Author Archives: Tim Vincent-Smith

Investigate Ethical Investment

I went to Barclays bank today and asked them what their ethical policy was. The lady looked blank. Then a light dawned and she asked did I mean stocks and shares? Her brighter colleague came to her rescue saying that not only was no one in the branch qualified to answer that question but it was unlikely that I would even be any the wiser for looking on the internet. If I could wait for five minutes she would come out of the booth and I could write a letter to the manager in head office to see what they had to say about it and by the way No One had Ever asked about this before.

I found this hard to believe. It seemed like a fairly simple question. I have had an account with you for 20 years. I put my money in and then the bank presumably invests it. Would it be possible to know what they invest it in? Continue reading

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Sound Mirror

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Bach’s Squiggle

At the top of the frontispiece of Bach’s infamous series of pieces for keyboard in all 24 keys, C major through B minor, revolutionary in its day and widely credited as being the beginning of Equal Temperament — a system of tuning which allows one to play pieces in remote accidental rich keys without sounding rubbish and thus the foundation of the Western Classical Tradition — Das Wohltemperirte Clavier or Well Tempered Clavier, there is a large and apparently uncharacteristically whimsical squiggle:

bach squiggle

There is also quite a hefty squiggle at the bottom but it is to the squiggle at the top that I wish to draw the attention of the reader.  Continue reading

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Piano Staircase

Two upright pianos were given to me by a man who would usually have paid another man to burn them. My brief was to take a box room as a blank canvas and build into it a staircase sculpture and mezzanine level bed to sleep two using only what could be gleaned from these two ex-instruments.

Dismembering them put me in mind of the French restaurant where they kill a cow on the weekend and prepare every part for food. Nose to tail carpentry. The noises that came out of the carcass – Continue reading

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B.O.G.O.F.

In 1972, psychologist Walter Mischel of Stanford University conducted a study on deferred gratification that has come to be known as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. A marshmallow was offered to each child. If the child could resist eating the marshmallow, he was promised two instead of one.

Staring at the absurd variety of different types of muesli on offer in Sainsburies I feel like the child staring at the marshmallow. What is this feeling that is subtly so compelling and yet simultaneously stultifying? Uma had to go home tired after having got stuck in a brain loop looking at the bewildering range of detergents on offer.

For all our concern for the environment the very fact that we are shopping in Sainsburies is surely proof that in the final analysis we don’t give a toss. All these straight carrots mean agribusiness, denigration of traditional farming and of soil and tonnes of wonky waste to me. So much plastic packaging destined for the guts of dying Albatross chicks on remote islands in the pacific. No doubt there are very clever people paid handsomely to convince that this is not the case should one publicly allege such things. But though my thinking regarding super-markets has generally been informed by paranoiac suspicion for some years it is specifically the environment of the aisle and the psychological trial of the B.O.G.O.F. offer that interests me now.

Buy one. Get one. Free.

Is the inverse of deferred gratification just this: double gratification, right now? We know it is a trick. We don’t want or need two. We just came in for one. But we are caught. One or two? The expense of one is perfectly balanced by the freeness of the other as if by magic a bar of gold is balanced in the scales by a feather. We stop and stare. There is a particular vacancy redolent of airports, a halfway place which is nowhere, between the bought one and the free one.

The Stanford Marshmallow experiment showed that the time it took for a child to give in to temptation was proportional to the age of the child. In other words our ability to defer gratification is acquired. I think this is why a visit to Sainsburies makes me so weary. The grinning Jamie Oliver public image conceals this lie. There is no balance in the B.O.G.O.F. To buy just one is now pointless. It’s two or none at all. Choose. Gratify yourself twice now and slip back into that beautiful pre-marsmallow state devoid of responsibility or bog off.

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Invisible Hand

Announcement: Invisible Hand is an exhibition and residency by Tim Vincent-Smith featuring harmonographic drawing machines, dismantled pianos, live music and the world premiere of Goat Song, a work in progress by Uma Dragon.

Thursday 12th April 8pm: Live music and movement from Sink and guests. See here.

Saturday 14th April 1pm: Reading of Goat Song.

Gallery 1, arts complex, St. Margaret’s House, 151 London Road, Edinburgh, Scotland.

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