Culture - Issue 88 - Magazine | Monocle

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By accident or design

In an age where social media dictates what we document, Martin Adolfsson’s ‘Minutiae’ may just be the accidental antidote to our ever-curated lives.
Robert Bound

The best thing I’ve heard about in forever is photographer Martin Adolfsson’s upcoming venture: an app called Minutiae that encourages you to celebrate the small, random moments in your life rather than those you might assume are the big memorable ones. His app, dreamed-up with Canadian artist Daniel J Wilson, sets off your smartphone alarm at a different and randomly chosen time every day as a command to take a photograph of whatever you see in front of you at that moment and upload it to the Minutiae website. The idea is that you and others will build a bank of unfiltered images of the everyday, the mundane and the accidentally wonderful – and, most of all, the definitively random. Who knows what this archive of the ordinary will contain and how extraordinary it could be? Well, no one.

Adolfsson and Wilson are not the only ones who fear that the quotidian is disappearing from our collective memory, that images of ourselves are becoming over-mediated by the click of the delete button and that our lives are becoming one big, highly edited greatest-hits album. I recently spoke to artist Caroline Walker, who paints women in strange places; her pictures suggest transitional moments in which you the viewer are observing these women doing something undisclosed. There is an element of the surveillance camera, the voyeur, the unintended; as if all paintings have been committed to the canvas before the model was ready or after she had stopped posing and had started to undress or walk away.

Walker is fascinated by the way that we edit, monitor and refer to images of ourselves on Instagram and Facebook, public arenas in which we have started behaving like archetypes in a contemporary western soap opera. Edited versions of our lives become something akin to brands: “I go to fancy restaurants!” “I’m concerned about Syria!” “I love art!” “I’m always on a beach drinking a cocktail!” It’s easy to find these images – often unsubtle exercises in self-aggrandisement – blunt, tasteless and deeply naff. But there’s a more interesting side beyond a kind of inverse snobbery and that concerns the loss and trashing of the ordinary.

Wilson, of the Minutiae app, says that his best and most accidentally profound photographs so far are rather beautiful ones of his washing-up. You may smirk at this artistic reading of the mundane but fear not: the ordinary will be back with a vengeance. When every epic sunset, every big-deal art opening and every front row of the Rhianna gig has been uploaded, liked and shared and no one in the world cares anymore, pictures of people’s washing lines and walks to the corner shop will become sweet and cleansing balm to the tyranny of the bloody marvellous. Any excuse not to tidy my desk, huh?


David Cavanagh

Music writer


Cavanagh’s new book Good Night and Good Riddance tells the story of UK culture and world events through the prism of John Peel’s BBC radio shows, in which the DJ played anything and everything that intrigued him. Peel, who died in 2004, is lauded as a tastemaking maestro.

Why did you decide to set out the book as a deconstruction of 300 broadcasts?
It occurred to me that I could tell the story of his career through his own work. I listened to two shows a day and found that the more I listened, the more there was to write. It was like writing a novel about an encyclopaedia.

What an current not-quite-radio projects such as Apple Music learn from Peel?
We live in a world where recommendations are considered vital. Peel was much more… I wouldn’t say catholic but certainly a lot less linear. He took bigger risks and was a brilliant one-off. I’m not sure emulating him would be good for one’s career prospects.

Is pop music as powerful and potent as it was when Peel was in his pomp?
Listening to Lawman by Girl Band, I would say yes. Listening to the new Stereophonics album, I would say no. The power and potency are still there, it’s just a matter of finding them. It’s a pity we don’t have Peel around to guide us.

Culture cuts

Top picks from the art world

Club to Club, Turin
Turin will use its historic theatres and post-industrial spaces for its annual music-and-art collision: Club to Club festival. It and contemporary-art week Artissima both take place in early November.

Acts such as Thom Yorke of Radiohead sit within a dance-focused line-up filled out by heavyweight DJ talent. But it’s the chance to see them in settings such as the Teatro Carignano that lends the festival its greatest selling point. “My favourite venue is Cantieri OGR,” says Club to Club founder and director Sergio Ricciardone. “What were locomotive workshops have been restored and given back to the city as a music-and-arts venue but it still keeps the appeal of its origins.”

Amid Club to Club’s clutch of unusual locations (the AC Hotel is a former pasta factory), the city’s untapped districts hold the real appeal; they make this the Italian music scene’s best-kept secret.

Club to club must-hears

Oneohtrix Point Never Massachusetts’ dreamy Daniel Lopatin will preview tracks from latest album Garden of Delete.

Vaghe Stelle Turin-based Daniele Mana will produce pulsing stabs of warped electronica.

Omar Souleyman Everyone’s favourite keffiyeh’d wedding singer-done-good will be blasting his audio assault onto the dancefloor.

The close-up

Just try looking away

In 2008 ventriloquist Conrad Koch, who holds a master’s in anthropology, debuted a smartmouthed, sharpminded puppet called Chester Missing who was not afraid to express his incisive opinions on South African politics. Two years later, Missing’s worldly wit was stealing the show on Late Nite News (LNN), a cutting edge weekly satirical-news programme.

If there’s a politician in the house, Missing and his crew are there too. The puppet has ambushed and interviewed significant figures across South Africa’s political landscape as well as extra-parliamentary activists and academics, and journalists including CNN’s Richard Quest. Missing has also written a column, though perhaps without the same success as his more three-dimensional TV persona.

“Politicians want a chance to look human.” That’s how Koch explains Missing’s ability to be taken seriously. But just how seriously? His appearance in February last year at the manifesto launch of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a radical left-wing party, had the crowd chanting his name. Malusi Gigaba, an African National Congress cabinet minister took the more moderate approach and sent Missing some ties for Christmas.

Missing is more recognisable to South Africans than most members of parliament. His accent marks him out as an everyman; his English is straight off the street. He is one of us, speaking truth to power - and he is getting power to answer too.

Finest moment
In 2014, New African Magazine named Missing among its most influential Africans. He is a major reason LNN was nominated for an Emmy in 2013 and 2014.

On record

Sounds from around the world

U.S. Girls

Half free

Toronto-based Meg Remy is US Girls. The genre? Her skew-whiff take on country, doo-wop, R&B and pure pop. If you think you don’t like good music-made-weird in your life you’re wrong: each and every track on this short, sharp and strange album demands attention.

John Grant

Grey tickles, black pressure

A couple of albums ago John Grant had such a good thing going with none-more-sweet songs of soured love and heartbreak. But he seemed to sense that a change was needed and now we would feel lost without the beats and odd arrangements that followed. Today Grant is the butterfly to that earlier melodic caterpillar; this album is his fine, witty and irresistible best.

More little wonders:

  1. Nicolas Godin, Contrepoint: The debonair half of air releases an untouchably beautiful solo debut that riffs on Glenn Gould, Bach and electro history.

  2. The Mastersons, Good luck charm: More irresistible husband-and-wife melody from the strange side of country.

  3. Israel Nash, Israel Nash's silver season: Big skies, campfire wig-outs and CSN&Y harmonies all appear on another album from the man who's absorbed absolutely every good thing about the past 40 years of North American music.





Robert Harris

Harris closes his Cicero trilogy on the rise and fall of Rome with Caesar in his pomp, Pompey after seizure and Cicero recording all with his customary wit and wisdom. Another modern classic.



A Man's world

Donald McRae

Emile Griffith was a black, gay boxing world champion in a 1960s US unwilling to accept his differences. In March 1962, after being taunted by his opponent Benny Paret, Griffith entered the ring with fire in his belly and boxed Paret to death. McRae’s forensic and fascinating account tells the story of a man forgiven for killing but not for loving.


Biography/social history

Good Night and Good Riddance

David Cavanagh

A great music writer on a great music broadcaster could have been a predictable slog. But Cavanagh’s painstaking tack of critiquing 300 of John Peel’s BBC radio shows and putting them into a social, musical and historical context is quite brilliant. Erudition was never practised so charmingly – by both author and subject.



I Think You’ll Find it’s a Bit More Complicated Than That

Ben Goldacre

Why do adults lose their temper when kids spot a lie? How come politicians choke at a whiff of guilt? While Goldacre’s third book doesn’t have all the answers, he questions what we would otherwise digest without a thought. An accessible and amusing rant on science and society.



The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty

Vendela Vida

Robbed of her passport in a Casablanca hotel, a woman adopts a new identity as a stunt-double for a movie star but she can’t escape the pains of her former life. Vida’s fast-paced novel is a dizzying study of identity and memory.

The show

What we're tuning in for

Supernatural medical crime drama that tells the story of a doctor with a spiritual family background who is trying to help her patients solve mysteries. The show, described as The X-Files meets House, is set to be one of the most ambitious dramas to emerge from Switzerland.

The content
Valerie comes from a long line of mystical healers. Unbeknown to her, her spiritual powers help her solve crimes and mysteries when she is appointed head of neurosurgery in a prestigious Swiss clinic.

The talent
The eight-part drama was created by Pilar Anguita-MacKay, who has directed feature films including Moon on the Snow (La Mémoire des Autres), and directed by Pierre Monnard (Recycling Lily). It stars Natacha Régnier, a Belgian actress who featured in Jane Birkin-directed Boxes and Didier Bezace (Love is in The Air). It is produced by Swiss production company Point Prod.

The schedule
The show, which has a budget of more than €4m, will air on Swiss public broadcaster Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) in early 2016. It is one of the largest original Swiss productions, as the country competes with the French drama series that populate its channels.

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