Patrick the perverse
The weird world of Patrick Hughes held James Heartfield spellbound
Patrick Hughes' Perverspective at Flowers East is the most arresting
and extraordinary art on show in London or anywhere else. His perverse
perspectives turn the world inside out, throw you into reverse, and move
in a way they just should not. One Glaswegian friend described walking
forwards and backwards past the Hughes in the Gallery of Modern Art there
and laughing out loud each time the unexpected spasm of space turned the
wrong way again. After three or four trips he had collected a whole train
of compatriots, all giggling away. 'Perhaps it is a video installation?'
somebody asked, unable to understand the mechanics of this perverse perspective.
But there are no moving parts apart from you.
All two-dimensional rendering of perspective is a form of illusion,
Hughes explains to me: the rows of houses, books or soldiers that recede
towards the vanishing point in a conventional perspective are not really
receding, they are just getting smaller. Your mind tells you that further
away is smaller and so you accept the illusion of three-dimensional depth
in a two-dimensional space.
Hughes perverts the illusion of perspective yet further. His perverse
perspectives appear to be two-dimensional illusions of perspective, like
any painting. Because the medium is perspective, the subject matter is
often buildings, lines of trees or bookshelves-anything with enough detail
to feed the eye, and tempt it to believe that it is looking at normal space,
or at the two-dimensional illusion of space. But you only have to move
to see the rules of perception turned inside out. Bob to the left, and
what you see changes. Of course it does, you say: move your head and a
different angle is revealed. But with a perverse perspective when you bob
to the left, what is revealed is the view from the right. Lean further
left, and all the information pouring into your eyes says you are moving
yet further to the right. Go right, and suddenly you feel yourself move
to the left. In Hughes' exhibitions you will be struck by people rocking
to and fro, mesmerised, or walking backwards and forwards, unsteadily.
Like the two-dimensional rendering of three-dimensional space, the perverspectives
are an illusion. But they are not two-dimensional. If you look sideways
on, you can see that they are in fact great pyramids and ziggurats of wood,
projecting out from the walls, with lines converging towards single points.
The pictures they bear tell you, in the language of the two-dimensional
illusion of three-dimensional space, that these points are the vanishing
point, and that the lines are receding towards it. But this is perspective
inside out. Where the two-dimensional illusion of a vanishing point rests
somewhere in the middle of the page, trying to trick you into seeing it
recede, a Hughes vanishing point projects forward, so that it is closer
to you than anything else. You see it further away, just as you see the
vanishing point of two-dimensional rendering of three-dimensional space
further away. But actually, it is the closest thing to you. In fact everything
that looks close to you is really at a distance. And once space is inside
out it feels as if all bets are off.
The remarkable journey to the other side of the vanishing point is told
in the book that accompanies the exhibition, an intelligent account of
Hughes' art and life by John Slyce. The revelation for me was the unity
of the work. Dealing with Hughes' love of turning things around and making
you see things anew, Slyce's Patrick Hughes: peverspectives tells
of a lifetime of invention and humour, from that first moment when, hiding
from the Luftwaffe under the stairs, he first noticed the way that
the inverted stairs above him went to another place entirely.
Talking in his grand east London studio, Hughes is telling me about
a recent lecture to the Psychology Association on visual perception, 'a
misnomer, I told them. It isn't visual perception. It's perception. My
pictures show that you see with the whole of your body as much as with
your eyes. They were very taken with stereoscopic view-the way your two
eyes place objects in space. It is more likely that we have two eyes for
the same reason that you have two kidneys: evolution just gave us a spare
in case you lose one.
'My pictures show that perception is a relationship between the observer
and his world. When you stalk your prey you look at it from many angles
moving around it. Parallax, the way that you see your own movements in
the revelation of new angles and vistas, is a relationship. Most illusions
are disappointing, because they tie the viewer down, and make him cover
one eye, and then ask "what can you see?". Well the only proper
answer in that condition is "Anything you want me to see! Just don't
put my other eye out".'
Hughes is proud that his perverspectives do not tie down the viewer,
but liberate him and use his own movements and viewpoints as part of the
effect. 'The truth is I'm not really interested in rows of houses, or trees
or soldiers. In fact I am not really interested in perspective. I am interested
in the relationship between the viewer and the picture.'
Patrick Hughes' Perverspective is at Flowers East until 25 October.
Patrick Hughes: perverspectives by John Slyce is published by
Flowers East, £30hbk, £17.95pbk
Signs of the times
The Bucharest palaces of the late Nicolae Ceausescu are to be opened
up to tourists, complete with staff, for those wishing to spend £2500 to
be a 'dictator for a day'
'Just as Diana had to sit on her own outside the Taj Mahal, I sat
on my own outside the Queensgate centre, greeting the constituents. What
should have been the happiest day of my life was the most miserable'
Peterborough MP Helen Brinton describes one of the 'many parallels'
between herself and the Princess of Wales
Jeanne Cummins was awarded £10 000 compensation after being sacked from
her job as a secretary by Kingstonian Football Club because she 'cried
for a week' over the death of Diana. Clearly, in today's tearful football
culture, crying for a mere week is unforgivable
Hot on the heels of the relaunch of Spam (slogan: 'too good to be forgotten')
another old favourite is back in the news. The Queen Mother's birthday
was celebrated in best Second World War fashion, with a march played on
pots and pans. A spokesman for the Welsh guards said the music had been
played because it was 'jolly, cheerful and very British'. The Queen Mum
was 'enchanted', and requested that it be titled 'Royal birthday'.
'For many of them, a week or two in Ibiza, drinking until they lie
in their own excretions, is the high point of their existence'
Theodore Dalrymple on his favourite subject-Britsh 'savages'. (Michael
Birkett, the vice-consul in Ibiza, had just quit in disgust. Dalrymple
described the job as consisting 'almost exclusively of rescuing repulsive
people from the consequences of their own disgusting conduct')
'African Christianity is not far removed from witchcraft'
A leading US bishop responds to an African bishop's description of homosexuality
as a 'white man's disease'
'To be honest, I think you fit the profile quite well'
A Wolverhampton University admissions tutor replies to an undercover
journalist applying for a place on the strength of three 'Unclassified'
grades at A-level
'It weren't water, Peter'
Paul Dainton, former NUM delegate, reminds Peter Mandelson of a visit
he made earlier this year to Kellingley colliery in Yorkshire-one of Mandelson's
most famous photo-opportunities. The remark refers to an incident when
Mandelson was descending into the pit in the miners' cages. One of the
men is alleged to have relieved himself on the minister without portfolio's
And on the subject of Mandelson, the man should be added to our 'name
and shame' list of so-called football fans who didn't watch England World
Cup games. While Tony Blair was glued to the England v Argentina match,
preparing to give in-depth interviews on the subject the following day,
Mandelson sat reading newspapers in the House of Commons tea room with
his back to the television
Rattling football's cages
Author and former hooligan Dougie Brimson (above) spoke to Carlton Brick
about why he is standing as the Football Party candidate for mayor of London
'I know that the Football Party is rather ridiculous, but for a lot of
people football is all they've got.' Two years ago in his book England,
My England, hooligan-turned-author Dougie Brimson half-jokingly suggested
a single issue political party devoted to the football fan. The suggestion
prompted many letters of support and Brimson recently announced his intention
to stand as the Football Party candidate in London's forthcoming mayoral
election. He knows that 'there are things more important than football,
but this-the biggest sport in the world-cares so little about what the
fans think and say. What I'm looking to do is rattle a few cages'.
Brimson is no fan of the corporate domination of football. Nor is he
cheering on the institutions of New Football such as the government Task
Force and the Football Supporters' Association (FSA)- 'archetypal post-Fever
Pitch fans. If they weren't in the FSA they'd be on some local council
committee'. Mention of the 'so-called anti-racism crusade' prompts further
criticism: 'I don't like campaigns like Kick It Out. All they have done
is reinforce an idea that football grounds are hotbeds of racism.' For
Brimson, 'there is a difference between physical violence and verbal abuse.
If you hurl abuse in a football ground that does not necessarily mean you
believe it-it's simply designed to provoke a reaction. Hurling verbal
abuse is why people go to football'.
Not that anybody has to take it lying down: 'There are certain things
that I find totally unacceptable, and when I hear them I will register my
opinion, not to the police, stewards or the club, but to the individuals
responsible. If people want to chant racist abuse, fine. But if they do
it in front of me I'll tell them what I think.'
One journalist described the Football Party as the start of a 'working
class backlash'. But Brimson harbours no such illusions. He knows that
'this is not the class struggle', and that he does not stand even a sporting
chance of getting elected (politics and football are not that close, even
now). Even if his own manifesto is somewhat at odds with his apparent commitment
to free speech, his candidature might make the mayoral election a marginally
more interesting prospect.
For more information on the Football Party, write to Fandom, PO Box
766, Hemel Hempstead HP1 2TU.
Carlton Brick is coordinator of Libero!, the football supporters' network
Toby Marshall heard Terry Gilliam explain why he has made a film of
Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke, Hunter S Thompson's alter ego
'The world of political correctness didn't exist when Hunter wrote
the book, and hopefully won't exist after this film comes out. I've been
feeling since the eighties that we've gone through such a constricted time
when everything has kind of tightened up. Everybody is frightened to say
what they feel, frightened to live in an extraordinary, outrageous way,
and it's time to take off those chains. The book has already spoken its
mind. Now it's our turn.'
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson's 27-year old
account of his legendary drug-fuelled trip to 'the city of eternal dreams',
has been filmed by Terry Gilliam, director of Twelve Monkeys, Time
Bandits and Brazil, and a founder member of the Monty Python
team. A grossly exaggerated tale of wild hallucinations and equally excessive
behaviour which initiated the trend known as 'Gonzo journalism' (defined
by Thompson as 'a style of reporting based on William Faulkner's idea that
the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism'), Gilliam
conceived the film partly in reaction to the current climate of restraint.
'It's getting crazy', he told me. A woman sued McDonald's after she spilled
a hot drink on herself, and 'now we all have to drink tepid coffee'. To
Gilliam's way of thinking, restrictions on free speech are just as absurd:
'I want to be able to call you a bastard if you are a bastard...If someone
is hurt by that, learn to live with it.'
With its opening shot, the film version launches us straight over the
top. Thompson's alter ego, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his sidekick, the
bloated Dr Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro playing a fictionalised version of Thompson's
lawyer friend Oscar Zeta Acosta) are speeding towards the Mint 400 off-road
motorcycle race with a carload of mind-bending substances. In the following
few days, they get into a chain of absurd situations, first trying to cover
a race which has become invisible due to the dust thrown up by the dirt-bikes,
then going on to cover a national convention on drug abuse while stoned
to within an inch of permanent brain damage.
The movie is highly entertaining, despite the poor visual quality of
the trip sequences. Considering that Gilliam is an acknowledged master
of fantasy film, it is disappointing to see him fielding monsters that
look as if they have lumbered off the set of Star Trek. Fear
and Loathing also falls uncomfortably between two cinematic styles:
part docu-drama with footage of Vietnam and a concluding monologue on the
failure of the sixties generation, and part drug-inspired vision. Well
worth seeing through the dust and the haze none the less.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas opens on 13 November. The book
of the same name by Hunter S Thompson with original illustrations by Ralph
Steadman is published by Flamingo
From its inception in the early sixties the New Journalism promised
to shake editors and readers out of their complacency. Attempting to overcome
the old binary division between reporters and novelists, New Journalists
had little interest in conventional notions of objectivity. The important
thing was to be there and to be a participant in your own story.
Hunter S Thompson took this approach a stage further. With Fear and
Loathing in Las Vegas, which first appeared as a series of articles
in Rolling Stone magazine, he transformed the joyous, stream of
consciousness New Journalism into a river of first-person paranoia which
became known as Gonzo Journalism. It was a fitting response to the end
of the sixties and the dawning of a new and dangerous decade.
I was 14 when I first read Fear and Loathing. By that time (the
cusp of the eighties), it was the inspiration for a generation of fanzine
writers, including Loaded's founding editor James Brown who used
to plug Thompson's books in his mag Attack on Bzag. Thompson appeared
then as Uncle Duke in the broadsheet cartoon Doonesbury. But nowadays
he is not confined to the comic strips. With its highly emotional emphasis
on being fearful of a loathsome world, a great deal of 'straight' newspaper
reporting has been converted to the spirit of Gonzo. Having Hunter on the
big screen is an apposite reminder that we're all Gonzos now.
Graham Barnfield teaches American studies at Brunel University
Raging against calm
'Men in general are not very good at emoting, at sharing our vulnerability
or sensitivity. It's good to be reminded that there is nothing wrong with
it.' So said health minister Paul Boateng in support of the Campaign Against
Living Miserably (CALM), a government-sponsored health initiative which
aims to stop young male Mancunians doing an Ian Curtis and committing suicide.
Other sponsors include Sankey's Soap nightclub, Ear To The Ground dj collective,
dance radio station Galaxy 102 and Tony Wilson's Factory Records. In Manchester
it is cool to be CALM.
While the sponsors are raising awareness about 'the need to talk' outside
targeted venues, CALM volunteers have been handing out plastic bags (with
large ventilation holes) containing leaflets on dealing with despondency
and depression. When I told one volunteer what he could do with his information
pack, he lost his temper and came after me. I only averted an outbreak
of CALM rage by climbing into the nearest taxi.
There is nothing wrong with seeking advice on personal problems because
how you choose to deal with them is a private matter. I have no
gripe against the Samaritans or the Citizens Advice Bureau which treat
personal matters as such. But when private concerns are turned into a public
issue, that is different; and maybe CALM is something to get worked up
If, like me, you object to the intrusiveness of CALM, you will be lectured
about the relatively high suicide rate among young men in Manchester. In
1995 the official suicide figure for men was 45, but this also includes
death by 'undetermined injuries' which could have been accidental or homicidal.
If the statistics are unreliable, it is even more doubtful whether a poster
and an information pack will do anything to reduce the suicide rate. In
the thankfully rare instances of suicide the many variables at play are
unlikely to be offset by a sticker with a phone number or a volunteer imbued
with missionary zeal.
CALM and its government sponsors are certain that the diminished status
of men has contributed to low esteem, depression and suicide. Boateng opined
that 'young men are having difficulty confronting issues of their role
now. Previous generations haven't had to address that'. But if the much-discussed
'crisis of masculinity' really was causing widespread suicidal depression
among young men, it is hard to see how the CALM approach would do anything
to help. One of the aims of CALM is to persuade young men to respond to
personal problems in the way that women have always been encouraged to
react: as a victim in need of outside help. In this respect it would tend
to confirm the sense of being emasculated, rather than alleviate it.
What was once considered a sign of strength in a man-the ability to
keep emotional problems private and the attempt to stay in control-is
now seen as the source of our weakness. During Samaritans' Week, the Guardian
reported that 'men are more likely to tell a sufferer from depression to
snap out of it or to keep quiet about it, or more positively if not more
usefully, to be taken to the pub and cheered up or at least made drunk'.
If I get depressed I would rather have a stiff drink and severe talking
to from a friend than a not-so-goodie bag from a CALM volunteer.
Neil Davenport is a well-adjusted Mancunian music journalist
Reproduced from LM issue 114, October 1998