Prospect recommends: March

Six things to do this month
February 22, 2012
Collective Fictions by Matthew Picton: a map of contemporary Tehran


Bill Cunningham New YorkOn release from 9th March

This documentary is a reminder, if one were needed, that New York is full of characters. It follows one: Bill Cunningham, an octogenarian photographer who has been chronicling city styles for decades. A monkish maverick in the world of fashion, he is shown cycling around in his trademark blue smock and a plastic poncho held together with tape; a visit to his tiny apartment reveals a mattress propped up by milk crates. He is an ascetic aesthete, always on the lookout for sudden glimpses of beauty to put in his weekly New York Times pages, and this endless quest provides some of the film’s most enjoyable moments.

The supporting cast of interviewees includes Tom Wolfe and Anna Wintour, but the less familiar stand out: a former United Nations official from Nepal, who shows off a series of dazzling outfits, and Andy Warhol’s former muse Editta Sherman. As the title suggests, this is a film about New York and its transformation over the past half century; it is also an investigation into how fashion, in Cunningham’s words, is “the armour to survive the reality of everyday life.” Yet it is most captivating as a portrait of Cunningham himself, a quietly uncompromising, good-humoured man in love with his work.

Daniel Cohen


HEXEN 2.0Science Museum, 7th March-29th April

Consider this image: a ballgowned woman wearing a Lady Gaga-style helmet digitally plonked in the middle of a film still. The caption doesn’t help much: “Rosalind Brodsky in her Electronic Time-Travelling Costume to rescue her grandparents from the Holocaust ends up mistakenly on the set of Schindler’s List.”

Rosalind Brodsky is the alter ego of British artist Suzanne Treister, whose exhibition of drawings opens at the Science Museum in March. “Hexen 2.0” plays with the conspiratorial concept that the military uses the occult and advanced neuroscience to exert mind control. We are promised “diagrams” and a set of “re-imagined Tarot cards” produced by Brodsky, who is, of course, a time-travelling scientist.

This exhibition’s 2006 prequel, “HEXEN 2039,” was a dark display of pictures and artefacts suggesting hidden links between the film industry, the army, Chernobyl, climate change and witchcraft. The detailed, artfully executed drawings looked like the product of a skilled hand attached to a deranged brain that feeds heavily off The X-Files and conspiracy theory websites. But maybe Treister, who has exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, is cleverer than that: are we sharing Brodsky’s, or Treister’s, paranoia? Decide for yourself whether Treister/Brodsky is a demented genius—or just demented.

Anjana Ahuja


Break It Yourselfby Andrew Bird (Bella Union, 13th March)

It’s not your average pop CV. Trained in the Suzuki method, Chicago singer-songwriter Andrew Bird graduated with a degree in violin performance. As a teenager he found indie rock boring and repetitive, so he turned instead to bluegrass, Irish folk and swing; Debussy, Ravel and calypso. Impressionistic fiddle passages and a certain pizzicato playfulness remain key features of his baroque pop songs, and on stage he creates a dense musical backdrop with loops and effects pedals. It’s not all highbrow, though—Bird’s sound is warm and eccentric, his voice a charming, clear croon and his lyrics stuffed with wordplay.

On “Danse Carribe,” from the new album Break It Yourself, he pulls one musical refrain from American folk music and plays it Trinidad-style with all the lightness of touch Paul Simon showed on his South Africa-themed album Graceland. Bird has taken a while to break into the British market, probably because we’re less comfortable with the idea of cerebral pop music—but this could be a turning point for him. The single “Eyeoneye” is the sort of deadpan indie that could have come from The Smiths.

Bird recently performed a site-specific piece at the Guggenheim Museum using a series of gigantic gramophone horns; he also wrote a song for the new Muppets movie—2012 will be his year.

Kate Mossman


The Duchess of MalfiThe Old Vic, 17th March-9th June, ?Tel: 0844 8717628

The Jacobean dramatist John Webster is the master of gore, and by the end of his masterpiece The Duchess of Malfi the body count climbs to truly impressive proportions. Taking its cue from the onstage bloodshed of Roman tragedy, this 17th-century drama revels in exploring the worst excesses of humanity. It has the lot: incest, fratricide, sadism, murder and sex.

Jamie Lloyd’s debut production for The Old Vic stars Eve Best as the eponymous heroine/victim, whose marriage to a commoner precipitates a catalogue of catastrophe set in motion by her two incestuous brothers and their evil agent Bosola. Best, who returns to the Old Vic after her 2006 role in Eugene O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten, arrives trailing awards and a serious reputation for no-holds-barred performances—including a chilling cameo as the Duchess of Windsor in The King’s Speech.

Lloyd, whose credits include the revival of Piaf at the Donmar Warehouse and The Pride at the Royal Court, is certain to bring his contemporary sensibility to bear on one of Webster’s darkest tragedies. The collaboration promises to deliver a terrifying slice of good old fashioned grand guignol. There will be blood.

Neil Norman


Heiner Goebbels: Surrogate Cities3rd March, Royal Festival Hall,Tel: 0844 847 9910

Heiner Goebbels is contemporary music’s bionic man. He began as a rock musician. He writes symphonies and songs. He makes theatre and installations, and loves 20th-century poetry and philosophy. In everything by this multidisciplinary German from Frankfurt, there is also a vivid vein of theatre.

In works such as Landscape with distant relatives (2002) and I went to the house but did not enter (2008) singers act, declaim, even dance. It gets stranger. Stifters Dinge (“Stifter’s Things”), a Goebbels creation which visited London four years ago, was an assemblage of eviscerated pianos sliding back and forth over steaming water to obscure texts spoken by the likes of William Burroughs and Malcolm X.

But for music critics Goebbels, who turns 60 this year, is a composer. His work Surrogate Cities—for orchestra, male voice, mezzo-soprano and amplified samples—is as close to performance art as music gets. It swirls, cascades and vibrates within a traditional symphonic structure, to catch, Goebbels says, “something of the city’s mechanics and architecture.” This performance by the student Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra, will remind us that proper British recognition of this unique maker of sound and motion is long overdue.

James Woodall


Matthew Picton: Urban NarrativesSumarria Lunn Gallery, Mayfair, 8th March-6th April

For a craft whose origins lie in the practical science of navigation, the enduring appeal of cartography as art is remarkable. Most often appreciated as windows into the past or as exquisite works of craftsmanship, artist Matthew Picton expands mapping-as-art into the realm of political and cultural commentary.

Picton uses the pages of symbolically-charged books to construct three-dimensional cityscapes. The exhibition’s most contemporary piece is a map of central Tehran constructed from the charred covers of titles from Iran’s banned books list. There’s also Old Jerusalem constructed from religious texts, Dresden made from Wagner manuscripts, and plenty more.

With these map-sculptures, Picton aims to create “something that lives as a world,” and it is his attention to detail that draws you into the miniature streets. One work even precisely recreates London in 1666 (the year of the great fire) from the charred remains of Daniel Defoe’s book A Journal of the Plague Year. Look closely and you’ll see the half remaining section of London Bridge and the fire-ravaged shell of St Paul’s Cathedral.

William Irwin