Wherefore Art Thy Comedian?

Montreal, Canada, 1991. The Centaur Theatre. The set is all black. Only a microphone and a stand are on stage. A man walks on, also all in black; black jacket, black polo neck, black trousers, black shoes and long, almost-mullety black hair. He stands on stage and talks for an hour about moths, religion, advertising, the Kennedy assassination, auto-fellatio and mass-marketed popular music. The man is Bill Hicks. The event is the annual Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, now the largest comedy festival in the world. That hour of his Relentless show proves to be one of the most iconic, passionate and engaging hours of stand-up comedy ever performed. It’s the comedic equivalent of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. It was the pinnacle for a career tragically cut short by pancreatic cancer. But does anyone remember it? Would anyone consider that gig a milestone in cultural history? Almost certainly not. Why? Because it’s just comedy. Comedy can’t be serious or important. It’s just one fucking joke after another.

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A Not-So-Brief History of Twerking

From Miley Cyrus twerking with a large black woman on an LA stage to Lily Allen’s provocative sexualisation of nameless and faceless black dancers, the status of black women as an artistic symbol has been brought back to the fore, exposing cracks in the fragile latticework of race and gender. Even in Russia, there was a vociferous reaction against a portrait of Roman Ambramovich’s girlfriend in Buro 24/7. Black, it seems, is back in the papers. And yet this is not new, and those feminists who clamour for Miley’s head on a stick, seeing her as a cause not a symptom, are both historically and contextually blinded. This process of imaging the black female body is not to be confined to a modern day marketing stunt – its roots are deeper, more obscure and more sinister than we care to admit.

“Survival Is The Issue Now”

This story has many beginnings. It begins on the morning of September 11, 2001 when two planes hit the Twin Towers. It begins sometime that afternoon, when Larry Silverstein – the leaseholder of what would become ‘ground zero’, and a man who understood that grief and profit are mutually exclusive – realised he would have to rebuild. It begins before that, when the C.I.A. funnelled arms to Osama bin Laden and Islamic militia groups in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Those are just the obvious starting points. But this story has only one protagonist: that which came after the Twin Towers, that which stands in their footprint: One World Trade Center (1 WTC), once known as the “Freedom Tower”.

By Isaac Kaplan

How To Forget Like Daniel Kitson: Analog.Ue Reviewed

As my concentration began to wane, I opened the ‘Voice Record’ application on my iPad. The app, skeuomorphed to resemble a 1950s recording desk complete with volume meter and Edward R. Murrow-style stainless-steel microphone, listened to the lecture for me so I could consult it later at my own convenience. Another discrete outsourcing of my mental faculties to the touch-screen nymphet, another day closer to the inevitable apocalypse, designed in California, assembled in China.

By Yohann Koshy

A Little Bit False and a Little Bit True: Aby Warburg and his Mnemosyne Atlas

There is no such thing as the finality of the past. It cannot be boxed up, put on a shelf, and studied by curious historians who somehow operate outside of it. I don’t think Aby Warburg understood this when he began to study Hopi Native Americans, an endeavour he would later credit with providing him invaluable knowledge about the European Renaissance and Ancient Greece. I think that before his interactions with the Hopi, Warburg was a man, sickly and made bored by Civilisation, travelling at the turn of the 19th century through the American West to territory that had yet to be terraformed by telegraph wires. I think he still believed that the academic tools provided to him by ‘progress’ would afford him the ability to discover history, the way one discovers a fossil or a missing set of keys. He was young.

Right to Regenerate

It’s a bright, cold crisp morning in South London and I’m standing on the York Road Council Estate in Battersea with some local Labour Party members and counsellors. We’re here because the Tory dominated Wandsworth council is planning to bulldoze the place to the ground and we want to talk to residents about the planned redevelopment. Most of the residents are happy to see the end of the estate, after years of neglect and lack of maintenance the blocks are not fit for purpose. It’s the familiar story; robust post-war modernist buildings becoming dilapidated monuments to how badly we’ve fucked up social democracy.

A Question Of Taste

Two weeks ago, in a small, dingy flat in Munich, surrounded by mouldy take-away boxes and tins of food, German police found a collection of some 1,400 modernist works of art that had been looted by the Nazis and condemned as degenerate art. The “degenerate” is an idea that has haunted the art world ever since artists began to move away from classical ideas of form and beauty and is often used to frame an opposition between the avant garde and “nice”, traditional art. However, this anti-modern politics is often little more than a fear of the new, the unconventional and the radical.

By Joe Sykes