Cultural Elsewhere

Subscribe to my newsletter for weekly updates.

AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL ART (2011): The state of the art

31 Jan 2011  |  8 min read

If only the moment could have been frozen in the lens. It resonated with meanings. The heavily bearded Aboriginal man -- unsteady on his feet and the cuffs of his worn jeans caked red with dust -- stands outside a gallery of Aboriginal art in Alice Springs. Through glazed, yellowed eyes he stares silently into the air-conditioned room where conspicuously wealthy tourists assess the... > Read more

JONATHAN JONES INTERVIEWED (2010): Illuminating the past and present, the beyond and between

31 Jan 2011  |  6 min read

Bathed in the light from his wall-filling sculpture of fluorescent tubes, the Australian artist Jonathan Jones tells an insightful story. When Governor Arthur Phillip was establishing Sydney in the late 18th century, the survey measure of a town was the number of its brick buildings. But because Sydney lacked a natural source of lime to mix with mortar it had none. “So they were... > Read more

LOST AND FOUND IN SPACE: To boldly split an infinitive

24 Jan 2011  |  4 min read

Some time in the mid-Seventies the late Alistair Cooke – in one of his patrician but always fascinating Letter From America programmes – spoke about an old editor he worked under. On a slow news day the editor would haul out a book of important events in history and scour the pages. He’d usually return with a wonderful idea for a story and would be triumphant when the... > Read more


17 Jan 2011  |  9 min read  |  2

Paul McCartney perhaps spoke for his generation when he recalled the thrill of buying a new record as a teenager and, while taking it home, sitting in the bus pouring over the cover photo and liner notes, scanning them for clues. The covers of subsequent Beatle albums also had that effect on another generation, and their covers were emblematic of the era: their debut album Please... > Read more

SALVADOR DALI, HIS MUSEUM IN FIGUERES: The Disneyland of the disturbed

10 Jan 2011  |  10 min read

Of all the monuments a man has built to himself few, if any, are more bizarre than the grand conceit Salvador Dali designed in a burned-out theatre in his birthplace of Figueres. A little more than an hour north of Barcelona by local bus, Figueres is a modest, not especially interesting town of some 35,000 people. But it is the traditional commercial centre of the plains of Ampurdan... > Read more

BRIAN ENO AND THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE: Obscure but not oblique

3 Jan 2011  |  2 min read  |  2

By happy chance recently I pulled out a vinyl album which has changed my listening habits for these past weeks. It was released 30 years ago but has always struck me as timeless: it is Brian Eno’s Music For Films and the austere, pale brown cardboard cover is mottled with age. At any opportunity since I have gravitated to my cherished vinyl collection of Cluster, Harold Budd, Laraaji... > Read more

NEXT STOP IS VIETNAM: The sound of history being debated

27 Dec 2010  |  5 min read

On Christmas Day 1969, at age 18, I flew in to Saigon. It was 10 months after the Tet Offensive which saw Vietcong soldiers at the door of the American embassy in Saigon and the war was at a peak. I went to Vietnam because I was curious . . . and because could. In fact, surprisingly, anyone could. Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, was on PanAm’s regular route -- PA001 if I... > Read more

Jan Berry: The Universal Coward

MICHAEL NYMAN INTERVIEWED (1993): Play us a film, piano man

14 Nov 2010  |  7 min read

For director Jane Campion to have as noted a composer as Michael Nyman to score the soundtrack for her film The Piano was as simple as a phone call. From his home in Toulouse, Nyman -- whose extensive career is best known for his soundtracks to Peter Greenaway films – acknowledges that he knew Campion’s previous films Sweetie and An Angel At My Table and "one does sit... > Read more

Michael Nyman: The Promise (from The Piano)


8 Nov 2010  |  3 min read

Some months ago the Auckland photographer Chris Van Ryn, whose innovative and often moving work I have long admired, told me he was putting a collection of some of his images into a book. I was genuinely excited for him because it meant his work would get to a wider audience. He asked me to the write the foreword. The book is now published -- a handsome volume where Chris writes a short... > Read more

SIR NORMAN FOSTER'S BRIDGE AT MILLAU (2004): Sublime Architecture; From Here to Modernity

18 Oct 2010  |  4 min read  |  2

We live in a cynical world, as Jerry Maguire said. And there are reasons to be cynical: corruption and graft, deja-vu politics, corporate fraud and payouts, famine and futility … Yet it is also too easy to by-pass healthy scepticism and head straight for the negativism of a suspicious, cynical view of Man and the world. Cynicism seems to be at its most refined among those who... > Read more

THE VISUAL ARTS IN BUENOS AIRES (2010): Out in the street

11 Oct 2010  |  4 min read

You can’t help notice that the skin of Buenos Aires is heavily tattooed: not just with graffiti, but by large and vivid murals, and spray-on stencil art. You can spend a lot of time looking at the walls of Buenos Aires. Many murals are clever and colourful but the graffiti -- mostly just tagging -- is as absurd and incomprehensible as any. There are whole areas of the city which look... > Read more

Sui Generis: Bienvenidos al Tren


4 Oct 2010  |  10 min read

Late in 1992 in one of his increasingly rare interviews, British classical composer John Tavener uncharacteristically hit back at the critics who had been sniping at his most recent work, The Protecting Veil. After noting that critics want their intellects tickled but had forgotten about the intellect of the heart, he skewered them for their shallowness. “They don't know the... > Read more

John Tavener: The Protecting Veil (played by Steven Isserlis, cello, and the LSO, 1992)

PIRANESI'S ENGRAVINGS: Exploring the dark discomforts of Roman ruins

1 Oct 2010  |  2 min read

When the English author Thomas DeQuincey was describing nightmarish drug-induced visions in his early-19th-century autobiography Confessions of an English Opium Eater, he reflected on curious and compelling images he had never seen. They were a set of engravings by Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and DeQuincey referred to descriptions of them by his fellow author and... > Read more

ANDY WARHOL'S LOOK: Glamour, Style, Fashion and Moron

27 Sep 2010  |  8 min read

“People are always calling me a mirror and if a mirror looks into a mirror, what is there to see?” -- Andy Warhol. There's a scene in an Austin Powers movie in which the superspy and international man of mystery is in his London bachelor pad. Amid the iconography of the Swinging Sixties is a large multiple portrait of Powers rendered in flat, garish colours. In... > Read more

FELIPE FERNANDEZ-ARMESTO INTERVIEWED (1999): Cheer up, it will all be over soon

13 Sep 2010  |  8 min read

The phone call is an hour late and catches Felipe Fernandez-Armesto at dinner with his father-in-law. Apologies are cheerfully rebutted by impossibly rounded vowels which roll across the global link direct from Brideshead Revisited. My apology includes how I relied on an international telephone operator to calculate the time difference -- and assumed she would tell the truth. He... > Read more

NEW YORK, THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF 9/11: In a New York State of Mind (2002)

11 Sep 2010  |  16 min read

Beyond the wingtip is a clear blue sky, exactly the same kind out of which tragedy arrived a year ago.It is September 11 and I'm flying into New York, America's capital of brashness but which now has a hole in its heart.Security today has been tight as expected in a country on "orange alert" (one down from "red alert") but as I have hopped from Los Angeles to... > Read more

BENNY HILL: A man out of time

9 Sep 2010  |  5 min read  |  8

When writer Tom Hibbert sought out Benny Hill in the early 90s for a “who the hell does Benny Hill think he is?” magazine article, he found the shy, defensive star tucking into cod and chips in a pub surrounded by old friends. That was the odd thing about Benny Hill who died in 1992: he was desperately ordinary to the point of eccentricity. With Hill in the South London pub... > Read more

LORD OF THE RINGS: The never-ending story of music, marketing and merchandise.

4 Sep 2010  |  3 min read

A handsome blonde organ-playing Scandinavian with an interest in The Lord of the Rings? It almost sounds like a soft-porn joke, but Bo Hansson from Sweden has a small but early stake in Tolkien-trivia. In the late-Sixties, as with many of that pothead period, he was so taken by Tolkien's trilogy he decided to record an album, Music Inspired By The Lord of the Rings. It's not bad either... > Read more

Marion Arts: O Shining White (from the album Songs of the Rings, 2000)

MARIJUANA: My life in a happy place; no apologies

1 Sep 2010  |  11 min read  |  1

As the 21st century dawned there was considerable argument in New Zealand about whether marijuana should be decriminalist, a debate prompted by a Green MP Nandor Tanczos attempting to bring a bill before Parliamant along those lines. People took positions on the far ends of the spectrum. As this happened I went to the editor of the New Zealand Herald where I was a feature writer and... > Read more

The Inkspots: That Cat is High (1938)

QUEEN CITY ROCK: Auckland Nightlife, Look Back in Wonder (2010)

29 Aug 2010  |  5 min read

“I hear the Queen City callin' . . . yeah, the whole place is rockin' . .  . " -- Peter Lewis and the Trisonic, Four City Rock, 1960 Although Peter Lewis also noted the Windy City, the Garden City and Dunedin (rhymes with “freezin' “) in his classic celebration of New Zealand rock'n'roll scene Four City Rock, he kicked off most... > Read more