‘Slow Criticism’ anybody?

The Accurate Perception Available When Our Eye Becomes Single.
Richard Ducker and Ian Thompson, with Sarah Sparkes.
3 Dec till 18 Dec 2022. Thames-Side Studios Gallery
London SE18 5NR.

I recall it was a cold, cold night, and our journey, beyond our usual urban parameters, seemed to make it all the colder. We were heading out, beyond New Cross, beyond Deptford, beyond even Greenwich to those wilder, less cosmopolitan and less historicised lands more than half-way to Woolwich. We watched the bus’s digital display while looking for the stop at which we needed to alight, meanwhile checking with the bus driver just to be safe. When he finally set us down after an unusually long ride, we found ourselves in the edgelands of London, monopolised by wide roads, roundabouts and industrial buildings.

Following instructions translated from Google into my pocketbook we found ourselves walking down a dimly lit side road, heading – my instincts told me – towards the river. Eventually we came to an industrial complex where a security guard pointed out our final destination. Then, through a perspex panel in a steel door, we glimpsed the face of a friend who opened-up and welcomed us in.

After the usual post-pandemic near-hugs and quasi-kisses we settled into some catch-up chat, oiled by wine and encouraged by nibbles before entering the gallery space proper. There, the artist Richard Ducker had set out a scenario at least as bleak as the journey through Southeast London that we had just completed. The space retained its original industrial character and purpose, with high, thin walls and perhaps a peaked or slanting roof? I don’t recall such details clearly, but perhaps it is acceptable to write about art that we cannot fully recall? After all, is any art writing ever fully current, comprehensive or complete?

Perhaps a slightly patchy memory, and the slightly mystifying effects of passed time, just provide another, slightly more historical way for us to look at and evaluate art? Art doesn’t run to the same timetable as the rest of the world, and so, it seems OK to me to write some ‘slow criticism’, even about a show almost entirely from memory and in retrospect, and for no reason other than to experiment, again, with the tradition of art writing and the lingering possibilities or impossibilities of a 21st century art criticism.

To continue, the artist had built what he called ‘bunkers’, i.e. objects that looked a little like five-aside football goals but which provided a floor bound screen on which digital video images were projected. Their scale, form, and the angles at which they were set, brought to mind a video installation made by Hiraki Sawa at Chisenhale Gallery some years ago.

Richard Ducker and Ian Thompson, with Sarah Sparkes, ‘The Accurate Perception Available When Our Eye Becomes Single’, multi-screen installation (film still), 2022

Other videos were projected in more familiar ways, directly on walls or monitors – again, I can’t recall accurately. The artist’s images were mainly black and white, and so, where and when a splash of vibrant colour occasionally intervened, it had a significant impact, as if allowing a kind of exotic otherness into an otherwise austere, homogenously grim scenario.

These works were the product of several artists in collaboration. First there was the image maker (Richard Ducker), who had collected and edited the video elements. Then there was the sound artist, or music composer (Ian Thompson), who had created a sensuously sonic dimension, which, while operating in its own way and its own right, inevitably enhanced the images and confirmed the installation’s evocation of places and times where humans might fear to tread – all depicted in inescapable loops.

Then there was a performance artist (Sarah Sparkes) who, I believe (and again, I might be recall inaccurately) appeared briefly in one of the looped videos wearing a vividly coloured costume and also performed in the space in special weekend events.

The ironic mirroring of the journey to this out of the way gallery with the remote desolation found in the carefully composed sound and pictures, soon became a repeated observation in our chats with other visitors. It felt like a hardcore night-out for committed art-appreciators, and not for the feint-hearted. A baleful poetics haunted the given space, in which an epitaph seemed to have been scribed for a humanity that had exhausted its capacity for hope sometime back in the first nuclear age, and before the era of colour TV.

The images seemed to be (and I hope the artists don’t mind if I guess here rather than research or consult) derived from certain remote and uncivilised places in the South East of England (Suffolk, Essex, or Kent perhaps?) associated with the production of nuclear power. These non-sites retain a ghostly sense of an abandoned future, of surpassed technologies and faded belief. And all of this is woven by these artists into a weird manscape, seemingly inhospitable to the hardiest life-forms and resistant to nature’s tendency to overwhelm all obstructions to its purpose.

Having toured the various screens and contemplated the ‘bunkers’, monitors, and other elements of the installation, we found ourselves negotiating with other visitors the best way to get home from this obscure venue. Our return journey involved another barren bus ride, but this time fortunately diverted via the Millennium Dome (site of another lost future, that of New Labour) where the state-of-the-art Jubilee Line underground train service finally provided us with the kind of safe, fast, brightly illuminated and thoroughly modern way home that we felt that we deserved, following a memorable trip to the edgelands of London, but also to the limits of humanity, and on to the extremities of these three artists and their collective imagining.


Dunhill & O’Brien’s ‘Modern Object’ (and closing talk) at postROOM, London

Shielding, 2022, blue upholstery fabric, wood, wadding, insulation material. And gallery installation view.

Reflecting on and projecting re my Blog, I came to thinking about how it was probably at its best when conforming to tight parameters, i.e., with a maximum wordcount of 750 words per week, published by noon every Sunday, using only B&W images (as a means by which to synthesise hugely diverse visual information) and featuring some kind of ‘review’ or thoughts upon art and culture, while laced with the thoughts, the persona, and in a way the diary of that ‘ONLY YOU’ who has become both myself and the reader, morphing into a persona who is not only of and for the writer, but also of and for the reader, providing a special kind of encounter where the audience or reader is carried along with the writer while also carrying the writer along.

However, I had better get around to writing about something other than writing itself.

Yesterday was frosty in London and my partner and I crossed London quickly by tube, unavoidably aware that a big football match, a national cultural event, was in the offing. We travelled to Islington, not a part of town we visit often but home to a couple of galleries run by friends of ours. I was able to show my partner the delights of Camden Passage, once an intriguing warren entirely made up of antique and bric-a-brac shops, but now significantly modernised and gentrified with trendy cafes and the like, though still retaining some of its original charm.

This is also the part of town where my mum and dad wooed each other, meeting for movie dates on Islington Green after finding each other while working at the same pipe factory (the smoking kind) called Comoy’s, not far from Angel. My mother was working there because her working class family were based around Chapel Market and the area between Kings X and Angel. My father, Seamus (James) O’Kane, had migrated from Ireland and taken any job he could find while applying for a more promising position in the lowest ranks of the British civil service. He inadvertently fell in love with local girl Evelyn Reed and the rest is (my family) history.

In Chapel Market, where my great grandmother once lived, there is now an art gallery run by a friend named Yuki Miyake and named White Conduit Projects . It has a unique, largely Japanese-art-and-culture-related agenda. But our destination on this occasion was a little further North up Essex Road to ‘postROOM’, a gallery situated in the home of gallery director Sandie Macrae “ … after 18 years’ operating as: R O O M, ROOM TOO, FOUND GALLERY, ROOM London, ROOMARTSPACE and more recently and currently as ROAMING ROOM”. We travelled to postROOM to attend a talk by artists and friends Mark Dunhill and Tamiko O’Brien  (who have also exhibited in White Conduit Projects) marking the last day of their show, Modern Object (17th Nov to 10th Dec 2022), at postROOM.

The combination and proximity of the curated work, along with a spoken introduction by the artists, opened-up the intricately enfolded cultural concepts and connections built-in to the pieces via the artists’ highly personalised research methods, that are always both playful and diligent. Dunhill & O’Brien live and work both as a couple and as artist-collaborators – a theme much discussed in this talk. Most of their work reveals a head-on negotiation, not only with each other but with the underlying concepts and context of their duality, their ‘two-ness’ and their collaboration. This includes examination of the way that idea-production, conceptual refinement, design and manufacture all take place in an especially candid and visible arena once artists choose, or are forced to work outside the more private confines of a more typical practice.

Suffice to say that the works of these collaborating artists always provoke intrigue, fascination and amusement while often delivering a special and memorable sense of bathos. Dunhill & O’Brien also demonstrate that much humour tends to derive from such collaboration. We might recall seeing it in the works of e.g., Fischli & Weiss, John Harrison & Paul Wood, or Jake & Dinos Chapman.

There is, it seems, something about the collaborative model that is likely to lead us through an unusually candid (usually more hidden or repressed) flirtation with failure to a space of relative resilience where, having perhaps inclined to resignation we rally and recall that we are strongest, and even most victorious when laughing (Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati are cited as formative influences by the artists), or that (given all artists are in some way entertainers) we are justified even in our most particular and peculiar actions as long as someone is laughing along with us.

In Dunhill & O’Brien’s substantial and impressive oeuvre (alluded to in this exhibition by the mixing of their most recent works with some slightly older pieces) meticulous manufacture is often interwoven with more messy (and massy) meditations on making, and this illustrates sculpture’s (and thereby the sculptor’s) inherent inability, or stubborn unwillingness to transcend material conditions (in comparison with painting at least), making Dunhill & O’Brien exemplary commentators on the parameters of their chosen discipline and tradition.

Unfortunately, we have already all-but run out of word count, and are thus denied the opportunity to go into the kind of detailed description and evaluation that might do justice to the conscientiously cultivated works on show in Modern Object at postROOM. Having missed my weekly deadline and busted my 750 word limit, I am forced to conclude what has become only the briefest of introductions to an unusually rich and enjoyable body of very current, carefully conjured work, more of which, however, awaits the reader (ONLY YOU) when pursuing the links duly provided above.

Returning to Blogging? Thinking of Blooking?

I’m hesitating before re-starting my Blog, as I know it can be quite a weekly demand, and is also yet another expression of generous creative energy and time for which the rewards can seem very slight. Nevertheless, I have also loved it and feel proud now I look back over several years of my Blog. I’m glad I did it.

I’m also interested in finding any evidence that I might have become a better person, a better writer and communicator, a little older, wiser, more honest etc. since I last Blogged. I know I have changed.

Blogging is also a very particular kind of writing – of which more below.

I suffered some huge disappointments recently, and these led to a ‘loss of confidence’ – a phrase I’d often heard without realising the severity of what it really means.

Since then, over a year ago, I haven’t managed to complete a single piece of professional writing, I cancelled a couple of conferences at which I would have given papers, and I haven’t been able to find any traction in reading either. I took some time out from teaching for the first time in 23 years, but today I feel that rejuvenating my Blog might be one part of my multidirectional manoeuvre to win back my lost confidence.

I’ve also been looking at what kind of book I would next like to write. I recently published a slightly more academic-style book, and might write about that here on another occasion. But I was recently looking at my Blog and wondering if I could perhaps convert it into a Blook. But then, would there really be any point in doing so when a Blog is best off just being a Blog?

Well, anyway, following this line of thought got me started, and re-started Blogging. So, here’s what I’ve written:

I’d like a Blook to provide an accessible selection of my Blog posts, these responses below – written over a period of seven years (!!) in the form of: part review writing / part personal journal – responses to art and life in (mostly) London. They document a series of exhibitions, works and events, contextualised within the everyday life of the writer.

My relationship with art writing has been rich and varied. For over 30 years I have experimented and expanded my interest in many directions, and yet, as such, never really consolidated any particular approach.

This partially explains my tentative and hesitant relationship with the Review format, with editors, and with the purposes and motives of Review writing.

I never wanted to be thought of as an ‘art critic’, and for this reason moved away from writing and publishing a lot of Reviews in the late 90s, after hearing myself described as a ‘critic’, one evening at a private view in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, I have continued to enjoy the more or less private adventure of walking out into the city, entering an exhibition, and responding to the experience, in memory, in writing, and (for example) in this Blog, writing for and to an imagined public, including information about the writer and the writing, along with a degree of description of the art, the venue, the times, the day, the writer, all lightly laced with judgements (mostly carried by the adjectives used).

Gathering these writings together and turning this Blog into a Blook might provide an enjoyable experience for some to read, as well as a model or example for students or emerging writers and critics.

I would choose not to illustrate the Blook, for logistical and financial reasons, and I would  also try to avoid it becoming academicised (despite my deep embroilment in academia).

A Blook would be one of my first adventures into my large archive of otherwise unpublished writings and artworks; a shallow dive into a collection that I strongly believe deserves some attention.

 Perhaps, my slightly maverick and outsider status: as an autodidact, who taught myself to write by trial and error in my 30s; as a ‘class migrant’ from the first generation of a migrant family to have gone to university (and whose partner is also from a working class family on the other side of the world); as someone who left school with just one ‘O’ level (and therefore really has no basic maths, science, geography, history, English etc); as someone who took ten years to complete my first degree; as someone who spent decades of my life in labouring jobs or unemployed; as someone who spent their first five or six formative years as one of a family of seven in a tiny two-bed council flat, before moving to a slightly bigger, but still crowded little house; perhaps, as someone like this (like all of the above), I tend to overvalue my achievements (being, as the English jokingly say ‘a legend in my own lunchtime’), but I can’t see any alternative to taking myself seriously, as I have little or no alternative support of financial or cultural capital to rely upon.

I feel I have only my difference (which is also invisible, as I look to many like any other white middle class, middle-aged man – although not sufficiently ‘like’ to ever actually be or become that same middle-class man). I feel that I have only my particularities and peculiarities, or, as I say, my differences; only my personal skills, my honed intuition, my hunches, my energies, my aspirations, motives, and my creative output with which to sustain myself and allow myself to fulfil the potential and promise of my life in art.

I have never had any careerist guile, guidance, or strategy other than to first do my very best work, and then to try to draw some attention to it, hoping and wishing and waiting for a response, often dreaming of, and in fact wholly depending on, an imagined ‘snowball’ of interest in my work that might one day deliver me from an unjust sense of striving in vain and battling against that invisible foe called indifference.

My archives weigh upon me (I don’t care if that sounds precocious or pretentious, as it is true and very important to me); weigh on me more and more as I get older and as I feel more afraid of my archives being simply wasted, discarded, unknown and unacknowledged. There is so much that I  feel I have achieved and which has gone unacknowledged or simply unseen.

Success, I have found, relies upon forms, on finding appropriate , resilient and convincing forms (or ‘vehicles’) by means of which to deliver your ideas, your feelings, your value, and in way that others will take seriously and might therefore preserve and disseminate.

Any archive balances on the brink of destruction, and only a certain art can perhaps rescue it for posterity; rescue one archive while another perishes; rescue one piece from an archive that otherwise perishes.

When I first started writing professionally, I remember asking myself who my audience might be, who I was writing to, and for. To help, I cut a little silhouette of a row of figures from the cardboard of my cereal packet, and I put it in front of my keyboard. Strangely, it helped, and I was able to move on and grow.

Today, new hardships and disappointments lead me to believe that I have to take more and more responsibility for more and more of my practices. This means, not only inventing an idea or image of an audience, but also inventing a milieu, and inventing that ‘champion’ whom I have sometimes heard about, often needed, but always lacked.

I will be my own champion if I can. I will provide my own deadlines, my own ‘residencies’ (albeit in my own here and now, perhaps in my own head), my own ‘funding’, my own context, archive, and my own reflection and review.

The Blog, here and the 200 posts below, titled ‘ONLY YOU: A Few Words a Week on Art & Life in London’, has been written, mostly between 2014 and 2021 and published weekly, with a few long hiatuses of over a year. At best it was already a step in the direction of a 21st century writing that may yet one day give up on books and replace most or all of them with screen-based writing.

At worst, however, the Blog is compensation for not building enduring professional relationships with paying editors of leading art journals, by means of which I could have established a successful profile and augmented my income. I feel sad that, after all the years and all the talent I have shown with my art writing, I remain somehow an outsider (perhaps, ultimately due to that mysterious ‘class’ divider – in society, in my head, in others …?), and therefore remain marginal and vulnerable, but also, I suppose, ‘different’ and with something different to contribute.

Blog writing is of course less scrutinised than a peer reviewed article for a journal (which I also write), or even a review for a print journal. Blogging is intrinsically less formal, and this makes it weaker and worse, but also stronger and better in that it is so free, accessible, universal, light-touch and fast to read and to write.

Looking back, my Blog hasn’t yet stepped far enough or soon enough in the direction of Blogging’s 21st century technologised autonomy. I wasn’t brave enough, or didn’t hurt enough (didn’t hurt as much as I do now) to make the move towards a greater autonomy before, perhaps because I was hoping that my Blogging might attract editors to me.

As for the ‘You’ of the Blog’s title, its target and meaning has shifted during the story of the Blog. ‘You’, in English can have a strangely ambiguous tone, sometimes seeming to mean ‘one’ (e.g. ‘ … you go down here and turn right …’), at the same time as meaning the other or an other. I believe that if you read-on, you will discover your own relationship with this ‘You’ – as I have done.

When I first published my writing, and when I even got paid for it sometimes, I felt so pleased, so freed, so empowered, so justified and so hopeful. Perhaps that was already my greatest achievement that I can never surpass. Meanwhile, I was also making art, in a flat converted into a studio, but which I could only afford to live-in by unsustainably relying on state benefits. I was especially interested in analog photography, but this too was far too expensive for me to pursue. I had no clue about applying for funding of course, and even if I had would certainly not have qualified for it.

I had nevertheless made a publicly recognised and professionalised art out of my writing, which could be done with no more than a pencil and paper (though admittedly it was my first computers and word processors that gave me the confidence to process and present my writing – something that my appalling handwriting or inept typewriting could never have done).

That first published writing (circa 1997) led to my first teaching, and ultimately to 23 years now of paying the rent and bills with my creative skills. This, to me, remains a huge achievement, even though to many up and coming artists and students it might seem a long way from what they would think of as ‘success’ as an artist.

I still use a fountain pen for a first draft, and a pencil or ‘Uni-Ball’ for filling pocket notebooks with ideas. And of course I use the computer and its screen, which makes my writing look like everyone else’s. I use my WordPress template, again like everyone else’s, and yet, despite and within those parameters, now looking back over years of these Blogs and their hiatuses, I see a lot of value accrued, a lot of output, a lot of ideas recorded and that I want to preserve, develop, share, here and now, and there and then in some future, either on a screen or perhaps converted to Blook form – though that looks like an increasingly formidable task.

As I say, I have experimented for 30 years with writing, and would like to unearth and present much that is hidden, in addition to this Blog.

I also notice that, in recent years, I have started to enjoy a more straightforward and simply clear communication to any more self-consciously ‘creative’ or ‘experimental’ writing. I do feel a little as though I have ‘been there and done that’ and now aim to simply get the reader as quickly, clearly and cleanly as possible, through the writing to the ideas that lie within and beyond the writing. Recently, I seem to be trying to share and communicate as generously and rapidly and easily as possible.

Rain Check – Easter ‘Break’

Happy holidays, stay safe and be well to all and any readers – from Paul in London

See you on Sunday 25th April

Why might I have forgotten to write my regular, Sunday morning Blog today? To any regular reader, I should apologise, but I simply had something large and important on my mind and it took my mind completely away from my weekly Blog duty, to focus on the aforementioned other task (another form of writing).

My Blog’s formatting has started doing some odd things to me last week, forcing my text to come out far smaller on the screen and more compressed into narrower line spaces. It’s the irritating kind of AI ‘progress’ that often afflicts us today, wherein our own magnificent intelligence and know-how is punished and pushed around by a relatively primitive form of ‘intelligence’ which ultimately might not be any kind of ‘intelligence’ at all and always seems to be in the interest of someone or some thing other than ourselves.

So, now I find myself out of gear and out of sorts with my Blog routine, and scurrying around for a theme on which to write. But it’s not coming, so perhaps you will excuse me taking a ‘rain check’, and taking a week or two off of my Blog, while I focus on my aforementioned other task. Then I will catch-up after this Easter ‘break’ is over (N.B. ‘breaks’ are my opportunities to do my real – most substantial and ambitious – work).

Happy holidays, stay safe and be well to all and any readers – from Paul in London

See you on Sunday 25th April


‘Do you want to write, or do you want to be a writer?’ This question, raised, provocatively by a famous writer, appears to allude to the distinction between our desire to, or dream of occupying the revered occupation of ‘writer’, and the realities of and actualities – indeed the ‘act’ of writing. We might also suspect or surmise that the famous writer quoted here is suggesting that, in fact, the only way to ‘be a writer’ is to write and to want to write.

Furthermore, to ‘want to write’ must also mean, to have the stamina, the will, the need perhaps to write, as well as to want to write well, i.e. to want to write for the sake of and the love of the craft and the act and the tradition of writing.

It follows that, simply to ‘want to be a writer’ is not sufficient. This dream of inhabiting a preconceived image of ‘a writer’ will not suffice or sustain us sufficiently to in fact be a writer. This ‘preconception’ is also a problem, because, if we attend to writing as an act, a duty, a task and a craft we must also be prepared to become a writer that we don’t initially recognise, i.e. not a writer or a writing that we admire (or some imitation of same) but a writer that we irrefutably are (it’s there on the page) and do not quite recognise as the writer we want to be.

We might just have to live with this discomfort and uncertainty, while accepting the hard truth that our discomfort might also be part of our method, our life and our profession (and every famous and successful writer seems to have plenty of tales to tell about how their career is far from ‘all roses’). One compensation for our lack of consistent comfort and security might be provided by retrospection, in that, occasionally looking back over our writing – whether it be the well-honed, re-written and edited kind, or the rapid writing done here in the form of a first-draft Blog – we might there and then feel a little more assured about the consistent identity, style and value of our writing, and therefore of the style and value of ourselves as a writer.

It’s worth pointing out that this probably applies to the arts in general, so that we can also ask: ‘Do you want to be an artist or do you want to make art?’ Again, it follows that the latter part of the proposition is the most important, as it is only through wanting to make art that we can be an artist, while concentrating on the idea of being an artist might not motivate us to make art, or might motivate us to make art in a preconceived image of art and the artist that is not as ‘true to ourself’ as we might need to be.

I place ‘true to ourself’ in what are sometimes called ‘scare quotes’ here, because, as a generation, we are sceptical about this notion, and yet find it hard to dispense with. It’s true that we are invited today to play with identity, to take on personae, to expropriate artfully the works of others, etc. and yet, it still seems to me (although I am increasingly sceptical about the value of this ‘seeming to me’) that, underlying such strategies, there still remains some inescapable personal drive or ambition to fulfil something or someone we think of as ‘the self’, even if and when we are acting energetically as an apparently ego-less or altruistic team-player or collaborator.

‘Do you want to write, or do you want to be a writer?’; ‘Do you want to be an artist or do you want to make art?’ A contest has to be had, and a balance found, between the self, our chosen craft or profession, and any preconceived and projected image we have of ourselves as a successful, or more successful version of the writer or artist we already are, or really are.


The idea of achievement is a fickle and fragile thing. You can sometimes feel you are riding high, that you’ve slain your inner demons, shed your ‘loser’ self-image, and found the way of working that both fulfils yourself and impresses others. And yet all of this can quickly dissipate too. Worse, it can all – under scrutiny, or when subjected to external, other, and different criteria – look delusory.

At such times, perhaps all we can do is ‘keep calm and carry on’ – as the cliche goes; hold tight to our remaining or core belief and if, as a result of our collapsing confidence we are not sure which way to turn, then at least know to just wait, try to avoid doing anything that might be the wrong thing to do, taking no road rather than the wrong road chosen in panic.

Ultimately, we will need to move on, at the same time as returning to or relocating that priceless belief that seems to warm us as well as excite and confirm our long history of adventures, trials and tortures. After all, as well as; and above and beyond the individual and collective works that we manage to make (and making surely is important to what we are discussing here), it is our way, our method, our style etc. – all of which is unique to us, something we have often found and lost, often glimpsed barely, and just occasionally held confidently in our grip; all of that is what we are. and want to be, and aim to fulfil and share – that is to say it is our HOW as much as our WHAT; it is our WAY as much as our THIS and THIS, our THIS and THAT.

Unanticipated life-changes, against which we have no defence; people who treat us with surprising ignorance and crudity (that, in our perception may even amount to cruelty) can knock us off our metaphorical horse or (equally metaphorical) pedestal. But great beauty and the formidable excellence of others can also lay us low, forcing us to reassess the quality of our work. Sometimes, it seems to me, that we have to simply admit that we have not achieved all that we had hoped; that what we have made – of a work, of our work as a whole, or of our life – is, honestly, and after all, just 50%, 60 % or 70% of what we have so often felt capable – IF ONLY this or that unanticipated factor were not such an obstacle to reaching the heights we feel within us, and which we now and then catch sight of in our work.

Probably, we should resign ourselves to this syndrome, and find within it that great modesty we always and also hear in the voices of those whom we consider, and who are popularly regarded as ‘great’. Yes, their ’embarrassment’ whenever lauded in public, may be part polite shamming (it often looks like a mixed emotion), but surely none of us ever consistently achieves that 110% excellence of which we generally dream. In fact, there may be odd times when we temporarily over-achieve, perhaps momentarily reaching our 135%, and therefore locating something within our thoughts or works of which we are not in control, with which we are unfamiliar, and which is therefore not always helpful. This ‘queers the pitch’ of our aspirations, making what we are aiming for unquantifiable after all, and even something towards which it may be unwise to ‘aim’.

Ultimately, it is best to not look too long elsewhere and at others, but to absorb as much as we can of beauty and greatness found in the world, in ‘little’ things and in ‘little’ people as much as in ‘great’ things and ‘great’ people. We do have a primary duty to kindly nurture the self, to congratulate and take pride in ourselves, and indeed to calmly carry on while always, artfully, and never too harshly, monitoring our own achievements and our our own standards; gently guiding and pulling ourselves along as best we can, and letting others, and simply letting time, in the end, be the ultimate judge of all our truly unquantifiable ‘achievements’.

‘The Woman Who Ran’ (2020) directed by Sang-soo Hong

It struck me this week that some of the things I feel I should, and want to write about are those things that I do purposefully as a way of doing nothing. As discussed in a previous post however, this of course leads to the problem of never doing nothing, never switching-off as an artist, writer, observer, thinker etc.

One of the things I wanted to write about is listening football on the radio (which I think of as absurd, and therefore relaxing), another is graffiti in the park (which I think of as a kind of vibrant and enthusiastic backdrop to my quiet daily walks). But in the end, I feel myself being drawn away from these two themes in the direction of another current or contemporary Korean movie (see last week’s ‘Minari’ post), this time viewed via ‘MUBI’ – a kind of arty or art-house streaming channel.

The movie is ‘The Woman Who Ran’ (2020) directed by Sang-soo Hong, and acted by Min-hee Kim, Song Seon-mi and Eun-mi Lee. I don’t intend to write a long review like the one I did las week for ‘Minari’, but nevertheless just want to express and share my responses. Immediately after watching this film I felt it was kind of engaging, and suggestive, but overall pretty flat. However, the more I thought about it, reflected on it, and discussed it with my partner, the more I liked it. This is a film that doesn’t use any standard or typical kinds of editing, dramatic narrative, lighting or music to manipulate your emotions and/or lead you to identify with any of the characters in particular.

In some ways it reminded me of French avant-garde cinema, of e.g. Jean Luc-Godard, in which all those dramatic and narrative devices are challenged, parodied or dispensed with. Except here, you can see a director of a much later generation, simply being free to do without those conventions, and to make a film stripped of anything non-essential to the simple – but nevertheless quite deep, quite meaningful – information it wants to impart. Let’s just say there are no distractions from what it is that the director wants you to see, hear, and respond to in any way you wish.

The film uses the narrative device of young woman, married for five years, looking up old friends on a series of home visits, while her husband has gone away on a business trip. In a way, nothing more happens than that. Of course there are conversations, catch-ups, and one of the things that all the women friends she visits is the respective states of their respective relationships with men, their marriages, divorces etc.

Interestingly three men do appear in the movie but on each occasion keep their back to the camera. They also seem to be various kinds of ‘pain-in–the- ***’. There is only one symbolic device used in the film and that is a reference to a cock who rules a hen house by means of violence.  

In a way there seems little more to say about this movie than that. Instead of using editing, the director rather straightforwardly zooms in occasionally to refresh the image of a conversation. When music is deployed it doesn’t operate in the background affecting us semi-consciously but rather cuts in, starkly and with apparently purposeful bad quality, to make some kind of clear break.

All the women occupy a liberal, middle-class, postmodern Korea, and exist on the margins of its relatively privileged art scene. The central figure (if we can call her that) claims her life is ‘boring’ (her husband is a translator and she runs a flower shop) though she is clearly privileged enough to change her situation with relative ease.

There are also a few characters who are seen slightly off-stage, including a young girl, neighbour of one of the visited friends, whose mother has left her, having gone off in the night and left her with her (another ‘pain-in-the ***’) father. So, what makes this movie worth remembering, watching or watching again, is its – (I hesitate to use the word) – ‘truth’, in at least showing us some slices of lives in which everyday narratives and relationships are not resolved or over-dramatised but simply trundle on, dwindle away and morph into new narratives and new relationships.

Every apartment contains a little life in which these mini-stories and relationships unfold. In postmodern Korean life, and the postmodern Korean architecture that partly determines it, CCTV also enables neighbours to have a newly mediated relationship with neighbours – who might just live to the side or above or below us- who occasionally drift closer into our own private realm – e.g. a neighbour who is clearly in trouble, or one who complains about our activities.

Yes, there is truth in all of that, and so, formally we can praise and admire the director and the rest of the cast and crew for side-stepping all the usual temptations (and expense) of mainstream cinema, and using a more ‘arty’ realm and remit to hold up a mirror to reality and draw us, subtly, into some worlds we feel we might know or be familiar with.

Form and process aside however, this is surely (see our first paragraphs above) some kind of a ‘feminist’ movie (directed by a man). But perhaps ‘feminist’ is the wrong term here; I’d prefer to say it is a movie about, or ‘showing’ women’s lives and perspectives in a particular place and time, i.e. Korea in the 21st century, or at least a little part of that Korea, a kind of exemplary part in a way, its successful, progressive, artistic, stylish, eloquent and thoughtful part; a part of a society where, it might seem, according to this movie, that lives are not too bad, not too exciting, not too successful, not too boring, not too politicised, and relatively free.

Whether this content and the aforementioned form or formal devices can be reconciled in a more detailed interpretation I’m not sure. I’d like to try. But for now, I’d just like to leave you with the kind of feeling that this movie left ME with – a slightly flat, but OK, gently entertained and lightly informed feeling about a place in the world and a group of people who are interesting enough, free enough, rich enough, happy enough etc. and THAT, probably, is the most or the best you can expect from a society, here, now, in the 21st century, on this often complex, bewildering, messy and sometimes monstrous planet.

Minari – a movie re-viewed


2020, directed by Lee Isaac Chung

Starring Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim

reviewed by Paul O’Kane
February 2021

N.B. This week, for my Blog post, I wrote a review of the move detailed above. The review has subsequently been re-published on the ‘London Korean Links website, and so, instead of providing the original text here, I am providing this link (below) to the re-published version of the Review.


Best wishes,

Paul O’Kane

‘Stop Thinking, Start Working’ – why I am not writing my Blog Post today

I had decided that I didn’t have time and energy to write my Blog post today. One of the best and one of the worst things about my job and my lifestyle is that I have no routine. Every week and every day is different. I guess that’s what I always wanted. All those years, even decades, when I couldn’t hold down a job because I found them ALL too mind-numbingly boring, to the point where I would feel ill and sometimes just walk out, or sometimes slowly increase my poor attendance and punctuality, and kind of drizzle out.

Looking back, I’m not surprised at my response to a severely contrived and parsimonious way of seeing and treating time; time that can be so valuable and fluid, mixed, nuanced and changing for all of us and each of us, but which modern economics regards primarily as more or less ‘profitable’. – And that is to say, primarily as quantitative, when we all know that time can equally be measured and valued in terms of qualities.

Having a job and a lifestyle with no routine, and where no week or day is ever the same is, as I say, both good and bad however. Routine can be very useful in allowing us to maximise our ‘use’ of time to create our best work. A lack of routine can also be maddening when, as this weekend, I find myself unexpectedly burdened with what seems like an impossible task and a tight deadline – hence the reason why I thought today I would not be able to write my Blog.

I have had a part-reprieve however. Thankfully we can at least try and consider the chance intervention of a possible reprieve in our calculations, though that is hard to do when our anxious mind tends to do the opposite under stress, i.e. to spider and spiral off into worst case scenarios that link ever-increasing tasks, duties, and ramifications of tasks and duties, until we simply have to stop thinking and start working to reduce the pile in front of us.

‘Stop thinking, start working’, maybe that should be a slogan pasted on my work room door, or on my computer screen. It’s true that we sometimes work best when we are not really thinking any more; when we submit to the robotics of the production line, where my short-lived teenage factory experiences may even come in handy as models.

To be honest, I’m still in two minds as to whether I should be writing a Blog post at all today. The other, huge, hurried, aforementioned task is still on my mind, and thus my mind is not fully focused on this writing here and now. Perhaps I’ve said something, enough, a little, enough at least to say that I posted this week, as usual; enough to say that I’ve maintained THIS routine, and, for the sake of anyone who reads this, your routine too. Sorry there’s not much here to contend with or respond to, but … oh well, back to work … enjoy this sunny Sunday- which, according to a nexus of modern capitalism and un-modern Christianity, is a day of rest after all.

A Burst Water Pipe and Valentines Day as ‘One In The Other – Illustrating a Neobaroque Paradigm

One of the things I try to avoid my Blog becoming, is a diary. Nevertheless, as I sit down to write, trying to clear preconceptions from my head about what I might write today, I can’t help thinking that it is both valentines day and the day on which a pipe has burst in the yard. Water has been pouring out for quite a while, until, that is, the mysterious stopcock was located, and now things are under greater control. As for valentines day, it’s a sweet event, rooted perhaps in the distant European past, to mark a time of couples and couplings as the longer days and sight of crocuses begin to herald Spring; when natural forces within and without us conspire to make hearts swell (at least I certainly feel I have been coming back to life in recent weeks).

Now I have given myself the absurd challenge of creatively linking or intertwining these two apparently unrelated and possibly incongruous events – a burst water pipe and valentines day. So, let me first say that they ARE both events, and that it might be wise to perceive and evaluate life and experience in terms of events rather than, e.g. ‘things’.

I did with, or got done with things a long time ago. In fact I even wrote and gave a lecture, which was subsequently turned into an article in a journal, under the working title ‘I Don’t Believe In Things’ (an editor replaced this, unfortunately, with something slightly less interesting). In that article I referred to that well known French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and his vision of late 20th century complexities as ‘neobaroque’. By invoking the 17th century aesthetic of baroque, Deleuze asks us to see our environment according to a pre-modern paradigm. In introductory terms, if you look at baroque painting, architecture, sculpture, music or dance you will see a kind of flaw, as in a misshapen pearl (from which baroque takes its name),; a flaw that is also a movement, a sign of a change, a differentiation, without which we would have stasis or a rigid kind of order (which some of course prefer). Baroque is nothing but complex and Deleuze seemed to believe that modern aesthetics were not complex enough to encompass and describe late 20th century experience.

So, valentines day and a burst pipe in the yard are both events. They don’t exclude each other but each is included in the other. ‘One in the other’ is a phrase that Deleuze sometimes used (it was also the name of a small, independent, London art space for a while), and here you can see differentiation from a ‘thing’-based paradigm, in which one thing excludes another or might not be able to occupy the same space as another. I should add: ‘They don’t exclude each other but each is included in the other’ – and so all is ‘and’: and, and, and (neobaroque paradigm), rather than ‘is, is, is (thing-based paradigm). In fact, somewhere Deleuze wrote that we should never say ‘the tree is green, but rather ‘the tree and green’ (perhaps that is also helpful to painters).

It always charmed me that, in an interview on this subject, Deleuze once said words to the effect that: ‘my favourite sentence is: “There will be a concert tonight” ‘. It’s possible to discern what he means in terms of an event-based paradigm that is always laden with promise and which acknowledges that we are never in a fixed position of knowing but always on the curve, in the baroque turn, or curl, of changing events about which we really ‘know’ little. Knowledge here cedes to experience and we all become surfers of a swirling baroque time.

I was going to write something about altruism being the basis of long-lasting relationships here, but I don’t want my Blog to become a kind of advice column either. Suffice to say that the burst pipe is no-longer gushing; I made my partner a nice card; as well as managing to write my Blog for the day and for this week, and so, these events, which might have seemed incongruous or in conflict might be seen, in neobaroque terms, to include and not exclude each other – ‘one in the other’.