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Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency

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“One of the finest writers of the new non-fiction” (Harper’s Bazaar) explores the role of art in the tumultuous twenty-first century. In the age of Trump and Brexit, every crisis is instantly overridden by the next. The turbulent political weather of the twenty-first century generates anxiety and makes it difficult to know how to react. Olivia Laing makes a brilliant, inspi “One of the finest writers of the new non-fiction” (Harper’s Bazaar) explores the role of art in the tumultuous twenty-first century. In the age of Trump and Brexit, every crisis is instantly overridden by the next. The turbulent political weather of the twenty-first century generates anxiety and makes it difficult to know how to react. Olivia Laing makes a brilliant, inspiring case for why art matters more than ever, as a force of both resistance and repair. Art, she argues, changes how we see the world. It gives us X-ray vision. It reveals inequalities and offers fertile new ways of living. Funny Weather brings together a career’s worth of Laing’s writing about art and culture, and their role in our political and emotional lives. She profiles Jean-Michel Basquiat and Georgia O’Keeffe, interviews Hilary Mantel and Ali Smith, writes love letters to David Bowie and Wolfgang Tillmans, and explores loneliness and technology, women and alcohol, sex and the body. With characteristic originality and compassion, Funny Weather celebrates art as an antidote to a terrifying political moment.


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“One of the finest writers of the new non-fiction” (Harper’s Bazaar) explores the role of art in the tumultuous twenty-first century. In the age of Trump and Brexit, every crisis is instantly overridden by the next. The turbulent political weather of the twenty-first century generates anxiety and makes it difficult to know how to react. Olivia Laing makes a brilliant, inspi “One of the finest writers of the new non-fiction” (Harper’s Bazaar) explores the role of art in the tumultuous twenty-first century. In the age of Trump and Brexit, every crisis is instantly overridden by the next. The turbulent political weather of the twenty-first century generates anxiety and makes it difficult to know how to react. Olivia Laing makes a brilliant, inspiring case for why art matters more than ever, as a force of both resistance and repair. Art, she argues, changes how we see the world. It gives us X-ray vision. It reveals inequalities and offers fertile new ways of living. Funny Weather brings together a career’s worth of Laing’s writing about art and culture, and their role in our political and emotional lives. She profiles Jean-Michel Basquiat and Georgia O’Keeffe, interviews Hilary Mantel and Ali Smith, writes love letters to David Bowie and Wolfgang Tillmans, and explores loneliness and technology, women and alcohol, sex and the body. With characteristic originality and compassion, Funny Weather celebrates art as an antidote to a terrifying political moment.

30 review for Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency

  1. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    A few years back I started reading and fell in love with essays. There is something so personal about these short glimpses into what or who authors chose to write. In these Laing gives us a glimpse into the lives of some important artists, writers and singers of the 20th century. In biographical sketches she chose some I had never heard; such as Rachel Kneebone. "An artist who created monumental, frightening complex sculptures out of porcelain. I've never seen anything that so purely captures the A few years back I started reading and fell in love with essays. There is something so personal about these short glimpses into what or who authors chose to write. In these Laing gives us a glimpse into the lives of some important artists, writers and singers of the 20th century. In biographical sketches she chose some I had never heard; such as Rachel Kneebone. "An artist who created monumental, frightening complex sculptures out of porcelain. I've never seen anything that so purely captures the indifference of vitality, the way life is always shifting into death and out again?" I had to look her up and adore her work. https://www.artsy.net/artist/rachel-k.... She also includes O'Keefe whose work I love. Mantel and Ali Smith, a little Bowie and Patti Smith. Some of my favorites were her cultural commentaries. She covers much in a relatively few short pages, some that deserve rereading. This is a thought to which I can certainly relate. "After the American election, I fell asleep each night packing a bag in my mind. A map, a compass, cash, a torch. What kind of disaster did I think was coming? Everything was eroding: language, truth, civil rights." ARC from Edelweiss

  2. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    I don't think art has a duty to be beautiful or uplifting... it's concerned with resistance and repair. Drawing on Eve Sedgwick's 'Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading', Laing's framing essay/introduction attempts to draw together a miscellany of her work from the previous decade. Like all such anthologies, it's a mixed collection and not all of the pieces necessarily fit the stated remit. But that's ok, in these sort of essay collections it's fine to skip a couple. And there's the danger, I don't think art has a duty to be beautiful or uplifting... it's concerned with resistance and repair. Drawing on Eve Sedgwick's 'Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading', Laing's framing essay/introduction attempts to draw together a miscellany of her work from the previous decade. Like all such anthologies, it's a mixed collection and not all of the pieces necessarily fit the stated remit. But that's ok, in these sort of essay collections it's fine to skip a couple. And there's the danger, acknowledged upfront, that there is repetition. Still, the important thing is that Laing is always thoughtful, politically-engaged and readable, and that this might be a book especially suited to the current lockdown. The pieces vary from mini-biogs of artists' lives (e.g. Basquiat, Hockney, O'Keefe), magazine columns, a sprinkling of notes from reading (e.g. Patricia Highsmith, Virginia Woolf, Kathy Acker, Deborah Levy, Jean Rhys), literary interviews (e.g. Mantel, Ali Smith), and some assorted pieces on, for example, women writers and alcohol (a brief coda to her The Trip to Echo Spring), and loneliness (linked to her The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. Each of these essays is short, given its provenance, so is ideally suited to either dipping into or for more concerted reading. The latter does draw attention to some of the repetitions: refugees, Jo Cox, Nigel Farage and Brexit, but that's fine. In any case, Laing's emphasis is on resistance and strength, on taking inspiration and finding something 'sustaining out of inimical environments'. Laing, as ever, is readable and intelligent without being academic. Many thanks to Picador for an ARC via NetGalley

  3. 5 out of 5

    fatma

    2.5 stars I know what Olivia Laing is capable of—Lonely City was one of my favourite books of last year—and I don't think Funny Weather did justice either to her writing or to the subjects she was writing about. My disappointment with Funny Weather is more about my high expectations for it than anything wrong with this book, necessarily. If you go into this book keeping in mind that it's a collection of her previously published articles, then you'll enjoy it. I mean, it's Olivia Laing, so her writ 2.5 stars I know what Olivia Laing is capable of—Lonely City was one of my favourite books of last year—and I don't think Funny Weather did justice either to her writing or to the subjects she was writing about. My disappointment with Funny Weather is more about my high expectations for it than anything wrong with this book, necessarily. If you go into this book keeping in mind that it's a collection of her previously published articles, then you'll enjoy it. I mean, it's Olivia Laing, so her writing is still great. But given that this is an anthology and not a cohesive book about one specific theme, like The Lonely City, it read as a little disjointed and underdeveloped. At times I felt like just as I was getting into a piece, it ended. At others it felt like I got barely anything from a piece because it ended so quickly. What I'm trying to say is: these pieces were just too short to be substantial enough for me. Another thing is that a lot of the artists Laing talks about in this book are people I've never heard of before. In The Lonely City I didn't mind this at all because Laing took her time to develop their histories and relate their art back to loneliness. In this book, though, the pieces we got were essentially the barebones of artists I had no interest in, so it felt like a bit of a lose-lose situation. That said, I am still ridiculously excited to read Laing's next book, Everybody, which I think will be more in the vein of The Lonely City. I mean, this is the first line of the book's description: "Everybody is a fierce, vital exploration of what it means to have a body in the modern era." I am so sold. (Thank you to W.W. Norton for providing me with an e-ARC of this via Edelweiss!)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Stewart Tame

    Full disclosure: I won a free ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. According to a quote from Harper’s Bazaar, Laing is “One of the finest writers of the new nonfiction.” I wasn't aware that the “new nonfiction” was a thing. As a lifelong reader of both fiction and non-, I’ve always been aware that the latter can be just as satisfying to read as the former. Case in point: Funny Weather. What this book is is a series of essays on art and culture. In her introduction, Laing makes a case for the Full disclosure: I won a free ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. According to a quote from Harper’s Bazaar, Laing is “One of the finest writers of the new nonfiction.” I wasn't aware that the “new nonfiction” was a thing. As a lifelong reader of both fiction and non-, I’ve always been aware that the latter can be just as satisfying to read as the former. Case in point: Funny Weather. What this book is is a series of essays on art and culture. In her introduction, Laing makes a case for the necessity of Art, that it matters more than ever in these turbulent times of Brexit and Trump. She talks of writers and painters and musicians and more. She writes well and clearly, which is not always easy to do in an Art context. I particularly enjoyed the essay on British conceptual art, a topic I definitely would like to explore further at some point in the future. That was actually a frequent occurrence with this book: Laing will talk about someone's work and make it sound so intriguing that Funny Weather begins to take on the aspect of a cultural shopping list. If there is a drawback it is one common to most collections of Art essays: too few illustrations. In some cases, I’m familiar enough with the artist in question (Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Cornell, Philip Guston, etc.) to have at least a general mental image of their work. But many were new to me. Clearly further research is needed on my part. Whether this is the new nonfiction or the old, I’m definitely on board. Recommended!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    Probably 4.5, but only because a few of the shorter columns felt like they were cut off just as they were getting going. Funny Weather compiles a bunch of columns and essays that Laing has worked on since around the time of The Lonely City. There are book reviews, artist profiles, essays, interviews - it's a real smorgasbord. But the uniting theme is clear - Laing believes that art matters and that artists matter, and she makes a brilliantly strong case for the importance of art in a world going Probably 4.5, but only because a few of the shorter columns felt like they were cut off just as they were getting going. Funny Weather compiles a bunch of columns and essays that Laing has worked on since around the time of The Lonely City. There are book reviews, artist profiles, essays, interviews - it's a real smorgasbord. But the uniting theme is clear - Laing believes that art matters and that artists matter, and she makes a brilliantly strong case for the importance of art in a world going a bit mad. There's something powerfully optimistic about how Laing sees the world, with a love for people who live boldly, openly and graciously. The dreadful toll of the AIDS crisis is a recurring theme as well, but even here Laing focusses at least as much on the beautiful lives that people like David Wojnarowicz and Freddy Mercury lived as she does on the tragic waste of their deaths. Honestly, I will read anything Laing writes and this has left me hugely excited about her next book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vartika

    George Steiner once stated that the commander of a concentration camp could read Goethe and Rilke in the evening and still carry out his duties at Auschwitz the next day, proof that art has failed its most important purpose—to humanise. Olivia Laing begs to differ. Steiner's way, according to her, is a form of escapism, a shirking of duty: art cannot not reorganise our critical and moral faculties without our will and consent; what art does is provide one with new perspectives, different sets of George Steiner once stated that the commander of a concentration camp could read Goethe and Rilke in the evening and still carry out his duties at Auschwitz the next day, proof that art has failed its most important purpose—to humanise. Olivia Laing begs to differ. Steiner's way, according to her, is a form of escapism, a shirking of duty: art cannot not reorganise our critical and moral faculties without our will and consent; what art does is provide one with new perspectives, different sets of eyes to look at the world with. What we do with these new registers and spaces, she says, is up to us. 'Black Windows' by Sargy Mann Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency is a collection of profiles, essays, columns and other writings which explore art as a medium for resistance and repair. As with anything else Laing writes, these pieces are both intimate and engaging, addressing the surrealness of this political moment while beckoning one to explore beyond it through artistic, literary, musical and simply humane considerations of the world. It does what all truly remarkable books should do: it takes one places, willing the reader to explore different artists, emotions, mediums and messages—to put your foot into someone else's shoes, to dip a toe into deeper water. Be it mini-biographies celebrating the likes of Joseph Cornell, Hilary Mantel and Sarah Lucas; lamentations about an age of loneliness and the difficulties of inhabiting our bodies; thoughts on books and british queer art, conversations with a like mind in Joseph Keckler; or confrontations with an age that compels people to literally seal their lips together in process; reading the pieces in Funny Weather requires one to go beyond the page and interact more with the issues and works in question, and it's impossible not to end up with a list of things you want to explore further. If the aim of art is to create engagement and sustain curiosity, this book is where you find it, like a manifesto in action.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Anastasiya Mozgovaya

    fascinated by the way Laing intertwines the lives and works of a wide range of artists with her own personal experiences. this is not a deep dive into one subject matter, but a thrilling exploration of a multitude. p.s. there is always a lot of homework to do while reading Laing`s work and afterwards, but because of how gentle and welcoming she is, it feels exciting instead of being stressful. fascinated by the way Laing intertwines the lives and works of a wide range of artists with her own personal experiences. this is not a deep dive into one subject matter, but a thrilling exploration of a multitude. p.s. there is always a lot of homework to do while reading Laing`s work and afterwards, but because of how gentle and welcoming she is, it feels exciting instead of being stressful.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    I won this book in a goodreads drawing. A collection of essays about art, artists, and what it's all for. Most of it is the usual stuff you'd expect to read, but there is a section on celebrities which is interesting. I won this book in a goodreads drawing. A collection of essays about art, artists, and what it's all for. Most of it is the usual stuff you'd expect to read, but there is a section on celebrities which is interesting.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Auderoy

    QUOTES: What I wanted most, apart from a different timeline, was a different kind of time frame, in which it might be possible both to feel and to think, to process the intense emotional impact of the news and to consider how to react, perhaps even to imagine other ways of being. Empathy is not something that happens to us when we read Dickens. It's work. What art does is provide material with which to think: new registers, new spaces. After that, friend, it's up to you. I don't think art has a dut QUOTES: What I wanted most, apart from a different timeline, was a different kind of time frame, in which it might be possible both to feel and to think, to process the intense emotional impact of the news and to consider how to react, perhaps even to imagine other ways of being. Empathy is not something that happens to us when we read Dickens. It's work. What art does is provide material with which to think: new registers, new spaces. After that, friend, it's up to you. I don't think art has a duty to be beautiful or uplifting, and some of the work I'm most drawn to refuses to traffic in either of those qualities. What I care about more, and what forms the uniting interest in nearly all the essays and criticism gathered here, are the ways in which it's concerned with resistance and repair. We're so often told that art can't really change anything. But I think it can. It shapes our ethical landscapes; it opens us to the interior lives of others. It is a training ground for possibility. It makes plain inequalities, and it offers other ways of living. Don't you want it, to be impregnate with all that light? And what will happen if you are? It isn't easy to catch the workings of these paintings in words, since they were designed to dodge the burden of representation, to stymie the viewer in their incorrigible habit of searching for recognisable forms in the abstract field. They aren't made to be read, but rather responded to, enigmatic triggers for a spontaneous upwelling of pure emotion. Damp, fecund England, as luxuriant as a Matisse, the hedgerows writhing with renewed life. There's something cartoonish and unadulterated about them, even gluttonous: a need to seize the mad abundance before it becomes something else, bud to leaf, puddle to ice, the endless migration of matter through form. He was visited by many devoted friends, but there still seemed to be something that kept him apart from other people: a pane of glass he couldn't quite break open or unlatch. And yet he never lost his ability to look and be moved--bowled over, even--by the things he saw, from birds in a tree ('cheery-upping of insistent Robin') or shifts in the weather to the marvellous traffic of his dreams and visions. In a wheelchair, he'd still dreamed of photographing the entire world, inch by inch, asking friends to snap the most boring details they could find. Nothing was beneath his regard, and no one exceeded his vision for art as a kind of an alternate planet, equally vast in scope and scale. 'I'm for yes,' he said firmly. 'No excludes. I'm for inclusion.' It was a messy end, though what it perhaps reveals is the immense control that simplicity, elegance and calm require. Without O'Keeffe's sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued, exacting presence, chaos loomed. She made it happen, those simple scenes that are anything but, opening a door to a new way of portraying her country, a new kind of woman's life. 'Making your unknown known is the most important thing.' she said, 'and keeping the unknown always beyond you.' An incantation repeats like a tolling bell: 'Smell the flowers while you can.' It sounds simple, until you remember the many forces geared against health and love, the courage it took to commit to pleasure. It was Wojnarowicz, of course: still finding novel ways to be heard, to counter untruths. Not long before he died, he made a photograph in the desert of his own face, eyes closed, teeth bared, almost buried beneath the dirt, an image of defiance in the face of extinction. If silence equals death, he taught us, then art equals language equals life. All of these paintings draw from the well of Matisse; all could be titled Luxe, Calme et Volupté, and not just for the repeating architecture of infinity pools, the expensive chlorine rectangle lapped by a receding bar of ultramarine. They are testimonials to the abundant pleasures of light and space, the idle hour between swim and beer when everyone drifts into the same small room to pass the time together. It's this weird warmth/coolness as much as the stupendous palette, the deft unseeing strokes of a master colourist, that accounts for the depth charge of these pantings. Nothing much is happening, but everyone that matters is in the room. Would there be a future? Was the past irreparably destroyed? What to do? Don't waste time. Plant rosemary, red-hot poker, santolina; alchemise terror into art. It was the giddy delight of the shoot he loved, the improvised, gorgeously costumed chaos, flying by the seat of his boiler suit, restaging images snatched from dreams. The mouth is for speaking. But how do you speak if no one's listening, how do you speak if your voice is prohibited or no one understands your tongue? You make a migrant image, an image that can travel where you cannot... You make an image to communicate what is unsayable in words. You make an image to go on beyond you, to speak when you no longer can. It isn't academic, art. It's about emergency exits and impromptu arrivals, things coming and going through the ghastly space where a person once was. These objects attested to a leaky universe, a perpetual-motion machine, energy rushing from form to form, a vast migration through space and time. In this transcendental vision, the human body was just another vessel, a decorated shell. It worked a kind of magic, that film, a re-humanising spell. The dancers came on stage, making their glacial suite of movements to two piano pieces by Erik Satie. I'd like to say they moved like automata, but that's not true. What was beautiful was watching their disciplined, pliant bodies straining on the edge of mechanization, up on one wobbling leg like monochrome flamingos, right at the threshold of human capability. After the American election, I fell asleep each night packing a bag in my mind. A map, a compass, cash, a torch. What kind of disaster did I think was coming? Everything was eroding: language, truth, civil rights. It felt reparative, listening to that; it felt like my imaginative ability to frame utopias and then to move purposefully towards them might have been restored, at least for a minute, at least inside those book-clad walls. The disaster had already happened, the bad surprise was finally here. The question was what would happen now, how to live on alongside loss and rage, how to not be destroyed by what are manifestly destructive forces. It felt like the room got bigger as he talked, until we were all sitting in an enormous space, a cathedral of potential, in which the future was as yet unsketched. 'Imagine what a process it was to unnumb yourself, to see it totally and to bear witness,' he said. 'That's the only reason to be an artist: to escape, to bear witness to this.' He didn't mean escape as in run away from reality. He meant act. He meant unspring the trap. He meant cut through the wire. It was true. Gardening situates you in a different kind of time, the antithesis of the agitating present of social media. Time becomes circular, not chronological; minutes stretch into hours; some actions don't bear fruit for decades. The gardener is not immune to attrition and loss, but is daily confronted by the ongoing good news of fecundity. A peony returns, alien pink shoots thrusting from bare soil. The fennel self-seeds; there is an abundance of cosmos out of nowhere. Is art resistance? Can you plant a garden to stop a war? It depends how you think about time. It depends what you think a seed does, if it's tossed into fertile soil. But it seems to me that whatever else you do, it's worth tending to paradise, however you define it and wherever it arises. The show makes a case for Warhol as queer from the very beginning, using art as a way of conjuring the objects of his desire. Inventing what he needed in the paucity of reality, a miner's son willing glamour and beauty his way. It might be my favourite impulse in art. Fantasy, fetish, making up what you don't yet have, using the loved object to will yourself into life. Where do we end up if we wall ourselves in, Smith wonders. Insist on fortifications, and you create a kind of prison for yourself... Far better to yank them down, to learn how to communicate in a different tongue, to welcome the stranger as a friend. Fiction can do that: can make a space for reflecting, for generating novel ways of responding and reacting to lies and guns and walls alike. The mere act of cracking open a book, Smith thinks, is creative in itself, capable of inculcating kindness and agility in the reader. 'Art is one of the prime ways we have of opening ourselves and going beyond ourselves. That's what art is, it's the product of the human being in the world and imagination, all coming together. The irrepressibility of the life in the works, regardless of the times, the histories, the life stories, it's like being given the world, its darks and lights. At which point we can go about the darks and lights with our imagination energised.' You can't paint reality: you can only paint your own place in it, the view from your eyes, as manifested by your own hands. In such an inimical climate, it's not surprising that art became a zone of both enchantment and resistance. In the old days, art had meant things; objects to which the viewer pays solemn homage. But what if art could also be ideas, expressed by way of acts, events in time that left minimal traces in the world? Maybe a person could be a work of art. Maybe you didn't need a gallery at all. Maybe art could take place in the street, or in a field. Maybe it only came into being with the viewer's presence, and maybe it didn't require witnesses at all. The future does not announce its arrival. My own understanding of loneliness relied on a belief in solid, separate selves that he saw as hopelessly outmoded. In his world view, everyone was perpetually slipping into each other, passing through perpetual cycles of transformation; no longer separate, but interspersed. Perhaps he was right. We aren't as solid as we once thought. We're embodied but we're also networks, expanding out into empty space, living on inside machines and in other people's heads, memories and data streams as well as flesh. We're being watched and we do not have control. We long for contact and it makes us afraid. But as long as we're still capable of feeling and expressing vulnerability, intimacy stands a chance. We could as a nation stop being so lethally afraid of strangers, so dangerous in our self-protection. But I think the act of bearing witness is an act of love. There's no need for heaven: the pearly gates, the cherubim and seraphim, the light beyond the sun. It is the protean body, come and gone, that's the abiding miracle. Happiness which depends on privilege and oppression cannot by any civilised terms be described as happiness at all. It is precisely this gift that her own writing possesses: a facility for making room, for offering up possibilities beyond the either/or, the this and that. Perhaps the future wasn't coming; perhaps coming in the present could be its own reward. The problem with the future is that it turns so quickly into the past. Levy has always been skilled at the symbolic, attentive to how we declare our deepest selves in our most casual actions and phrases. Perhaps it's a legacy of her years as a playwright, but she knows how small items--a parakeet, a stray bee, a bubble-gum lolly--generate an atmosphere, making a Freudian weather of their own. This see-sawing, two-things-at-once capacity of objects to open up reservoirs of memory is part of what makes her writing so distinctive. It takes work to insist on being a major character, even in one's own existence. Listening to it now, it becomes apparent that the quiet man on the ferry, dancing silently to sounds that only he could hear, might have been one of the best and strangest talents of twentieth-century composition, a nomad with an absolute commitment to freedom, whose natural element was music itself. There are so many ways you can feel bad in your body, not just ugly but cut off or in transit, untouched, ineffectual, a vector or data point, a consumer, a subject. I love these pictures because they're truly utopian and because the utopia is so abundantly available, even now. I mean it's free. Just holding hands, maybe a blow job, two girls kissing, a boy cutting shapes in a silver dress. It's not that anyone's pretending that this isn't dangerous, that the free exercise of love, the free movement of bodies might cause a person to be killed. That's abundantly documented too. I fear what is happening in the world. I am glad someone is watching how truth is made, diagramming the stages of its construction, or as it may be dissolution. Art is like another reality that makes our reality feel more alive. And because of that entanglement it's tempting to place a burden on the artist... As the person who is responding to and critiquing but also creating reality. It's an elusive task and I think the best art is probably always going to be--I'm trying not to use a bureaucratic phrase. 'Challenging the assumptions about what that means!' (laughter) The best work is always going to seem both deeply unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. It's always going to be operating outside of whatever job description you assign it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    olivia

    funny weather: art is an emergency. this book is a bunch of essay which talk about manty different artists. who they were thought their lives as well as the difficulties which they lived with. throughout these essays it was a massive eye opener into some of the prejudices which were faced by the artists themselves. being able to gain more of an understand about art and its importance has always been so important to me, and these essays allowed me to gain a greater insight. also having it spilt i funny weather: art is an emergency. this book is a bunch of essay which talk about manty different artists. who they were thought their lives as well as the difficulties which they lived with. throughout these essays it was a massive eye opener into some of the prejudices which were faced by the artists themselves. being able to gain more of an understand about art and its importance has always been so important to me, and these essays allowed me to gain a greater insight. also having it spilt into several different parts and each essay is different to the next; nonetheless weren't difficult to read either which i do appreciate. in addition to this, olivia laing is such a great essayist i cant wait to dive into her essays a lot more! being able to read and analyse her writing was such a great experience. i cant wait to be abler to do it again. though it did take me a little while to read, i was glad that i took the time to read them, gaining as much knowledge form them as i could ! 4/5 stars from me.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve

    A collection of writings that's about art and artists, but takes on so much more than that. It's written very poetically but I still felt like I learned a lot about art from the 70s, 80s, 90s that I basically knew nothing about. Laing writes about queer experiences with so much love - those were my favourite bits, especially the essay about Derek Jarman. Wish the book had pictures though!! A collection of writings that's about art and artists, but takes on so much more than that. It's written very poetically but I still felt like I learned a lot about art from the 70s, 80s, 90s that I basically knew nothing about. Laing writes about queer experiences with so much love - those were my favourite bits, especially the essay about Derek Jarman. Wish the book had pictures though!!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I was sent a copy of the paperback edition in the same mailing with my review copy of Laing’s new book, Everybody. Most of these essays first appeared in frieze, the Guardian, the New Statesman, or the New York Times. There are profiles of artists and writers, obituaries, and book reviews. The underlying question posed by the book is, to borrow a John Carey title, what good are the arts? In a foreword, Laing addresses this directly. “Can art do anything, especially during periods of crisis? … Em I was sent a copy of the paperback edition in the same mailing with my review copy of Laing’s new book, Everybody. Most of these essays first appeared in frieze, the Guardian, the New Statesman, or the New York Times. There are profiles of artists and writers, obituaries, and book reviews. The underlying question posed by the book is, to borrow a John Carey title, what good are the arts? In a foreword, Laing addresses this directly. “Can art do anything, especially during periods of crisis? … Empathy is not something that happens to us when we read Dickens. It’s work. What art does is provide material with which to think: new registers, new spaces. … I don’t think art has a duty to be beautiful or uplifting … What I care about more … are the ways in which it’s concerned with resistance and repair.” I had a quick glance through some sections, but wasn’t particularly interested in her subjects or was already familiar with them from The Lonely City. I was intrigued to learn that Ali Smith’s partner is her cousin, so she’s known Smith since she was 17. Having read Modern Nature late last year, I most appreciated her piece on Derek Jarman. “His capacity to write honestly about sex and death – self-evidently the most natural of states – makes most contemporary nature writing seem prissy and anaemic.”

  13. 5 out of 5

    Evie Braithwaite

    “We're so often told that art can't really change anything. But I think it can. It shapes our ethical landscapes; it opens us to the interior lives of others. It is a training ground for possibility. It makes plain inequalities, and it offers other ways of living. Don't you want it, to be impregnate with all that light? And what will happen if you are?” “We're so often told that art can't really change anything. But I think it can. It shapes our ethical landscapes; it opens us to the interior lives of others. It is a training ground for possibility. It makes plain inequalities, and it offers other ways of living. Don't you want it, to be impregnate with all that light? And what will happen if you are?”

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bart Van Overmeire

    Some very interesting pieces (on Robert Rauschenberg, David Wojnarowicz, The Future of Loneliness), but all of them too short to really stick. A pity, because Laing is and remains a very interesting writer.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency is Olivia Laing's response to - and takes its title from her name for - the strange, unsettling political climate of the past few years since Trump's inauguration. In these tough times, Laing turns to her favourite topics including literature, gender, alcoholism, culture and art, and these essays have largely been published elsewhere during the 2010s. The essays are loosely grouped into sections which means at times they can feel a little repetitive and similar Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency is Olivia Laing's response to - and takes its title from her name for - the strange, unsettling political climate of the past few years since Trump's inauguration. In these tough times, Laing turns to her favourite topics including literature, gender, alcoholism, culture and art, and these essays have largely been published elsewhere during the 2010s. The essays are loosely grouped into sections which means at times they can feel a little repetitive and similar to each other, particularly the artist profiles in the opening section. The analysis was a little bit too surface level for my liking, but despite these quibbles there are plenty of essays in this collection which I enjoyed. Thank you Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Sadler

    Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City remains one of the most affecting non-fiction books I have read. Olivia is a formidable essayist and art critic and she combined both these skills to craft a tender insight into loneliness through the excavation of the lives and experiences of famous lonely artists who have lived and worked in New York City. And those very same talents are on display again in Funny Weather, a magnificent collection of essays that, together, ask fundamental questions about life and Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City remains one of the most affecting non-fiction books I have read. Olivia is a formidable essayist and art critic and she combined both these skills to craft a tender insight into loneliness through the excavation of the lives and experiences of famous lonely artists who have lived and worked in New York City. And those very same talents are on display again in Funny Weather, a magnificent collection of essays that, together, ask fundamental questions about life and art. “We’re so often told that art can’t really change anything. But I think it can. It shapes our ethical landscapes; it opens us to the interior lives of others. It is a training ground for possibility. It makes plain inequalities, and it offers other ways of living. Don’t you want it? To be impregnate with all that light? And what will happen if you are?” The variety of essays included in this book is mightily impressive; we’ve insights into artists’ lives –Georgia O’Keeffe, David Hockney, Joseph Cornell amongst many others – interviews with such influential names as Hilary Mantel and Ali Smith, the curiosities gleaned from reading books by the like of Chris Kraus and Kathy Acker, the enduring influence of such magnificent lives as those of Freddie, Bowie and Derek Jarman… It goes on and on. Olivia’s ability to capture the emotional power as well as the craft of artworks is formidable; take this gem on a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting: “painted in the heroin wasteland of 1988, Basquiat’s last year, in which a black man rides on a four-legged white skeleton, against an awesomely reduced background, a burlap-coloured scrim, of absolutely nothing at all.” Or this blunt take on Cornell’s famed boxes: “Being the object of a fantasy is claustrophobic, airless, frightening, since what is desired is the outer shell and not the inner person. Plenty of people admired Cornell’s boxes, but no one wanted to live inside them.” And I learnt much on the artists too, from Yayoi Kusama’s passionate affair with Cornell to Georgia O’Keeffe’s breakdown. To the extent and depth of Derek Jarman’s love for horticulture. And through David Wojnarowicz’s homeless years as he hustled on the streets and piers of NYC. But there’s so much more than the famous here. Olivia takes us into the emergence of lip-sewing by refugees – art as agonising protest against horrific conditions. We’ve the American elections and refugees drowning at sea. There’s more stringent laws against abortion and Grenfell. And all the time, Olivia weighs up, “what’s the relationship between art and disaster?” I calculate there are about 50 essays in this book. Many were originally articles or magazine columns in their own right. Yet, here, when bound together, they flow so beautifully. Almost effortlessly. The essays reveal the lives of complete expression, the pleasure, pain but ultimate satisfaction and fulfilment that comes with living a creative life, of being able to manifest emotions into art. I’ll be honest, at times I felt as if I was reading my own personal bible. Creeds and closely held beliefs lid bare across Olivia’s pages. I found this a revelation and a wonder. I have always admired Olivia’s writing yet to have so much collected densely together is a blessing. “On you go, go you must, bound feet moving on damp ground. The weather isn’t looking good, time’s running out, a shrapnel of light falls whitely on the birch.”

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dorrit

    It's hard not to read this as symptomatic of failure: not of Laing's personally, but more broadly of our times, deformed in our half-emerged state out of the end of history. We're washed out and drained, regurgitations of the same things all around us. Laing once lived in the trees, guarding them against the big bad lawnmowers of corporations; now she tends to her beautiful garden whose pictures she posts on Instagram. All our (mine) energies go into cultivating ourselves, our spaces. Hope does It's hard not to read this as symptomatic of failure: not of Laing's personally, but more broadly of our times, deformed in our half-emerged state out of the end of history. We're washed out and drained, regurgitations of the same things all around us. Laing once lived in the trees, guarding them against the big bad lawnmowers of corporations; now she tends to her beautiful garden whose pictures she posts on Instagram. All our (mine) energies go into cultivating ourselves, our spaces. Hope does not bubble. We cope. Funny Weather, with its fractured ode to artists from an era of infectious action, only exacerbates that feeling. It's a love letter, but to the dead.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Fede

    This collection of previously published essays has the merit of brevity and simplicity. Having already enjoyed Olvia Laing's The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone and her introduction to David Wojnarowicz's memoir Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, I was quite sure that I wouldn't be disappointed: in fact I was looking forward to getting another taste of her work, and the cover of this volume was all I needed to go back to her again. Most of these texts are about im This collection of previously published essays has the merit of brevity and simplicity. Having already enjoyed Olvia Laing's The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone and her introduction to David Wojnarowicz's memoir Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, I was quite sure that I wouldn't be disappointed: in fact I was looking forward to getting another taste of her work, and the cover of this volume was all I needed to go back to her again. Most of these texts are about important protagonists of modern art and literature. Far from being inaccessible to the layman, they are informative without being scholarly, concise though not shallow, and they require no academic or specific background. Any reader with a basic knowledge of 20th century movements can pick up this book and enjoy it from beginning to end, because there's nothing daunting about it: despite the seemingly scholarly premise, the author's aim is to introduce the reader to alternative viewpoints and engage him in further reflections, a pleasure he's usually discouraged to indulge nowadays. Although being very short - which is quite obvious, since they were conceived as contributions to a newspaper's column - these essays include plenty of references to the sociopolitical climate of our time: AIDS, social and cultural movements, civil rights, environmentalism, immigration, homophobia, Brexit, art as insurgency and literature as a mirror of the times. In fact Laing's musings on artists and writers invariably turn into digressions on the most diverse subjects (e.g., the piece on alcoholic women writers, interspersed with details and anecdotes about Duras, Highsmith and Rhys; or the one connecting the work of Ali Smith to Brexit) and I, who dislike biographies no matter how skillfully or beautifully written they may be, did enjoy her approach in portraying artists and writers whose work I was already familiar with (such as Basquiat, Hockney, Rauschenberg, O'Keeffe, Wojnarowicz, Jarman, Bacon, Woolf, Acker) as well as others I knew little or nothing about (Agnes Martin, Joseph Cornell, Sargy Mann, Rachel Kneebone, Sarah Lucas, Chantal Joffe, Maggie Nelson and many more). Some of the themes the author is most concerned with are immigration policies, gender discrimination, the dark side of technology, urban gentrification, the loneliness at the core of online communication (which she eloquently discusses in "Lonely City") and the struggle for social equality. She therefore picks authors whose personal and professional experience was directly affected by the threat of intellectual repression and isolation, whose work is thus to be regarded as an act of resistance in and of itself: artists and literates who faced lifelong rejection and were ostracised by the cultural establishment on account of their race, sexuality, gender or opinons (a quick glance to the names I mentioned gives an idea of what to expect from this collection). My rating is not in the least related to the quality of the writing, but only to my being dissatisfied with collections of essays in general. In fact I tend to prefer longer dissertations with room enough for the author to fully expose his ideas, which is particularly welcome in Olivia Laing's case - given her ability to deal with difficult issues, making all her books intellectually remarkable. Had it been published in a different form, I would have given this book a much higher rating. She did an excellent work nonetheless, and I'd recommend it to her longtime fans as well as to those who still haven't read anything by her.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    Funny Weather is one of those round-ups you get once an author has enough columns in various publications to their name; the second section is two years’ worth of short monthly pieces for Frieze magazine, for example. Luckily, unlike most collections of this type, the quality is consistently good, and excellent in places. I enjoy Laing’s writing a good deal more in long form than in short, so her Frieze pieces struck me as occasionally, unavoidably, glib, but an earlier section—biographical and Funny Weather is one of those round-ups you get once an author has enough columns in various publications to their name; the second section is two years’ worth of short monthly pieces for Frieze magazine, for example. Luckily, unlike most collections of this type, the quality is consistently good, and excellent in places. I enjoy Laing’s writing a good deal more in long form than in short, so her Frieze pieces struck me as occasionally, unavoidably, glib, but an earlier section—biographical and creative appraisals of various 20th-century artists—was a delight. No one else writes about artists with such infectious verve; I now desperately want to read both Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature and David Wojnarowicz’s Close To the Knives, to seek out Agnes Martin’s paintings, to look up Sargy Mann. Her profiles of four creative women—Hilary Mantel (hey!), Ali Smith, Sarah Lucas and Chantal Joffe—reveal her fascination with artistic process and an artist’s psychology: why do writers, or painters, or filmmakers, or sculptors, work the way they do and on the things they do? There’s also a marvelous three-page essay (which I photographed and posted in full on Twitter, because it’s so good) about Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s idea of “paranoid reading” versus “reparative reading”: paranoid reading is what a lot of us are doing right now, desperate semi-mindless thumb-ache-inducing scrolling in order to gather the minutest pieces of data about a given situation. Sedgwick suggests an alternative paradigm, one in which the mere revelation of Bad Stuff Happening isn’t prioritized over attempts to process it or make it constructive or beautiful. Much harder to define, this reparative reading, but a really useful idea, at least for me, in the middle of this endless breaking news about Bad Stuff.

  20. 5 out of 5

    JacquiWine

    I loved this – a fascinating collection of essays, articles and mini-biographies which explore the importance of art in politically unsettled times. This is the third book I’ve read by Olivia Laing, and it’s just as absorbing as the others despite the brevity of the individual pieces. (If it’s of interest, my mini-review of The Lonely City, Laing’s beautiful meditation on the experience of loneliness in a busy urban environment, is here.) As a writer, she is someone I’m happy to follow, just to s I loved this – a fascinating collection of essays, articles and mini-biographies which explore the importance of art in politically unsettled times. This is the third book I’ve read by Olivia Laing, and it’s just as absorbing as the others despite the brevity of the individual pieces. (If it’s of interest, my mini-review of The Lonely City, Laing’s beautiful meditation on the experience of loneliness in a busy urban environment, is here.) As a writer, she is someone I’m happy to follow, just to see where the path takes me, such is the quality of her writing. Several of the pieces included in the collection were initially published, often in different forms, in newspapers and journals such as The Guardian, frieze and the New Statesman. There are glimpses into the lives of leading artists – David Hockney, Joseph Cornell and Jean-Michel Basquiat, to name but a few; interviews with four highly talented women – Hilary Mantel, Sarah Lucas, Ali Smith and Chantal Joffe; and columns for frieze, a leading magazine of contemporary art and culture. To read the rest of my review, please visit: https://jacquiwine.wordpress.com/2021...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bert

    Worth **** stars, but I cannot but long for Laings thorough researched and superbly elaborated longer works of non-fiction. This was a very interesting entertainment though during the long wait for Everybody. Laings passage in the video-interview series Repairing The Future, organised by Bozar, was a nice introduction to this collected pieces of writing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ixWh... Worth **** stars, but I cannot but long for Laings thorough researched and superbly elaborated longer works of non-fiction. This was a very interesting entertainment though during the long wait for Everybody. Laings passage in the video-interview series Repairing The Future, organised by Bozar, was a nice introduction to this collected pieces of writing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ixWh...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Today we are living in a terrifying world, where there's a sense that freedoms are being curtailed and policies are being made to shutter the rights many have worked to secure for so long. Olivia Laing worries about these changes and holds up art as a remedy for these troubles. Funny Weather is a collection of Olivia Laing's essays. Laing shares her thoughts about memorable artists as well as her reviews of books and writers. Today we are living in a terrifying world, where there's a sense that freedoms are being curtailed and policies are being made to shutter the rights many have worked to secure for so long. Olivia Laing worries about these changes and holds up art as a remedy for these troubles. Funny Weather is a collection of Olivia Laing's essays. Laing shares her thoughts about memorable artists as well as her reviews of books and writers.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Genevieve Brassard

    3.75: An uneven collection, but more because of my personal tastes than Laing’s talents as a critic. I know very little about modern art, and descriptions of art works fall short of knowing and seeing the real thing. I’m most appreciative of Laing’s capacious curiosity and moral generosity when it comes to artists and writers, and of her sheer ease of expression at the sentence level.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Derick Cursino

    I love Olivia Laing. Her way with words is otherworldly and all her books dwell into the realm of arts - which is both an education and a source of questioning. I highly recommend it!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    I wasn’t familiar with that many of the artists profiled in this collection of previously published essays, so I spent a lot of time on the internet while reading this book in order to familiarize myself with them. It was interesting.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Wouter

    Laing writes brilliantly, but her keen eye works better in longer form. These pieces, though presented as essays, were mostly just journalistic fare not much longer than the length of a column, and it didn't really work for me. Looking forward to her new book, Everybody! Laing writes brilliantly, but her keen eye works better in longer form. These pieces, though presented as essays, were mostly just journalistic fare not much longer than the length of a column, and it didn't really work for me. Looking forward to her new book, Everybody!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Fascinating and beautifully written essays, often about the sort of art I tend to dismiss out of hand as meaningless, stupid, or experimental for the sole purpose of shocking the viewer. Laing brings her much more refined and knowledgeable vision to these scenes, and I end up learning a great deal.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Puck

    "We're being watched and we do not have control. We long for contact and it makes us afraid. But as long as we're still capable of feeling and expressing vulnerability, intimacy stands a chance." A diverse and fascinating collection of essays on artists (painters, photographers, writers), from the past and modern times, who find themselves facing poverty, illness or depression and how their art reflects and responds to those 'emergencies'. Olivia Laing's possesses a writing style in which sh "We're being watched and we do not have control. We long for contact and it makes us afraid. But as long as we're still capable of feeling and expressing vulnerability, intimacy stands a chance." A diverse and fascinating collection of essays on artists (painters, photographers, writers), from the past and modern times, who find themselves facing poverty, illness or depression and how their art reflects and responds to those 'emergencies'. Olivia Laing's possesses a writing style in which she merges historic information with personal insights on the artist, keeping you intrigued and emotionally drawn into the story. I especially loved her Frieze columns reflecting on the current (political) climate, and the section 'Artist's lives': reading about Georgia O'Keefe, David Wojnarowicz and Agnes Martin almost brought me to tears. Yet the columns in the second half of this book had less of an impact. I enjoyed 'Drink, Drink, Drink' and 'The Future of Loneliness', although I would recommend reading Laing's full novels ("The Trip to Echo Spring" and "The Lonely City") on these subjects. The essays discussing 'Reading' and 'Love Letters' just didn't interest me as much and had less of a thread holding them all together. So, although the beginning was strong, the collection overall didn't make a big of an impact as I hoped, so I rate it 3,5 stars. I am however very much looking forward to Everybody: A Book about Freedom! "Is art resitance? Can you plant a garden to stop a war? It depends on how you think about time. It depends on what you think a seed does, if it's tossed in fertile soil. But it seems to me that whatever else you do, its worth tending to paradise, however you define it and wherever it arises."

  29. 5 out of 5

    Navya

    I read Laing's Lonely City a few months earlier and while I liked the book, I was far more fascinated by the author herself - how she looked at the world, the nuances she drew out, and the kindness and empathy she had for her subjects. Funny Weather, which collects Laing's writings of various kinds from over a period of time, seemed like the perfect next step. The loose connector is art (kind of obviously, given the author's background), but other than that there is a lot of different things in I read Laing's Lonely City a few months earlier and while I liked the book, I was far more fascinated by the author herself - how she looked at the world, the nuances she drew out, and the kindness and empathy she had for her subjects. Funny Weather, which collects Laing's writings of various kinds from over a period of time, seemed like the perfect next step. The loose connector is art (kind of obviously, given the author's background), but other than that there is a lot of different things in here. There are reviews, essays, artists' profiles, a conversation with a friend (???). And it is mostly...fine. I enjoyed a lot of the writing, and I also speedread through a lot of other parts. There was some potential for the diverse writings to showcase convergent themes and main ideas of the author, but overall it read to me as a bit too fragmented. It was like an appetizer - interesting and engaging and a good sample, but leaves you wanting more. A good book if you are a fan of Laing's, but I wouldn't recommend starting here.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    In a minute of synchronicity, I read an essay about the garden and Derek Jarman just before I started reading Olivia Laing's Funny Weather, and to read about her 'overspill of tenderness' towards him was so lovely. Theres a little anecdote in the beginning about how we read now -- looking for the poison rather than the nourishment, reading to confirm our values and suspicions rather than to rest in a different space -- a special thought for a book of criticism, in a time where that is so loaded. In a minute of synchronicity, I read an essay about the garden and Derek Jarman just before I started reading Olivia Laing's Funny Weather, and to read about her 'overspill of tenderness' towards him was so lovely. Theres a little anecdote in the beginning about how we read now -- looking for the poison rather than the nourishment, reading to confirm our values and suspicions rather than to rest in a different space -- a special thought for a book of criticism, in a time where that is so loaded. I enjoyed it. Also, great cover design?

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