This week’s Cultureteca expounds on: the exhibition Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal at the Bowes Museum in County Durham; Mark Twain and the Bowes Museum’s Silver Swan; Manchester City vs. Chelsea in what is prospectively the first title clash of the Premier League season; and an internet comedy series called How to Talk Australians.
Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal
The exhibition Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal is currently running at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham. A collaboration with the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, it is being billed as the first UK retrospective of the French fashion designer’s work and life.
Born in 1936 in Oran, Algeria, Yves Saint Laurent became the artistic director of Dior in 1957, upon Christian Dior’s death on suffering his third heart attack. At just twenty-one years old, Yves Saint Laurent was exceptionally young for the couturier of a major fashion house; and while his first collection, which became known as the ‘Trapeze’ line, proved a resounding success, subsequent collections were met with criticism. In 1960 he was conscripted to serve in the French Army; and after a breakdown, the following year he founded his own fashion house.
Selling off the ready-to-wear brand in 1999, Yves Saint Laurent continued to orchestrate his house’s haute couture collection until 2002. The Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent was established in the same year, by the designer and his longtime partner as a means of continuing the story of Yves Saint Laurent. The foundation conserves thousands of items of clothing, accessories, drawings, and photographs, and organises fashion shows, exhibitions, and other cultural activities.
While Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal covers just three rooms in the Bowes Museum, and the attempt to contextualise Yves Saint Laurent’s designs against the museum’s own collection of clothing is often unconvincing, still this is a broad and compelling retrospective. It presents fifty haute couture garments from across Yves Saint Laurent’s career, with a brief foray into ready-to-wear, alongside toiles, hats and hat blocks, collection boards, specification sheets, drawings and sketches, photographs, and films narrating the artist’s life.
One room focuses on the creative process, through initial sketches, toiles, live models, and the selection and application of fabrics, to its culmination in haute couture gowns minutely tailored for the runway. Another showcases some of Yves Saint Laurent’s most extravagant designs, depicting the extent to which he was influenced by and in turn reconfigured celebrated works of art. Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal will run at the Bowes Museum until 16 October.
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The Silver Swan
When it is not hosting major fashion exhibitions, the Bowes Museum is best known for its Silver Swan, a musical automaton designed by John Joseph Merlin in 1773, and first showing in the Mechanical Museum of London’s James Cox. The life-sized swan sits on a stream made of twisted glass and silver leaves. Twisting its long neck and preening itself sharply as the music box plays, the swan soon spots a silver fish swimming in the water below, and catches it before swallowing it whole.
Mark Twain saw the Silver Swan at the International Exposition of 1867, the second such exposition to be held in Paris. He gave his thoughts in his 1969 travel book The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress – which proved the best selling of all his works during his liftetime. Twain wrote:
‘I watched the Silver Swan, which had a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes – watched him swimming about as comfortably and unconcernedly as it he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweller’s shop – watched him seize a silver fish from under the water and hold up his head and go through the customary and elaborate motions of swallowing it’
The Silver Swan has become the emblem of Bowes Museum. To preserve the mechanism, it goes live but once each day at 2pm, with each performance lasting a tantalisingly brief 40 seconds. The video below, courtesy of YouTube uploader Mark Vallack, shows precisely what can be experienced. But view with concern, for while there may be crucial differences between automatons and robots, who after all are we to know when such a creature will attain an agitated sentience?
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Manchester City 3-0 Chelsea
On Sunday, in the first Premier League clash of the season between presumed title challengers, Chelsea were well beaten at Etihad Stadium by Manchester City. Manchester City won the game 3-0, courtesy of goals from Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, and Fernandinho. Aguero showed excellent close control in the Chelsea area, before slotting home to open the scoring after 31 minutes. Then late in the second half, Kompany headed in from a corner after 79 minutes; and Fernandinho on 85 minutes struck powerfully across goal from the edge of the penalty area.
While Manchester City persevered to triumph after a close league race in 2013-14 – topping the table just two points ahead of Liverpool, and four ahead of Chelsea – last season, in 2014-15, Chelsea strolled to the Premier League title, finishing ahead of Manchester City by a comprehensive eight points.
Just a few months on, and over the course of the summer so far – with a just a couple of weeks until the close of the transfer window – neither side has experienced vast change. Manchester City spent big on Raheem Sterling, paying £44 million for twenty-year-old former Liverpool player to boost their attacking options. But otherwise they have added only the peripheral midfielder Fabian Delph.
Chelsea meanwhile have sold more than they have bought: Petr Cech and Filipe Luis have moved on for fees in excess of £10 million; this week Oriol Romeu transferred to Southampton for £5 million; Didier Drogba has made his final footballing departure from the club; and as always, they have sent a horde of players out across Europe on loan. Asmir Begovic, an £8 million signing from Stoke, has replaced Petr Cech as backup for Thibaut Courtois; and Radamel Falcao has also come in, on loan from Monaco after last year’s poor showing for Manchester United, and seems set to compete with Loic Remy as an alternative to first-choice Diego Costa. This evening, Chelsea also confirmed the arrival of left-back Baba Rahman from Augsburg, the twenty one year old moving for an undisclosed sum.
Both clubs seem set to make further additions. Manchester City are reportedly close to the signing of Valencia’s Argentinian centre-back Nicolas Otamendi, and could even be willing to let Eliaquim Mangala leave on loan to secure the deal. They remain interested in Kevin De Bruyne, though prising him from Wolfsburg will prove difficult. And they could even steal in on Manchester United’s proposed move for Barcelona’s Pedro. Meanwhile – despite Rahman’s arrival – Jose Mourinho appears to be pushing for reinforcements in the centre of defence. He has been attempting to lure Everton’s John Stones all summer.
As Manchester City’s title challenge faded last season, many thought their squad needed an overhaul, with important fringe players in Edin Dzeko and James Milner set to depart, but more importantly their core in Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure performing well below expectations. Instead, Manchester City look revitalised this season; while Chelsea’s squad already looks tired, and seems to be increasingly showing its age and numerous frailties.
Today for the first time as manager of Chelsea, Jose Mourinho substituted his captain John Terry: and not only was Terry replaced, but he came off as early as half-time. Mourinho subsequently cited the need for a high defensive line and Kurt Zouma’s pace, as Chelsea looked to chase the game. But problems in the centre of defence – Courtois was unavailable today in goal, suspended after last week’s red card against Swansea – are far from the only ones Chelsea face.
As has become something of a habit for Mourinho, today Ramires was selected to play wide on the right of Chelsea’s attack, with William central behind Diego Costa, and Eden Hazard on the left. Cesc Fabregas was therefore asked to play in the centre of midfield alongside Nemanja Matic, and against big teams he can be a liability in the role: lacking the pace, the physical strength, and the positional sense to contribute defensively, while the position and his lack of stamina neuters his attacking threat. The idea seems to be that Ramires will press effectively higher up the pitch.
But Fabregas, aside from being unsuited to a combative deeper role, has shown poor form since the latter stages of last season; and he is yet to prove that he is capable of influencing a season from beginning to end. His starting place currently ought to be under threat. With Ramires in the side, Branislav Ivanovic – a converted centre-back – at right-back, and Cesar Azpilicueta – a converted right-back – at left-back, Chelsea lack genuine width, and today possessed only two players capable of running and dribbling at pace and beating a man. Manchester City on the other hand – in Aguero, David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Jesus Navas, and Yaya Toure – possessed five, even though Sterling was largely ineffective.
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How to Talk Australians
Popular on Reddit at the moment is the following video, the first in a series entitled How to Talk Australians. The series is set at the fictional Delhi College of Linguistics in India, and depicts students endeavouring to learn all things Australian: how to speak the language, identify with the culture, and ultimately pass an Australian citizenship test.
Written by Rob Hibbert and Tony Rogers, and directed by Rogers – known for his work on the comedy series Wilfred – How to Talk Australians was originally conceived as a television series, but funding from Screen Australia helped bring it online. I’ve only watched the first couple of episodes so far, but it is very funny, with strong deadpan acting, a keen eye for detail, and exceptional production values shown in everything from the restrained colour palette to the elaborate mise-en-scene.