British art critic John Berger, RIP

This video says about itself:

John Berger or The Art of Looking (2016)

7 November 2016

Art, politics and motorcycles – on the occasion of his 90th birthday John Berger or the Art of Looking is an intimate portrait of the writer and art critic whose ground-breaking work on seeing has shaped our understanding of the concept for over five decades. The film explores how paintings become narratives and stories turn into images, and rarely does anybody demonstrate this as poignantly as Berger.

Berger lived and worked for decades in a small mountain village in the French Alps, where the nearness to nature, the world of the peasants and his motorcycle, which for him deals so much with presence, inspired his drawing and writing.

The film introduces Berger‘s art of looking with theatre wizard Simon McBurney, film-director Michael Dibb, visual artist John Christie, cartoonist Selçuk Demiral, photographer Jean Mohr as well as two of his children, film-critic Katya Berger and the painter Yves Berger.

The prelude and starting point is Berger‘s mind-boggling experience of restored vision following a successful cataract removal surgery. There, in the cusp of his clouding eyesight, Berger re-discovers the irredeemable wonder of seeing.

Realised as a portrait in works and collaborations, this creative documentary takes a different approach to biography, with John Berger leading in his favourite role of the storyteller.

Director: Cherie Dvorák

By Chris Nineham in Britain:

Seeing red: the world view of John Berger

Thursday 5th December 2016

CHRIS NINEHAM reflects on the hugely influential life and work of the radical writer and art critic, who died on Monday at the age of 90

JOHN BERGER played an implausible, almost impossible, role in late 20th-century culture.

Self-exiled from Britain in the early 1960s and living half his time in a French mountain village, his words from afar provided an intimate and engaged commentary on some of the defining injustices and outrages of the era and some of the most important radical art criticism ever produced.

He wrote a series of books about the lives of peasants and migrant workers, including the photo documentary with Jean Mohr called A Seventh Man, which should be required reading in schools around Europe today.

The opening note to the reader prophetically suggests that “to outline the experience of the migrant worker and to relate this to what surrounds him — both physically and historically — is to grasp more [than any survey of] the political reality of the world at this moment.

“The subject is Europe. The meaning is global. Its theme is unfreedom.”

Despite his supreme distance from intellectual fads or fashions, he directed probably the most important experiment in the documentary form ever made for British TV.

The four-part series Ways of Seeing was a mind-blowing assault on the elitist, sexist assumptions of the capitalist cultural establishment.

It managed to be both iconoclastic and deeply insightful at the same time by insisting on locating art and artist both in their historical moment and the relations of artistic production.

Strong stuff for the BBC.

He followed it up with a stream of essays and books on art and culture that have proved, perhaps more than any other body of work in the English language, the enormous importance that creatively handled Marxism has for the appreciation of art and culture. Some of the best of them have recently been published in two excellent Verso volumes, Portraits and Landscapes.

Ever sensitive to individual artists’ dilemmas and achievements and, at the same time enraged by the barriers to self-expression produced by a society based on profit rather than need, Berger was the wise alter ego of every artist struggling to bear witness to a more and more degraded world.

His book The Success and Failure of Picasso and the recently republished essay The Moment of Cubism together constitute one of the most convincing accounts of the potential and the limits of artistic liberation.

Because he perceived culture as the active interplay between human creativity and stubborn, given reality, again and again his essays shed light on both the artists’ work and their world, as exemplified in this comment on the Romantics:

“Romanticism represented and acted out the full predicament of those who created the goddess of Liberty, put a flag in her hands and followed her only to find that she led them into an ambush: the ambush of reality.

“It is this predicament which explains the two faces of romanticism: its exploratory adventurousness and its morbid self-indulgence.”

Berger tended to radicalise with time. Looking back in 1979 to an essay he wrote in 1968 about the importance of a political approach to art, he admitted that in some respects he might have become more tolerant:

“I now believe there is an absolute incompatibility between art and private property, or between art and state property — unless the state is a plebeian democracy. Property must be destroyed before imagination can develop further.”

His radicalism was wholly reliable and outspoken. Awarded the Booker Prize in 1972 for his novel G, on air he denounced the slave-derived wealth of the Booker family and donated half the prize money to the British chapter of the Black Panther Party.

It is said that he was accompanied to the ceremony by a member of the organisation, who urged him to “keep it cool.”

See also here.

John Berger, one of the most prominent left-wing figures in the field of English-language art criticism for over 60 years, died January 2 at the age of 90: here.

Petrels, how to identify them

This video from Britain says about itself:

16 December 2016

Petrels are seldom-seen, unfamiliar birds to many of us, but both species: Storm Petrel and Leach’s Petrel are actually very common breeding birds and frequently encountered off our shores during passage. Both are small black and white birds that seem to defy the rough seas they are often encountered in. How can we tell the two species apart?

Feeding pigeons is ‘terrorism’ in Britain

This video from Britain says about itself:

9 December 2016


Regulation Of Investigatory Powers Act Criticisms

The British government has treated journalism as ‘terrorism’.

According to Dutch daily De Volkskrant, 29 December 2016, the authorities of Workington town in England spy on citizens feeding pigeons; basing themselves on the ‘anti-terrorist’ Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

In Bromley local authority, RIPA is used for spying on ‘anti-social people’, in Caerphilly in Wales to prosecute illegal tattoo shops.

British animals, plants threatened

This June 2016 video is called Wild Britain: wetlands.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

One in 10 of our native species is under threat

Friday 16th December 2016

PETER FROST reviews 2016 in nature, a year in which Britain’s native flora and fauna have been under attack like never before

AS THE year comes to its end our countryside can be really spectacular and full of surprises.

Over our coastal marshes, huge honking skeins of geese fill the spectacular if grey skies. Migrant swans in huge numbers arrive on the Ouse washes.

The earliest of delicate blossom braves the frost far too early and blood red holly berries announce Christmas is near. Bunches of mistletoe are dragged down from the orchards and taken to market.

A fall of early snow gives us the chance to realise just how many mammals have visited in the night and left their tracks. Is this a deer? A badger? A hare? I love the chance to play nature’s Sherlock Holmes.

Seals still brave winter’s storms all around our coast and winter waders arrive battered but unbeaten by their epic journeys.

Yet for all these wonderful sights and sounds all in the countryside is not well. A recent report is ringing warning bells and they are ones we ignore at our peril.

Today more than one in 10 of our native wildlife species are threatened with extinction. Overall the numbers of the nation’s most endangered creatures have plummeted by two-thirds since 1970 and that horrific decline continues apace.

Over that half a century, one in six species of our native British animals, birds, fish and plants have all been lost.

Deforestation, industrialisation and increasingly unsustainable methods of agriculture — greedy for profit and subsidy — have left Britain among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

Add to that the long term effects of climate change and the outlook becomes even darker. Many of our ecosystems have gone past the threshold at which they may no longer reliably meet society’s needs.

Earlier this year 50 of our most serious and concerned conservation organisations got together to produce a massive report that spells out the destructive impact of intensive farming, urbanisation and climate change on habitats from farmland and hills to rivers and the coast.

The State of Nature report assessed 8,000 UK species and found that one in 10 are threatened with extinction.

Among those species under threat are more than half of farmland birds including the turtle dove and corn bunting that are in danger of extinction. The report found that the fall in wildlife over the last four decades cannot be blamed only on historical harm. The destruction of our countryside and wildlife continues and the pace is sharpening.

“It wasn’t just all back in ’70s and ’80s, it is still happening now,” said Mark Eaton, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the lead author of the report.

Sir David Attenborough, in his foreword to the report, says: “The natural world is in serious trouble and it needs our help as never before. We continue to lose the precious wildlife that enriches our lives and is essential to the health and wellbeing of those who live in Britain.”

Overall, the new report found that 56 per cent of species declined between 1970 and 2013, and 53 per cent between 2002 and 2013. If that carries on we will end up with just half of our natural wildlife to populate our landscape.

Insects and other invertebrates, which make up 97 per cent of all animal species, are particularly struggling, with 59 per cent in decline since 1970. As pollinators they are key in the success of both wild plants and cultivated food crops. Just as important is the role that invertebrates play in keeping soil healthy. Healthy soil is literally the bedrock of a healthy environment and the basis of the complicated food chains that are such a feature of a thriving natural system.

In past Ramblings I have commented on some specific species in decline, like the great crested newts, hedgehogs and water voles that have suffered from changes in the countryside.

We have also reported how so-called country sports like grouse and pheasant shoots have destroyed natural moorland with burning and draining and encouraged the murder of rare birds of prey by unscrupulous game-keepers.

The draining of bogs and fens has harmed many species including the large marsh grasshopper, while the degradation of heaths has caused the sand lizard population to fall.

The toad, skylark and beetles such as the wonderfully named wormwood moonshiner are among the species of special conservation concern in the UK that have fallen in number by 67 per cent since 1970 overall, and by 12 per cent between 2002 and 2013.

There are some successes however, some bats, including the soprano pipistrelle, have increased thanks to new legal protection and the creation of new reed-beds has enabled bitterns to recover from just 11 booming males in 1997 to 156 in 2015.

Some species have also been reintroduced, including the hazel dormouse, the large blue butterfly and the short haired bumblebee.

Organisations like the RSPB, the National Parks and the county based wildlife trusts are fighting hard to protect both wildlife and landscape but Tory government policy means they are fighting with one hand tied behind their back.

Our new minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Andrea Leadsom has done nothing apart from making some encouraging noises to the shooting and hunting lobbies and allowing the fracking industry to continue to ravish the countryside.

I suppose that could have been expected from a Tory lady who despite what she claimed in her polished-up CV had a total lack of top-level political experience and a complete absence of track record in farming or environmental areas.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is one of the ministries that will feel the greatest impact from Brexit. Leadsom and her department have a wide brief — from farming to fishing to floods and from pollution to protection of the natural world. But how will she handle it?

The entire future of our countryside is far too important to be left to an ignorant and inexperienced minister and her greedy farming and shooting pals.