"A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet."

Antonioni’s “Blow-up” and the memory of London in the 60’s

In Architecture, Film, The Art of Film, Theory Work on April 21, 2011 at 8:14 pm

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Swinging London in the mid-1960s was the last place you might expect to find an onscreen discussion of the ontology of the photographic image or musings on the very nature of human perception. Nor was London, whose contemporary style was typified by the daily and very public passagiato of Carnaby Street, The Rolling Stones and That Was the Week that Was, likely to be the setting for a film that would call into question the very nature of sight and memory as well as skewering the common posturings of that decade. Yet Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup is a film that resonates today and is still capable of raising questions about the epistemology of the Cinema, while coldly recording a period that seems, in retrospect, so very fantastical.

Antonioni’s career as a cinematic chronicler of Northern Italian middle class urban ennui was already established by the early 1960s. With L’Avventura (1960), which won the Special Jury Award at Cannes and Il Deserto Rosso (1964), a chronicle of empty life in a modern Northern Italian industrial wasteland, he revealed a unique aesthetic and a cold eye for human pretension and a certain emptiness at the heart of the contemporary city. Indeed, Antonioni seems to call into question the celebrated wonders of modernity itself in a way that seemed to echo the concerns Jacques Tati had explored so comically in Mon Oncle (1958): namely whether modern life, particularly in a city infatuated with the New, was worth the aggravation.

All of which suggests that perhaps Antonioni was more than a little aware of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (1927) which claims that any observed happening (however neutral or scientific the act of observation) is altered by the mere presence of the observer. Observation is thus never a neutral or abstract process. Certainly if there is a central informing principle to the narrative matrix of Blowup it is this: that no phenomenon is pure unto itself – especially when human emotions come into play, let alone consideration like guilt, obsession and, finally, fear.

The film commences with a fast moving introduction to the very stylish world of a hot fashion photographer, Thomas, played by that emblematic ’60s actor, David Hemmings. This is the world made notorious by magazines like Tatler and Queen as well as all the tabloids of the world, all Pucci fashion, dolly birds (Jane Birkin made her name in this film), drugs, fast cars and rock-and-roll.

As for those actual ’60s photographers Terence Donovan and David Bailey, from whom Thomas’ character seems in part constructed, this is the historical moment when the photographer/model association became an object of public worship. Thomas is surrounded by a fog of available chicks and big money. Trendy London lies at his feet. Antonioni, like Federico Fellini in La Dolce Vita (1960), was clearly out to peel back the decadence to show the abyss beneath – all dazzlingly brought to life with the aid of Carlo Di Palma’s jazzy cinematography.

The movie then goes into overdrive as Thomas sees something (or maybe not) while photographing in a London park. The swinging world recedes as Thomas becomes morbidly obsessed by the possibility he has in fact photographed a murder. Is that a body under the bushes? If not, what, then? The title’s meaning becomes clear as Thomas repeatedly enlarges, studies, and reworks his negatives to locate the proof for something, any evidence of a possible occurrence that seems, as his obsession grows, to become increasingly elusive. Subsequently, the film becomes, in part, a meditation on the very nature of reality and how we deform the natural with interpretations and inflexions.

Unlike a more conventional thriller (as Blowup sometimes appears) the film offers no cosy or pat solution – we never know, nor can Thomas tell, whether there was a murder, or if all that occurs is a product of a fevered mind in an overheated big city?

Read more…

Jill Kennington discusses her participation in Blow-Up.


Architecture of Mind

In Architecture on April 21, 2011 at 7:56 pm

“There is double and crossed situating of the visible in the tangible and the tangible in the visible: the two maps are complete, and yet they do not merge into one. The two parts are total parts and yet are not superposable.”

-Merleau-Ponty, “The Intertwining-The Chiasm”

In Kiasmus ” an interior mystery and the exterior horizon , which, like two hands clasping each other, form the architectonic equivalent of a public invitation. ”
-Steven Holl, “Kiasma monograph”

Steven Holl asks the same question of architecture that Merleau- Ponty asks of philosophy . Can the ambulating sentient being embedded as he or she is in the matrix of concretized values as they are inscribed in that being experience and understand seeing in a context articulated for that purpose? How can a building such as Kiasma, function simultaneously as the “frame” of the experience of and for visual art and as an embodiment of the very process of seeing. For Holl like Ponty uses the analogy of the optic chiasm with its “inflected” decussating fiber structure which appropriates the visual field like a highway cloverleaf, allowing each hemifield to be conjoined, left side to right sided brain and right side to left side of the brain, to serve a as model to appropriate the entire visual apparatus including the eye and the folded surface of the brain, for his purpose.

Read the full article here.

UK students benefit from study abroad.

In Design, Weekly Update on April 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

“Recent estimates suggest 33,000 UK students are studying abroad, while 370,000 foreign students are studying in the UK, an imbalance which defines the UK as primarily a destination for international students (the second most important in the world after the United States) rather than a source of such students. Nevertheless, attention needs to be paid to outward mobility because of concerns that a low rate might hamper UK graduates’ competitiveness in global and European labour markets, while a high rate may signal a ‘brain drain’.”

Jill Ahrens (Sussex Centre for Migration Research; University of Sussex)

A review of international student mobility says that study abroad can significantly boost the chances of  a student’s success in later life and bring benefits to the UK’s knowledge economy:

“More and more, students are starting to understand the added value of mobility. The benefits are that it sets them apart from other students, looks good on their CVs, gives them transferable skills, the opportunity to travel, an international career, and personal development in terms of maturity and confidence (interviewee D, pre-92 university, Wales).”

‘International student mobility literature review’ was commissioned by HEFCE and the British Council, as the UK National Agency for Erasmus, to provide a better understanding of trends in the mobility of UK students and to compare them with those in other countries. The study considered the reasons behind students’ decision to study abroad and employers’ attitudes towards those who have studied abroad.

The report distinguishes between those who study abroad as part of a course at a UK higher education institution and those who study an entire degree course outside the UK.

Findings in the report include:

  • Increasing numbers of UK students have studied abroad in the past few years. This partly results from greater numbers taking part in Erasmus, an EU-funded scheme in which students can spend time in Europe as part of their study at a UK higher education institution. The introduction of work placements in the Erasmus scheme has contributed to this rise.
  • The UK is primarily a host country for foreign students. Around 370,000 students from outside the UK come here to study; there are less than a tenth of that number of UK students currently studying abroad.
  • UK universities could do more to provide clear and accurate information to prospective students about studying abroad. This could include highlighting the support they offer, and the benefits study abroad can bring, such as employment outcomes.

Heather Fry, HEFCE Director for Education and Participation, said:

‘This report highlights the benefits that UK students can gain from studying abroad. We should be doing more as a nation to publicise and support this. Students are missing out on opportunities, not least to improve their competitiveness in the international graduate labour market.’

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said:

‘This report shows how UK students can gain by spending time abroad as part of their university experience. Whether it’s an internship at a company based overseas, or a study period at a foreign university, students gain valuable skills which will benefit them throughout their personal and professional lives.

‘Outward mobility is particularly valuable when it forms an integral and accredited part of the student’s course. I am grateful to authors of this report for offering some useful suggestions for universities about how to increase student mobility, and also for highlighting some key areas for future research.’

Martin Davidson, Chief Executive British Council, said:

“The market for skills and talents is global, and more opportunities need to be provided for young people in the UK to gain international experience through work and study placements in other countries. Not only does this build cultural fluency, the ability to work in differing environments, but more importantly it will allow the UK to develop a workforce that can drive forward our knowledge economy.”

Regarding policy and practice, several questions beg to be answered:

The first is the balance between promoting inward as opposed to outward mobility. Most discussion focuses on the former, for its revenue-generating benefits to UK HEIs and to the wider economy. However, there is a growing appreciation of the importance of outward mobility, in recognition of the fact that UK-origin graduates with foreign experience bring greater human capital to the knowledge economy. Based on survey and interview data from various reports, as well as our own interviews conducted for this report, we identify a range of good practices HEIs can implement to foster greater outward mobility. These include: the promotion of mobility options at admissions Open Days, greater provision of clear and accurate information, greater staff mobility (since this has synergies with student mobility), highlighting the financial benefits and support available, publicising good employment outcomes from alumni and employers’ testimonials, ensuring clarity of credit transfer systems,

and using returning students as mobility ambassadors to prospective mobile students by involving them in promotional events, particularly for work placements as these are a growth area. For degree mobility, HEIs can do little except promote foreign universities as destinations for postgraduate study.

“Why, then, do students choose to study abroad? For credit-mobility students, a simple, facile answer is that they do so because it is a mandatory part of their degree programme; for others it might be an optional element in their degree. This, however, merely redirects the question to an earlier stage of the decision-making: why did they choose that degree course, with its in-built mobility opportunities? For the Erasmus programme, the ‘EU discourse’ promotes two main benefits and therefore motivations to students: acquisition of a foreign language and intercultural awareness; and improved employment prospects. At a macro-scale, too, these motivations have their equivalents: the creation of a multilingual, multiculturally aware European graduate population; and the enhanced competitiveness of European graduates, and of the European economy, in an increasingly competitive global scenario (King 2003: 163-166). These motivations are, indeed, picked up by Erasmus students when they are questioned or interviewed about the reasons for, and evaluations of, their mobility experiences. One the whole, it seems that they are more highly motivated by the general experience of studying or working abroad, than they are by its intrinsic academic merit or even, in some surveys, by its employment pay-offs.”

International student mobility literature review: Final report


The report brings together recent literature and data on student mobility. It looks at the trends in UK international students’ mobility and compares these internationally. It also considers the causal factors for students’ choice to spend time abroad, the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of mobile students, and the impact that time abroad has on their employability; and it highlights policy and practice in HEIs in respect of student mobility.

Read the full report here.

November 2010;International student mobility literature review: Report to HEFCE, and co-funded by the British Council, UK National Agency for Erasmus ” by Russell King (Sussex Centre for Migration Research;University of Sussex), Allan Findlay (Centre for Applied Population Analysis, University of Dundee), Jill Ahrens (Sussex Centre for Migration Research;University of Sussex)