rekindle your passion
Cafe de paris . whitechapel gallery . Toulouse lautrec . vikenti nilin . Richey beckett
Welcome to Phoenix Dear Reader
You have picked up and are contemplating the purchase of Phoenix Magazine’s first ever issue, so as the Editor of this publication, I shall enlighten you, possible reader with some reasons why you will love this magazine. You are a creative person, aren’t you? We are all creative in some respect, whether this includes theproduction of your own splendid artwork, the composition of your breakfast on the plate this morning, or the choice to wear odd socks instead of black ones. This is a magazine designed for and made with the help of creative people, some of whom include Richey Beckett, illustrator extraordinaire and master of pen and ink, Oliver Barter, the up-and-coming young adult novellist and Vikenti Nilin, one of the brightest stars shining at the Saatchi Gallery this month. You are a busy person. You have a job, you have friends and family who need attention and possibly cats who want feeding, you don’t always have time to go skipping off to lovely art galleries and cabaret shows. So we have kindly done it for you (oh the sacrifices we make!) Read our review of the Black Cat Cabaret on page 6 and the mini gallery reviews on pages 22-23 and decide for yourself which special activity is worthy of your next free weekend. Last of all, but most certainly not least, you love your life, but sometimes you need a break from the nine-to-five busy busy routine; you need to indulge, you need to es-
cape. And that, my friends, is the key word in this letter and in this entire magazine, because escapism is one of the most beautiful things in the world. As wonderful as normal life is, we all hanker after a bit of something different every now and then. We
all want beauty, we all want fantasy and we all want to leave the planes of ordinary life for at least five minutes minutes a day. Whether your idea of perfect escapism is a great book, an entrancing movie, a fantastic painting or a surprisingly life-like Xbox game, Phoenix magazine has it all in bite-sized chunks for you, our wonderful readers, to nibble on whenever you wish. Thank you very much for picking up Phoenix, my dear reader and we look forward to seeing you next month, but for now just have fun and rekindle your passion! Love from your devoted editor
Elle Sanderson 4
Contents 6 10 14 16 21
22 28 32 40 42
Gatsby The Great
A quick interpretation of one of Saatchi’s current exhibitors.
A pre-review of Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming motion picture.
A Dream of Montmartre
A review of the delectable Black Cat Cabaret.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Escape to Virtual Lands RPGs, Open World and the best videogames for the avid escapist.
Richey Beckett Q&A with the professional illustrator and a selection of his favourite work.
Our first monthly retrospective artistic interpretation.
Lost in Fictional Worlds What’s the point of fiction?
Whats Your Story?
Oliver Barter Q&A with an up and coming young novellist, plus a sneak preview of his new book The Rune Lord.
The Ophelia Effect
we ask three creatives how childhood fiction has affected their adult lives.
Familiar to many, this cultural icon has been recreated countless times. We speculate why.
Great Fitzgerald's classic is a masterpiece of the nineteenth century, is Director Baz Luhrmann ready for his mammoth task? Baz Luhrmann, the man who based his arguably most famous masterpiece upon four mutually exclusive principles; Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love is once again embarking upon the transformation of a story that speaks of love and pain in one of the most notoriously decadent settings of western history. The Great Gatsby is a tale of the delicate balance between expectation and reality, between true love and imagined love.
by, his childhood sweetheart Daisy, her husband Tom and his mistress. Told through the eyes of Daisy’s cousin (who visits Long Island on a business trip and ends up living next door to Gatsby’s ostentatious mansion) the very short novel plays with the themes of escapism, truth and fabrication. Fitzgerald shows us the extreme decadence of Gatsby’s weekly parties where all the bright young things come to play and dance and drink, but he also introduces us to the grimy poverty of the open dusty roads between Long Island and New York in the shape of Daisy’s husbands mistresses home above a derelict garage – forever being watched by the giant eyes of an oculist’s billboard. The reader becomes accustomed to Daisy’s annoying habit of dramatising everything in her speech, crying wolf and pouting when she can’t get her way, but by the end of the book, all the characters involved learn the true meaning of tragedy. The true meaning of love, however, remains a
Fitzgerald chooses 1920s America as his backdrop, creating a delicious parallel between the turbulent illusory world of the rich, beautiful characters and the relationships between the people living in it. This is a time sandwiched in-between two wars, caught up in constant celebration and excess, all the while teetering on the precipice of hysteria. This is neatly mirrored in the countenance of Jay Gatsby, a rich war veteran with a falsely calm outward appearance and a mysterious past. The story circles a small group including Gats-
Images courtesy of Internet Movie Database
"This seasoned director has boldly chosen to display the escapist fantasy of the time period” mystery and there is a telling scene where the main character spies upon Daisy and Tom sitting silently in their drawing room, and he notices how comfortable they seem together. Daisy is showing true comfort and contentment with her husband in their quiet privacy, contrasted with the turbulent desperation of Gatsby’s obsession with her.
of this book and its delicate style of narration leave plenty of room for a reader to imagine his or her own variations. By simply choosing to make the car yellow and not cream, this seasoned director has boldly chosen to display the escapist fantasy of the time period, choosing to emphasise the parties and emotion, rather than the dirt and apathy.
This whole book is quiet; it merely whispers its story as though we really are witnessing a quick recollection of the events. Certain facts are left unclear, as though hazed by the fog of a memory from long ago (is Gatsby’s car cream or yellow? Is Jordan’s hair blonde or red?) even some huge events are simply blown over, as though shock and grief have been washed away by the tides of time. When comparing the quiet reverence of this book with the trailers for Luhrmann’s adaptation, it would seem as though the director is using his creative license a little too much. However, the vagueness
Moulin Rouge, one of Luhrmann’s most famous accomplishments to date, is set in 1890s Montmarte, at the time renowned for its filthy underbelly and desperate conditions. Luhrmann took this setting and made it beautiful without completely covering up the terrible spirit of malice that shrouded the place, and he is more than capable of doing this a second time. To play up the raw emotion and chaotic glamour of The Great Gatsby is not to veil its personality, but rather to focus on the most wonderful aspects of a literary masterpiece and guide its transition into a cinematic one.
A Dream Of Montmartre One night at the Black Cat Cabaret
Cafe de Paris is situated in the depths of our beloved metropolis, and it is a venue that reeks of its own faded and reconstructed grandeur.
show that gives the impression of being limitless, somehow also avoiding offense. The cast of this fantastic show has mastered its unique balance of sexy, lewd and dangerous without creeping into seriously sordid territory.
Having being modeled on the famous ballroom of the infamous ship Titanic, it was from the very moment of its ribbon-cutting conception, an imitation; a postmodern rosy-eyed view of the terribly glamorous days of old. Twenty years after its opening night, the exquisite underground venue was destroyed amidst a flurry of wartime bombings. Thirty-four lives were lost that night.
the viewer becomes immersed in the show’s gaudy otherworld The first act of the nightis the fantastic miss Laurie Hagen; made up like a slightly demented Barbie doll with a bleach blonde head of curls and huge Disney princess eyes, this creative comedienne artfully combines a saucy stand-up act with her own unique style of pretty, bouncy vocals as she sweetly warbles a charming song about S&M (‘No pain no gain, bitches!’ accompanied with fluttering eyelashes and a pouty red mouth.) This pretty doll-like creature later returns as an entirely different character altogether; Mademoiselle Laurie performs a strip tease act in reverse, rolling up stockings and snapping on suspenders to the surreal wailings of a backwards 50’s love song.
This moderately sized entertainment hall has risen from the ashes of war, emerging as the stunning replica that still lurks beneath the pavements of Piccadilly Circus. Every Friday the place begins to pulse and vibrate, pouncing to life upon the strike of seven (or half seven if the lighting malfunctions). This is the Black Cat Cabaret, and it will stalk through the shadows inhabiting the darkest corners of your hazy absinthe soaked nightmares. The person who enters Cafe de Paris on a Friday night is not the same person who leaves; aside from the obviously higher level of inebriation, the viewer becomes immersed in the show's gaudy otherworld, which will open their eyes to new levels of beauty and smut. You will leave this show hilariously teetering on broken stiletto heels, stalking the streets of London like a predatory Montmartre lady of the night, monsieur’s included. This is a
Also residing amongst the most memorable acts of the night is the regal Missy Macarbe, a burlesque dancer/fire eater with porcelain skin and a corset-trained waist with the circumference of a beer ring. The mesmerising beauty daringly traces the flames not only
Images courtesy of Mikael Jaeger Jensen at www.jaegerjensen.com
across her lips but also up and down her willowy limbs as she languidly contorts herself about the stage. Following this, the audience are treated to John Livovit’s hilarious mime act, a vibrant, raunchy cancan from the Cabaret Rouge dance troupe, another comedic song from the East end Cabaret (This time about necrophilia ‘it was still haaarrrrdd!’) and finally Bret Pfister, the ‘high-octane aerial hoop’ artist, who expertly bends and twists in a hauntingly beautiful act of daring and skill.
bad taste, finishing off the excellent show with a jaunty song about liquor-induced death. This show is attended by a spectacular array of people, spanning many ages and incomes, lending a fabulous atmosphere of camaraderie to the night; drinks and compliments and laughs flow freely here, and anyone is welcome. Although perhaps one should take a little time over sartorial preparation, as the splendid surroundings really do look better when its guests dress accordingly; there is something rather ruinous about seeing a gentleman wearing a beige fleece awkwardly planting himself upon a chaise-lounge.
Dusty Limits; a brilliantly shady character dressed in black coat tails and sparkling eyeliner.
The show is ending and will soon retreat to the salty depths from which it came, steeling itself for another weekly resurrection. But life is short, don't be sad! Do what you makes you happy, and above all, next time you happen to find a small glass of absinthe in your left hand or a large glass of merlot in your right, be sure to remember the wise words of dear old Dusty and raise a glass ‘to all the pissheads at the Black Cat Cabaret!’
Amidst this breathtaking array of talent stands the resplendent compere Dusty Limits; a brilliantly shady character dressed in black coat tails and sparkling eyeliner. He stalks the elegant staircase cracking jokes in his perfected style of antiquated glamour and tasteful
Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Nude Woman Standing at a Mirror by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 1896
At the age of 13 Henri de Toulouse Lau-
trec irreparably broke both his thighbones and realised that he could never become the brilliant horse rider that his father so desperately had wished of his son. Lautrec was an embarrassment to his father and could not participate in the sports that he had hoped to master in adulthood. Isolated by his disability, Lautrec began to paint, finding solace and comfort in something that he enjoyed and had a natural talent for. However, his impressionistic style was not yet appreciated as legitimate, and the young artist was rejected by many art schools, his drawings declared “utterly appalling!” by Leon Bonnat, his tutor and a famous painter at the time. In 1884, young Henri moves to Montmartre and in 1889 the Moulin Rouge opens its doors for the first time. Having found there a large number of willing subjects, the artist controversially begins a series of passionate, evocative scenes and portraits illustrating his life at the infamous brothel. Toulouse-Lautrec is now one of the most famous and accomplished artists of his time, and his paintings display a raucous spirit and compassion for his subjects that lose no resonance through the passing of time.
Toulouse Lautrec’s works portraying prostitutes at the Moulin Rouge. This is no regular image of vanity; it shows the viewers a scene of complete self-contemplation. This woman is not in the middle of any movement, she is not dressing or doing her hair, she is simply standing, looking at her reflection. One of the most interesting aspects of this painting is Lautrec’s refusal to hide the fact of his subject’s profession (something which Degas, Renoir and Matisse avoid in their nude studies), with her Magdalene red hair and her plush, rumpled dark surroundings, this woman is evidently a sex-worker in between jobs at the Moulin Rouge. Generally, when looking at 19th Century paintings where a woman is gazing into a mirror, the theme of the image is vanity or beauty, but this does not seem to be so with Lautrec; the woman he paints is not perfect; her skin is not smooth and her limbs are not languid, the fat, quick brushstrokes lend a chaotic quality to her physique. Despite all this characteristic colour and movement and chaos, however, we somehow find an incredible sense of stillness in the image.
Lautrec The composition places us as viewers almost directly behind the girl making use of a a trick re-introduced to the Victorian art world by the Pre-Raphaelites (See Ecce Ancilla Domini! By Rossetti and The Awakening Conscience by Holman Hunt), where the space between the feet of the subject and the edge of the canvas is dramatically foreshortened, making the spectator feel as if they are also in the painting. In this case, the special composition seems to encourage the viewer to put himself or herself in the place of the woman, or to imagine that we are standing beside her (where the artist must also have stood). Perhaps also for this purpose, her reflection in the mirror is visible but notably blurry and out of focus. She is a faceless woman contemplating her existence, and we are invited to do the same. The fact that Lautrec attempted to make an all-encompassing figure from a woman who would have been a social outcast can possibly show us something about his own wish to be accepted. Perhaps with this image Lautrec is saying that despite our differences, we all have the same sensibilities. Our lives are made from the same components, and we all have this moment when we look into a mirror and no longer see only a reflection of our physical selves, but see into our own eyes and souls and wonder where our lives are leading.
Nude woman standing at a mirror (1896) is one of the most sensitive of all
Lost in Fictional Worlds Pleasure Reading plays a huge role in our lives ,but is avoidance of reality ever a good thing ?
When I was a child - a skinny little thing with dirty blonde hair and an array of bruises and scabs due to my perpetual clumsiness - I tended to over dramatise everything. Perhaps it was mainly the attention seeker in me, but alongside this I also had amazing talent for becoming incredibly upset by the smallest matter. Not much has changed, I am still far too sensitive for my own good, and the methods I use to console myself are very much the same, almost always including an oversized duvet and a very good book. My literature of choice was the Harry Potter series, which seemed so far removed from reality that I could forget myself completely. Engulfed in an alternative world, the 10 year old me found solace and relief, not only from reality, but also from my own emotions. As readers we are capable of leaving behind personal matters and becoming entirely absorbed in a work of fiction this has been termed by Victor Nell, author of The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure as ‘Lucid’ reading, a term coined to explain the “experience of being lost in a book, in absorption or entrancement” and he explains that Lucid reading is most commonly experienced when reading fiction. When we reach heightened levels of absorption in a book, our behavior mimics that of a person addicted to a drug; we read whenever we have a spare minute, we think about the book when we aren’t reading it, and we make excuses to ourselves to make time for it (‘I have time to read Margaret Atwood, it’s research for the article’) The Medical Dictionary defines addiction as “a persistent, compulsive dependence on a behavior or substance,” and although reading is seen by modern society as a widening of cultural and linguistic understanding, in the past, it was seen by many to be addictive and possibly harmful. As far back a the time of Classical Greece, Plato was realising the power that fiction
holds over its readers, and suggested that reading material be limited to only those books with a strong moral code. “I am afraid that we shall find that poets and storytellers are in error in matters of the greatest human importance. They have said that unjust men are often happy, and just men wretched, that wrong-doing pays if you can avoid being found out, and that justice is what is good for someone else but to your own disadvantage. We must forbid them to say this sort of thing, and require their poems and stories to have quite the opposite moral.” Plato openly admits that fiction is more than
perhaps one of the most absorbing forms of escapism is actually a useful source for selfdevelopment just idle escapism, it is a way of learning; he felt as though reading about an immoral hero would encourage people to follow suit. Psychological researchers Raymond A. Mar and Keith Oatley agree that fiction has a great influence over the way we act in reality, but they explain Lucid reading as a way of ‘simulating’ the real world to explore the different options open to us in social situations. They write that works of fiction ‘function to abstract social information so that it can be better understood, generalized to other circumstances, and acted upon.’ Similar to daydreaming, reading becomes a form of planning out how we would react in real life and, although the broader situations in plotlines almost certainly will not match up, we can take the abstract messages from characters’ interactions with each other and use it to understand other people and their motivations a little more.
However, although this theory explains fictional stories as perhaps practice for real life, the reader still obviously has power over their own decisions. To assume as Plato does, that we blindly accept that the real world is equally devoid of justice and follow the actions of fictional beings is extremely patronising. Sigmund Freud has an answer to this. In his essay On Creative Writers and Daydreaming, he poses the theory that creative writing (and by extension, Lucid reading) is just the adult version of children’s play. He argues that, although such activities seem to absorb us in unreality, we are inclined to keep the two distinct from one another. “A piece of creative writing, like a daydream, is a continuation of, and a substitute for, what was once the play of childhood…The creative writer does the same as a child at play. He creates a fantasy which he takes very seriously… while separating it very sharply from reality.” So we come to understand that perhaps one of the most absorbing forms of escapism is actually an incredibly useful source for self-development, especially when it comes to social interaction. The common composition of stories where we follow one main character, or ‘hero’ throughout means that we broaden our knowledge of different types of personality by proxy, through that character. This association with another person is the beginnings of basic empathy. Oatley and Marr explain that by putting ourselves in the place of another person, we can more clearly understand their motives. We ‘enter into their situations and minds, rater than the more exterior view of them we usually have,’ and we often share the same emotional response to these fictional events. One study published in The Guardian also reported heightened levels of empathy in readers of fiction compared with those who did not read regularly. Perhaps the debate concerning the useful-
ness of reading fiction can be boiled down to why we often choose to lose ourselves in make-believe worlds as opposed to simply reading factual or academic literature, which seems more mentally rewarding. Fiction is often heavily based on personal subjects, relying on our emotional response to capture the readerâ€™s attention, whereas non-fiction does not do this. Non-fiction exists to teach us about reality, the physical and historical facts about our world, whereas fiction seeks to teach us about ourselves. As Freud points out, most fictional stories follow one particular hero through his various escapades. We are told many inane aspects of his life and we become privy to his conversations and monologues. Whether we use the behaviour of fictional characters to model our own behaviour upon is debatable and is ultimately our own choice, but perhaps simply opening oneself to the vast range of personalities in the world of fiction can be compared to a fleeting relationship with a real person in the real world.
Even though we may perhaps get to know this fictional person much quicker than we can 'get to know' another, real person, we can still learn from their fictional lives. We
Non-fiction exists to teach us about reality. fiction seeks to teach us about ourselves. experience their mistakes when they do, and we witness the various ways they try to fix their mistakes. We watch them go about their daily lives and sometimes become so knowledgeable of their history that we excuse bad behavior, because we understand their motivation. This, in turn can perhaps teach us to be less judgmental of people in real life. Books teach us that no one is the way they are for no reason, and it becomes apparent to us that other people act and
Images courtesy of Mary-Anne James. Visit www.maryannejames.com for a full photographic portfolio
feel very much the same way we do. Learning that other people - even unreal people- have gone through the same troubles as we have, and felt the same way about things as we did helps us feel justified in our own emotions and can work as a form of self-therapy. All fiction comes from a place in reality, and if an author can write about subjects and emotions with such conviction, it means they understand how you feel. Books teach us about the world, they teach us about other people and help us to imagine different ways of living, but most of all they teach us about ourselves because the most important component in a piece of creative writing is what you take away from it. Escape for a while, forget your life, but be confident that every paperback you devour is not time wasted; it is broadening your horizons and helping you grow as a person â€“ what an excellent reason to finish my Atwood story.
What’s Your Story? We ask three creative professionals how much their favourite childhood books mean to them...
Victoria Bramwell Artist
Micol Ragni Fashion Designer
Judi Sutherland Poet
“I guess I had two favourite books when I was very young; The Very Hungry Caterpillar, haha... but after that ...The Secret Garden. I loved the book and the film.
“My favourite book as a child was Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. I read it 3 times between the ages of 9 and 12.
“I remember my favourite books really clearly - the series of “Moomin” books by Tove Jansson. Jansson set up a lovely world where friends really became part of the family. Moomin seemed to be an only child, like me. I was interested that Moominmmamma and Moominpappa didn’t always see eye to eye. For example, Moominmamma tended to indulge her husband’s wanderlust, and when they ended up on a very inhospitable island, she kept trying to make the best of things by planting roses (which died) and collecting pretty shells. Jansson wrote strong female characters, which I was grateful for.
I guess that linked to my childhood and upbringing. I had a great childhood, with a big garden, my mum dressed my sister and me almost as Victorian children, she and my Nana made these big dresses, and I think that's influenced my love for historical dress. I was brought up very feminine and girly and I guess I have taken that into my personality and it shows through my design. I think the book mirrored my own childhood...because I loved my childhood. When my parents split we moved from that big house and that story, that part of my life was never the same and I miss that. I felt like I didn't have a home and I was lost, due to parents split and having two different houses and families. I guess reading that book and watching the film brought it back, and now I wish I had that for the whole of my childhood. It's something I really want to give to my own children one day.”
Yes it was a way to escape from reality. But 'escaping' in a very physical sense, in the way reading involves you stopping you from doing any other activity that is part of the tiring daily routine. However I wouldn't describe reading necessarily as an escape from reality, because it's a concept that assumes reality is something unpleasant you want to run away from. Reading for me it was more a way to escape the common sense that often traps reality into very basic boxes because reading gives me the opportunity (that practically it's the actual time) to reflect and understand reality in an articulated and more profound sense. I wouldn't say the book influenced my work, however it definitely influenced the way I perceived human life and myself and so I guess it had definitely some repercussions on how I approach my work nowadays.”
Next on your reading list: Waterstones’s best-selling fiction of 2013, If you only have time for one, make it one of these
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes
The Kingmaker’s Daughter, by Philippa Gregory
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachael Joyce
I think the books gave me a feminist feeling that girls could really DO things. Some of her best female characters lived on their own and had their own wisdom, like Too Ticky and the Mymble’s Daughter. They were fiercely independent and didn’t need to be rescued by men. There was also a feeling about the importance of living simply and being part of nature. The Moomins coped with all sorts of dangers: floods, comets, snowdrifts, which were quite scary, but they never got overwhelmed by fear. Reading certainly helps us escape our own lives, and inhabit other people’s. I think reading can be a tool for human understanding. All human life is there, and you can share somebody’s world. A novel is better than a non-fiction book because you get to feel what the writer feels as well as know what the writer knows. I also think the development and completion of a story arc, in which the protagonist is somehow changed by the experience, goes back to the beginning of human time and for some reason we find it deeply satisfying.”
V i k en t i N i li n star of the show at Saatchi
Let’s compare what we think when we see a person sitting on a precipice to how we feel when we are doing the same. When confronted with an image such as those from Vikenti Nilin’s Neighbours series, our immediate response is to look for sadness in the eyes of subjects who are sure to jump any minute. Perhaps they are so hopelessly depressed by their Soviet surroundings that life seems worthless and the photographer is showing us a deciding moment before the little bodies make their deathly plummet towards the ground. However, this may not be the case. As with much art, these images are brilliantly open to interpretation, leaving a certain amount
of room for the viewers to imagine themselves in the picture. So imagine you are sitting on a window ledge. You can feel the breeze whistling across your cheek, you can see your hometown stretching out into the distance and the floor seems to be a million miles down. Just for a second, you can forget yourself. You can forget life and people and work and reality and stare down into the abyss beneath your feet as though struck with an awesome sense of what I call ‘reverse vertigo.’ I coined the term whilst standing at the top of the Eiffel tower with a loved one and I was hit with the ‘revertigo’; for an endlessly fleeting moment I wanted to jump. This had nothing to do with the realistic consequences of jumping, but I could
vividly imagine falling through the air with the twinkling lights of Paris whizzing past. The subjects of Nilin’s photographic portraits have spread across their features the exact same expression of vacant clarity that I imagine I must have had at the top of the Eiffel Tower last summer. ‘Revertigo’ is a feeling that transcends time and distance; it renders our complicated lives insignificant and is the only time we can truly understand who we are in beautiful isolation. When confronted with this incredible moment of clarity, it seems trite to imagine that these images are simply illustrating a few suicidal seconds.
Images courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery
Snufkin in Winter A melancholy moomin poem by Judi Sutherland
The snow cloaks Moominvalley like a Groke’s wedding veil, already you’ve had a bellyful of pine needles but I can’t stomach it, can’t face a hundred days and nights of dreaming. So I gift hazelnuts to the Ancestor Behind the Stove, roll up my bedding and I’m gone, through winterwoods to the grey shoreline, a stowaway in the electric hold of a tall ship crewed by Hattifatteners, its prow jostled by ice floes as we set sail for who knows where. On the seventh morning, the sun rises like blood over a seaport city and I shoulder my pack at the harbour mole, tread cobbled streets, watch Fillyjonks in the souks and stews, consider what the people want with so much gold. I pitch my tent on a warm beach, get high with wild-eyed, dusky Mymbles who embroider secret names on my sunstruck canvas. I tell them stories of boreal forests, houses like ships, Hobgoblins’ hats; of the high magic that holds with four strong seasons. Their laughter is shallow bells - I need the north again. I hitch a ride with a passing Booble, dodge the serge-frocked Border Hemulens. I’m back in the valley before you wake, sitting on the verandah, where I take out my mouth-organ, begin to play All Small Beasts Should Have Bows On Their Tails. ‘Hello, Snufkin’, you say, ‘Cloudberry pancakes for breakfast?’ I follow you in. You never do ask what I’ve been doing, where I’ve been.
The Elder Scrolls Online. Images courtesy of Bethesda and Gamestation
Escape to Virtual Lands Imagine you are perched on top of the Pantheon in Rome. You cling to the edge of a round opening in the gigantic dome and wait with bated breath for the Pope to walk directly underneath your crouching body, forty feet above him. In one fell swoop, you swing down to earth, landing on top of the old man and ending his life with the swipe of a hidden blade. This is Assassin’s Creed, a game which accurately recreates cities of the past for gamers to explore and learn whilst caught up in an entrancing and convoluted plotline. Games have been accepted as a form of escapism ever since PONG was developed for the arcade in the 1972. As a child of the 90’s,
however, my first introduction to addictive videogame culture was The Sims. The Sims could loosely be called a ‘strategy game,’ and centers around the creation and managing of simulated people. The gamer must tell their Sims where to move, when to eat, when to have fun and when to use the toilet. The player has absolute control over the actions of these beings and can even choose to watch, godlike, as they starve to death or defecate on the carpet because they haven’t been directed to a fridge or a bathroom. Now, The Sims may not have been the most interesting option for a bored teenager with too much money and a PS2, but it was the one with the highest level of control, and this lends itself as a perfect medium for escapism.
Since then, games have changed considerably and are quickly becoming a work of art in themselves surreally bridging part of the gap between film and real life, letting players explore, create and make moral decisions. The idea of living in a different version of the world we know and inhabiting the body of an ideallised version of ourselves is admittedly captivating, but when this form of escapism goes too far the consequences can be dire. There are endless stories of people who ‘meet’ their soul mate in these digital planes and then become devastated when their relationships break down due to lack of common ground, geographical closeness or ‘cyber cheating’. In 2008 an American couple met,
The Sims 2 Black & White
fell in love and broke up following a virtual infidelity on the husband’s part, his wife claiming; “I caught him cuddling a woman on a sofa in the game.” Following their real-life divorce, the heartbroken woman found herself a new online beau via World of Warcraft (a similar online game which centers around avatars grouping together to complete quests). Second Life is often cited as the main offender in stories like these; it is much less a game than a virtual reality inhabited by the avatars of real people from across the globe. Avatars can explore the virtual world inhibited only by strategically placed oceans and city borders, but players are free to hop from one area to another whenever they feel the need for a change of scenery. In Second Life it is possible to earn money, build a house and meet up with friends, meaning that the level of absorption is high, but the proximity to real people and money somewhat ruins
the illusion of fantasy. This is not escapism, it is hyper-reality, and we get enough of this in modern life, so we begin to see an opening for the relatively new breed of game; the Open World, or RPG (Role Playing Game) Although it has elements of open world play, Assassins Creed is, at its heart a game with a specific storyline, with every mission and side mission available all trying to get the character to the same end point; there is deceptively little freedom in a game like Assassin’s Creed,
This is not escapism, it is hyper-reality and so the level of escapism is finite. However, there is a wealth of open word and multiple-choice games for escapists to choose from. One of the most intriguing points of such games is the ability to specifically design
the character or ‘Avatar’ you will be playing as. Skyrim, from the Elder Scrolls series has one of the largest open worlds in gaming history, providing players with an entire continent to explore. Inspired by the mountainous landscape of Iceland, this is a game that presents the player with a multitude of choices and no obligations. Where other games will attempt to force you in one distinct direction to follow a story line, Skyrim allows its gamer total autonomy. If you see something in the distance, you can walk up to it. If you follow the map properly you can walk to the next town, and you can also spend hours just stomping around in new dragon hide armour and never encounter the same rock twice. Although this freedom of movement is a wonderful thing, the player has no ability to change their avatar beyond its aesthetic identity. This is not a game that counts character interaction amongst its highest priorities, and
this minor downfall can at times render the game slightly arduous and impersonal. There is, however, a new type of game emerging that heavily focuses on the gamer’s choice of personality for their Avatar. In its infancy, this type of game was restricted to strategy games such as Black and White, where you effectively play God and become responsible for the lives of a handful of islanders that worship you. The player decides when to help the people and when to punish them and over time, the game averages out the benevolent actions with the malevolent ones and changes the physical appearance of the character and the reactions of the islanders to his presence accordingly. In modern times, this effect is often used in games that have their own slightly stunted version of open world landscapes, including Mass Effect and Infamous among those that change physical appearance and Dragon Age,
Dishonoured, and Assassin’s Creed amongst those that change the way other characters interact with you. For example, if you choose
the best games always stay on the more frivolous side of reality. to be mean to another character in Dragon Age, they will be less inclined to help you when you need them, and if you kill a civilian in Assassin’s Creed, wanted posters appear and people scream and call the guards who try to kill you on sight. Unlike games such as Grand Theft Auto where, arguably the only way to progress is to consistently treat the other characters with contempt, these choice – driven versions give the player a range of options as to the identity of their avatar. The development of the story line becomes
heavily based on the choices of the puppeteer. Although open world and multiple choice games do try to effectively simulate the real world through character development and freedom of movement, the best ones always manage to stay on the more frivolous side of reality. The colours are brighter in the videogame world, the characters more varied and the missions more exciting that our real lives, so it is no wonder that we can so easily lose ourselves in such beautiful otherworlds. We all have times where we need to forget about real life and experience something new and exciting, and now we can do so from the comfort of our own living rooms. Open world gaming is escapism at its most potent, and with endless hours of missions to complete and miles of land to explore, the procrastination need never end.
Assassin’s Creed, Revelations
Mini Gallery Reviews: We go The Crypt Gallery The Crypt gallery is situated directly underneath the St Pancras Church and requires its visitors to enter through a bright red door placed directly underneath a row of imposing stone figures. Left only slightly ajar, this door beckons the curious visitor away from the busy streets and down a dimly lit staircase. The staircase descends into a network of dark caverns, which have evidently made no attempt to hide its grim roots as a former place of burial and instead, embracing it.
This month, the gallery is displaying Radiator, an exhibition consisting of a series of projections by the artists Alan Dunning and Paul Woodrow. Described by the gallery’s website as ‘a radiant form generated from ambient sound,’ the artwork is perfectly suited to its environment, producing a thought-provoking and eerie experience for the wandering art lover. Be warned, however, the darkness and claustrophobia of these morbid caverns are not for the weak hearted – don’t go alone.
Coming up... Illustrator Richey Beckett
so you don't have to The Whitechapel Gallery The Whitechapel Gallery is oddly situated nowhere near Whitechapel station. In fact, if you take the Hammersmith and City line to Aldgate East and ascend the steps leading out of the station, you will find the doors of the Whitechapel Gallery immediately. Heave open the great glass doors and you will find yourself in a clean white reception area, with a small but incredi-
bly well-stocked bookshop to the left and a network of gallery rooms on the right. Every art gallery has its own atmosphere and identity, and this is by far one of the most serene London galleries to be within spitting distance of a busy train station. The rooms are comfortably spaced so as not to feel intimidating and the installations are creatively positioned. The striking main installation in the gallery this month is Giuseppe Penoneâ€™s Spazio di Luce â€“ a twelve metre bronze cast of a hollow tree trunk, its interior covered
with a layer of gold leaf. This beautiful object stretches out into the gallery space, perfectly balanced upon its own branches with spaces between each section just the right size for viewers to look through the hollow and immerse themselves in a little gold universe.
Richey Beckett We have a quick chat with the professional illustrator was a language I understood and could really connect with. Equally with a lot of the 19th century illustrators and engravers, Gustav Doré particularly. A lot of natural history illustrators like Bewick, Thorburn, Audubon. And then I suppose the last piece of the puzzle is Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley, Alphonse Mucha. I suppose they provide the decorative element. So I'd say these are my real key influences, and you can probably recognise that in my work - but I do take influence from many other sources on a daily basis, I'm forever collecting books and imagery for inspiration and reference.
How would you describe your artistic style? Pen and ink. I use very traditional methods, ink on paper, line work, cross hatching and stippling. The priority for me is for the work to be decorative, pleasing to the eye, and I suppose this ties in with the kind of work I create - record covers, shirts and posters - it's all decorative. Realism isn't important to me, my aim is to create something visually stimulating and intricate, the kind of art that I enjoy looking at. It's still a long way from where I want it to be, but what I'm looking to do is create a strong but simple composition, with areas of interesting detail and pattern. It's constantly evolving from piece to piece, I'm learning new tricks and lessons with every illustration and then trying my best to apply this to the next piece.
why draw something ‘real’, when you’re already surrounded by it?
How long have you been in this line of work? Would you say there is an element of escapism present in your work?
I've been drawing my whole life, since a very young age. I drew furiously growing up. But I didn't pursue illustration as a trade until just a few years ago. I studied art, graphic design and film in art college, but then got distracted for about a decade playing music and traveling. Once I'd had my fill of that, I started drawing again, and found that a lot of people I'd met along the way were interested in the work I was putting out, a lot of musicians and bands. So this turned into commissioned work, and it all really snowballed from there to the point where I could pursue it full time.
Absolutely. As I mentioned, I'm not trying to represent real life, if you have a pen and paper in your hand, why draw something 'real', when you're already surrounded by it? It's much more fun and rewarding to explore imagination and fantasy, and see where it takes you. So that's certainly some kind of escapism, creating your own world to an extent. Although it sounds really pretentious, I find I'm often approached with ideas from clients, and I have to say "Well this doesn't really fit into my 'world'". I would have never set out to work in those sort of confines, but it naturally happens. Some themes feel like they translate perfectly and others just feel out of place. I suppose the goal for me is to treat each piece as if it was the cover of a novel, and in itself tells a story and offers escapism and intrigue to the viewer.
Where do you draw your influences from? I've always been fascinated by pen and ink work. Most of my influences are retrospective rather than contemporary - I remember first seeing the work of Albrecht Dürer and it really struck a chord with me, I felt like it
Q&A: Oliver Barter We question Oliver Barter, an up and coming young writer about his first book, his influences and life as a professional wordsmith. 1. What is the plot of your debut novel? Three young guests at a lavish Viking coming of age celebration are thrown together when they instinctively act to protect their prince. At the sudden appearance of two monstrous creatures thought only to be the stuff of legend, Sigrun, Ragnar and Brandr act with impulsive bravery. With the magic of runes, Valkyrie abilities and a healthy dose of luck they kill the monsters. The King understands the significance of their powerful unity and sends the trio on a quest to discover and destroy these ‘undead’ creatures. However, Sigrun, Ragnar and Brandr hardly know one another and certainly don’t have any understanding nor control over their powers. The ‘Rune Lord’ follows these brave young warriors on a journey of self-discovery and adventure. Three people, three gifts, three chances to save the world. 2. Who are your favourite characters in the novel? Could you describe them to us?
being punished forces her to investigate the strange goings on in Ivarsted, were she meets Ragnar and Brandr. Sigrun is a strong character, physically as well as morally, and sees herself as a force for power and good. In my eyes she plays the essential role of linking the lives of Brandr and Ragnar with the main narrative arc, and has a storyline that is independent of the undead threat. 3. Is this your first serious attempt to complete a book? I’ve written many shorter pieces of writing before though this is one of the first which grew almost uncontrollably in my head. It expanded and became more detailed, until suddenly it wasn’t a case of if I would finish it but when. 4. What's your current occupation, and does it leave you with much time to write? My current occupation is a fulltime copywriter and web designer. Writing (more often than not) dry marketing copy for websites is a far cry from the creative writing I love, though it has forced me to become a better editor and proofreader. Sometimes it’s difficult to work all day and then come home and start it all over again; it feels like there’s only so much time I can spend sitting in front of a screen, though my intention is to always get at least something down on the page per day.
One of my favourite characters in the book is Sigrun. Her name, translated, means secret and this defines the driving force of her character. A secret for which she is
5. Do you find writing to be a release from day to day life at all? Often creative writing becomes a cathartic exercise. Getting ideas and feelings out of your head and onto a page, intentionally or not, is always a great release. The same can be said for losing yourself in another world; where petty problems don’t exist and everything can be resolved by idealism or magic. It’s satisfying to plot and choreograph and feel it flow from my mind onto the page, however it’s only once it’s out of your head that you realise how much was in there. I wonder whether authors realise how many worlds and lives they carry around in their heads, jostling and fighting for space with the friendships and responsibilities of their own lives. 6. Do you remember your favourite books as a child, and do you think they have had an influence on your writing choices today? I always loved, and still love, the books that involved another land. Narnia was an obvious favourite, I must have read each of the books a million times. The quest aspect and tightly bonded group dynamic has definitely influenced the way I write not. There’s an idea of transformation through action, a metaphysical quest that runs parallel with the main narrative (e.g slay the dragon, find the cure) which shapes the characters and forces them to grow that I feel is as important as everything else.
Sneak Preview - Sigrun The sun broke early the next morning, revealing a rough hide tent pitched on the outskirts of Ivarsten. The trees were sparse this close to the town; huge swathes of them had been harvested to build the high fence to protect the people within and to fuel their fires. Wide, winding tracks meandered from Ivarsten in three main directions; to the East lay the bigger inland farming settlements. To the West was a well worn track to the sea which was used every day by the fishermen. The haunted depths of the Darkwoods lay to the North, a place which made the people of Ivarsten grateful for the protection their granite hilltop offered them. Rough chunks of the stone rose from the cold earth like silent guardians, watching over the fragile shelter beneath.
“W-what’s your name anyway? You talk a lot for someone who doesn’t have the manners to introduce themselves first.” He didn’t know how to take this strange, pale girl. The dark grey of her clothing seemed to make her skin whiter, and completed drained the faint gold out of her hair.
“Ridiculous.” Ragnar muttered to himself and slid off the wall, deciding that he’d had enough of sitting around in the dark.
“My name is Rag-“
“Sigrun.” She pulled herself up onto the wall and swung her long, leather clad legs over the other side, landing in the pool of light below the torch. The flames picked out a silver raven pinned to her chest, wings outstretched as it perched on the dark grey leather. It seemed to be interwoven with more silver, in twisting strands that wove in and out of the leather like snakes dancing on winter darkened water.
“I know.” She interrupted. “I’ve heard your name mentioned and had to find out for myself. I’m not sure if the rumours have been quite accurate.” Sigrun pressed her lips together, seeming to evaluate every inch from his blonde hair to his muddy boots until finally she flicked her snowstorm eyes back to his nervous face.
“Is it?” “Argh!” He shrieked and spun around, turning to face a pale girl leaning on the wall he’d been sitting on. “What do you think you’re doing sneaking around in the dark? You’ll scare people half to death!”
“What do you mean? Because of my father’s boats? The dragon ships for the Lord?” He stepped forward, thoughts of his family’s gold and the ship building contract being at stake. “If you know something you have to tell me immediately!”
“Well if the dead are walking again you’ve got nothing to worry about, have you?” She said with a faint smile. Her eyes were icy blue and glacier like, without the slightest hint of humour in them. “You’ll be up and running again in no time.”
“Your gold is safe, Lordling. Don’t worry about that.” Ragnar puffed up his chest and firmly folded his arms. “You believe all that peasant nonsense?” He said. “We don’t have this stupidity where I’m from. Stormhold, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s one of the biggest towns. My father is one of the richest men in the area.”
“What? How did you..?” Could she read his thoughts? “You barely look capable of raising an axe, let alone saving the Lord’s life… No. I’ll say no more.” She leaned towards him and sniffed loudly, her face twisting as if smelling rotten fish or sweaty old boots. “You don’t half reek of death though. I’d be careful if I were you. Very careful.” Abruptly she turned and
“I believe stupidity exists when people ignore what’s right in front of them. Bigger towns just mean bigger clumps of stupid people. You must be from a very large town.” She replied flatly, her eyes staring so intently it made him take a step back.
walked away, disappearing into the dark and deserted market.
The Ophelia Effect Ophelia, by John Everett-Millais 1852. Images from Tate
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” Ophelia; she is one of the most painted heroines in European art, she has become incredibly well recognised across the globe and is almost synonymous with female madness and tragic death, yet she has only 58 lines in Hamlet and most of them begin with ‘My Lord.’ The very picture of ruined innocence, Ophelia suffers the most in this play riddled with death and deception, beginning with the murder of her father (at the hand of her lover) and ending with her abandonment, minsanity and watery death. Although throughout, she is hardly spoken of, Ophelia remains a quiet ghostly presence in the back of the audiences’ mind, occupying little space and occasionally tearing at heartstrings until Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude recounts the tale of her death. “ There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds/ Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;/ When down her weedy trophies
and herself/ Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;/ And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:/ Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;/ As one incapable of her own distress,/ Or like a creature native and indued/Unto that element: but long it could not be/ Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,/ Pull’d the poor wretch
The very picture of ruined innocence, Ophelia suffers the most in this play from her melodious lay/ To muddy death.” This scene has been depicted in paintings many times and in modern photography more so, but arguably the most successful and famous of all these is John Everett Millais’ 1851 oil on canvas, with Lizzie Siddal acting as model and muse. In this beautiful painting, we see the girls’ lips parted in song, the way Gertrude describes. This could
have a multitude of meanings, but in Millais’ version, it seems to be clarity and calm. The world had been so cruel to poor Ophelia; only a young teenager, she has been introduced to the world of love, duty and politics and all have failed her. She has struggled to learn what it means to be a woman, but her only role model is the immoral Gertrude who marries the brother of her dead husband and spends the whole play failing to control or comfort her son. So when the ‘envious sliver’ of branch bade her into the water she did not struggle to save herself, rather she lay there, melodious, while her heavy gown dragged her beneath the shallow surface of the brook. So it is clear why Ophelia is one of the most evocative characters in fictional history, drawing sympathy and upset from audiences for centuries, but this doesn’t answer why we find her so beautiful. Ophelia’s role can be accredited to many things, but the over-arching trait of her character is her innocence, perhaps manifest in her lack of speech and action in Hamlet. Fragility and lost innocence are certainly recurring themes in art, and especially in Victorian art, obsessed as they were with female vir-
tue and passivity - the innocence lost in such paintings often belongs to a young woman. We are all to some degree aware of the state of women’s rights in England’s history, and Victorian times are notorious for their bad treatment of women, so it can perhaps be excused that their depictions of women being pathetically helpless were so common, but what of such depictions today? One quick Google search will show anyone that there are countless modern variations on the Ophelia theme, both in photography and illustration. We seem, after four hundred years to still be enamoured with this beautiful figure of helplessness and innocence. Twilight, one of the most popular teenage-fiction books of our time, features an insipid main character who is entirely dependent upon others. Bella Swan becomes incapacitated when her loved one abandons her and she descends into madness, experiencing hallucinations and depression. Rather than finding out who she is outside of her relationship and becoming more self sufficient, the protagonist immediately latches on to another male for support until her original lover returns to save her. This type of character is not hailed as one of the most sympathetic feminine personalities
in written fiction, but the success of her story shows that she is easy to relate to. Written in first person, the Twilight books appeal to the unsure, self-effacing, scared child present in the mind of a growing teenager, and Ophelia displays many of the same attributes. The thing that separates Bella and Ophelia, however, is the time period and their respective endings. Modern readers know that in the times of Shakespeare, women really were helpless without men; a woman would become destitute if abandoned by her male protectors and likely succumb to prostitution and death - this is not so in the modern world. Unlike Bella, Ophelia is never given a chance to grow up. Her mind destroyed by multiple abandonments by literally everyone she loves (Her mother, father, brother and
She descends into a world of floral symbolism...singing of her failed transition into womanhood
Hamlet) she falls into a world of floral symbolism, and pops up near the end of the play singing children’s nursery rhymes, lamenting her failed transition into womanhood. Perhaps the thing that makes Ophelia figures so fascinating is the feeling of wasted opportunity. In times where women no longer need to depend upon men and therefore don’t have to seem fragile to attract them, this type of aesthetic beauty is redundant. We don’t find Ophelia beautiful because she is passive and therefore feminine, we find her beautiful because she is sad, yet calm. Of all the possible explanations for our perceptions of aesthetic value, the reasons why tragedy and beauty marry so well feel largely metaphysical. As these images remind us of our imminent death, they also remind us of life and the opportunity that lies ahead for us. Life can he horrendous at times; we endure stress and pain, loneliness, hate and melancholy over and over again for as long as we live, but our existence is still beautiful. Life is not only valuable because of its goodness, but because of the diverse cocktail of events and emotions that we all experience. Every image of a dying beauty acts as a metaphor for the human condition; it is brilliant and terrible at the same time, and all the more beautiful for it.
Ophelia by John William Waterhouse, 1889
Culture, arts and escapism for the busy Londoner