The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Irving Wardle, October 6th 2015

    Should you be passing through the depths of the Irish countryside, you may well run into people who will jerk a thumb at some venerable ruin and say it’s the work of Elizabeth I or Oliver Cromwell, as though these English vandals had struck only the other week. However, if you confine your Irish experience to theatre-going, you will rarely find a play in which the dead and the living similarly rub shoulders.

    That they do so a little more nowadays is largely thanks to the master dramatist, Brian Friel, who died last week aged 86, and who redefined the form of Irish playwriting no less than Beckett. The two are complementary: in life, Beckett followed the standard pattern of Irish playwrights, by getting out and beating the British and French on their own soil. Friel disdained the escape route and achieved universality by staying put. Thus, Beckett’s dramatic territory is anywhere on earth, while Friel’s remained his childhood holiday home in Donegal, renamed Ballybeg (meaning “small town”), which has turned out to be a home to all the world. He expanded this patch of land by mining it. Increasingly as time went by, his people came to inhabit a fragile, present-tense shell, while beneath them and sometimes striking through it, lurk the still commanding spirits of the Irish past—Victorian colonialists, the fleeing aristocratic “Wild Geese”, down to Ireland’s pre-Christian gods who cause women to dance.

    read more » BooksIrelandIrving WardleObituaryTheatre

    ~ Posted by Marion Coutts, October 5th 2015

    Outside China, Ai Weiwei is an art superstar and his exhibitions proliferate across the globe. His installation “Sunflower Seeds”, where he filled the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern with millions of hand-crafted porcelain seeds, was a major draw in 2010. Inside China it is different. From an official viewpoint, he is seen variously as a critic, a troublemaker and a criminal and his work and references to it are curtailed. In the recent past he has been in detention, on trial, beaten up, under house arrest and left without a passport. From his current show at the Royal Academy in London, Ai emerges as a meticulous multitasker: artist, architect and activist. 

    read more » ArtChinaExhibitionsMarion Coutts

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, October 2nd 2015The first thing to say about Robert Zemeckis’s new film, “The Walk”, is that it didn’t make me sick. That might not seem to be particularly noteworthy, given that most of us manage to watch films without having upset stomachs, but when “The Walk” was first screened in New York, not everyone was so lucky. Several viewers were dizzy, several felt their knees buckle, and, yes, one or two were reacquainted with the popcorn they had scoffed an hour earlier. You have been warned.

    You should be especially wary of “The Walk” if you’re afraid of heights. The film dramatises Philippe Petit’s unauthorised high-wire walk between the twin towers of the brand new World Trade Center in 1974. For 45 minutes on August 7th, he strolled back and forth, 1300 feet above the streets of New York, with no safety net and no harness, while policemen stood on either tower, wondering what the hell to do. No footage was shot of this astounding stunt, but Zemeckis has recreated it in crystal-clear 3D. You can appreciate why some viewers felt a bit queasy.

    read more » cinemaFilmNicholas Barber

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, September 30th 2015

    In our September/October issue, the poet and novelist John Burnside revisits the house of the artist James Ensor in Ostend, Belgium—the site of a transformative family holiday from his youth. In this podcast he joins Matthew Sweet to discuss masks: the ones made by Ensor, and the ones we all wear. 

    read more » ArtAuthors on MuseumsBooksPodcastSimon Willis

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, September 25th 2015

    The sixth annual series of BAFTA and BFI Screenwriting Lectures is now underway at BAFTA’s Piccadilly headquarters, a short stroll from the Intelligent Life offices. This series exists partly so that its prestigious speakers can share their insights into the scriptwriting process, and partly so that everyone involved can have a good old moan about how unfairly undervalued they are in the film industry. It’s every screenwriter’s favourite subject.

    read more » BookscinemaFilmNicholas Barbertalks

    ~ Posted by George Pendle, September 25th 2015

    Batman broods, Spiderman frets, but Superman has always seemed as impervious to Weltschmerz as he is to bullets. For Mike Kelley, however, an artist who could find the dark underbelly on a unicorn, there were chasms of gloom visible behind that invulnerable countenance.

    read more » ArtCOMICSExhibitionsgeorge pendle

    ~ Posted by Michael Watts, September 23rd 2015

    What a year this has been in the afterlife of Eileen Gray, the Anglo-Irish architect and designer. In October, during Frieze Week, the Mayfair gallery Osborne Samuel will launch London’s first commercial exhibition of her little-seen paintings, collages and photographs. It follows this summer’s public opening of her restored masterpiece, the house cryptically named E.1027, in the south of France, and also anticipates “The Price of Desire”, a long-awaited Irish film of Gray’s complicated relationship with Le Corbusier, whose vaguely lewd murals defaced (though some say enhanced) her famous villa. Factor in an engrossing documentary called “Gray Matters”, together with a huge, new scholarly appraisal by Jennifer Goff, and interest in Gray could scarcely be greater.

    read more » ArtExhibitionsMICHAEL WATTSpainting

    ~ Posted by Hannah Rosefield, September 22nd 2015

    Larissa MacFarquhar has been a staff writer at the New Yorker for nearly 20 years, specialising in virtuosic profiles of academics, writers and public intellectuals: Harold Bloom, John Ashbery, Hilary Mantel, Noam Chomsky. But the subjects in her new book, “Strangers Drowning”, are not famous for scholarly or creative work. Most of them are not famous at all. They are noteworthy, rather, for their altruism, which is extreme and directed at those outside their community. They include Dorothy Granada, who set up a health clinic in war-torn Nicaragua; Paul Wagner, who donated a kidney to a stranger; and Julia Wise, who gives her entire income to charity.

    read more » BooksCharityethicsHannah Rosefieldphilanthrophy


    ~ Posted by Anthony Gardner, September 21st 2015

    If you should ever forget the enchantment that a book can cast on a child, Su Blackwell’s paper sculptures will bring it back to you in a moment. Her fragile, intricate creations—carved from and mounted on the pages of the books that inspired them—are worlds in miniature, beckoning you to shrink to Lilliputian size and wander into them.

    Readers of Intelligent Life will recognise her work from Robert Macfarlane’s “Landscapes of the Mind” column, for which we commission and photograph a sculpture by Blackwell for each issue. Several of these are on display in her new exhibition, “Dwellings”, which is at London’s Long & Ryle gallery until October 9th. Among them is “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (pictured), in which a tiny submarine is suspended among impossibly delicate fronds and jellyfish, while the curling tentacles of a giant squid reach up out of Jules Verne’s classic. Another piece, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, shows the street on which Scout Finch and her family live, with a cluster of houses—complete with verandas, picket fences and fallen leaves—overshadowed by the tree which Boo Radley uses as a postbox. 

    read more » Anthony GardnerBooksExhibitionsIllustrationLondon

    ~ Posted by Tom Chatfield, September 21st 2015

    Head to 243 Old Street in London from September 25th, and you’ll see something beautiful and eye-boggling with an unhelpfully abstract name: the Ommatidium. It's 4.5 metres of street light topped by an insectoid parasol of 1,500 crystal lenses. During the day, these lenses will turn sunlight into refracted rainbows. By night, LEDs will provide illumination. The installation comes courtesy of the London Design Festival—but, this being Old Street (aka “Silicon Roundabout”), it’s as much digital craft as engineering that’s on show.

    read more » appsDesigntechnologyTom Chatfield