Jamie Seaton

Leaving the bustle of the medina, through the jostling traffic around the rosy city walls – and eventually out into the quiet, shaded lanes of the Palmeraie. Dappled light, birdsong.

A garden, several acres, lost behind high walls; and, within the garden, adrift among the untended palms and shimmering eucalypts, a perfect Art Deco villa – three storeys high, unrestored. Curved glass, wide planes of white stucco, broad verandahs, all sharp in the morning light. High ceilings and floors of cool, figured, grey marble. A staircase in the same material sweeping up to lofty heights. Serene – and feeling a thousand miles from our home deep within the maze of the medina.

It was uninhabited but only a little neglected. Here and there paint was flaking. No water came from the nickel taps to wash the dust from the basins. But the salon still held its furniture, paintings, ornaments, keepsakes – and tabletops of framed photographs in black and white or faded colour: glamorous travels and glittering dinners and fêtes champêtres with family and the once famous: couturiers, ship-owners, politicians, opera singers.

The pond in the garden – geometric, aligned with the façade and quartered by walkways – had turned violent green, choked with a waterweed on which a hundred frogs sat and, left undisturbed, sang their croaky songs. The trees in the garden rustled in the breeze. Shadows moved with slow, geometric precision across the planes and curves of the house as the sun followed its arc. Sitting alone by the pond, I could hear the voices of my companions, distant in the high rooms.


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by TOAST ( 08.04.14 )

Michael Smith

I remember noticing the style beginning to coagulate a little while before the financial crash, in the tail end of that age of aspiration, when it still seemed perfectly normal to eat out every night and go shopping in New York for the weekend. It was around the time the enclave around Broadway Market in Hackney had become the discreet epicentre of East End alternative cool; you could people-watch the early shoots of a sartorial change in the bohemian trendies who’d begun congregating there, going up and down the canal on their old fashioned bicycles, wearing Barbours, brogues, and an increasing number of beards. Not just the stubbly kind we were used to, these were full blown, horticultural, big bushy Bloomsbury Group beards, beards that evoked Eric Gill’s sandal-wearing utopianism, beards from an era before the baby boomers had set the template of post-war pop culture. Nowadays the world and his wife might have one, but these chaps stood out like sore thumbs, looked funny, even a bit lunatic fringe.

But the longer I looked, the more cool types I saw riding those trad bikes with the Brookes saddles, wearing those lovely heritage brands that used to be the preserve of Tory farmers. I’d been scratching my head for some time, disappointed by the era’s seemingly pathetic inability to produce any original style movements, in the way the previous century had done, time and time again, from Elvis and the Teddy Boys onwards. In my youth in the 90s, the most virulent strain of pop culture had a strong future-bound trajectory – new drugs, new music with electronic basslines and rhythms that seemed to be engaged in a kind of space race, hi-tech waterproofs and combats, air-bubbled trainers, a culture with such a strong forward thrust it seemed to be trying to achieve escape velocity.

But then that was a style from an era that believed in the future, a window of opportunity between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers when it seemed like the laissez-faire Anglo-American model had triumphed against all the alternatives, and the future was bright, the future was orange.

We’re no longer living in such times. It gradually occurred to me that waiting for a similar style shift was maybe waiting for the wrong thing. Maybe the beards and the Brookes saddles signified a shift in attitude and lifestyle that was quieter, more modest, but no less interesting, in the sense it had moved the goalposts expected of such style “revolutions” away from variations on the themes of youth, drugs, loud music, and the forward-looking tendencies of an increasingly prosperous society. This early 21st century style seemed to be concerned with things outside these narrow parameters, concerned with things from before and after youth culture. Craft Beards and their associated style began as a shot across the bows of the crass, vapid aspirationalism of the Noughties boom years, a rejection of that shiny bubble culture some of us vaguely sensed must be heading towards a sharp pin. I remember, as the pin drew ever nearer, the visual arts stopped being flashy one-liners made with dead sharks or diamond skulls and started to look hand-drawn again, design started feeling less shiny, more domestic and even home made, food started telling us which farm it was from. But if this all had a distinctly fringe feel in the Noughties, then the crash and its continuing fallout has brought this style and mindset from the fringes into the mainstream, with Tesco and McDonalds adopting hand-carved typefaces on their packaging, and adverts for banks using folkey acoustic guitars to coax you further into debt.

But if the baddies have hijacked and appropriated these stylings, it’s because these stylings resonate so strongly with a sea change in our attitudes. We now appear to be living in a culture that has outlived its former ideologies. If the era of Neoliberal excess was ushered in by the collapse of Communism, then these days, like a car crash in slow motion, belief in the Last System Standing seems to be crumbling too.

In a culture where our trust in the bigger picture and the people who paint it has all but fallen away, beleaguered citizens of the contemporary conundrum are trying to short circuit the need for it; the crafty, beardy style is one symptom of this, an attempt to re-negotiate our basic and immediate social and economic exchanges, re-negotiate our consumerism, attempt to de-scale and humanise our consumerism from within.

We look for meaning in the imagined honesty and transparency of the locally sourced, the crafted, in things that bare the trace of the human hand – heritage brands, craft beers, or single estate, artisan coffee become more and more invested with ideas of integrity, authenticity and nobility in a larger society that seems to have lost these qualities. We have the romantic sense these things might just help to anchor our lives in some simpler sense of meaning, a basic transaction with nature, and also the rest of society, rooting us in both, an umbilical cord to the world in a rudderless society that seems to be heading for the rapids. And so the act of manual labour is also invested with a renewed sense of nobility and honesty. A Norwegian bloke who smokes his own salmon in Hackney is the stuff of East End urban legend. The ex-art students making the coffee have become barristas in those minimal, wooden and distressed brick coffee shops where all the information is hand written on blackboards in chalk, pouring the froth on the flat whites like it was Renaissance marbled paper.

The sparse beauty of these wooden flat white cafes is a good visual shorthand for this style of the era we’re in. It’d be doing it a disservice to imagine it’s an entirely retro style fixated with heritage: it’s not just a pastiche of some vague period before World War II, but with olives and Apple Macs – there’s a strand of modernism in the honesty-with-materials interwoven into this sensibility: I’ve noticed with enjoyment the recent vogue for showing off shit building materials like chipboard or breeze block in fashionable galleries and style bars. The Scandinavian version of this trend seems to cleave to a Calvinist’s invigorating and ennobling sense of a hard-won clarity through austerity, and there’s a beautiful purity in the precise and deliberate design aesthetic of their craft denim and crew neck sweaters which never threatens to descend into anything remotely twee. I have meetings with people I respect, and notice they have the same Muji notepads and pens as me, pens that look like chopsticks, clean, minimal design with a zen-like, sashimi-like purity. I tend to read a lot into all this.

This aesthetic seems like a valid and important expression of where we are and what we want out of the world these days. Our hopes and fears are embodied somewhere within it. Whether this style, or any style, has futurist or heritage-fixated tendencies is sort of missing the important bit: style embodies the spirit of the times, and this style embodies ours.


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by TOAST ( 04.04.14 )

Katherine May is an artist for whom the aesthetic qualities of textiles are just a thread in the fabric of their life cycle. Through research, design and navigation Katherine unspools the stories behind and ahead of textiles, revealing the links between raw materials, objects and their producers. Here, Katherine gives us an insight into her work and one of the raw materials with which she works intimately: real indigo.

Textiles are our everyday and yet they are much overlooked. They are our clothing, our interiors and our building structures. They wrap our wounds. They are part of our identity.

My studio is a small attic room where I do weaving, sampling and designing and where I collect and store. Nooks and crannies are stuffed with thread, piles of fabric, sewing tools and bits of pencil. The room has lots of natural light and access to a roof garden where I grow my dye plants.

My interest in plant-based dyes deepened when I spent some time with the biodynamic grower, Jane Scotter. Working with Jane on her market stall, Fern Verrow, in Spa Terminus I got close to the plant cycles of the produce she grew and sold. I wanted to make links between plants and colouring textiles.

Indigo, often described as the ‘true blue‘ of natural textiles dyes, is associated in many cultures with magical and spiritual rituals – probably because of the processes of change it goes through. The leaves of the Indigofera plant are harvested and, after a series of steps, the compound indica is extracted. Even the dye vat goes through a process of fermentation, with the green water producing blue bubbles on its surface. Fabric dipped into the water turns blue as it passes through the bubbles and oxidises with the air. The process has spellbound people the world over. There is something beautiful about that.

Indigo connects me to the environment. If I am dyeing I go on the roof or into the garden. And because it’s a plant it connects me to a different element in the eco system.

For the London Design Festival I designed an installation called Water – Colour, with the aim of tackling water wastage in the textile industry. In the atrium of Hackney’s Arthaus Building, a former laundry, I dyed around 100metres of cloth over 12 days, recycling vat and rinse water as I went and hanging the cloth on washing lines through the five-storey building. The colour of the cloth went from dark indigo at the bottom of the building to almost white at the top. When the dyeing was done, the dye baths were replaced with sewing machines and I quilted the cloth. The project had a life cycle.

I went to a friend’s wedding with blue hands. After Water – Colour they were blue for a long time. But I wore a blue dress and painted my nails red. I’ve since invested in much thicker gloves.

Today real indigo is used only on a small, craft based level – by people like me. I grow some of the plants myself to help understand the process, but I produce only tiny amounts of indica from them. So, for projects like Water – Colour, I source the powder from an organic farm in South America. Synthetic indigo is widely used as it produces much quicker results than real indigo. But the chemicals used in processing it can be harmful to humans and the environments into which waste water runs.

I’m currently reading Indigo: The Colour that Changed the World, by Catherine Legrand, which is teaching me a lot about China’s indigo culture. Some 2000 years BC, there was a Chinese emperor who thought everyone should dress the colour of the sky. Indigo dye plants grew among vegetable plots, and dyeing occurred in the everyday – a family’s entire wardrobe ended up in the dye vat! The idea was that this connection with the sky would lead them to live peacefully.

There is something peaceful about dyeing cloth in the garden and hanging it on the line. I do it a lot and find it a particularly pleasing experience. It’s having that connectivity with the plant. The ground beneath your feet. The sky above.

www.katherinemay.com

Katherine May wearing the Fine Stripe Apron.


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by TOAST ( 03.04.14 )

Orlando Gough

When my wife Jo and her partner Sally were running their knitwear business from a shop in Clapham in the 1980s, next door was a fish and chip shop run by Fanos Theofanos, or Frank the Fish. His parents had emigrated to England in the sixties. They spoke no English, and lived in a self-imposed ghetto. Frank, on the other hand, despite flaunting his Greekness, was an honorary Brit. His assimilation encompassed even the cooking of our national dish. He was an excellent neighbour, able to offer a range of services, from a plate of chips to the harassment of one’s enemies, a kind, thoughtful and essentially decent version of Reggie Kray. Every day a battered saveloy (a battered saveloy! Heck!) was posted through the letterbox. Jo and Sally would peel off the batter and serve the saveloy to their dogs. An indelible greasy mark appeared on the carpet, which was a worry when posh clients – even occasionally royalty – visited to buy the upmarket knitwear.

Since that time, fish ‘n’ chips, that quintessentially English dish, has just about survived the onslaught of a thousand competing foods – hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken, curry, chow mien, pho, Cornish pasties, falafels, sushi… It has even survived its own miniaturization into poncey canapés.

It’s a difficult dish to get right – the freshness of the fish, the composition of the batter, the nature of the fat, the temperature of the fat, the age of the fat, the kind of potato, the size of the chips, the cooking of the chips. Personally I’m almost always disappointed – the idea is better than the reality; except in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, where having queued for several weeks you can eat your meal on the sea wall, and in Padstow, Cornwall, where you queue for several weeks just to get into the town. Since the town on the opposite side of the river is called Rock, surely Padstow should be renamed Rick, or perhaps St Rick (more Cornish).

Fish and chips a quintessentially English dish? Maybe not, actually. It testifies to the British ability to absorb an enormous range of foreign influences (Kevin Pietersen, the cappuccino, bhangra) while ferociously spitting out stuff that we’re suspicious of (Abu Qatada, Lithuanians). Peter Gabriel versus Nigel Farage. At the moment Nigel Farage seems to be winning the battle.

Fried fish is a Jewish dish, possible Sephardic, possibly Ashkenasi, brought to Britain by Portuguese immigrants in the early 19th century. The obvious similarity to Japanese tempura is surely a coincidence, since Japan was severely isolationist at that time. Chips are from Belgium. Tomato ketchup? It might appear to be 100% American, but it was one of a myriad of catsups that were an important part of the British middle classes in the 19th century. They were a means of preserving perishable ingredients – mushrooms, tomatoes, lemons, walnuts, oysters, anchovies – while concentrating the taste by prolonged cooking in sugar, vinegar and spices. HP Sauce and Lea and Perrins are part of this lineage. The sweet-sour method and the spices surely suggest origins in the Far East, a result of the British mercantile adventure of the 17th and 18th centuries. Tartare Sauce? French, of course. Mushy peas, pickled onions? Our own invention.

Cooking proper fish and chips at home seems out of the question; you really don’t want to be futzing around with a deep fat fryer. St Heston gives a recipe which probably tastes marvelous but takes about 12 hours of ferociously hard work, as well as an investment in several hundred pounds worth of kitchen equipment (usual problem). Cheaper to take the train to Padstow. So in our household we follow St Hugh with his pesky domestic version:

Make roast potatoes, cutting them as small and parboiling them as long as you dare, roasting them in what seems to be an unnecessarily large pan. Ten minutes from the end, make space in the pan and put in a few bay leaves (an excellent addition) and some fish fillets – sea bream works well here.

This is accompanied by a pea puree: cook the peas in boiling salted water, drain them, and then whizz them up with mint leaves, pepper, and as much butter as you can absorb without artery breakdown; and tartare sauce: for four people, make a mayonnaise with 2 egg yolks, a teaspoonful of Dijon mustard, a tablespoonful of white wine vinegar and 300ml oil – a mixture of groundnut and olive oil works well. Add a scant tablespoonful of chopped tarragon, and a tablespoonful each of chopped parsley, chopped capers and finely chopped gherkins.

Serve this wrapped in yesterday’s Daily Mail, so that you can eat while reading HATE PREACHER LEAVES TAXPAYER FUNDED LIFE IN BRITAIN. WE SAY GOOD RIDDANCE etc.

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal. Click here to find out more.


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by TOAST ( 19.03.14 )

TOAST co-founder Jamie Seaton tells Elle Decoration what he is reading, watching and downloading this month.

My favourite piece of music is (Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For? by Nick Cave, for its capture of those pure, amazing, transcendental moments of new love. I’d like to add Schubert’s last three piano sonatas, which seem to weave their threads around our existence and render it gorgeous.

The music I am currently listening to a lot is rebetika – the wild, keening Balkan blues of the 1920s, often played on a bouzouki. A great modern take on this can be heard on Çiğdem Aslan’s album Mortissa.

One of the wonderful things about books is less that they influence one but rather that they seem to coax into the light ideas that one is already groping for. It’s almost a magical process by which one finds oneself led to just the right book, making manifest inchoate feelings or ideas, at just the right moment. Here are two: The Midnight Folk by John Masefield, which my father read to me when I was four or five years old and opening doors on the magic possibilities of the imagination; and Living by Zen by DT Suzuki, which I read when I was in my mid-twenties.

At the moment I’m reading The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos by Patrick Leigh Fermor (John Murray, £25). It’s the last book in the trilogy that tells of his walk from London to Istanbul between wars and was put together posthumously by Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron. It’s romantic, elegiac, erudite and very entertaining.

If I had a free day in London, I would spend it going around the galleries. There’s a favourite Velázquez and a favourite Rembrandt in the Wallace Collection that I visit again and again. I love Sam Fogg’s gallery, on the corner of Cork Street, which shows Gothic and medieval art. Or, for a really indulgent free day, I would have a long lunch with my wife and friends at Locanda Locatelli.

My favourite destination in the world is Kyoto. I love to go to one of the Zen temple gardens in the morning before any crowds arrive.

The app I love and use most is, boringly, Chambers Dictionary. I love words, their derivations, their resonances, their various uses and what they reveal of the cultures and times that use them.

This interview appears in the April 2014 edition of Elle Decoration.


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by TOAST ( 10.03.14 )

Michael Smith

The French swear that the secret to understanding the mysteries of wine lies in understanding its terroir. As an Englishman you can’t even pronounce the word without feeling pretentious; and terroir is just as tricky to get your head round as it is to get your tongue round. It’s a concept that’s alien to the English mindset – we haven’t really got a word you can translate it into – yet it’s a cornerstone of the French understanding of how wine works, and why good wine is good.

It boils down to the belief that a glass of wine is ultimately the expression and distillation of the entire sweep of factors that give birth to it, from the type of grape to the geology, soil and climate that feed it, through to the historical and cultural climate affecting the human hands that navigate that process. In this way, a glass of Burgundy is perceived to have a fractal quality, in the sense that it is an image of the whole “world” that has produced it, and the finer the wine, the richer the picture. The clue’s always in the name with French wines – Champagne, Burgundy or Bordeaux are all places too, and in a sense, so are the wines. It’s a profound, even mystical idea, something close to “As Above, So Below,” with roots in the mindset of the medieval monks who first tended the vines – a very ancient idea that’s come round again, with the prevalence of current holistic, biodynamic ideas, and our recent obsessions with the provenance of our food and drink.

A belief in terroir is a belief that everything is part of an interconnected whole, that everything is bound by profound and subtle connections and correspondences that on the surface may seem to be arbitrary coincidence. It seems clear to me that clothes, a form of human culture and creativity as fundamental as cultivating the land with vines or cattle, have their roots in terroir as profoundly as food or wine does.

The fundamentals of the British wardrobe grew out of the landscape, out of the fishing village, the farm and the hunt. Wellies, waxed jackets and tweeds are inextricably tied to the muted, pearly skies, mossy river banks and damp slate roofs that are the textures of our lives on this island. The greens and browns and russets of a Gainsborough or a Constable are the same greens and browns and russets of Harris Tweed, Barbour Beadales or Oxford brogues.

We’d forgotten our native style a little over recent decades, fallen out of love with our climate and the clothes it gave us. The age of Easyjet convinced us that the sun is god, and we fell under the spell of a fake-tanned Mediterranean fantasy that is inappropriate and alien to our climate and our natural sensibilities. Thankfully, all that seems to be on the wane, we’re beginning to leave the bare immacked chests glaring out of low cut v-neck tee-shirts to the Latin blokes, and only the crassest Big Brother contestant wears ripped jeans and pointy leather estate agent shoes these days. Give me the subtlety and the modesty of a brushed indigo cotton shirt and woollen pullover, which suit a wander through the subtlety and poetry of an autumnal English riverscape best.

As a walker, a wanderer who invests great meaning in this daily communion with the world, I’m all for those grey skies that bring out the greens by the riverbank. I can say with certainty that a great glaring sun bearing down on you is the enemy of an ambling walk, turning it into more of a chore than a pleasure: all that squinting the eyes, sweating and ducking into the shade – give me gentle, grey jumper weather any day; the ideal weather for wandering and appreciating the world is the weather in between, that quiet, moderate, subtle weather that is the metaphor and midwife of the British sensibility.

And that sensibility has been as important as our climate in shaping the clothes we wear – as well as emerging from the landscape, the British wardrobe has been slowly shaped and honed by the history of the culture that crafted it, just as a river smoothes a pebble in its flow. We’ve inherited and re-worked the wardrobe of the first industrialised and truly urbanised culture. The cites of our grandfathers and their grandfathers were the sites our suits and ties and macs emerged from, to meet the demands of those new urban realities. But this civilisation of big brick and stone cities was a place with a lingering romantic attachment to its green and pleasant folk memories. The sports jacket and flat cap became ubiquitous among the urban millions partly because they expressed aspirations of respectability, having filtered down from the dress codes of their betters, which codified the sporting and hunting and country pursuits those landed gentry rulers enjoyed. The sports jacket and flat cap inferred on its huddling, terraced masses a sense of the dignity and nobility that came with the town and country lifestyle that these clothes were originally invented for. Our clothes are as much about imagination and yearning as they are about practical realities. Clothes provide psychic as well as physical shelter, and are an imaginative counterbalance for the all the things that are missing in our lives.

So are the beards, bicycles and Barbours ubiquitous in the gentrified inner cites today similarly the yearnings of a rootless digital culture lost in Twitter space? We yearn for an authenticity behind the 3G hall of mirrors, floating freely through the disjointed contemporary conundrum. Is this why, as we traipse the clothes shops of a shopping mall that could be anywhere, night or day, summer or snow, or the chilly aisles of another generic M&S Simply Food on the commute home, as disconnected from the source and reality of our clothing and our food as any British people have been since we urbanised and industrialised two hundred years ago, we’ve developed such strong yearnings for the organic, the authentic, the heritage, the locally specific? Maybe these yearnings offer our souls some anchor that will ground us as we float freely through modern life, and our Yorkshire rhubarb or Northamptonshire brogues are the looking glass fantasies and nostalgic yearnings that fill the holes in our current culture.

The British wardrobe is as much an expression of this psychic landscape, the hopes and needs of the sensibility that inhabits this land, that shapes and is shaped by it, as it is an expression of our climate or geology or botany. The French have always known that the haunting and elusive poetry of place that results from the marriage of all these things is somehow distilled into a good bottle of Burgundy, which unfolds and unravels from a glass onto the palate and the mind with all the resonance and suggestiveness of Proust’s madeleine. Just so with the textures and colours and cut of a Savile Row suit, a hunting jacket of Harris Tweed, or a mac in the rain that falls and glistens against the urbane stone of Edinburgh’s elegant New Town.

To browse our new SS / 14 Men collection, click here. 


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by TOAST ( 24.02.14 )

By Nat Lucas

“A room is, say, 9 by 12, but when you’re introducing sound to it, you can create a space that’s giant, hearing things outside the room or feeling certain through a vent, and then there are abstract sounds that are like music. They give emotions and different moods.” (David Lynch 1999)

It may seem counterintuitive to take an auditory approach to a photographic exhibition, but as the artist under consideration is David Lynch, stepping off the travelator of convention seems acceptable. Heard in isolation, the ‘multichannel sound composition by the artist,’ could be described as the noise that your brain blots out in the course of everyday experience. Loosely pulsating brass drones are layered with occasional octaves, fifths and harmonics in the upper frequencies. We hear wind across open pipes interspersed with the chippings and banging of hot and cold metal. This is the sound of the shadow of an industrial age. It is the music of everything that has been cancelled.

This soundscape frames Lynch’s uniformly sized, monochrome images perfectly. In true cinematic fashion it provides another dimension to the mise en scène he presents of decaying abandoned factories. Those familiar with his films (such as ‘Eraserhead’ and ‘Dune’) will not be surprised to learn that he began to take these pictures while scouting locations for film shoots. With this exhibition what was previously a backdrop becomes the focus of attention, the used up factories now take the lead roles in creating an atmosphere of tension.

This is a post-industrialist landscape embodied in a range of locations such as Lodz, Berlin, New York and Northern England. Husks and kernels of buildings decay, their walls rupture and forgotten sills are covered in debris. One door opens onto darkness while another gapes onto an unspoken void. Obsolete machines cling to walls with twisted edges like sordid metal lips. Skylights are distant, always out of reach. Nature scurries to wild the ruins and reclaim the ground. Human life has been deleted. 

Eight photographs form a study of glass panes, all either shattered, vicious toothed or absent. The window frames bring to mind rhythms of Mondrian squares but somehow in the negative. Only where panes are missing can we see a few stark twigs gesturing upwards. 

Three works “Untitled (England) late 1980s early 1990s,” provide an alternative to the heavy shadows of the rest of the exhibition. Here pylons stride across electricity farms and bulbous smoke stacks still breathe (above). Lynch managed to chase around the North barely a wisp ahead of the demolition crews. Within the frames there is space for a glimpse of a green, though less than entirely pleasant, land. Industry is dwindling but has not yet been fully disassembled.

In his Darwin College Lecture ‘Life in Ruins,’ the writer Robert Macfarlane suggests, “Ruins offer niches for narrative.” The ‘Factory Photographs’ offer a palimpsest narrative where industry is being overwritten by nature. The story is one of a shifting population and a change of power. As Lynch remarks, “Every work ‘talks’ to you, and if you listen to it, it will take you places you never dreamed of.” 

David Lynch: The Factory Photographs at the Photographers’ Gallery to 30th March 2014.

Photograph: Image 2, David Lynch, Untitled (England), late 1980s/early 1990s.
Archival gelatin-silver print. 11 x 14 inches. All photographs in an edition of 11. © Collection of the artist.


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by TOAST ( 06.02.14 )

Orlando Gough. 

This autumn we took a holiday in Lefkada, one of the Ionian Islands. It was a blue holiday – in a good way – dominated by the sea and the seductive surrounding islands (Kephalonia, Ithaca, Megannisi, Skorpios) which loomed in a thousand shades of blue, blue-green, turquoise and grey-blue, constantly changing with the weather and the time of day. 

Skorpios was particularly intriguing – it used to be the holiday home of the Onassis family, and was where Jackie Onassis was famously photographed nude bathing by a Greek paparazzo. Oh, the ordeals of the rich and famous. The family recently sold it, possibly illegally, to a Russian oligarch’s daughter. It looks like the lair of a James Bond villain, with a yacht the size of a large house in the harbour. We lingered offshore in a considerably smaller yacht, partly because we were fascinated, in a Daily Mail-ish kind of way, but mainly because there was no bloody wind – and were seen off by a couple of goons in a speedboat.

With the help of, or, to be more accurate, with absolutely no help from a charming guide book from the 1950s which was devoid of facts but full of the purest poetry, we made a trip to Englouvi, the highest village on the island, famous for lentils, which are grown on the plateau above. ‘The landscape begins to change,’ says the guidebook; ‘on the one hand vineyards and colourful fields, stone huts so expertly made they might be ‘built by a hand divine’, and on the other, the craters of the moon and strange geological formations… The fields of lentils and the persevering growers working in them keep us company for a short while yet…’ We kept company with the persevering growers, and admired the strange geological formations, before visiting a very excitingly abandoned radar station with a spectacular view over the entire island and the mainland. It was like the lair of a James Bond villain several years after he’s been dispatched by the great man. Knackered and overgrown, it was dominated by several satellite dishes on a giant metal grid that could be climbed by someone with the sang-froid of, say, James Bond. We vowed to come back at night with a picnic, but never did.

At the highest point of the plateau (so I suppose it wasn’t strictly a plateau) was an exquisite miniscule monastery. Inside there was a tiny dome painted blue. It was like a James Turrell artwork, making absolutely apparent the idea of trying to come as close as possible to heaven. Outside a young couple, tourists, snogged, smoked and took scenic photos of each other.

The lentil fields themselves were nondescript, consisting of bedraggled rows of shrubs – wrong time of year. We went into the village and bought a kilo of lentils for a slightly eye-watering €12. Back at our house we discovered that they were mixed with a large amount of grit and tiny stones. We set to winnowing. My son Daniel and I were spectacularly bad at it, making the mistake of winnowing negatively (removing the grit from the lentils). We had to be taken off the job, slightly grumpy, and were replaced by a crack team of positive winnowers, who completed the work in about the time that Handel, had he been around, could have written The Messiah. Or Demis Roussos could have shaved his beard. It was a reminder that, much as we might complain about modern methods of agriculture and food preparation, we have got our lives back. The lentils were excellent, rather in the style of the Castelluccio lentils from Umbria, also, curiously enough, grown on a plateau.

The next day, in the delightful Lefkada Town, we found exactly the same lentils in a supermarket, with all the grit taken out, for €5 per kilo. The persevering lentil farmers of Englouvi had taken us for a ride, though it must be admitted that we were the classic marks – keen middle-class holiday-makers in the relentless pursuit of the Holy Grail of Authenticity. Which can only be a good thing for the ailing Greek economy.

The plfs, says the guidebook, cook the lentils in huge cauldrons, and serve them with salt sardines and olives. Sounds good.

Try this method of cooking them (serves 6):

250g lentils (Puy, Castelluccio, Englouvi)

a small bulb of garlic, cut in half horizontally

1 onion, minced

2 mild green chillies, deseeded, finely chopped

grated zest and juice of 3 limes

4 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp chopped mint

Winnow the lentils for several weeks – unless you’ve bought them from Waitrose, in which case immediately…

Put the lentils and the garlic in a saucepan with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil, and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes until the lentils are al dente. The timing is critical, so keep testing. The window between grit and mush is quite short. Discard the garlic and mix in the rest of the ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Good cold.

 

We’ve published a book of Orlando’s recipes full of similar tales. For more about Orlando Gough Recipe Journal click here.

 


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by TOAST ( 17.01.14 )

A highly personal list

1.
Candy ads: three very short films by Wes Anderson, advertising Prada’s perfume called Candy. The films are pure Anderson – perfectly observed, superbly detailed, delightful and funny. Lea Seydoux stars and is, as always, beguiling.

2.
Peter Doig’s No Foreign Lands exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery. ‘Willingness to take up the challenge still posed by Gauguin, Matisse, Bonnard and Hopper places him in a long line of great colourists, expressive handlers of paint and creators of richly textured worlds’ is what the Gallery wrote – and it’s true.

3.
Dolsot bibimbap: from Korea, the perfect winter food. Served in a sizzling hot stone bowl – healthy, wholesome, delicious, nourishing of body and soul.

4.
Feral, a polemic by George Monbiot that argues for the re-wilding of the land. Monbiot in his columns can sometimes seem strident or self-righteous. Here he (mostly) isn’t – and convinces.

5.
Flower Appreciation Society: wonderful florists, working from a straightforward and exuberant natural love of natural flowers. Created meadowy drifts of colour for the opening of our Marylebone shop in March.

6.
La Grande Bellezza (released here as The Great Beauty): Paolo Sorrentino’s sweeping, poignant, gorgeous, satirical, all encompassing Roman movie. Our film of the year, without doubt.

7.
The Guardian: for great journalists bravely going about producing great journalism.

8.
Keith Francis: bags to last through generations from a third generation leather worker, hand making his wares on a canal boat near Abergavenny.

9.
Kerry Seaton: goldsmith, designing and making quiet and perfect jewellery, each piece a small homage to the world’s existence. See our work with her here,
and her own website here. 

10.
Koya Bar: great udon place on Frith Street in Soho. No better way to start a London day than Japanese breakfast here.

11. 
Jennifer Lee’s show at Erskine, Hall and Coe. Lee creates pots of great purity and presence. Edmund de Waal wrote ‘Lee has managed that rare thing: to own a language of form and tone. She now has the freedom to inflect that language with a subtle and distinctive voice.”

12. 
Longbows: the concentrated looking, the draw, the release, the flight! Any symbolism is too obvious to bother with – but something atavistic was left resonating.

13. 
The Luminaries. Almost too obvious to choose a Booker Prize winner – but Eleanor Catton’s book is good! Absorbing (and lengthy) almost in the way of a 19th century novel. And very enjoyable.

14. 
Manufactum: great German supplier of a wide diversity of household (and more) goods, all chosen with a very keen eye for no-nonsense, thorough-going quality of design and make.
The German site for some reason seems to carry more product than does the UK one.

15. 
Music At Midnight: John Dury’s biography of George Herbert, the metaphysical poet. Most absorbing read of the year. As Herbert’s verse addresses difficult subjects in lucid and elegant verse, so John Dury reveals the poet’s life, times and poetry with equal clarity and sympathy. Not a fast read but deeply absorbing, elucidating, enjoyable.

16. 
Pizzica: wild Puglian variety of tarantella which, through the dark mornings of November and December has been stirring us to life as we drive to work. Listen to Donna ‘Sabella by NCCP (Nuova Compagnia Di Canto Popolare) and Lu Rusciu te lu Mare by Alla Bua.

17. 
The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park – on a perfect summer’s evening. Approached, of course, for all the well-rehearsed, dreary reasons, with some cynicism - all of which dissolved immediately the first great chords of Start It Up rang out across the warm evening air. A great gig!

18. 
Savage and Chong. Romilly Saumarez Smith is a wonderful jeweller working on that boundary where a craft carries so much resonance that it starts to become art. Romilly and her colleague Lucie Gledhill have produced a new line, far more affordably priced than their one-off pieces.

19. 
Edward Snowden: approve of what he did or not, it’s a great thing that – as a direct result of his action – an important and necessary debate is now taking place in the public realm.

20. 
Tate Britain’s wonderful new hang of its standing collection, done chronologically. Such a simple idea – and so brilliant. Like a walk, room to room, through history – revealing so much in both its progression and the diversity within the progression.

21. 
The US is talking to Iran! Isn’t this absolutely the best thing to happen in 2013 – the prospect of some peaceful accord in the Middle East? Why hasn’t it been more highly lauded in our media and by our politicians?

22. 
Wright’s Independent Food Emporium: like a family-run, Carmarthenshire Dean & Deluca – and therefore much better than that venerable New York store. Imaginative and delicious deli food; good coffee and wine; wholesome and well-chosen groceries; warm, welcoming, good-humoured and enthusiastic.

23. 
Toast’s customers & followers: without you we would be nothing.
Thank you! Merry Christmas! And a Happy / Peaceful / Prosperous New Year!

 
Photo: Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella in La Grande Bellezza


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by TOAST ( 23.12.13 )

A Tale for Midwinter by John Andrews

“Sing what I heard you chant the other noon,
The Verse I keep, tho’ I forget the tune.
“Cease, Pike, with Perch successful war to wage,
Their weary finns delude your idle rage;
Nor sleep expos’d, lest Frogs your lives betray,
And you unguarded fall an easy prey.”
(Moses Browne 1773)

I have no memory of it raining when I stepped outside and later put it down as you might to bad grains in the porter or the distractions of a pretty bar girl, but whatever it might have been I was soon lost in the streets behind the inn. At first each corner seemed familiar, more familiar than the last so that the feeling that I was lost was momentary until I reached a dead end and felt a sudden terror at being more lost than before. I doubled back, laughing as I did so at my silliness, choking back the brief knot of fear that had climbed into my throat. But doubling back did no good. The iron railed maze grew thicker, and soon I noticed that the houses I was passing had no light falling from their windows. Nor did they have curtains to close upon the world at night. They were empty dwellings.

I did not remember when my walk turned from a scurry into a full-blooded run. The first fall hurt, the skin breaking on my knee and on my elbow. The velvet on my coat tearing as if it had been ripped by something sharper than stone. I scrambled back up and was sure I had seen a face briefly staring at me from behind a window and I called out but there was no reply. Not stopping to look behind me I rushed on and fell again as I turned the corner.

The light had gone from the sky when I awoke, unaware of how long I had been out for and felt the blood drying upon my temple and the dirty water in the gutter cold against my stomach. Pulling myself up I noticed nothing but one thing. How this street was suddenly so different to the others I had run down. It was not as long and it was not as narrow. It broadened out and at its end was a shop from which fell light. A yellow glow, an unnatural projection of warmth. I ran towards it and collapsed through the door. A bell sounded above my head as it did so, it startled me but not so much as the solid thud of the door closing fast behind me. I turned and looked up. Above a finely glazed and polished wooden counter was a long single shelf upon which stood a continuous row of sealed jars with pickled contents lurid in colour and mis-shapen in form, frogs with blistered throats and sticklebacks with mutant spines, outsize minnows and freakish mice, and some jars simply labelled ‘eyes’, ‘organs’, ‘sweetnesses’. Every sixth or seventh label bore a description of a quarry, ‘Christmas Morning Pike’, ‘Moonless Perch’, ‘Whitsun Trout’.   All inscribed by a delicate hand in dark red ink. On the counter standing guard stood a crow, its beak like a thorn stolen from a Bible passage and its glistening black eyes like two drops of poison. It was tethered from the neck by a fine silver collar that appeared to be engraved and which led in turn via a linked chain to a brass loop that had been nailed into the floor.

I could feel my own blood pulsing as it was pressing against my temples.  I was sure somebody other than myself had just entered the room but my eyes told me that I was still alone except for the bird on the chain. I could just make out a human voice, no louder than a whisper in the corners of the room either side of me. I swung round but there was nothing just my own reflection in the glass of the shop door. Oh, I did not recognise myself so mad did I look, so dishevelled, so fearful and reduced. Suddenly in the same reflection a shadow moved past the open doorway in the corner of the room. I turned and called out but my words were like dry sticks in my throat. This time I leapt across the room and through the door but was forced back. Even though the divide was no more than air the temperature was far colder as I forced my frame across the threshold. This antechamber was furnished simply with a table and chair. On the table was a candle that had been recently lit. The light from its flame flickered off the walls but barely reached the hearth opposite, which looked as if it was more a place where eels slept than a place to seek warmth. There was no evidence of what or whom had formed the shadow. My heart was now beating so loudly I could barely contain it. It felt as if I could take it from my chest and set it on the table so free of my body was it. I began to laugh hysterically and uncontrollably at this thought, images of my wife and child passing before me before the smell of camphor filled my nostrils, the light from the candle was extinguished and in the blackness and in the deep cold the eels I had imagined asleep in the hearth began to writhe and silently cross the floor towards me.

 

Able Critch’s shop always remained closed on a Thursday with its door firmly locked from the inside and its blinds pulled down, so that fresh bait could be prepared in private. ‘At the Sign of the Crow’ spelled the legend on his gold edged trade card, and so said all who were asked by strangers where the best place was to buy meats and pastes with which to angle. It was said his recipes came from the annals of an angling club whose identity was so old and so secretly guarded that no one had ever known anyone be asked to join it. Rumour surrounded the whereabouts of its meetings, none of which had ever been reported. Critch’s prepared baits worked better than any other accepted temptation and his disciples, of whom there were dozens across the city, never spoke of empty baskets. It was said that Able had not been seen beyond his shop since his wife had perished in a sudden fire, not even to visit their beloved daughter, a remarkably pretty girl who worked at The Folly Inn on the adjacent street and who had a reputation for her kindness to strangers. No, for all of his fame Able Critch did not fish, and preferred only the company of a crow for whom he had had a silver collar made on which was a simple inscription in the tiniest of hands which began,

‘Sing what I heard you chant the other noon
The verse I kept though I forget the tune’

 

John Andrews is also known as Andrews of Arcadia, for more of his work, click here.

Photo: The Ghost Story by Frederick Smallfield


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by TOAST ( 20.12.13 )
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