MAPPING OUT THE TERRAIN

Re-Make/Re-Model. Art, Pop, Fashion and the Making of Roxy Music 1953-1972, Michael Bracewell [426pp, £20, Faber]
Mapping London. Making Sense of the City, Simon Foxell [279pp, £39.95, Black Dog Publishing]
Ivon Hitchens, Peter Khoroche [207pp, £35, Lund Humphries]
On Brick Lane, Rachel Lichtenstein [353pp, £20, Hamish Hamilton]
NO WAVE, Marc Masters [205pp, £19.95, Black Dog Publishing]
Iain Sinclair, Robert Sheppard [114pp, £12.99, Northcote House]
Stonelight: Words in Place, Images of Time, David Whittaker [126pp, £14.99, Wavestone Press]
Journey Through the British Isles, Harry Cory Wright [192pp, £40, Merrell]



We all need guidebooks and maps to get us around somewhere new and sometimes for places we've been before, too. These titles all offer navigation to the literary, musical and artistic traveller, through a variety of approaches and methods of signposting.

Marc Masters' NO WAVE is an engaging and well-designed study of the short-lived music movement in New York that erupted as post-punk met loft-space minimalism. Although occasionally lapsing into lists of gigs and line-ups, or overlong unravellings of the spaghetti-like interconnections between bands, this book is in the main energetic and celebratory as it reveals the artful incestuous of New York when the city was going broke, everyone could afford studio space and - musically - anything went. If Masters keeps the lid on his subject perhaps a little too much (that is, I'd have liked more digression and inclusion), he nevertheless makes a great case for the movement beginning with Suicide's bastardised motorik rock'n'roll and ending with early Sonic Youth's blend of rock and electric improvisation.

Michael Bracewell's book is more of a cultural studies reader, a history of British art schools, than a book about Roxy Music. The book ends just as the band starts up, but it's fascinating to see how the Brians [Ferry and Eno] wove fashion, painting, design and music into their lives, and how these lives crossed (and of course later parted). Particularly interesting for me is the discussion of process, and how Roger Ascott's ideas of this and behaviourism were implemented at college through his innovative Groundcourse at Foundation Art level. (So much so I bought a collection of Ascott's essays.) It's also intriguing how Duchamp and the surrealists keep getting mentioned - their ideas and approaches seem a million miles away from Ascott and cybernetics. Along with Duchamp, Richard Hamilton and Tom Phillips also feature strongly in this exploration of Sixties' creativity and class. This is possibly Bracewell's best book so far (up there with
England is Mine) but, like many other reviewers, I hope he can continue the Roxy Music story in future titles.


Iain Sinclair is also a product of the Sixties, although Robert Sheppard's book deals more with Sinclair's books than his biography. Like Bracewell, Sinclair deconstructs through the lenses of culture and art - this time it's the flaneur and psychogeography and not pop art, along with the occult and the influence of the beats, that underpins the book's subject.

Sheppard brings his idea of tentative poetics to bear on Sinclair's writing, discussing how fictional histories and futures illuminate the present, allowing the reader to construct her own version of things, but learning much on the way. Sinclair's books are mines of geographical, sociological, historical and cultural information, re-imagined by and filtered through the author's obsessions. The book considers Sinclair's poetry first, acknowledging its difficulties, but also showing how it underpins and informs the later work. Second comes the 'mere fiction' of White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings, Downriver and Landor's Tower, followed by a chapter focussing on 'Ambulatory Documentary'. Throughout there is considerable discussion of Sinclair's film, TV, and journalistic activities which accompany and inform his more mainstream projects.

There's a sense that Iain Sinclair may have had his 15 minutes of fame - perhaps many times over - and this might go some way to explaining the current spate of books on this intriguing and accomplished author. Sheppard's is a readable and in some ways straightforward book, as befits Northcote House's 'Writers and their Work' series, but I couldn't help but wish for a more suitably oblique and innovative take on Sinclair. I would also have liked to have seen the rook reviews Sheppard undertook as research for this volume published as an appendix.

A few years back, Iain Sinclair worked with Rachel Lichenstein on the
Rodinsky's Room project and publication, and later followed it through with some other smaller book projects. Lichenstein has just published the first of a trilogy of books focussing on particular streets, Brick Lane being the first. (I am particularly looking forward to the one on Portobello Road, where I spent many teenage Saturdays.) Much of this current book is reported memoirs and histories from long-term residents of the street, mingled with an historical and social overview provided by Lichenstein. The layout and structure is slightly awkward - particularly when full page quotes appear in the middle of chapters, interrupting the flow - and in some places the writing is awkward and clunky. But in the main this is a fantastic down-to-earth and wide-ranging volume populated by some intriguing characters and their stories (including, it has to be said, a couple of awful local poets).


Stonelight, like On Brick Lane, is a bit of a mixed bag. You can almost read it as volume 5 of a magazine, as it is part of a series of volumes which gather up various 'Footnotes on a Landscape'. I came across a mention of the book on an Eno website and although Stonelight does indeed feature a discussion of Eno's music and its relationship to Stafford Beer's cybernetic theories, it is more rooted in the artistic and natural landscapes of West Cornwall, with a teatime interview with artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, a discussion of Tony O'Malley's paintings in relation to place, as well as a discussion of place names in the Cotswolds and an attempt to answer the question 'Who Put the Zen in Zennor?'

This sense of place and time informs much of David Whittaker's writing and art, and is clearest in his excellent (and beautifully reproduced) photographs, and perhaps in his liking for haiku. I have to say I take issue with his argument that haiku is a good way to engage with place, although I understand the notion of them being a snapshot in words. However, I think the articles, interviews and photographs here are informative, useful and well-written. I look forward to further volumes in the series.

The over-large format of Harry Cory Wright's
Journey Through the British Isles both accentuates the 'preciousness' of the volume and allows for superb photographic reproduction, with each plate given a full page to breathe in, with usually only the title and details on the white page opposite. Wright describes his photographs as 'individual moments of fairly precise engagement with the landscape', and intelligently articulates ideas of preparation for and undertaking of his journey, and how one photograph leads to another, each being informed by those that preceed, and informing those that follow. I have to say I found his foreword far more interesting than his work: beyond the startling detail and sense of composition, I don't find anything to 'see'. There is no hidden meaning, no secret texture of the landscape, nothing beyond the 'wow' factor we all get in the presence of landscape writ large. It's difficult to see Wright's photos of Cornwall, for example, as anything more than tourist engagement with the surface beauty of the place.

In his foreword to the book, Adam Nicolson claims that Wright captures 'many deep reservoirs of beauty' which remain within the degraded British landscape. This beauty seems to be simply a romantic clichˇ, for Wright engages neither with the possibility of beauty
within or in contrast to the degredation, nor does he explore the tension between the beauty he finds and the spoilt landscape elsewhere. This is biscuit tin photography in an expensive coffee-table format.


Ivon Hitchens found a beauty in the landscape, too; mainly in the local Sussex area where he lived for much of his life. His painting caught the essence of place(s), at times reducing the scene to the simplest compositions of mark and colour. (We might usefully compare them to the idea of haiku that David Whittaker explores.) Peter Khoroche's monograph has long been the definitive reference volume on Hitchens, and it has now been revised and enlarged, to include a different number of reproductions. It's a fairly straightforward biography-cum-study of the life and work of Hitchens, which gives plenty of room for both the art and the artist to speak for themselves. We can follow the gradual simplification of the mark-making, as well as the development of Hitchens' drawing, and the tangential or parallel figurative paintings, and marvel at how much he could make of so little through prolonged viewing and artistic and visual (re-)engagement. Hitchens is still in many ways a neglected or ignored artist. Let's hope this timely reissue will help change things for the better.

Simon Foxell's Mapping London brings together a diverse and stimulating collection of maps of the capital. Diagrammatic, invented, historical and nonsensical; whether painstakingly inked as comic or medieval document, mass-produced like the Monopoly board or Underground map, or taken by satellite, these maps all attempt to make sense of the city, and offer a glorious sense of place, time and history as we try to make sense of their differences and similarities. Foxell has done a superb job in gathering this work together and Black Dog are to be congratulated again on their production and design skills.

        © Rupert Loydell 2008