Nebuchadnezzar | Saddam Hussein | Braintree | Antarctica

September 30th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

I have just finished reading “A Picture History of Archaeology” by C.W. Ceram. Its a very readable, well illustrated introduction to archaeology from 1958. Ceram’s real name was Kurt Wilhelm Marek, a German who apparently changed his name to distance himself from his propaganda work for the Third Reich. Ceram’s most famous book is “Gods, Graves & Scholars” which I have, but haven’t read yet. Ceram/Malek is also known for saying

“genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple”

which is just about the opposite of what I seem to do on this blog. Anyway, back to the book. Its from this book that I went on to find the drawings in my previous post from Nimrud.

And so, the vast wealth of ancient history and civilisation that is/was present in Iraq became intriguing. Its no real surprise to anyone that Babylon/Babel was once part of what is now modern Iraq. I wasn’t aware that Saddam Hussein had built a ziggerut palace (which is now a hotel) next to Nebuchadnezzar‘s palace, as well as (re)building on top of the ancient remains of that ancient 600-room palace.

Saddam's Palace

Inside the Palace/Hotel


Saddam had written on the bricks “In the era of Saddam Hussein, protector of Iraq, who rebuilt civilisation and rebuilt Babylon” – those bricks apparently lasted just 10 years, compared to the 2,500 years of the others. Interestingly, after the damage caused by Saddam, American and Polish troops then added their own damage to the site after the invasion of Iraq. Once they had established a camp at Babylon in 2003 (intially to stop looting – though Saddam’s palace was extensively looted) which included a fuel farm, ammunition stores, a helipad etc they proceeded to dig trenches into ancient grounds, damage pavements, move around soil (much needed for archaeological research), bring in foreign soil, fill sandbags with ancient soil (and bones) break a bit of the Ishtar Gate and accidentally find ancient vases. UNESCO completed a report into the site after a British Museum report was completed in December 2004. And so, I started to find photos of soldiers hanging out in the ancient sites.

Hey Mom, its the Ishtar Gate


There is an interesting parallel to be drawn with the treatment of some of the monuments commissioned by Saddam during his reign. “Hands of Victory” is the infamous statue of two arms (based on Saddam’s) holding swords across a motorway. The monument was apparently made partly from melted down Iraqi guns and tanks from the Iran-Iraq war.

Around the wrists of the arms supposedly lie over 5000 helmets from Iranian victims of said war. It was decided in 2007, after Saddams capture etc, to dismantle the monument which began in February 2007 – but after the US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, objected to the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki‘s decision – the dismantling stopped, and as far as I can work out, the monument is still up.

Nouri al-Maliki (on the right)

I read an interesting article about the proposed destruction where Ghaith Abdul Ahad, an Iraqi architect-turned-journalist said

“Nebuchadnezzar was a tyrant and Saddam was a tyrant. Together, they spanned “a continuous line of despotism”

Nebuchadnezzar II

Sandman Hussein

This to me raises interesting issues regarding the nature of archaeology and preservation – I guess with technological advancements the nature of recording and remembering the behaviour (politically and architecturally) of leaders has changed. There are endless photographs, videos, reports, interviews, trials etc that theoretically keep the actions of Saddam alive for future generations. However, if there comes a time of technological breakdown (as described in “A Canticle for Liebowitz”) then all that might be left are the overblown creations (Saddam apparently drew the designs) of an egotistical maniac. If that is to happen though, I’m not sure how important Hands of Victory will really be – they are clearly not the construction of the worlds greatest civilisation of the time.. Nevertheless, the decisions on such things are complicated and loaded, particularly in sectarian environment such as Iraq – it can be very difficult for the Iraqi victims of someone like Saddam to “decide what should happen to them” as British Museum director Neil MacGregor said in 2004.

Another interesting element to the Hands of Victory is that the bronze-cast hands and arms of the monument were constructed in Britain, by Morris Singer Art Founders, Braintree in 1989. This company, which was established in 1848 and helped make works by Barbara Hepworth and arch conservative Alexander Stoddart, eventually faced liquidation in 2005 largely due to an unpaid bill by Saddam Hussein for a bronze flag. In June of this year, the company was purchased by Nasser Azam and renamed Zahra Modern Art Foundry. Nasser Azam is an interesting figure. He is a former Merrill Lynch banker turned artist, born in Pakistan and brought up in London. His wikipedia entry describes his paintings as being compared to Willem de Kooning and he made the headlines in 2008 for painting “in space” aboard a Russian parabolic aircraft. Then, this year, he painted while hanging out in Antarctica. You can see him doing so on his incredibly annoying, un-navigable website, where he is apparently reacting to the unique landscape in that part of the world by squeezing out brown paint onto big yellow, red and blue squares. There is also an image of a horrible sculpture called “The Dance” which has “AZAM” written all around the plinth.

And so, there we are, two hours spent reading shite on the internet and doing my best not to

“reduce the complicated to the simple”

Monuments of Nineveh – Austen Henry Layard Esq.

September 28th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

These beautiful drawings come from “Monuments of Nineveh” by Austen Henry Layard which was published in 1849. I found them at the New York Public Library website. Layard was a fascinating figure who was a traveller, archaeologist, artist, art dealer and politician. In 1847 he discovered the remains (from what I can work out) of Nimrud, but thought it was Nineveh. He died in London in 1897.

Austen Henry Layard Esq.

White Gospel

September 25th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I just watched “White Gospel” on the iplayer and it is worth watching. Its the story of the music that inspired lots of artists which came out of churches in the south. Starting with “Sacred Harp” music (which certainly isn’t exculsively white), which is an incredible form of religious music. Basically, the song leader stands in the middle of the church, surrounded on 4 sides by the congregation who arrange themselves according to their singing parts (treble, alto, tenor, bass). There is a lot of “Fa Sol La Mi” singing, and obviously a lot of biblical content too. The singer’s belt out the words, and a lot of them chop their hands down in the air to keep rhythm.
The programme mentions how the music came from English church singing of the 17th century, but I had read before about some theories linking the music to Scottish psalm singing including this article by Willie Ruff (particularly the kind still sung in some churches on the Isle of Lewis today – an interesting article on that here).There is a very good CD of sacred harp music (some old, some new) called “I Belong to This Band” that I would highly recommend. The music is thrilling, the consuming sound of the congregations is something I would love to experience (though I always feel guilty for enjoying religious music). There is a musician in Edinburgh called Wounded Knee who channel’s some of these influences into his multi-layered looped singing style. Wounded Knee Soundcheck from Chris Dooks on Vimeo.

So, this religious music led to smaller groups of 4 singers touring America to help spread new hymns and songs (funded by the music publishers) eventually these groups became popular in their own right. One of the most successful were the Blackwood Brothers, who after a tragic plane crash, lost two singers, and employed a new bassist called JD Sumner, who was reputed to have the deepest singing voice in the world. JD went on to to start the “JD Singers” who became Elvis’ gospel backing group.

JD Sumner

Another gospel group called The Jordanaires can be heard singing backing on Elvis’ version of “Crying in the Chapel” but I prefer The Platters version, which has some beautiful string sections.Talking of Elvis, I had never been a big fan until I saw “Thats the Way it is” at the cinema which showcases his performative skills brilliantly (even if it is a bit late on in Elvis years.Incidentally, Elvis (who was a church going gospel singer in his youth and highly respected those artists) is said to have based his leg shaking dancing on that of “Big Chief” who was another bass singer in a gospel band called The Statesmen Quartet (you can just about see Big Chief’s hips swinging in this video).Another big group were The Louvin Brothers who have an infamous record sleeve for their album “Satan is Real” (which is a pretty good song).

They built a 16 foot devil and set tyres on fire

One of my favourite albums, The Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” covers one of their songs, “The Christian Life”. I’m pretty sure the direction and sound of that album was driven by Gram Parsons, but I dont think he appears on this video of The Byrds playing with the legendary bluegrass musician Earl Scruggs.Dottie Rambo was a female gospel singer who was threatened with death by the KKK for recording an album with black gospel singers and musicians. She also had a pretty impressive range of wigs.I find it interesting the extent that country/gospel/bluegrass performers went weird with their appearance and clothing in the 50’s – 70’s in the USA. It doesn’t seem to tally with the antagonism towards “longhairs” – they both seem to me to be expressions of individuality to me. Incidentally, “Okie from Muskogee” is an incredible song, to me its Randy Newman-esque in its open-endedness. Though I think Merle Haggard is always pretty straight about it, I think he wasn’t keen on people taking their freedoms for granted.Merle Haggard is one of the many country artists that I used to hear as a boy, from my Granda’s record collection and his own singing. He and my Gran used to help run a Country & Western club in Markinch in the 70’s/80’s. I’m not sure why country (and gospel etc) was/is so popular in Scotland, I’m sure there most be some research into it – but I like to think it is a musical development coming full circle, from the Hebridean islands to the deep south and back.

Picasso’s Linocuts

September 24th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

These images are all from the book “PICASSO – Linoleum Cuts – The Mr. & Mrs. Charles Kramer Collection”. All of them apart from the one above are posters made specifically for events in the small French town of Vallauris, where Picasso also made most of his ceramics. The photo of at the bottom is from a visit to Vallauris, where Picasso also painted a War & Peace Mural – which to be honest is not nearly as interesting as the ceramics or the printmaking. There is a nice wee museum where his ceramics studio used to be, and you can still buy some of the ceramics there. Apparently, Picasso was highly regarded for making prints of many colours using the same sheet of lino, reducing it after each colour, but I thought thats what everyone did.

Picasso & Bridget Bardot in his Vallauris ceramics studio

Oh the Humanity – The Hindenburg

September 22nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

May 6th 1937 – Its quite incredible this footage – the commentary, by Herbert Morrison makes me feel ill.

Here is what he said:

“It’s practically standing still now. They’ve dropped ropes out of the nose of the ship, and they’ve been taken a hold of down on the field by a number of men. It’s starting to rain again; it’s—the rain had slacked up a little bit. The back motors of the ship are just holding it just, just enough to keep it from — It burst into flames! It burst into flames, and it’s falling, it’s crashing! Watch it! Watch it, folks! Get out of the way! Get out of the way! Get this, Charlie! Get this, Charlie! It’s fire—and it’s crashing! It’s crashing terrible! Oh, my, get out of the way, please! It’s burning and bursting into flames, and the—and it’s falling on the mooring-mast and all the folks agree that this is terrible, this is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world. Ohhhhh! It’s–it’s–it’s the flames, [indecipherable, ‘enty’ syllable] oh, four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it … it’s a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. It’s smoke, and it’s flames now … and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring-mast. Oh, the humanity and all the passengers screaming around here. I told you, I can’t even talk to people whose friends are on there. Ah! It’s–it’s–it’s–it’s … o–ohhh! I–I can’t talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest, it’s just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage. Ah! And everybody can hardly breathe and talk, and the screaming. Lady, I–I’m sorry. Honest: I–I can hardly breathe. I–I’m going to step inside, for I cannot see it. Charlie, that’s terrible. Ah, ah—I can’t. I, listen, folks, I–I’m gonna have to stop for a minute because I’ve lost my voice. This is the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed.”

Herbert Morrison

There is a rockabilly band called The Reverend Horton Heat, who have recorded a song called “Aw the Humanity” which includes the lyrics

“Aw the humanity, though it really wasn’t clear what that guy meant when he said ‘Aw the humanity.”

Reverend Horton Heat

Paul von Hindenburg

Paul von Hindenburg & Adolf Hitler

Finally, here is a photo by Bert Mozert who was present and taking photo’s at the disaster – he later went on to make a name for himself specialising in underwater photography, usually of women doing odd things, like this:

Wiener Veduten – Wiener Werkstatte Postcards

September 19th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

These are great, I don’t know what Wiener Werkstatte made these postcards for, and the books in German – however, I have discovered that there is an exhibition of these postcards in the Neue Gallerie in New York, which is a gallery devoted mostly to German and Austrian art of the early 20th Century. The exhibition runs from October 7th to January 17th 2011 – so if anyone is there at that time, let me know what its like – there is going to be a publication, so I’ll try to get that…..

The Pope in Bruntsfield

September 16th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Well, there I was, off to buy some lovely rosemary ham for lunch, and the Pope drove by. It was quiet, with a lack of waving. One day, people will look back and say “this is the hallowed spot where the Holy Father drove by Falko Konditormeister in a small car with a tartan scarf on”.

German man, German car, German bakery

The crowd found it hard to contain its excitement.

Book Review 1 – “A Canticle For Liebowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr. (1960)

September 12th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink


New Ceramics

September 8th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Recently my Mum gave Charlotte a present of a day painting your own ceramics at Doodles in Marchmont. I did a couple of plates based on masks, and a simple (or boring) hatched coffee mug. Charlotte however made the worlds greatest teapot, based on old Russian Luboks. Its basically a man riding a giant chicken on one side, and a lady doing the same on the other. I like ceramics. I like Lubok. Here are some ceramics, followed by some luboks.

Early Tinted Cinema

September 7th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I recently caught a wee bit of Paul Merton’s “Weird and Wonderful World of Early Cinema” and there were some beautiful films, particularly the tinted ones. Here is some of whats up on youtube – the ingenuity and simplicity of a lot of it is great, particularly the work of Georges Melies. I’ve put up a couple of the “Serpentine Dance” which was very popular in the 1890’s. I think the Lumiere people used to employ loads of women to hand tint each of the frames in some of these films. Check out the “Tough Dancing” in the last one too.

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