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Patrick the perverse

The weird world of Patrick Hughes held James Heartfield spellbound

Patrick Hughes' Perverspective at Flowers East is the most arresting and extraordinary art on show in London or anywhere else. His perverse perspectives turn the world inside out, throw you into reverse, and move in a way they just should not. One Glaswegian friend described walking forwards and backwards past the Hughes in the Gallery of Modern Art there and laughing out loud each time the unexpected spasm of space turned the wrong way again. After three or four trips he had collected a whole train of compatriots, all giggling away. 'Perhaps it is a video installation?' somebody asked, unable to understand the mechanics of this perverse perspective. But there are no moving parts apart from you.

All two-dimensional rendering of perspective is a form of illusion, Hughes explains to me: the rows of houses, books or soldiers that recede towards the vanishing point in a conventional perspective are not really receding, they are just getting smaller. Your mind tells you that further away is smaller and so you accept the illusion of three-dimensional depth in a two-dimensional space.

Hughes perverts the illusion of perspective yet further. His perverse perspectives appear to be two-dimensional illusions of perspective, like any painting. Because the medium is perspective, the subject matter is often buildings, lines of trees or bookshelves-anything with enough detail to feed the eye, and tempt it to believe that it is looking at normal space, or at the two-dimensional illusion of space. But you only have to move to see the rules of perception turned inside out. Bob to the left, and what you see changes. Of course it does, you say: move your head and a different angle is revealed. But with a perverse perspective when you bob to the left, what is revealed is the view from the right. Lean further left, and all the information pouring into your eyes says you are moving yet further to the right. Go right, and suddenly you feel yourself move to the left. In Hughes' exhibitions you will be struck by people rocking to and fro, mesmerised, or walking backwards and forwards, unsteadily.

Like the two-dimensional rendering of three-dimensional space, the perverspectives are an illusion. But they are not two-dimensional. If you look sideways on, you can see that they are in fact great pyramids and ziggurats of wood, projecting out from the walls, with lines converging towards single points. The pictures they bear tell you, in the language of the two-dimensional illusion of three-dimensional space, that these points are the vanishing point, and that the lines are receding towards it. But this is perspective inside out. Where the two-dimensional illusion of a vanishing point rests somewhere in the middle of the page, trying to trick you into seeing it recede, a Hughes vanishing point projects forward, so that it is closer to you than anything else. You see it further away, just as you see the vanishing point of two-dimensional rendering of three-dimensional space further away. But actually, it is the closest thing to you. In fact everything that looks close to you is really at a distance. And once space is inside out it feels as if all bets are off.

The remarkable journey to the other side of the vanishing point is told in the book that accompanies the exhibition, an intelligent account of Hughes' art and life by John Slyce. The revelation for me was the unity of the work. Dealing with Hughes' love of turning things around and making you see things anew, Slyce's Patrick Hughes: peverspectives tells of a lifetime of invention and humour, from that first moment when, hiding from the Luftwaffe under the stairs, he first noticed the way that the inverted stairs above him went to another place entirely.

Talking in his grand east London studio, Hughes is telling me about a recent lecture to the Psychology Association on visual perception, 'a misnomer, I told them. It isn't visual perception. It's perception. My pictures show that you see with the whole of your body as much as with your eyes. They were very taken with stereoscopic view-the way your two eyes place objects in space. It is more likely that we have two eyes for the same reason that you have two kidneys: evolution just gave us a spare in case you lose one.

'My pictures show that perception is a relationship between the observer and his world. When you stalk your prey you look at it from many angles moving around it. Parallax, the way that you see your own movements in the revelation of new angles and vistas, is a relationship. Most illusions are disappointing, because they tie the viewer down, and make him cover one eye, and then ask "what can you see?". Well the only proper answer in that condition is "Anything you want me to see! Just don't put my other eye out".'

Hughes is proud that his perverspectives do not tie down the viewer, but liberate him and use his own movements and viewpoints as part of the effect. 'The truth is I'm not really interested in rows of houses, or trees or soldiers. In fact I am not really interested in perspective. I am interested in the relationship between the viewer and the picture.'

Patrick Hughes' Perverspective is at Flowers East until 25 October.

Patrick Hughes: perverspectives by John Slyce is published by Flowers East, 30hbk, 17.95pbk

Signs of the times

The Bucharest palaces of the late Nicolae Ceausescu are to be opened up to tourists, complete with staff, for those wishing to spend 2500 to be a 'dictator for a day'

'Just as Diana had to sit on her own outside the Taj Mahal, I sat on my own outside the Queensgate centre, greeting the constituents. What should have been the happiest day of my life was the most miserable'
Peterborough MP Helen Brinton describes one of the 'many parallels' between herself and the Princess of Wales

Jeanne Cummins was awarded 10 000 compensation after being sacked from her job as a secretary by Kingstonian Football Club because she 'cried for a week' over the death of Diana. Clearly, in today's tearful football culture, crying for a mere week is unforgivable

Hot on the heels of the relaunch of Spam (slogan: 'too good to be forgotten') another old favourite is back in the news. The Queen Mother's birthday was celebrated in best Second World War fashion, with a march played on pots and pans. A spokesman for the Welsh guards said the music had been played because it was 'jolly, cheerful and very British'. The Queen Mum was 'enchanted', and requested that it be titled 'Royal birthday'.

'For many of them, a week or two in Ibiza, drinking until they lie in their own excretions, is the high point of their existence'
Theodore Dalrymple on his favourite subject-Britsh 'savages'. (Michael Birkett, the vice-consul in Ibiza, had just quit in disgust. Dalrymple described the job as consisting 'almost exclusively of rescuing repulsive people from the consequences of their own disgusting conduct')

'African Christianity is not far removed from witchcraft'
A leading US bishop responds to an African bishop's description of homosexuality as a 'white man's disease'

'To be honest, I think you fit the profile quite well'
A Wolverhampton University admissions tutor replies to an undercover journalist applying for a place on the strength of three 'Unclassified' grades at A-level

'It weren't water, Peter'
Paul Dainton, former NUM delegate, reminds Peter Mandelson of a visit he made earlier this year to Kellingley colliery in Yorkshire-one of Mandelson's most famous photo-opportunities. The remark refers to an incident when Mandelson was descending into the pit in the miners' cages. One of the men is alleged to have relieved himself on the minister without portfolio's head

And on the subject of Mandelson, the man should be added to our 'name and shame' list of so-called football fans who didn't watch England World Cup games. While Tony Blair was glued to the England v Argentina match, preparing to give in-depth interviews on the subject the following day, Mandelson sat reading newspapers in the House of Commons tea room with his back to the television


Rattling football's cages

Author and former hooligan Dougie Brimson (above) spoke to Carlton Brick about why he is standing as the Football Party candidate for mayor of London

'I know that the Football Party is rather ridiculous, but for a lot of people football is all they've got.' Two years ago in his book England, My England, hooligan-turned-author Dougie Brimson half-jokingly suggested a single issue political party devoted to the football fan. The suggestion prompted many letters of support and Brimson recently announced his intention to stand as the Football Party candidate in London's forthcoming mayoral election. He knows that 'there are things more important than football, but this-the biggest sport in the world-cares so little about what the fans think and say. What I'm looking to do is rattle a few cages'.

Brimson is no fan of the corporate domination of football. Nor is he cheering on the institutions of New Football such as the government Task Force and the Football Supporters' Association (FSA)- 'archetypal post-Fever Pitch fans. If they weren't in the FSA they'd be on some local council committee'. Mention of the 'so-called anti-racism crusade' prompts further criticism: 'I don't like campaigns like Kick It Out. All they have done is reinforce an idea that football grounds are hotbeds of racism.' For Brimson, 'there is a difference between physical violence and verbal abuse. If you hurl abuse in a football ground that does not necessarily mean you believe it-it's simply designed to provoke a reaction. Hurling verbal abuse is why people go to football'.

Not that anybody has to take it lying down: 'There are certain things that I find totally unacceptable, and when I hear them I will register my opinion, not to the police, stewards or the club, but to the individuals responsible. If people want to chant racist abuse, fine. But if they do it in front of me I'll tell them what I think.'

One journalist described the Football Party as the start of a 'working class backlash'. But Brimson harbours no such illusions. He knows that 'this is not the class struggle', and that he does not stand even a sporting chance of getting elected (politics and football are not that close, even now). Even if his own manifesto is somewhat at odds with his apparent commitment to free speech, his candidature might make the mayoral election a marginally more interesting prospect.

For more information on the Football Party, write to Fandom, PO Box 766, Hemel Hempstead HP1 2TU.

Carlton Brick is coordinator of Libero!, the football supporters' network


Gonzo cinema

Toby Marshall heard Terry Gilliam explain why he has made a film of Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke, Hunter S Thompson's alter ego

'The world of political correctness didn't exist when Hunter wrote the book, and hopefully won't exist after this film comes out. I've been feeling since the eighties that we've gone through such a constricted time when everything has kind of tightened up. Everybody is frightened to say what they feel, frightened to live in an extraordinary, outrageous way, and it's time to take off those chains. The book has already spoken its mind. Now it's our turn.'

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson's 27-year old account of his legendary drug-fuelled trip to 'the city of eternal dreams', has been filmed by Terry Gilliam, director of Twelve Monkeys, Time Bandits and Brazil, and a founder member of the Monty Python team. A grossly exaggerated tale of wild hallucinations and equally excessive behaviour which initiated the trend known as 'Gonzo journalism' (defined by Thompson as 'a style of reporting based on William Faulkner's idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism'), Gilliam conceived the film partly in reaction to the current climate of restraint. 'It's getting crazy', he told me. A woman sued McDonald's after she spilled a hot drink on herself, and 'now we all have to drink tepid coffee'. To Gilliam's way of thinking, restrictions on free speech are just as absurd: 'I want to be able to call you a bastard if you are a bastard...If someone is hurt by that, learn to live with it.'

With its opening shot, the film version launches us straight over the top. Thompson's alter ego, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his sidekick, the bloated Dr Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro playing a fictionalised version of Thompson's lawyer friend Oscar Zeta Acosta) are speeding towards the Mint 400 off-road motorcycle race with a carload of mind-bending substances. In the following few days, they get into a chain of absurd situations, first trying to cover a race which has become invisible due to the dust thrown up by the dirt-bikes, then going on to cover a national convention on drug abuse while stoned to within an inch of permanent brain damage.

The movie is highly entertaining, despite the poor visual quality of the trip sequences. Considering that Gilliam is an acknowledged master of fantasy film, it is disappointing to see him fielding monsters that look as if they have lumbered off the set of Star Trek. Fear and Loathing also falls uncomfortably between two cinematic styles: part docu-drama with footage of Vietnam and a concluding monologue on the failure of the sixties generation, and part drug-inspired vision. Well worth seeing through the dust and the haze none the less.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas opens on 13 November. The book of the same name by Hunter S Thompson with original illustrations by Ralph Steadman is published by Flamingo

Gonzo journo

From its inception in the early sixties the New Journalism promised to shake editors and readers out of their complacency. Attempting to overcome the old binary division between reporters and novelists, New Journalists had little interest in conventional notions of objectivity. The important thing was to be there and to be a participant in your own story.

Hunter S Thompson took this approach a stage further. With Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which first appeared as a series of articles in Rolling Stone magazine, he transformed the joyous, stream of consciousness New Journalism into a river of first-person paranoia which became known as Gonzo Journalism. It was a fitting response to the end of the sixties and the dawning of a new and dangerous decade.

I was 14 when I first read Fear and Loathing. By that time (the cusp of the eighties), it was the inspiration for a generation of fanzine writers, including Loaded's founding editor James Brown who used to plug Thompson's books in his mag Attack on Bzag. Thompson appeared then as Uncle Duke in the broadsheet cartoon Doonesbury. But nowadays he is not confined to the comic strips. With its highly emotional emphasis on being fearful of a loathsome world, a great deal of 'straight' newspaper reporting has been converted to the spirit of Gonzo. Having Hunter on the big screen is an apposite reminder that we're all Gonzos now.

Graham Barnfield teaches American studies at Brunel University


Raging against calm

'Men in general are not very good at emoting, at sharing our vulnerability or sensitivity. It's good to be reminded that there is nothing wrong with it.' So said health minister Paul Boateng in support of the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a government-sponsored health initiative which aims to stop young male Mancunians doing an Ian Curtis and committing suicide. Other sponsors include Sankey's Soap nightclub, Ear To The Ground dj collective, dance radio station Galaxy 102 and Tony Wilson's Factory Records. In Manchester it is cool to be CALM.

While the sponsors are raising awareness about 'the need to talk' outside targeted venues, CALM volunteers have been handing out plastic bags (with large ventilation holes) containing leaflets on dealing with despondency and depression. When I told one volunteer what he could do with his information pack, he lost his temper and came after me. I only averted an outbreak of CALM rage by climbing into the nearest taxi.

There is nothing wrong with seeking advice on personal problems because how you choose to deal with them is a private matter. I have no

gripe against the Samaritans or the Citizens Advice Bureau which treat personal matters as such. But when private concerns are turned into a public issue, that is different; and maybe CALM is something to get worked up about.

If, like me, you object to the intrusiveness of CALM, you will be lectured about the relatively high suicide rate among young men in Manchester. In 1995 the official suicide figure for men was 45, but this also includes death by 'undetermined injuries' which could have been accidental or homicidal. If the statistics are unreliable, it is even more doubtful whether a poster and an information pack will do anything to reduce the suicide rate. In the thankfully rare instances of suicide the many variables at play are unlikely to be offset by a sticker with a phone number or a volunteer imbued with missionary zeal.

CALM and its government sponsors are certain that the diminished status of men has contributed to low esteem, depression and suicide. Boateng opined that 'young men are having difficulty confronting issues of their role now. Previous generations haven't had to address that'. But if the much-discussed 'crisis of masculinity' really was causing widespread suicidal depression among young men, it is hard to see how the CALM approach would do anything to help. One of the aims of CALM is to persuade young men to respond to personal problems in the way that women have always been encouraged to react: as a victim in need of outside help. In this respect it would tend to confirm the sense of being emasculated, rather than alleviate it.

What was once considered a sign of strength in a man-the ability to keep emotional problems private and the attempt to stay in control-is now seen as the source of our weakness. During Samaritans' Week, the Guardian reported that 'men are more likely to tell a sufferer from depression to snap out of it or to keep quiet about it, or more positively if not more usefully, to be taken to the pub and cheered up or at least made drunk'. If I get depressed I would rather have a stiff drink and severe talking to from a friend than a not-so-goodie bag from a CALM volunteer.

Neil Davenport is a well-adjusted Mancunian music journalist

Reproduced from LM issue 114, October 1998

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