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At Tate Britain

Brian Dillon: ‘Phantom Ride’, 4 July 2013

... Simon Starling’s film installation Phantom Ride, commissioned by Tate Britain for its vast Duveen Galleries, takes its title from a cinematic fad of the early 1900s. Cameras and cameramen were hitched to the buffers of trains, and latterly trams, and filmed the track and scenery as they hurtled along. An early phantom ride was typically a single shot, just a few minutes long, which might, if you visited Hale’s Tours of the World (established on Oxford Street in 1906), have had its speeding colonial vistas enhanced with railway whistles, hissing steam and even shaking benches ...

In Herne Bay

Brian Dillon: Duchamp, 29 August 2013

... I am not dead; I am in Herne Bay,’ Marcel Duchamp wrote to the painter Max Bergmann in August 1913. If you know the north Kent resort today – its decayed seafront and sad amusements – Duchamp’s presence there may seem absurd, his reassurance not entirely convincing. But the postcard he sent Bergmann shows the town in its prime: a place lately promoted from a staging post en route to Margate, with its radial streets confected as a genteel alternative to more garish pleasures along the coast ...

At the Foundling Museum

Brian Dillon: Found, 10 August 2016

... The Foundling Hospital​ was established in Bloomsbury in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram, ‘for the education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children’. Strictly speaking, they weren’t foundlings: the parents, or more usually the mother, had to hand over their offspring and were instructed to ‘affix on each child some particular writing, or other distinguishing mark or token, so that the child may be known thereafter if necessary ...

At the MK

Brian Dillon: Gerard Byrne, 23 March 2011

... About twelve noon on 13 November 1951, at a distance of about 200 yards, two distinct humps … something like a couple of ducks, not anything like a porpoise, or a walrus, or a whale, which have been suggested.’ Accounts of sightings of the Loch Ness monster, which provide one wryly mediated source for the Irish artist Gerard Byrne’s exhibition at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes (until 3 April), have about them something of the cloud-spotting interlude between Hamlet and Polonius (‘’Tis like a camel, indeed … Or like a whale? … Very like a whale ...

At the Jeu de Paume

Brian Dillon: Peter Hujar, 9 December 2019

... The​ American photographer Peter Hujar once told a friend who was feeling unattractive: ‘As you’re walking along, say to yourself: I’m me.’ Hujar’s subjects seem to have heeded the same advice: they exhibit a self-possession tending to the monumental. You can see it in his 1981 portrait of the actor Madeline Kahn. Hujar posed her in an empty studio, wrapped in a hulking, dark coat: she looks like a solid black mass from which face, hands and legs emerge ...

My father says

Brian Dillon: Hugo Hamilton, 23 March 2006

The Sailor in the Wardrobe 
by Hugo Hamilton.
Fourth Estate, 263 pp., £16.99, February 2006, 0 00 719217 7
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... I owe what sense I have of the power of the word to a man whose power depended on words failing him. The first time I heard the term ‘West Brit’, it was spat out by a florid-faced teacher at a suburban Dublin school in the early summer of 1981. He was, I suppose, feeling harried: a week earlier, the stick with which, stuttering to a stop, he would, thin-lipped, beat us, had been stolen ...


Brian Dillon: Michael Ondaatje, 13 December 2007

by Michael Ondaatje.
Bloomsbury, 273 pp., £17.99, September 2007, 978 0 7475 8924 2
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... On the Petaluma Road, in the former Gold Rush territory of Northern California, a man inherits a farm, marries a miner’s daughter called Lydia Mendez and adopts a four-year-old boy from a neighbouring farm, whose parents have been murdered by a farm hand. His wife dies giving birth to their daughter, Anna. He leaves the hospital with two girls: the second, Claire, is the daughter of another mother who has died in childbirth ...

A Taste for the Obvious

Brian Dillon: Adam Thirlwell, 22 October 2009

The Escape 
by Adam Thirlwell.
Cape, 322 pp., £16.99, August 2009, 978 0 224 08911 1
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... The Escape is Adam Thirlwell’s third book. His first novel, Politics, was published in 2003 and won some acclaim for its energetic smut and (less frequently) for its alternately faux-naif and overreaching prose. He followed it in 2007 with Miss Herbert, a vagrant disquisition on the nature of style in the novel that had the feel of a lot of flashy undergraduate essays determinedly tacked together to make a passably book-like structure ...

Green Thoughts

Brian Dillon: Gardens in Wartime, 26 April 2007

Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime 
by Kenneth Helphand.
Trinity, 303 pp., $34.95, November 2006, 1 59534 021 1
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... In 1944 and 1945, John Brinckerhoff Jackson surveyed the French and German countryside for the advancing US army. At the military intelligence training centre in Maryland, Jackson had been taught to see the territory he surveyed as an empty stage on which certain choreographed actions were to be performed, and others improvised in the event that the enemy, or the land itself, threw up surprises ...

Feeling feeling

Brian Dillon: Sense of Self, 5 June 2008

The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation 
by Daniel Heller-Roazen.
Zone, 386 pp., £21.95, June 2007, 978 1 890951 76 4
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... We learn a lot about ourselves at the moment when we lose our balance. In the canon of philosophical pratfalls, a tumble taken by Montaigne, and recounted in his essay ‘On Practice’, is among the most instructive. Out riding one day with his retinue, Montaigne was seated (as M.A. Screech’s translation has it) on ‘an undemanding but not very reliable horse ...

Hmmmm, Stylish

Brian Dillon: Claire-Louise Bennett, 19 October 2016

by Claire-Louise Bennett.
Fitzcarraldo, 177 pp., £10.99, October 2015, 978 1 910695 09 8
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... There are​ many ‘nice’ things in Claire-Louise Bennett’s fiction. The narrator – she seems to be the same person in all twenty stories – is hardly up in the morning before the nice things press on her: ‘Sometimes a banana with coffee is nice,’ she says in ‘Morning, Noon & Night’. ‘It ought not to be too ripe – in fact there should be a definite remainder of green along the stalk, and if there isn’t, forget about it ...

On Not Getting the Credit

Brian Dillon: Eileen Gray, 23 May 2013

Eileen Gray 
Pompidou Centre, 20 February 2013 to 20 May 2013Show More
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... The best-known photograph of Eileen Gray was taken in 1926 by Berenice Abbott, whose sitters had lately included Cocteau, Gide and Joyce. Gray was 48, but looks younger: her hair is cropped, and she seems to be wearing a tailored suit. It is hard to imagine anybody looking more sleekly tuned to the modern than Gray does here. The perfect profile, the flying-helmet of dark hair, the slightly downcast gaze: all this promises the combination of austerity and affect that one finds in her designs ...

What is going on in there?

Hilary Mantel: Hypochondria, 5 November 2009

Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives 
by Brian Dillon.
277 pp., £18.99, September 2009, 978 1 84488 134 5
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... a way of life. Adopting for a moment the familiar, modern and derogatory meaning of the word, Brian Dillon consoles us that ‘hypochondriacs are almost always other people.’ The condition exists on a continuum, with fraud at one end, delusion in the middle and medical incompetence at the other end; he is a benefits cheat, you are a ...

Short Cuts

Daniel Soar: Julian Assange, 18 February 2016

... as with Aylan Kurdi – you can’t get away from the body. Ai’s Royal Academy exhibition, which Brian Dillon wrote about in the LRB of 8 October 2015, was – to me – a confusing combination of the documentary (records of the children killed by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake), and the bigging-up of this already big artist himself: this vast, shaggy man ...

At Turner Contemporary

Eleanor Birne: ‘Curiosity’, 18 July 2013

... essays in the exhibition catalogue (Hayward, £22.99) are collections of a kind: Marina Warner and Brian Dillon, the show’s curator, have both written magpie pieces that list facts about collecting and find disparate ways of talking about the idea of curiosity. Part of the pleasure of the cabinet of curiosities is, of course, that ‘curiosity’ has ...

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