It’s been a while since I’ve done a year-end round up, and what better year to return to this old-timey internet tradition than Blazing Bin 2020. Since I already touched on some of the hard goings-on in my previous post, I’d like to focus on more lighthearted fare this time. This list is not complete, but covers what I’m comfortable sharing, having recalibrated how I communicate here. Get cozy, pour yourself a seasonal beverage, and join this tour of my 2020 highlights, in no particular order.
To my surprise, I found delight in learning how to grow food, and how to make the most of the sun’s rhythm. We were already growing rosemary, shiso, mint, and lavender, but this spring we expanded our sky garden to five large planters and around 20 herbs and greens, in all.
We even grew several kilos of sweet potatoes, all on our roof. It’s difficult to convey the pure satisfaction of eating sorrel soup made from your own crop, or making a massive tub of pickled shiso leaves for the winter; suffice to say I’m glad to have had this experience, and hope to continue it in some manner in our new garden.
Perhaps the least expected, but most fun side effect of quarantine was getting to know the local crows a little better. Thanks to numerous trees and parks, there are tons of them in East London, and I’ve long been interested in these clever and curious birds. Making acquaintance with a crow family near our place turned out to be a lot of fun. We’ve been spoiling them with dog kibble and cashews since spring, and now that we’re moving not too far away, I hope they’ll come visit. In the meantime, I’m getting to know my new neighbourhood crow-crew, and they’re proving to be even more brave, and supremely hilarious. There is a highlight reel of the entire crow endeavour here. Click below for cute and comical moments from this summer.
Books I particularly enjoyed
- The Anatomical Venus, Joanna Ebenstein
- Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami
- Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath Of Violence, Judith Hermann
- Dune Trilogy, Frank Herbert
- Baudelaire: Flowers of Evil in Pattern and Prose, B. Egan, C. Bower Alcock
- William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books
And I’ve continued to occasionally crack open Swann’s Way, which remains a treasured sensory extravaganza.
G and I managed to catch the incredible, sprawling William Blake and Aubrey Beardsley exhibitions just before lockdown. Both of these shows were the kind of once-in-a-lifetime spectacles I’d thought I could only dream of, but they materialised on this very plane and made me the happiest art-fiend in existence. As if I needed more reasons to adore Tate Britain. Here’s me at the Beardsley show, as well as posing for a Beardsley tribute life drawing session.
Soon after, I created Beardsley-inspired cover art for the spectacular Prince Poppycock’s upcoming single with the inimitable Selene Luna. Beardsley, baroque debauchery, champagne, and cake – that’s many of my boxes ticked! I delighted in every stippled dot, and when we had a brief summer lockdown-lift, I went to see the Beardsley exhibition again. The song will be released soon, and I’ll update this post with the full image then. For now, a sneak peek:
Work on Alien Botany continued, despite my solo exhibition in Greece being postponed.
I was invited to be part of Auxiliary Magazine’s summer issue, so I decided to create a quarantine-themed editorial, working with the location, model, and style team available to me in lockdown: my flat, me. Designer Rachel Freire lent her creations to the project, which contributed to the dreamy, surreal mood I was after. It had been a while since I’d shot something just for fun, and this turned out to be a highly enjoyable endeavour. We even got the cover:
Honestly, what’s better than swanning around in dystopian couture in the perfect comfort of one’s home?
G and I armed ourselves with kazoos and recorded a Black Sabbath parody at the height of The Great TP Hysterics. Warning: flashing lights. Watch here. Perhaps more elegantly, we also collaborated on something I’d been meaning to make for years: a photo version of “The Death of Chatterton” by Henry Wallis. I often visit this painting at Tate Britain, having been infatuated with it for some time.
Much of my 2020 was spent on reflection, meditation, and other necessary, inestimable, invisible work, which will make its way into everything I do in due time.
My companion of thirteen years, Micron, has entered her golden years and undergone a major personality change. This formerly aloof and independent creature is now a wisened, affectionate cuddlemuffin, and I’m in awe of the transformation. She’s always been my fierce protector, but over the years she’s become triply so, sensitive to even minor changes in things like my pulse, rushing over and either laying a paw of assurance on me, or climbing on my chest to comfort. I’d never had the honour of sharing a home with a senior animal before, and have been relishing having this time to spend with her.
In February, I visited one of my favourite cities on earth: Prague. It was a mind blowing trip, especially because the only time I’d been there was back in 1999. Seeing a place after that long can feel like walking through a dream, and that’s exactly how this felt to me. I spent my time in the manner I love most – walking across every bit of the city I could. My curiosity for reliquaries was tickled by the silk-shrouded breasts of Saint Anne hidden at the treasury of Saint Vitus Cathedral, and my passion for ornate candy-box churches was fanned at the art-nouveau masterpiece, Saint Peter’s Basilica, where I’d been back in ‘99 and where I found myself thrice in February. The basilica is painted in floor-to-ceiling brilliant folk motifs and makes me feel like I’ve entered an Ivan Bilibin fairytale.
I spent an afternoon at the Franz Kafka Museum, walked form the castle all the way down into the belly of the city, pretended it was la belle epoque at fancy cafes, and fulfilled my life-long dream of sketching one of the mummies at Hrdlicka Museum of Anthropology. I got the place to myself, and even received permission to photograph the entire collection (private use only). The supersaturation of this trip certainly helped fuel me during lockdown.
In late summer, when the lockdown lifted in the UK, G and I rented a tiny campervan for the first time and set off for Wales. We hiked, woke up in forests, complicated camp food, inhaled wild blueberries by the handful, scrambled up mountains, drank hot thermos tea by enchanted lakes, and drove the self-contained mini spaceship across wholly phantasmagoric landscapes, with wine and the Mabinogion lulling us to sleep at night. Also: explored a slate quarry, where we met stunning wild goats, and spent a day in an uncanny redwood-and-birch forest growing on mossy sand to the sound of crashing waves; its green dunes are strewn with yellow flowers – home to wild bunnies and grazing ponies. And there were seemingly infinite waterfalls and castles, of course. Most of the latter were closed, but we did manage to climb the tower at Dolbadarn Castle, picnic at Gwrych Castle, and commune with old forces at the ruins of Castell Dinas Brân, my favourite of the three by far. I have innumerable photos of both Prague and Wales to get through, and I hope to share them here at a later date.
Camping and cross-country drives have become a constant for us over the years. The simplicity imposed by constraints of necessity and available space offers respite from the tangles of modern life. I’ve been incorporating a bit of this restraint into my day-to-day, to great effect.
This house feels like something I dreamed up, and maybe it is, being less than five minutes’ walk from my favourite of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries, with the windows facing in all the correct directions, and the attic studio I’ve always wanted. Our offer was accepted just in time for my birthday, and we picked up the keys and got to renovations as soon as the campervan was returned, Welsh fog still in our hair. One of my favourite childhood toys was a hammer, and, as a teen, I even made a living doing assorted construction work, so getting back into it has been a fun and rewarding experience. I’ve been grateful to have this diversion of taming a base of our own – something wholly ours, not inherited, or otherwise given. The cherry topping all this is the treasures we’ve found while working, among them a mended child’s glove, and two Victorian-era photographs hidden behind the fireplace mantle of a once-pink-wallpapered bedroom.
We’re now to the point where the basics are in place enough to begin considering unpacking and maybe even decor. I’m keeping a house scrapbook here.
I still use Instagram as a visual diary and enjoy Twitter for its bite-size delivery system, but this year, I finally stopped using Facebook (except my commercial page, for now). I’ve long felt that the soapbox communication model is poison to the already-crumbling way we connect to one another. To me, there is nothing “social” about the idea that general declarations are a substitute for direct communication; it only reinforces a hollow veneer of care and intimacy, and keeps long-dead relationships on meaningless life support. I choose to let what must fall away stay hewn. I choose meaningful, personal contact over a stream of flaccid “see me” flags flapping in the void. And I choose to keep my writing here, on my own turf, now that it’s been long enough (since I decided that monetised content ruined the internet) for me to feel at ease here.
With that, I’m opening comments again for the first time in a few years. This blog is different now, and so are the times; at least I’ll know that if we talk here, it’s because we choose to, not because it’s expected. Let’s hope 2021 sees brighter days. Let’s reach out to those we genuinely care about, as best we can. Let’s seek quality over quantity in all things.