by The British Council.

The Subject

It is itself. The artist. From Orgasmic Exhalation Device for Body Spray #11 (2014), Amanda Turner Pohan recorded her CO2 emissions during orgasm and used the data collected to algorithmically compose a formula for scent – a perfume that is wafted into a space periodically through an atomizer. Using the same data she plotted a form to print with a CNC@ router the physical body Orgasmic Exhalation Form #01 (2014).

The form occupies a Gallery space as a body might. Onto the Gallery wall beneath shared text of four lovers conversations found on google are adhered. The wall is grey. For Amanda Turner Pohan this replaces the components of our own stand-ins for the body, self-consciously attempting to synthesize a formula for human empathy, that even the best of our current technology can’t quite master.



With the distance between the two spaces – the one it resides in, in New York and this Naughton Gallery installation, curator Rachel Steinberg came up with the idea of the projection presented on the Gallery Wall as an active moving image floating over the text and the emitting Orgasmic Exhalation Device for Body Spray #11 (2014) which is not a substitute but a transfiguration of the concept. It when seen in conjunction with the atomizing device creates a distinctive correlation. The atomistic choice with the projection is almost to a transuding state. The tenuous relation is very apposite. A body is acting in the space and this is the figure raised and floating in as a projection in space.  I likened it to a future state where the body is capable of space travel without a protection and the/our ‘speculative skin’ is developed to withstand the elements of space and take the cubist form and then develop the instruments of our dexterity when summoned.


Atomic signals possess us and this installation is miraculously astute. It has a synthesis of elements composed to bring down, breakdown structures from their complex abstraction as entities to a body which in the true sense of legacy similar to Picasso and masters of the cubist collage and self figurative genre would call pictorial self analysis. Here the artist is present in more ways than one. It is a beautiful piece of art in every sense. The assembly is from an orgasm and height of excitation intense and female. For both male and female it is release. One both giving. There is a reassurance in the act of future spoken. When one happens in the presence of another the conjoining is a unity of purpose over and above the physical spasms of its engagement. The artist expresses like hot milk a olfactory stimulus.


The work is part of a series delving into the self. From her perspective Amanda Turner Pohan asks many questions of the reality of our lives and the future we patrol and expect through exploring the limits and boundaries and pushing them out in separated forms awaiting their return as something reconfigured. The series is know as The Signals are Caressing us. The accompanying exhibition literature (italicized) explains the body’s complicated relationship to technology is her source material. Other works digital and physical are extensions of the themes.

Using present materials as they are on our and the artists journey of utilization the work is contemporary reality. The simple forms of chemistry are bold and defining. To this synthesis Amanda Turner Pohan seeks to unfold her continued speculative encounter with in creating further work some of which can be seen at the originating gallery.



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The Encounter

The eyes are sharp and clear. Blue and perceptive. This is an encounter of introspection. You cannot explain the world in metaphors. You can see it though for what it is or is not. The imagination is your strongest ally. From where it came only your atomic composition of phosphate and deoxyribose. The explosive actions inside you of this miraculous helix of dna is what drives each of us and collaborates to creating a being. Amanda Turner Pohan is a practioner of the exploration on the edge of discoveries made known through her incisive clawing into the self awareness which makes u# identify as somehow spirits in transition. Awareness is to regard the self as a simple helix form from which to evaluate all other entities. By taking chemicals and enclosing them in a liquid the container is fed a tube and it exhales and gathers in from its presence as we do. Our presence is engineered by our gathering techniques and by our exhilarations.

The simplest form which profoundly touched me was the image of a body form which had itself been edited back to a point where it remained recognisable as limbed breasted form like a woman in an anthropomorphic state. I live next to a former bakery. It must be nearly eighty years since last made bread but I see and sense it’s past life. The energy of others resides inside and it resting like a process of manufacturing awaiting its recall. The people who made bread have moved on and others take on the task elsewhere. This function is therefore displaced and the building awaits repurposing. It is not empty but vacant. The Bakery in Brooklyn is where Amanda Turner Pohan shows her work and collaborations. Consciousness expels from the rooms of the repurposed Bakery. It’s food is nutrients for all to imbibe. You will not eat it but will consume it. Not in a materialistic fashion but as spiritual nourishment.


The grey carpet ‘receptor’.

Our society has this duality of materialism. The lotus on the water is separate but recognisable as difference. Combinations are sent to us in the bakery we visit to feed our lives. In this space the artist has found something for us to see and experience. A sightless person can have the surroundings described to them, a deaf person can feel the vibrations and sense the place as we cannot. On the floor of The Bakery is a the white anthropomorphic form I see as cubist reality. It is still but in the transport of the idea to the Naughton Gallery here in Belfast it’s projected as a floating digital image onto a nineteenth century university wall. The wall bounds The Great Hall and beneath is the colonnade which keeps the rain off its visitors for the grand occasions in its calendar. In it Presidents and Queens, Senators and Religious leaders have been. The white spirit of the anthropomorphic shape spirals on the wall oblivious to the past accolades it now surmounts.

Form takes precedence over notions of form. The cubist reality was a symbolic stripping back of form striving to distill the watery world we occupy. The fluidity of essences are sought and combined with allegory and space shifting determinism. The form I see floating on the wall is much more than this unsettling presence and is without any external attachment when I view it. The attachments would come later. Instead it is transportive. It has layers in its movement which halt and talk of its otherness. It is a piece which is cubist in every sense. It is an evolving piece also. It allows the medium to give you another dimension through its movement and gentle soliloquy like a ballet in space. The artist of this is conscious of the newness of the relocation by means other than its physical presence. It is after all back in Brooklyn a three dimensional object. There it is similarly venerated and casting out senses of its organised form.

Here it conveys passage and future. Where the spaceships of Star Wars and science fiction remain harnessed to familiar tropes this object speaks of other things. Instead of a protecting shell the body is itself protection as if in a future world travel will be as humans in an anthropomorphic vessel which when required and elegantly, from its cubist shape, evolve the dexterity fingers to touch feel and caress, hold other things. The mind itself within the shell of its form – unlike the pod capsules of Altered Carbon – carries memory and learning and skills forward in a peaceful receptivity. The way the work conspires to throw ideas out is both alarming and satisfying in a way that is beyond the measure o& its parts. That itself is metamorphosis of some kind as art. How can art convey such things time after time. Like an antelope in a cave painting it is meant to be nourishing – for the artist and the viewer.


Today’s modernity is stated here and it is projecting more than a cave painting as criticism is since Aristotle and probably further back, as art it is subject to diverse opinion and thought.


Braque and others created the form of cubist art and a local Irish Artist Mainie Jellet -Death of Procis shown here (below), also created in her work interpretations via. very methodical line graphs and preparatory drawings – much the same as the collection of data to form the piece here dealt with.


Mainie Jellet -Death of Procis

This is a ‘new’ age renaissance kind of work as it puts up our future kind for us as conjecture with meanings and an infinite range of imaginings. I see it as a symbol of the human in the future as a continuing evolving entity capable of reinvention and containing all pasts. The chemical composition of your atomic composition of phosphate and deoxyribose will be taken away an reconfigured as memory which is laden with crossed out errors and the empathetic result is forging frontiers beyond out wildest imaginations. Perhaps even as an earth world no longer in existence except as new stars and elemental dust particles. The richness of art presently is to be seen and appreciated for its presenting us with such imponderables.

This work has much more to convey and is one I have still not reached the apogee of.

Further reading

From The Planet of the Blind by Stephen Kuusisto

I. The Village of St Ovide

”For Sun and Moon supply their conforming masks, but in this hou4 of civil twilight all must wear their own faces.”

-W. H. Auden, “Horae Canonicae”

“ ‘My soul wandered, happy, sad., unending.’ “ (Neruda)

“ ‘The branches are dying of love.’ “ (Lorca)

“ ‘Show me, dear Christ, thy spouse, so bright and clear.’ “ (Donne)

“ ‘Here is the shadow of truth, for only the Shadow is true.” ((Warren)

from chapter 6.

II. Motion.

. . . If we propose

A large-sculptured, platonic person,

free from time,

And imagine for him the speeech he

cannot speak,

A form, then, protected from the battering, May

Mature: A capable being may re-


Dark horse and walker walking rap-


-Wallace Stevens

“The Pure Good of Theory”

Speculative Skins is on at The Naughton Gallery from Thursday 15 February through to Sunday 25 February 2018. May extend. Hours 11am to 4.00pm (closed mondays) and features artists Loney Abrams & Johnny Stanish / Salome Asega & Ayodamola Okunseinde / Brice Dellsperger / Nora Khan & Steven Warwick / Son Kit / Katie Skelly / Naoko Takeuchi / Amanda Turner Pohan / Katie Torn

15.02.18 – 08.04.18

John Graham

22 February 2018


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Loveless : A Film Review



Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev, 124 mins, Cast: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Varvara Shmykova, Matvey Novikov.


A continent unseen

As winters black and white poles contrast the snow covered land and roads blend into fields the view in the opening of Loveless is of a lake with fallen trees alongside tall leafless ones.  Beside them runs a pathway with lampposts high and marking out a route between neighbourhoods.  On the horizon as the film scopes out tower blocks of mass housing and the community of a modern Russian city appear.  It moves onto a scene where a school discharges into the afternoon Alyosha and his friends are despatched from a careworn rudimentary education positing a regular uncared existence of a society in its own limbo.  The vastness of Russia occurs to me in reflection, from St Petersburg in its isolated North Western location from the Urals to the Soviet Kazakhstan and the lands forested and regionally contested over centuries where socialism became a lost ideology, this modernity is playing out right now.

When Director Andrei Zvyagintsev says : ‘Living in Russia is like being in a minefield’ it seems futile to suggest it is a generality after viewing this film.  The horror of that is where the Leviathan director takes us.  Into the minefield. Exploding tropes and myths by using frameworks of cinema familiar to audiences seeing drama of the most perturbingly psychological kind where films – L’Avventura, Scenes from a Marriage are mentioned as similar themes, take us in it is gloriously but troublingly insightful.


A couple are in the process of separating, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) Boris, (Aleksey Rozin) and on hearing an argument, itself a witness to his solitude and the lack of love from his parents, 12-year-old boy Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) goes missing.  The household is in a uniformly drab tower block and he is seen initially wistfully looking out over the winter cloak of white snow into the deep horizon of a vast Russian urbanity from his bedroom. The forest and nature is a form of consolation but his world is made ever more harsh by the insensitivity of the mother and father whose only child Alyosha is, giving him little love or conversation.  Zhenya has moved on, Boris has moved on and while they embark on selling their comfortable apartment, the despairing ‘elephant in the room’ taking care of Alyosha, hovers and causes even more antagonism which Alyosha is an unfortunate witness to.  Ignored and distraught he disappears with the abandonment itself becoming an almost fated outcome given the weaknesses and the couples selfishness.


Boris has a new partner and it’s a bit of deja vu with love and kisses for him like ‘starting over’.  His younger companion is less sure and new to the expectations of making a home. She is also a step removed but not as far as Zhenya, from her own mother.  Some of the pleasant rites of passage are visible in her outlook and it is not played or cast as naivety but as raw concern of new horizons.  In the case of Zhenya her partner has a daughter reached only by Skype whose fortune is outside Russia. He is a oligarch type or class protected older man living in a futuristic ‘dacha’ which allows his thai chi to evolve.  Zhenya has a protector and savior after the mistake she made hastily leaving home and her cantankerous mother for Boris it appears.

Measured scenes

The film follows relentlessly the intensity of emotions clashing around the central loss of Alyosha.  His disappearance heightens the immediacy of untangling the weave and knots of a broken loveless marriage.  Each scene is carefully economically placed in a line of almost fated tragedy but the inferences and questions which arose are put to the viewer as whether or not a good outcome will materialise. As a type the film could be categorized as a procedural crime thriller but as Andrei Zvyagintsev insists through his artful direction it is much bolder and thought entangling.

The tension throughout is heart felt and the possibilities of loss are slowly dawning on and emerging from the recesses of Boris and Zhenya’s insular thoughts. From the moment the rescuers come on board an cautious element of optimism, ever so small but present arrives – after a very well handled portrayal of the police element – a huge and stoic but helpful officer puts the cards on the table as to the probabilities and the needed actions.  The apparatus of Policing is as tough as nails the film proposes but their is goodness within.

With the form of a crime drama this Russian hiatus of intense emotional drama is a warning of how brutal our world is becoming. The themes of realism in concert with dark nationalist, unrelenting Religious angst ridden theocracies, our complaint and complacent conformity is shockingly portrayed through the medium of a lost child.


Working environments

Disappearance is a wholly unconscionable notion for a parent whose duty is foremost the child while the breakdown of their aspirations affect the state of their family unit. The forces around allow freedom of individual choice. The central protagonist is Boris, (Aleksey Rozin) a lookalike Fidel Castro. I recently learnt of the early demise through mental illness that the late Fidel Castro’s son who bore a striking resemblance to him recently took his own life.  Boris is not easy to like and his workplace environment is a large corporate type well heeled office and it appears as though his job is to create fake news.  The whole building is in the process of regurgitating propaganda for the Government via. an agency run by a Religious zealot whose compromises regarding family issues are finite. Zhenya is in charge of a Beauty salon and is in an orbit of similar disappointments as conversations with her employees draw out lines of dissatisfaction but in a pleasant stoical way. Society is to blame. In the background, sometimes foreground there are TV broadcasts of Russia going wrong and the outsiders being to blame. Society is to blame but not their own society. Rebellions are put down and countered by the fake diet of news the outlets spill out.

This vastness of the Directors ‘minefield’ is part of the bewilderment that franks this film. How the individual is facing contested self image, from the day they are born through a fixed national identity from which it is virtually without moving away to escape.  Escape routes are taken in parts of the story but none are a satisfactory retreat or utopian alternative.  It is a quarter of a century on since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The currency of the occupation and sequestration of the Crimea is seen here.  The former autonomous republic of the Soviet Union, now a region of Ukraine, is configured into the narrative to show the lack of progress and the democratic deficit apparent through the world to observers. The West as ‘actors’ may maliciously have a hand in the Crimea annex but whether it does or not is merely a statement of man made divisions.



There then is the fate of the individual in the context of family and in a wider sense extrapolated here in the workplace where Boris is in a setting where family is a signal of unity of purpose and it is given a religious slant here also. The Lutheran idea of individualism is challenged by the preorder of Catholicism and adherence without scrutiny.  The theory is that (Protestant suicide attributed to free spirits) the greater concessions a confessional group, the less it (Russia) dominates lives, the less its cohesion and vitality makes to individual judgement.  In this film it is perhaps being said that – without the suicidal propensity angle – that the weakness of the mind when empowered by thinking and ‘sensible’ things developing reflective powers renders them susceptible to morbid impressions.   So is the film portraying in a minor part of its vast observation that there is a failure arising in individuals not accepting their affinity within community and necessary interplay?  There is the added dilemma of the titles presence itself.  Lovelessness existing maybe because the lack of self control, earlier as youths when bad choices were made and for intractable headstrong reasons – or finding in their individuality sensations and temporary joy from exploration and satiated desires. Such pitfalls are almost arbitrary in most lives.  The form of the film is of it taking time and taking an external view of the many sexual intercourses – they are short on words and are for the most part in one take – makes me think the intensity of the pleasure seeking is being portrayed paramount as each characters driver.  There is time taken also after intercourse when to differing degrees they express their new found love as a place where they are safe from the outside.  So what does it say about the presence of love in a place where other sacrifices are made for the common ‘good’.  The male is seen to ignore these emotions as the society is harmful from whichever way you look so they take it as it’s found,  by finding also what they seek.  The family togetherness is implicit. The detachment from the birth family is evident in each relationship.



When the disappearance of Alyosha happens another element takes on huge significance.  In the absence of a ‘proper’ process of police management of the required intensive searches it is the whole community who rally voluntarily and in a shape which is performed to take charge of every forensic and civil aspect of the search.  This is again implicit of the community in service for others. Where the state has failed this is the alarmingly professional organised communities answer. Therein implies the strength of Russians beyond the stereotypes of indolence and trammeled individuals found routinely.  Each has forsaken their time and individual diversions, needs, to focus on finding Alyosha. They have his welfare in mind untiringly.

A hero emerges in the form of a leader of the large community unit in the shape of a pragmatic and smart coordinator, veteran (Aleksey Fateev).  Some of the most harrowing scenes are during the period of the searches and stoic stark raw emotions grip with the growing tension of not finding Alyosha.  The searches are coordinated and segmented and woven into the parallel story of the couples breakup and their new relationships forming and the connections each has with their ‘estranged’ families.

The world itself is not loveless but a host to our misguided often secular illusions.

There is then the division individuals within a family unit is on trial and this is central to the films narrative.

Plausible synecdoche
Russia is both a place and an image. The Sochi Olympics in 2014 came into play in Loveless in a simple but significant role. The tracksuit top which the freshly reinvented and reborn Zhenya wears as she steps onto her outdoor treadmill at her lovers and now her home, is a Bosco white and red shock of the new top. Emblazoned with Russia across it the notion – it is symbolic – is challenged by its director Andrei Zvyagintsev as a mere coincidence of our times. Without synecdoche it would not amount to a message of any kind he mildly insists. An actor from the town of Novosibirsk he is responsible as one of the most respected directors of his time in putting out work which is formative and provocative and using storytelling from the initial success, The Return, (2003) about brotherly tensions on reengaging with their father on a fishing holiday, through The Banishment, (2007) Elena, (2011) which is a story of a capital class and marital gloom, to the large scope of examination in rural Russia of Leviathan, (2014) marking a tense conflict in expansive steepes uniquely epic in its portrait of a Russian psyche. The beast is universal, a sinuous, spiraling, undulating, or serpentine line or linear motif, in the obvious mode of Thomas Hobbes philosophical treatise on the organisation of society politically. It floats and pins you and grabs you by the throat with unsettling force. Ballet never was meant to be pure and white as the Russians understood, understand.

If talk of synecdoche is to be made it is only on reflection due to the cinematic exposure and storytelling quality found often in Russian novels from Gogol to Solzhenitsyn and the play’s we are accustomed to seeing being replaced in this time by art of a different luminosity. Film has come a long way to provide other than features in the pleasuredome. Conflicted memories and historical propaganda are challenges filmmakers can treat with the memes of our times. In Loveless, Siri gets a question, so the Oracle is in the detail of storytelling in a candid frank and shocking way not for pure entertainment or underpinning presumption or prejudice. We are as my review of Loveless pressed, 25 years on from the dissolution of the Soviet Union and with sport being the glue of the masses, sans Cicero, about to embark on a post Sochi, World Cup, Andrei Zvyagintsev is probably more concerned with us getting his first name right, Andrey or Andrei, than fixating on the politics which inevitably come with filmmaking. The production of his work takes many players to embrace the work for multiple reasons. Factor in the Russian state support of only Leviathan his task is difficult enough. Shaping the story in a plausible and parallel synecdoche path is a skill which we can ourselves welcome and be fortunate to be presented with. No one actually makes or draws similarities between the films in their construct but it is a common theme to appreciate the human examination in a fully coherent form is achieved in each individual work. When asked about his politics he is clear in those separations given his role is as a filmmaker not as a protagonist or spokesperson for a viewpoint. He considers for example the period over which he has developed his oeuvre. “In the 1990’s there were real hopes. But now, with the re-Stalinisation and the re-Sovietisation, there are negative tendencies.” *. In the report noted it is recollected by Andrei Zvyagintsev the appeal of the mirrors reflection is undeniably at times unattractive. Something un-contestable..

*via. translation in Irish Times 07.02.18 interview, Donald Clarke.


Conclusion ####4

The simple form this film takes draws you into the harrowing story of the disappearance of a 12 year old boy and provides an unsettling experience seldom found in cinema.  With Director Andrei Zvyagintsev‘s commitment to delving into the conditions faced by his fellow Russians.  The political constraints and formation of society detaching itself through state indifference and corruption from the family of community is foresaken in the materialistic pursuits found on the edges.  The individual is found floundering and having lost the direction of shaping a meaningful life. In the disappearance of a Alyosha many realities become exposed.

For the viewer, this one, it is compassion which is driving through this film despite the invidious world of circumstances and is seen through the societal response.  The true egalitarian response when harm is encountered.  The edginess of the relationships pale into – albeit parallel dominions of supposed utopian thinking – minor concerns.  The real protagonist is the duel of state and the suppression of the individual and at what cost is the freedom sought to be accounted for.  The polarities are Religious, Molecular, Unknowns, Universal and contribute to a very vexing movie.  It was hard to sympathise with the couple at its heart yet there was some sign of they felt enormous pain and an outcome would be found to satiate the pessimism and sense of disorder that grew as the film progressed.   What outcome is likely.  You will have to sit gripped through its daunting telling to find out and draw your own conclusions.  A spiritual minefield.

John Graham

8 February 2018


Opening at Queens Film Theatre Belfast 9 February 2018 until 15 February 2018.

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True Colours : An Exhibition Review CCEA Ulster Museum


Current exhibition on at Ulster Museum

The work of some of Northern Ireland’s most exceptional young artists will be on display at the Ulster Museum during January and February. CCEA’s True Colours is a showcase of the outstanding artwork produced for the summer 2017 GCE & GCSE examinations. The event will be visited by almost 50,000 people over the coming months, with many schools making trips to show other young artists the standard and quality of work produced in Northern Ireland.

Congratulating the students on their work, Justin Edwards, CCEA’s Chief Executive, said:

“This is now our seventh annual True-Colours exhibition at the Ulster Museum. The venue offers a fitting setting for such outstanding work. It is also a pleasure to be able to give the public an opportunity to view the diversity and quality of work being produced by young artists and designers.”

My take on seeing the works

It would be absurd to be over critical of the work produced by students embarking on their art expression given the constraints education put them under. The variations of work attest to the dilemma and prodigious talent in the realm. What on earth becomes of it is pure speculation. What is evident is the quality this minute of each object on display in whatever form it takes.

So that is where to begin. Following a narrative seems part of the octagon of the wonders we see.

Those Dark Materilas onboard in lexicons of abrupted life.

The immersion of young artists seeking out their own interpretative, derivative direction is passionately taken as a journey of self discovery embracing work which creates fictions of realities presume innocent and observing laws of insight. Nothing is further from the truth in seeing other work then completely transcending its thought patterns to create a unique observance. Only by seeing something recognizable can it be truly dismissed. The artist is sent off in another trajectory making their own valid statement no matter how they arrived at it. Each artist here has 1. Chosen a persons work to interpret. 2. Has looked to themselves as affected by the act of making art.

The three images above converge in the piece to form the first image and  is sublime in its execution.

The symmetry of the energised triangulated sculpture throwing away precepts of tradition was one piece which would have been evidently secure in its aloneness, singularity so the added function of development stages is more the academics statement than the artists statement.

This is a scholarly path and important to negotiate while picking up techniques and skills of seeing and illuminating their work. ‘Artist as Thief’ is the name given to a parallel exhibition and the meaning of this one is of a similar formula. In seeing the Ulster Museum CCEA Exhibition work

French horn player (untitled) a coiled bell by Tom McVeigh

I was totally drawn in by the art delivered in one persons almost narrative approach. They pay homage to the skills or an artist of music. The quietude of a study room, with natural light augmented by a photographers tripod lamp is a settling peaceful restful prologue to a homage of a fellow artist. The starting point is the room. The ambience and colour it lends to solitary performance in the domestic room or retreat of a college of music is a concert of nuanced environmental choices. While large windows give an air of radiance of the seasonal changes of the everyday, the light is warmed by the barrier of the glass clear boundary separating sound and the external world. Centrally is the French Horn Player sitting on a stool in a natural balancing posture with the body caressing an instrument at rest. Both are in symmetry as one with the other able to convey in union a voice now silent. The studio is a piece and setting. A drama is unfolding of a woman’s comfortable nurturing of a chosen companion. An intrusion is taken in for the sake of art and cadences are many. Unspoken is the collaboration we see as a work of art.

The way Tom McVeigh has produced around this final painting, his progression toward it is very comprehensive as study goes. It is a work produced to ‘convince’ an examiner of the process being understood. This is quite strange given the academic is neither of any import other than the consignment by compliance with theory or method the actual approach which the ‘examiner’ is without. They are not in the process but mere witness. The tools are encouraged and some direction taken but to produce this extent of analysis is perverse. Such are educational norms.




Superb study work can stand alone

Many of the students have taken the instruction to find an artist and explain why they appeal and how they work. The choices are something of a hit or miss formula. Pinterest Instagram, Art Network, or any familiar Art arena seems to have Ben trawled and then a peculiarity sought is explored. The appeal is not in question. The work forms are varied and experimental ways of working are placed into ‘categories’ printing, installation, sculpture and painting, drawing. In a classroom there is lenient persuasion or implied progression. So as not to derail original thinking the ideas go unchallenged. The effect is often tedious and narrowing. Unlike the primary educational functions undertaken centuries before where a talent is nurtured by studio work on real pieces and learning in conjunction with an artist as assistant the ‘school’ precedes the nurturing of particular insight with work conceived is absent here.


Psychology and the human mind occupy a lot of the work

Of all types of work seen the idea is key.  Transforming thinking is the outcome sought by the artist and viewer. Where I found work which transcended the ‘method’ it had overcome the running commentary of connective narrative, important in degrees though it was in providing an’analysis’ for the pupil to find encouragement and self awareness from. The outcome is what? It is a piece which out to stand on its own. An example is one which needed no backstory but required going through the art gears to establish its own place. The process is the viewer observing it and making a story or conclusion or even lost in challenging considered thought processes to be completed after the experience of seeing.


Layered installation & other views


I often find reflection part of the process and it need not have any signposting.


Less is more. Picasso was a deceptive artist and seeing all manner of ‘objects’ as you do in the Paris Picasso Museum you see the machinations and the way a print is found or painting is brought forward. These study facilities are career products and are only in the after view are they precious in anyway. The single statement of pieces apart are more relevant as a basis of understanding. The understanding is often not the purpose but a communication of a form, a connection however tenuous is primary to arts place in our world.



Prophetic visions in diverse materials

What annoyed me was the compression of the work in a space into which the curator, teaching professional, felt no hierarchy was an issue. The work suffers by not being seen properly. One pupil had a particular set of skills and had many more dimensions to it than adjoining work. The adjoining work was a complete very profound and distinctly of another ‘camp’ while equally assured in it. So both were lost companions in need of greater exposition. This clash and compression was and is a feature of exhibition when it is sanctioned as a ‘critique’ of sorts. An end of year show will always look like an end of year show if the curator so requires it to be seen widely or in a step up of a kind endorsing education methods. The Art College in Central Belfast often fails to display work appropriately or in any depth of curation. It avoids the exposure or display of ‘see the process as us teaching/learning’ to create. One thing is certain. The work here is to be valued again and again and new work is the probable outcome while this cannot be discarded as ‘juvenilia’.


Outsider art

One artist, a Photographer was bold enough to campaign down the road of observation of their own community.  Never staying which side they were aligned to or not at all they provided one of the most illuminating and sanguine pieces of all.  In a Frankie Quinn rather than Paul Seawright kind of way the observations they made were abrupt sharp and visually coherent full of meaning.


The image in particular stànding out is of a Twelfth Procession and day two persons, an adult and a child, the former of (possibly) Ulster ethnicity and the child different race, they shared a  palm slap provocative and prescient of racial tension.  The tension of unity bound in apparent opposite pathways.  One is going in one direction and the same human nature is belonging whichever road taken.  It could have been staged or image edited and with added colour.

Some other images by the same pupil are equally observant and challenging.  One has a frame cutting off the front part of a band member and is framed on an onward heading through ,arch with a H&W ubiquitous and defining.  Others are of feet and bands passing some members, a boy recognising the photo taken for instance in a capture of memorial probably not differing much in age.



Special stages in Art

By way of variance of approach and exercising different ways of producing an image the author has gone down the route of using a drawing medium.


Assertive pieces

The dark and light of materials possibilities is sharply recorded.  Here are a few other examples and by no means is this a full study.



Material truths

Dendrite’s and neurons place heuristics in a real world or creative truths on a line of culture. So going on and based on fear protection threat assessing the life course in unreal terms is easy for artists abstracting life. Realities are adjusted and systems of obedience are liked by pupils intially but intelligible constructs can win through the conscious of a teaching environment. Compliance is often a risk which is overridden for the sake of outside. On the inside obeying the rules is a given and it constrains perfectly good thought however perverse or irregular it may be. Local exhibitors Gilbert and George will be visited by several of these artists I suggest, others will not make it to ‘the city’ to see the work. They are masters of conformity. In a altered real they implicitly comply. I saw their work decades ago and it was evident then. They are absurdists with a conservative and compliant existence. For the Brit art era it was a comfort to know they were around to play conformity for all its worth like a paid of John Major twins and grayness which they actual added a might of colour to was a tame avenue of cave weeping aspirations and endurance.

Enduring Dissonance 

I saw the problems 21st Century pupils face in their life emerge and by dint their artwork. Trina Hobson, a local artist, often goes back to the neglect and dropping of identity. It has long been around as a trait. Here the pupils decline identity pigeonholing purposely and suppress the invasion of image. Especially self image. See the photoshop and scratched identities in differing work. It speaks of an age which is harming. The adult lesson prevailing is of the wrongful placing of image as being of importance in the spontaneous exchange of their continued Facebook, Instagram and the media driven wrap is intense and unwanted as here, is seen as being declined as a value system. Scars occur in art to express this emotion purposely and I feel it is not thoroughly enough tasked because it is under the aegis of an educational process. The Course Curriculum. It is as circus performance not educational but seen isolated and apart from other subjects. This is proof of a talent and voice which the adult will not accept for its obvious lesson but will simplify and sell it back to the youth producing it in its sundry forms. The paying of the cost is pupil borne.

Dry material is evident. Not liquid or translucence altering body of altering substance is present. The intention is to allude to permanence. Therefore where is the place of performance and dissolution of spirit observed? Incremental transformation is not allowed or suggested in the work because it’s intangibles are unclassifiable. The closet to this obtuse element was a display of cement like material. It is interesting the future of materials will change apparent limitations of art as digitisation has. The phosphite and graphene tomes of solid state technological choices unseen here are a future conduit of arts material change.


It goes way beyond many art professional work seen elsewhere and deserves seeing often and in a clearer context.



On at The Ulster Museum Belfast Rooms Ground floor.

John Graham

30 January 2018


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Beyond the Beyonds : A John Kingerlee Exhibition Art Review

a fortuitous photo image

Life’s circles

On entering the rooms where John Kingerlee’s work is on exhibition light streams in from the first floor south facing windows of the former Victoria College at the reclaimed Crescent Arts Centre Belfast illuminating Beyond the Beyonds. A phrase comes to mind from Marshall McLuhan whose mastery of conjunction plagued scholarly thought with its soundbite philosophical stance on media. It is Inscrutable Condition. Well it’s not. Like McLuhan fought with the circumstances of time we see in John Kingerlee’s work an infusible power still restless in encounter. There is a possible connection I make with the former involvement of Kingerlee in writing with the similar approach of a grammar, rhetoric and logic, the trivium engaged in while considering along with Heaney whose strength lay in the fragility of words each transformed, transform their sphere of interest. One the painter another the convict. Convinced by words and paint of the beyond and asking questions of us and themselves through our at times nightmarish lack of mutual learning. A real breath of scoping out materiality in a venture undertaken is strongly held in reading the work here on display.

Kingerlee also moved his place of residence. From Birmingham eventually arriving in Ireland. McLuhan a Canadian outlier of the USA full on embrace of modernity and contemporary tools, he found himself in Cambridge able to distill in ‘soundbites’ while eschewing its tyranny, our multiple means of communication. In the latest outstanding work of Leontia Flynn The Radio her poetry if McLuhan affected by the rewarding swaying of words in our times fielded in a tyranny of locked in media forms. Her poem on Heaney is particularly deep while is fresh in these perceptions. These words and her italics, Seamus Heaney : August 30th 2013. “The way we’re living will have been our life.” which is a reaction, a eulogy or to use a less provocative word, homage to the poet who has left through the only available door.

Another internal gallery image.


Boundaries mattered to Seamus Heaney whose words for the title of this unique exhibition. It is beautifully hung in three relatively small linked rooms with a scale of human persuasion connecting the visitor to the work intimately. Exhibitor, Curator Larry Powell has combined a literary and long understanding of the works evolution to curate and present a homage of many years work brought together in a quite extraordinary full on breathtaking encounter with not just this artist work but the meaning of art itself. Often it is said and local art Professor Mike Cattos words in the catalogue follow this train of thought, the work is on the edge of experience with paint and image. Two themes dominate, Heads and Grid or Pattern. though landscape and collage sit alongside. Materials are impasto oil or giclee paint, acrylic occasionally on board, canvas, aluminum, Indian paper in multiple overlays of expression. Each is a piece in continuation of a symphonic approach elegantly placing accompaniment of the central outworking of a inner thought process which is absent from ego and therefore is internally hippocampus controlled, switched off which is where artists will tell you they are in the clearing space. The space where they are free to communicate through paint or media.

Two pieces in a grid of 12 aluminum panels completing a frame of 305 x 305 cm majestically create scale and presence. Neighbours Grid, Cullen’s Grid respectively. It is especially clear this is where John Kingerlee is distinguishing himself in placing his work out there for us to enjoy and embrace. The process is a completion which he has ventured to place Heads, Landscape, figuratively and semi abstracted – position. No one is aware of how the mind fully computes these encounters. Not yet anyway. Sometimes you feel like you are in a place where the oxygen has been drawn from you like being on top of a glacier, a mountain high altitude sickness, then the next moment a warm immersion of imbibing gratitude of finding a place to unify similar reactions as coalescence of almost primordial inner self. Few realise colour as Kingerlee.

For immediate entry only occasionally are little seemingly inconsequential figurative forms included. Postage stamps are a collage tool employed to symbolic effect placing a small token narrative to juxtapose our everyday literal interpretation. It’s as if it’s not about that asking you to go on into the several dynamic ranges of colour graduations. Simply to explore by being invited in. A device which familiarity is often employed by abstract artists to deflect critical abstention. I call it savvy. Collage is a favourite tool of another Irish Artist. Another native of immense significance as an astute conveyor of ourselves and our perceptions and times. Sean Hillen. Here the range is non political but rooted in good old fashioned wisdom. Politicai wisdom but wisdom isn’t politics as they might have you believe.

So John Kingerlee chooses a different path. Another artist practicing in Ireland Dermot Seymour does narrative painting with a political edge which is itself contradiction, eschewing the normal projections believed to be perceived. Being a native of Birmingham and John Kingerlee has as a background a literal background, wishing at first to be a writer and following through a confronting imagination telling him stories visually of earthen subjects eventually leading to what we see today in his early eighties (b. 1936) a fulmination, oration of his essence. It does not make sense for him to try political expressiveness as those mentioned above, the line instead is of discovery found historically except by a – and this is an outsiders objectivity – the genus loci of the islands evocations in the landscape works.

There is no comparison to be made with artists such as Dada practitioners, portrait non-conformists (Bacon, Braque) or media savvy practitioners such as Kooning and Pollack but to go beyond that. Beyond the Beyonds. Seamus Heaney was subtle in his ways and more grateful were we for his illuminating narrative. In such a phrase he is I think acknowledging his own encounter of art through a lifetime. Greek Gods, Apollo came to mind. That his visual vocabulary was as large as his language constructs. He would have absorbed all that is visually inspiring and tragic alongside the means to collect it mentally. Therefore it is possible to say he was expressing the thought given by the work here and other elements seen – the art witnessed is outside of us still and is working within us or on us to accommodate, the unimagined yet to be gathered in, poles we are within. I looked for the mythological creatures, sea horses Heaney may have imagined observing in his classical theorist mind, such was the odyssey of looking.

Earth is both Heaney and Kingerlee’s tale. The human is either seeing the world go round them or they go round the world. Neither pathway is a wrong one but singularity is a difficulty, or challenge, as humans we are each separate and this essence is something Seamus Heaney has seen somehow in the work. Each of us separate from the person next to us. Vantage points are imitating expectations. Curation is at once a function causing juxtaposition which is a failsafe in exhibitors eyes of staging contest of will and endurance in spectacle. World museums frequently alter their game changing efforts to create gravitas, to enlighten, to mound or reach perceptions otherwise unvisited. Barriers are reduced often and it is narrative which – this discourse is only a single opinion brought from encounter- then unveils more thoughts. The glacial or the warmth of self connection to the work is where many take the time to achieve some knowledge-filled own time.

Depth beyond words

John Berger was one of the first like Marshall McLuhan to use contemporary rule breaking formation of words to allow an expedient entry to understanding learnt through allowing new media – detested by McLuhan but giving him a comfortable living – to provide alternative and therefore contestable views. Art history is changing everyday. To see paintings is primary. In visiting this exhibition then looking at a very well produced catalogue, full of indication and reproduction, itself a valid record and entry point, it is evident immediately their is absolutely no comparison or equality of experience to be had except by having nothing between you and the canvas, work. Most people visiting galleries know this and they ‘set aside’ prejudice of previous experiences – of galleries, of the work supposed, of opinions received, of visual comparisons.

There are few mediums of art more direct than paint on a basic flat surface. So what is it we are seeing and what is it John Kingerlee has achieved which makes this work distinctive and unique? It’s meaning is in the continuation of evolving our own thought experiences appreciating layers of context and going beyond it through to new ideas of empirical sense of humanity and self. We are in search through our examinations of things, objects and daily ephemera, notions which change and alter realism. Some things are un-salvageable until alternative messages come our way. Choices are complex as these paintings are capable of billions of alternative meanings once seen. I came away with one word which is a word to sum up our quest towards higher meaning for ourselves and mankind which this exhibition realises in a way. It is not a closing of a journey. It is a quest towards salvation. Salvation.

John Graham

21 January 2018


Beyond the Beyonds – Work by John Kingerlee is on at The Crescent Gallery – Crescent Arts Centre – http://www.crescentarts.org University Road Belfast. http://www.kingerlee.com Larry Powell Art Consultant tel. +44 (0) 7765 406139 and at larrymatthewpowell@icloud.com

11 – 31 January 2018

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The Final Year : A Film Review


The Final Year

Cast : Barack Obhama, John Kerry, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes. Producers : John Battsek … producer, Diane Becker … co-producer, Alice Bristow … associate producer, Christopher Buchanan … co-producer, George Chignell .. Production Executive : Passion Pictures, Christopher Clements … Production, Executive: Motto Pictures, Ann Rogers,  associate producer, Kerstin Emhoff … co-executive producer, Julie Goldman … producer, Tyler Gurd … associate producer, Carolyn Hepburn … Production Executive Ann Rogers … associate producer, Andrew Ruhemann … co-executive producer, Nicole Stott … Production Executive: Passion Pictures, Erikka  Music by Philip Sheppard Cinematograph  by Martina Radwan, Erich Roland, Film editing by Joshua Altman, Langdon Page. Duration 1hr 29mins. Cert. 12a.


The Final President

Home Box Office have created a documentary of the final year in office of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama’s tenure of service from 2009 to 2017 an inevitable expectancy reaching a form of closure.

THE FINAL YEAR is a unique insiders’ account of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy team during their last year in office. Featuring unprecedented access inside the White House and State Department, THE FINAL YEAR offers an uncompromising view of the inner workings of the Obama Administration as they prepare to leave power after eight years.  It is an ‘fly on the wall’ without the depth of the intimacy of private wrestling with the pervasive conflicting day to day manifestations of outfall not just of past history but managing the present.  It is inside and insightful yet is disappointing and troubling to watch.

News Management has soared to the top of everyone’s truth seeking senses.  It seems we are all on a course of becoming a component in an agenda of mismanaged futures through the choices made in elections everyone is on someone’s line of trajectory.  People as commodities.  Holding firm to truth and where it emanates from is as ever a pathos, as stories crush and compel arguments across Governmental desks.  Challenges are of unique carefully drafted message enveloped in media forms confronted by the reveal of history none were anticipating. Paradise papers and whistleblowers.  Julian Assange just recently became a citizen of Ecuador while the GB Government has him under house arrest.  Democrat disjunction, disfunction, is here to be seen also writ large ahead of the triumphalism of the anti-Athenian D. Trump.  Dialogue is free and interpreted instantly.  This film takes us up to that threshold and we are in the arc following when the choke was taken off the master tapes of the White House and Twitter accounts tell of internal wrangling.


Term of Office

No longer is there a President of the United States but a franchise which is part an incumbent of enemies trading powers privilege staying off legislation. A News managed for the mass consumption in return for a route to launder currency is all it took to dismantle the final office frontier. Nations and boundaries no longer matter and instead a block chain of political dimensions untaught in manuals or educational establishments, for that is what they were, are grounded on blocks of power. High yield is a derivative played by arms provisions.


Adjust the War

Barack Obama was the last President concerned with solving the long trail of a Rothschild type Imperialist agenda which saw the Gaza Strip as a battleground. He could not avoid it but it was not an analysis of sufficient gravity but a long held (dis)belief it was not a religious warp. So religion and it’s many dimensions never became part of the guidance on either side. Read the scholarly Saeb Shaath on the legacy.  Syria and The Middle East have held a long sword of unremitting horror over its own people extracting themselves from a century or more of exploitation through its  own tyranny.  http://saebpress.com/2013/08/saudi-arabia-funding-unrest-in-middle-east/. 20c Oil has been the catalyst for the resurgence of the Arab world to again become valid citizens in a fallible relationship with its surrounding neighbours and fellow followers of peaceful unity but it has harboured the hurt and damage caused by invasion and exploitation of corporate thieves. Now the calamity is in a frame of technicolour news as daily reports of intolerance, genocide and divisiveness saturate continents and infiltrate the outskirts of formerly untroubled Nations. Migration by displacement is a shared world problem.


Calmness is a convoy of aid and here in the film of the round up of conventions and diplomatic dancing comes another narrative. Blaming and shaming. The aid literally is blown up by an actor for the world to react to, showing the failure diplomacy is. UN outrage is blunt and name calling. Putin is intent on alarming the world by showing here it is a crime to want peace if you do not accord with a rule of one Federation. The former Soviet Union is revengeful and Ukraine which barely gets a mention in this documentary is as near as we can place a truth of division outside of the Middle East used as a bargaining chip by both sides. The Hillary Clinton input is put aside also.


Global Diplomacy

Heavily featured here is the Vietnam veteran John Kerry. He justifiable carries the burden of spokesperson for the nothing war which claimed and still does the lives of many of his fellow combatants and by mines left unexploded awaiting a victim. The Vietnam War follows through from Kennedy whose armaments fed the Vietnamese regimes fighting Communism to the Johnson and Nixon destruction both of their own troops and many civilians in Laos and thereafter came an legacy where there is still a long unbroken chain leading into Presidency after Presidency. Obama is intent on doing his peacemaking tour around the world and finds it gratifying and just in going back to the past and looking to repair the broken shattered peace and being a fitting memorial for drawing a line. Japan and Hiroshima will also feature.

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John Kerry is on the alternative narrative of dealing with today’s catastrophe while ignoring the elephant in the room of USA defence weaponry manufacture and industrial warmongering industries. Safe to say he is not a pacifist as late on he declares and at the same time purports to be seeking peace. On USA terms. The other handgliding drone in the room is a UN Ambassador whose job is to make the obstinate squirm and show up the fallacy of their ways. Samantha Power has the unusual insight of an Irish Immigrant background; disqualified from running for office by that origin but equipped by having been recruited on the basis of a journalists approach and her book on origins of war and where they are taking us, at least that was my original take on its premise. The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (sic) was the institution Samantha Power established a Human Rights Foundation in. From writing about how 20th century genocide was ignored (wide generalisation given the WWII and continuation of The Great War) is lost in narrative with the title The Problem from Hell. Women’s issues are highlighted and it is neither seen as a fashion thing about wearing hijabs or subjection but a basic lack of equality. Religious dogma is not writ large. Kidnapping and slavery and terrible abuses are documented while the daylight of a USA where a form of women’s subjection is to open on news fronts across industries in a #me too narrative is in the shade here. Truth will out eventually. One of the guides they fail to recount is John Stuart Mill, not only on divinity recalling the individual broadly used not as freedoms footnote but as a economic distribution ethos.

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Unintelligible is the strength and power of religious idealism and internally humanity overdoing any ‘value’ hierarchy brought about by trade. JSM relies on ‘constructive empiricism’ while seeing or rather not seeing ‘nature’ – the storms of civilisation alongside the natural phenomena of our daily bread – constantly putting us in our rightful place demanding reconciliation with it and ourselves. For JSM his wisdom also produced solutions peculiar to himsel& and in his relationship with Harriet Taylor evidenced an equality of existence even the Church could not form. Itself a ‘periclesian’ mode which was denying no one their individual freedom. The suffragettes at the same time conducted wicked and detestable bombing and created a scourge still not acknowledged as a means to an end. Democracy. Enemies were many and often with good cause. So this is a backdrop History is failing to include in the breath of those forces confronting the so called ‘leaders’ this film seems intent on eulogising in a passing river of consciousness as it reaches down rebranched tributaries and flows continually caring the waters which it will always carry.


Dressing wounds

Narratives are forms of life and no history of the world can be written without the diaspora having a say. From the Anglicised retention’s of rule in a Fedralised America to the Religious strength consumed and abused in the USA and nations from the tip of South America up to Alaska, Canada, across Europe and spread dishonestly as a rhetoric of truth comes another will. The will of America to prevail and be prevalent as values which we are overhearing in the everyday talk of the rooms of power.  No mention of the G20 or Peter Sutherland, Goldman Sachs or any taint of monied America getting its hands dirty?  Just another HBO narrative with displacing counterpoint in soundbites hurled with intended anonymity into the whirlpool of chaos two steps behind the developing story.  At the beginning of the film comes a follow me routine. The feet fast and well shod on prepared ground. The diplomats timetable run out as prescribed in advance but always a beat behind. It’s as though they are insistent on not being their on time so as to disown the past.

Imperialist allies

Britain invented Israel as a removal of a family of languages and people. the afroasiatic form called Hamito-Semitic, a family of languages including as subfamilies Semitic, Egyptian, Berber, Cushitic, and Chadic.  Syria is Palestine and holds a bitter division in opposition to the Imperialist Israel Project with Lebanon as a hideout. An interesting novel character is found in a speech writer whose compass matches Barack Obama’s.  Ben Rhodes is an under forty master of spin and incisive vective. This is a part of Obama’s person he (Obhama) can’t devote time to so has allowed a surrogate to unfold his theories and unlock his wisdom. Unwittingly or is it intent, he is cast in the mound of a Jewish intern general with a false past which is possibly denuded of the Religious might he is from.

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Religion is swerved here. His Episcopal Father and Jewish Mother are tongues he listened to and listens internally to now it would seem safe to assume. No faith is to undo the legacy of an infant Israel heresy. Muslim or Christian. Judaism in a bold type of monotheistic reason is adhered to in American eyes.  Both these travellers, Obhama, Rhodes, are Religious in degrees privately it has to be assumed from other media but often as not it is left outside the Oval Office. Neither seems to realize their part is based in Religious heirachy and they are beholden by virtue of their cloth. That sets them apart and mitigates against their understanding of others values not matching theirs. Fundamentally in the Middle East.  Winston Churchill is apparently their mentor or past leader of choice for guidance. He was beholden to America also and Blenheim Palace became the gift of the British Crown for his persuasion in getting the USA to enter WWII and send supplies into a Europe which was under siege from that genocide The Problem from Hell. More like the problem of Hell. How not to see it. How to not recognize its advance.

Hell is in the clouds and earth.

Speeches set the tone and every new room entered has a pathos to be delivered. For Barak Obama it is the American Declaration of Independence and is foremost in lectures to the gathered. It was what a Congress was derived for. July 4, 1776, and the words were set in Washington’s Presidency. Those words were conscripted from Ulster’s Francis Hutchensons philosophy brought forth by Thomas Paine as exiles of the yoke of imperialism they so detested.  Unitarian in thought and principle their ideas were nevertheless based on individuals allowance of free thought. Less words would carry such might as those distilled here. Yet where are the notions of the Declaration in assignment against the tours of combat since embarked on. Only the hideous genocide of future generations in Africa and Asia would equal the waste of WWII and its legacy borne world wide. Now the countries are being stripped of their assets by new entrants from China and the G20.

Conclusion ###3

Rich as this film is equipped with the sensory media behemoth of the United States of America in history mode it fails to direct the camera in any decisive illuminating way while illustrating a West Wing narrative which is high on ideal and lacking in scuprles or any game changer dynamic.  The anticipation of office has been swamped by time advancing with greater perils opened up through truth emerging in histories recall.  As a mission to complete the 44th Presidency many repairs were sought to be made by Barack Obhama while his steadfast troops both suited and fatigued were deployed on present day flanks with much of the common talk broken into slow burning flames of hope.  It is a film worth seeing as a reminder of the removal from the political sphere a genuine worthy experience of mankind reckoning with their own failures and beholden by powers immensely conflated and misunderstood.  Philosophy is in its a bit but it is a failure to define politics as a motor of governance for the common good which is all too clearly absent given the extremes of the states and actors involved at the heart of our world order.

John Graham

18 January 2018


Opening at Queens Film Theatre Belfast 19 January 2018 until 25 January 2018.

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Sanctuary : A Film Review


Director. Len Collin, Writer. Christian O’Reilly, Production. Edwina Forkin, Director of Photography. Russell Gleeson, Editor. Julian Ulrichs, Design. Sonja Mohlich, Eleanor Wood, Music. Joseph Conlan, Cast. Kieran Coppinger, Charlene Kelly, Robert Doherty, Michael Hayes, Emer Macken, Paul Connolly, Frank Butcher, Patrick Becker, Jennifer Cox, Valerie Egan.

Cert 15. Duration 1hr 27mins.

Loves logic and laughs logistics

Screenwriter Christian O’Reilly with a previous disability themed feature Inside I’m Dancing (2004)) has adapted Sanctuary from his play of the same name produced by Blue Teapot Theatre Company between 2012 and 2014.

Director Len Collin and his team have reinstalled the same cast from the original stage production. Mainly Larry (Kieran Coppinger) and Sophie (Charlene Kelly) and Tom (Robert Doherty) their care worker, whose step outside the usual routine creates a havoc and brilliant set piece for antics of Rom-Com notions and with pathos and a heartfelt journey through common emotions and the premise of arranging for Sophie and Larry to have some time alone brings about for the group around them as well a bold adventure in the ancient Galway citadel. A day out at the Cinema is the arch and a day passes with happenings breaking down many barriers and showing many of societies silent and muddled thinking. There is a dark central theme of abuse and it is not necessarily lodged in the past and remains undealt with properly or with dignity. The sexual power is wrested away from individuals who are loving and unrecognised equals and in the course of dealing with their sexual driver without guidance help or educational means to construct each of their own narratives.

Modern Love and Loving

Now as 2017 comes to a close this new Irish Film brings a very high intensity tale of human frailty and thoughtful, thought provoking film now to be screened on general release. Sanctuary is a word only partially conveying the entry and subject of the story. It sets about totally opening human emotional constructs in its portrayal of the love sought and enveloped in every part of our existence. As an Irish black comedy/drama/thriller/ …. its a sum of many parts …. it may be, will be one of the best things your likely to see over the Christmas period and it has the solidity of being a universally themed and therefore poignant drama significantly pointing up the world of disabilities visited on people in ill health. With a cast of people with learning disabilities – mostly Down’s syndrome which Tom (Robert Doherty) the person whose job it is to look after the groups activities tactful describes his group to a Gard (PSNI equivalent but unarmed mostly!) itself a script crafted nuance which this film has in spades.

Nuances are aplenty and there is a central theme of a Rom-Com for the cast and audience to feast on. Set in the Galway of last Christmas, filmed also out of sequence during this year presumably in the interior stories, it is a journey into the unknown and is teased out joyfully and at times laugh out loudly – lol – as the plot thickens and never overdoses its prescripted meds pathos.

Complex emotional theatre

Hard as it is to imagine for myself the dilemmas uniquely faced by disabilities other that tertiary glimpses, I see the story being given artistic licence and the work is scripted by someone whose knowledge has constructed a story and avoided complexities of sexual education and also angst, anxiety, panic attacks which must occur under the circumstances which are to everyone more than a ‘given’ – emotional worlds do not come with an instruction manual – so a degree of leniency in absorbing the arch of the story is carefully written in without loosing the very real juxtaposition of societies and the caring communities different rules and constraints. In taking on the task of delivering a coherent and fully entertaining instruct full insightful – a word which is bound to turn up on its reflection – there is a commitment to drama and theatre which is delivering in the ancient dramatic techniques of fictionalised performance around since no theatre and dance verbal communications etc. I thought of it as similar to Theatre of Witness work in Derry Playhouse as drama used as a tool of understanding in the circle and womb of commune with the universes foundations.

Mary O’Malley of the Lyric Theatre fame saw this vehicle as other numerous Irish dramatists have and still encounter to pu5 before us the intractable. La La No on Yeats excursion into No theatre and with Basil Blackshaw’s (Igor Stravinsky and Picasso and Rivera invoked) set design – a revival is overdue!!! Cinema is used here within the film. I jotted down these three, Punky – possibly made in connection with this film, ScrewBack, Maiden of the Sea. These are the fodder of the Eye Cinema Multiplex the group visit as a daytime Christmas outing which is viewed in individuals own tastes carefully comically observed and counterpoint to the off screen romantic and otherwise interactions which come rich and varied.

Tom the believer.

Key worker and helper par excellence Tom (Robert Doherty) takes his caring a bit far and therein lies the drama – and story.  The effect is a brilliantly delivered cinematic excursion of multiple advantages and rewarding for the watching of, as well I can see for the cast whose everyday life is a daily battle with the present, with the past a place they tend not to dwell on. Therein is another reality, the fact that the demands of the everyday are unlike this for most of us and as such careful attention needs to be taken in respect of the physical world, bodies get programmed to and in routine, depending in the individual expectations. This equates and permeates as different tasks not to be taken as ‘given’ for those with very significant health problems.   Lots of the cast have challenges which are dealt with with dignity and solace derived from the care and fellowship – not always present in the past or present – received by a society trining to adjust and often failing to care.

Title leanings and meanings

Seeking the sanctuary of companionship and a partner is profoundly, instinctively programmed as a right of birth while it is found wanting for many including and often beyond the scope of infirmity visited on the body disabled by unknown (why all humans are factored in with flaws) these biological demons chemically damage our constructs bewilderingly. From early life the dna of ourselves is implanted and does strange things which the rest of life is often fully occupied with redressing.

1 immunity afforded by refuge in such a place.

2 any place of refuge; asylum.

3 a tract of land where birds and wildlife, especially those hunted for sport, can breed and take refuge in safety from hunters.

Plot pivot

as described above Tom is a master of mayhem and is not the smartest cog in the machine of managing complex situations. His own Rom-Com adventure is a mirror of the main pivot as he through his ‘girlfriend’ – it’s a treading on loves first tender footsteps ladder for him – arranges a Hotel interlude for Larry and Sophie. Sophie is managing tempts and severe epilepsy and the trip to the Cinema is craftily interrupted which enables the plans to detour to a hotel to come about. While three depart the Cinema another set of side stories is put in motion. Some delightful sub-plots or situational devices bring out the companion actors whose part is to either go with the flow or go and do their own thing or even stay put. The balloons of momentary delight are plentiful and very funny and helpful in telling the often oblique unconsidered tales individuals have in their orbit. Delight is often short lived and the good feelings are let go by other interventions.

Directions taken

Director of Photography Russell Gleeson uses mostly intimateclose framed shots to convey the focus of individuals immediate always dangerous present time existence. Very few landscape walking the dog type shots are used – the theatrical origins is one reason perhaps for this but it is very evident the past where a lot of people cannot move on from or compartmentise is a secondary unhelpful adjunct when disability has presented. The world of dialogue is meticulously held and each scene is a fine edged element in relation to the ongoing story. Rita whose early part in the story is as an Agatha Christie type sleuth with eyes for everything and covert occupational reconnaissance of her friends in the group is eventually given another role nd another side of her character blooms or is enabled. The love she watches hawk eyed and in the margins is hers if she she so desires. These little sidelines are intricately woven and just as illuminating as the core Larry and Sophie tryst. The Galway we see is full of hope and expectation. By some prophetic, intended mirror devised by writer Christian O’Reilly this Yuletide is taken at the flood of goodness in its magical often surreal never never-land. Rita gets to visit the Winter Christmas market and enjoys a friendly meeting with bored citizens of the magic. Often children don’t believe in Christmas for too long but load their expectations on the adults who in turn deal with it among family and friends to escape the problems of health, homelessness, separation, bereavement, work and home related for a short time. The spectacle is very convincing often. Seeing the (drone) overhead of the River Corrib flowing beneath the bridge towards the Atlantic as a torrent and the city fall into a nightime for the returning day to follow is mesmerising in a away. The tumble of the short run from the interior Lough is a miraculous event of continuity.

Conclusion ####4

This is an outstandingly uplifting and conflicting film. It presents the central topic of relationships on a universal and mirror reflecting everyone multiple illusions and realities. The story of lives confronting and dealing with disabilities is profoundly achieved in a well conceived theatrical way. It is as mentioned above like a theatre of witness into urges and emotions and the sanctuary of thought in communicating love and finding giving and receiving love in a life disordered since the beginning of time. Human instincts are to seek out meaning and purpose while forming a personal narrative. This is a very ambitious and never patronising approach to a subject of sexual urges and relationships empowering individuals in their own pathway towards discovery and their assembly of reasoning. The intellectual worth of the story is treated with concern and awareness of how it will be read or viewed. The questions are put with entertaining disturbing sometimes clarity. It may not be as simple as the narrative takes forward but it holds the essential messages without getting lost unlike the wandering of the Cinema escapees.

Sex education could do with a makeover in all corners of these islands and abroad with abuse knowing no borders it is continental, universal while Churches, institutions, authorities, the Film world etc, play down the effects and perceptions by concealment and failure to address core issues. Challenges are made by this film and answers are not its purpose but considerations of Sanctuary are ever present. Tom has no priors before this moment of unprofessional caring. Society appears as a bystander sometimes and this is how Larry and Sophie see as their barrier to love. If you have to choose between the latest Star Wars film and this its a no-brainier – go for this it is so much more than the sum of its parts and it was a privilege to see such fine performances in a range of very difficult circumstances. A great achievement worth of seeing more than once as you might miss some of the hidden gems stretching out before you. You need to be as observant as Rita who has an education through this independent in every way, film.

John Graham

20 December 2017


On at Queens Film Theatre from 29 December 2017 until 04 January 2018

At QFT the 18:20 screening on Wed 3 January will be followed by a Q&A with director Len Collin and members of the cast.

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Architecture : Art in Architecture

Kengo Kuma cites Seurat’s influence.

I used Kengo Kuma’s books (little) on Small Architecture and Natural Architecture as jumping off points for a discussion on the equation with art in its many forms which is to me fascinating. <strong>Kengo Kuma</strong> (隈 研吾 <em>Kuma Kengo</em>, born 1954) is a Japanese and professor at the Graduate School of Architecture at Tokyo.  Kuma is also noted for his prolific writings. I tale heed when an Architect talks about ‘caulking widths!’ and the other day I spoke to a tiler about the ‘Equipe’ (Spanish) tiles he was using and they were perfectly utilised and the caulking was a light grey instead of a white or dark grey with the tiling – external and white polished ceramic – little modulations on a modest retail facade. The detail imbued by Kuma is similarly drawn.


Graham Sutherland work

With painting, a subject and other visual Art forms, techniques line up tougher to provide solutions and knowledge we otherwise take for granted or fail to see the connections between. The challenge here is to express the randomness in the regularity of nature’s life and movement through time which is a perpetual engagement.

Natural Architecture is calling us to think of Buildings as clothing says Kuma.  In the characteristics of the body the Heritage Museum of Kuma (Hiroshige Museum) is in three layers. An overcoat of 3cm x 6cm cedar slats, at 12cm intervals, inside his a jacket of <em>washi</em> paper wrapped cedar louvred. Finally on the inside is a layer of <em>washi</em> paper illuminated from within. The structure and elements of walling, flooring are at multiples of 12cm.  The studs of the light walls are at 24cms intervals. The walls are like Japanese inn <em>shoji</em> screens. As this form of construction would be in a public building a layer of plasticised paper was applied to the inner layer to thwart children or damage from visitors.



While this is a compromise the principles hold true.  The flooring too is 24cm squares. The structural engineers – Shigeru Akol and Satoml Makino – designed slender columns keeping the rhythm.  Using humanised materials – <em>plastics</em> – would seem like abandoning the natural approach or compromise but Kuma correctly maintains there would be no ‘Architecture’ or it would be at a standstill were modern inventions, uses not applied. There is no right way he suggests and things must co-exist.  The form of a Building must be a collection of things based on collectivity, humility and hard work.

When this approach is further stimulated by considering the outer world and the barrier the forms make with it there is a further compromise or idea to be taken in. The modular is Le Corbusier territory famously and he was also conscious of the natural responses. Even in The Modular. The plan of Paris 1937 had its relation to nature. Seurat is another whose senses were inspired as Kuma points out by nature’s rhythms.  He is conscious of achieving rhythm by ‘disrupting’ it through choice. The ‘disruption’ takes the shape of a lover for example shaping into modular form light shading a floor or water. It makes the senses defence the man made and the natural in harmonic resonance.

The way that Seurat found it – expression in painting – and engaging was to devise a technique most resonant with the experience of looking and show the world this manner of seeing.  When he was observing the Normandy headlands of other elements of nature, the way trees sway and people are set into a notion of place, be it as occupants in a man made environment or as constituents of a habitat defined by nature itself, he was at once aware of the <em>En mosse</em> unity of movement and alternating states.  Not many accept that as a way into his work.  Instead some see it as a rejection of the impasto approach of his contemporaries and his sparking pointillist invention as a fractal of spaces with each point belonging in a sense to its neighbour while outwardly there are no similarities between those outer objects and the near object except through the continuum of colour balance throughout.  Each colour being totally different yet at the same time forming this <em>En mosse</em> delight in seeing. Seurat like Kuma and others before him were in essence realising the unity of form through observation of the surreality of paint and line in Human form. They would have it demanded of them to react and the stimuli would be forthcoming with and in ideas and expression.  The Normandy work Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp (1885) is one such breakthrough in art.

Predating Picasso, Braque, Van Gogh and the many modern painters to follow his insight was to develop – and it was brought forward by drawing purely in pencil tones of black and white on textured paper this abstraction of thought now realised to be advanced in paint.


Kuma points to three things that make up our world.  His Japanese senses using folklore and the tale of The Three Pigs.  The outcome is to allow the world as we see it to be viewed in any number of ways and thus Buildings need ‘conform’ to the metaphors of natures delicate balance.  Each ‘string’ of nature interconnecting as today science shows and continuously proves to us. The change is manifested in nature and stubborn as mankind adaptability is necessary and a given. The interaction too is often cited. That interaction between particles in ourselves and in nature and which artists find compelling in subject. As Kuma raises <em>Monadology</em> is the (Leibniz) theory of monad recombination or multiple variations producing single entities themselves compromised by time and interactivity.  Or words to that effect!

More temporal is the artists quest. Seurat was in his work a philosopher painter. With his expression he enabled others to see the vision of combinations in colour and their juxtaposition.

The painting most often cited as his ‘enlightenment moment, for the viewer, was Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte (1884-86), undoubtedly the miraculous societal and beautiful flaneur, promenading, egalitarian viewpoint which took another perspective on the world within it the 57 or so characters. Does the black dog count?

With it came a one man view on which were to be built other abstractions.  Above is a psychological drawing of Seurat himself  (no.3.) as a lone person on La Grande Jette giving a meaning also in singular societal form, as well as seeing the painting itself being a singular reality.  The same can be said of the lone fisher lady next along.  Neither could it be construed, nor would he have sought that idea, as it having a special status, it simply became symbolically of itself.  It was as just one painting and each time Seurat painted he contributed further to the panthéon françaises of the stable of art.  The panthéon françaises is another route into this thinking. By saintly intervention almost the presence of spirit is told in Buildings and this is since Newgrange, Ireland, to this example, a national monument in Paris, France, it was used as a sepulcher for ‘eminancy’.  The Church that follows.

Church states of mind.

The church of Ste. Geneviève formed in 1764 was secularized in 1885 and to many as  monument was known in Seurat’s time Churches held a special imagery.

As nations define themselves through the respectfulness of habitat Architecture expands those implicated values. The shifting changes of the outer world are stilled in a Cathedral as the past is venerated and reflected on.  War and compromise of the human destruction of meditative states are shades of liberty.  The other sense within a Church most connecting with self and affinity to a higher entity is silence. The inner prayer. With this silence the words when the state of inner peace and enlightenment is reached some rejoicing or in the case of a Church worship is given in song and music. The condition of mankind is satiated temporarily as it is with paintings.

Life is temporary nature is permanent.  Edges of materials are often an artists field of exploration as they are in Architecture.  Glass and steel.  Man made and conforming to many attributes in behaviour. Behaviour is obtained as with man and neither is the person is defined by their behaviour but how they are. Conceivably individual and not as in relation to another thing. Force is applied to material to obtain a reaction and it is therefore defined by that reaction.

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Compromises are evident in Japanese thinking however revered it has become. Edo and one hundred views, a compromise numerically there, flipping the horizontal to the vertical, a compromise there. Intrinsic are the compromises of distilling thoughts into the numerical or geometrical whereas the abiding theme is regularly of time as revolving and returning as night and day.

Seurat never finishes a process in his work.  Rather he moves onto the next trial of the idea of seeing. The subject matter is only partially societal in its observation. Whatever is forming a frame or image it is to be subjected to a trial or excursive outworking in art. The medium is the matter. The concepts are conjunctions of the viewers perceptions overlaying the relative ideas of every artist. Be it promenading or working in the fields, or at leisure on a lake or fishing on a river everyone there is a discussion of life involved.


After Seurat by myself.

Seurat genius’s was to form into his new-impressionist technique that abstraction which would influence other artists.  I believe this went into glass and sculpture. Henry Moore is attributed with ‘inventing’ the hole in sculpture but never alone with his art it can only be seen in relation to other works.  The preceding or later forms tell us what to appreciate of the work.  A value is struck and each one is different. A previous observation I made concerning this is found in an earlier exploration of Game of Thrones https://wp.me/p2R05n-ka in comparison with a place we’re a number of artists collaborated on the reforming of Coventry Cathedral. The artists there to make the point extremely well, just as Seurat made.

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I once had a long conversation with Zaha Hadid when we encountered together maromina plaster at the 9h gallery I think in London. Asking what I was doing and observing my touching a plastered wall with the Venetian plaster technique in understated glory she was at once in agreement concerning the multiple readings of the distressed appearance and randomness it evoked. The control of material was meticulous in its functionality and with little holes, ‘flaws’, perhaps gathering tiny particles of dust in the indents, the presence of the material as a singular statement of collected skill and artefact would be a long subject of materials and their compromised beauty.  Even now long after it, is the vision of the late Zaha Hadid whose work employed those characteristic formations of rationality along with the expression through material the natural value aesthetic she became renowned for.


John Graham

29 November 2017


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