the ancient art


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Arrowheads as art installation – neolithic projectile points found in Britain, up on the wall as part of the Jeremy Deller ‘English Magic’ exhibition at Turner Contemporary in Margate on the east coast of England.

There is always something magical about stone tools; the lack of decay means they retain all their form and function even after thousands of years in the ground. These objects don’t fade or wither. They’re still good to go.

Deller uses ‘English Magic’ to explore mysterious acts and ‘magical’ transformations in British society – its people, myths and folklore as well as its broad cultural, socio-political and economic history…  the exhibition weaves a mythical narrative through moments and events from Britain’s shared cultural memory, moving back and forth between the past, present and an imagined future.

The exhibition is on till 11th January 2015. If you can, go.


The sound of sport


So I got tipped off about this incredible audio documentary about sound design in sport, on the 99% Invisible radio website. Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2011, it explores modern sports broadcasting and the various techniques used to heighten the atmosphere. In some cases, the sound design employed entirely changes our perception of what the sport is ‘about’. If you have time, it’s worth listening on headphones, or at least in stereo:

The amplified sound of a ball bouncing on grass at Wimbledon over a hushed crowd, with just the faintest trace of reflections from the court, is as much an essential sensory part of the Championships as the white clothing and the beautiful green grass filling the screen. This was brought home to me last year when I watched a game under the closed roof of Centre Court, which was only installed in 2009. Since an outdoor court effectively becomes an indoor court,  the reverberations change completely, and it suddenly feels alien and strange. Memory and expectation become part of the audience experience (and indeed, the players experience too).

Other TV sports, such as darts, with the heavily amplified thud of the dart hitting the board over a tense crowd ‘hush’ turn out to be enhanced by sample trickery. The sliding sports at the Winter Olympics are similarly tweaked to improve the audience experience, and curling, with its distinct vocal repertoire and constant team communication is one of the few sports where the entire team are miked up individually. For a different experience, Olympic diving now switches to underwater microphones along with an underwater camera shot as soon as the athlete hits the water; to catch the bubbles and the isolation of the diver returning to the surface.

Of course, many effects which are now essential to the character of sports broadcasting are denied to the audience who have actually turned up to watch. Although there’s stiil some things you can’t get through the TV. I was at Twickenham as a teenager to watch England v France in 1991, and the roar that went up when the England team ran onto the pitch has been imprinted on me for good. “Energy is pure delight.”, as William Blake wrote.

And yes, there is archery. If you want to skip straight there, it’s about 28 minutes in. From the 1990s onwards the Olympic event started using boundary microphones out on the field to catch the sound of the arrow in flight: a subtle, but engaging effect. The announcer, the crowd and the sound of the arrow striking the target become part of the experience. Personally I think they should bring back the heartrate monitor trialled at the World Cup Final in Tokyo in 2012, but apparently it wasn’t popular.

Finally, I will never forget being in the stands at London 2012, where I recorded just a brief bit of audio on my phone; part of the action at the women’s individual final. See what you can hear:

Archery Lords 2012 004

I wish I had had a microphone sensitive enough to pick up the sound in the stands at Lords: the eyelets on the flag rattling gently in the breeze against the metal flagpoles, casting a distinctive, exotic tinkling over the arena, and at the moments of greatest tension. It’s stuck there in my memory forever though. Wish I could share it with you.

Thanks to John Hirst for finding this. 

archery stamps

Archery stamps from round the world across the 20th century. The image of a bow, usually at full draw, never loses its appeal – and the universality of that image works well at small sizes. Just look at this lot:


Archer using a hunting bow, designed by Belgian artist Émile Vloors (1871-1952), engraved and printed by American Bank Note Company, and issued for use in Belgian Congo in 1923.


Woman archer, printed by photogravure, and issued by Indonesia on May 15, 1996 to publicise the Olympic Games, held in Atlanta, USA.

Bhutan-2Archer-5-16-62SG2Litho-HarrisonSons (1)

Traditional archer, printed by lithogravure, and issued by Bhutan on May 16, 1962.


Woman archer, designed by Czech artist Jan Cerny, engraved by Jan Mrácek, and issued by Czechoslovakia on April 30, 1957 to publicize the World Archery Championships, held in Prague. 


Stamp depicting a petroglyph of prehistoric archers found in the Ennedi Plateau, designed and engraved by Jean Pheulpin, and issued by Chad on November 19, 1968.


from Ajman


Lithographed in Moscow, 1927


Stamp depicting Rama, the seventh avatar of the god Vishnu in Hinduism, printed by photogravure, and issued by Indonesia on August 31, 1971 to publicize the International Ramayana Festival.


Cyprus stamp for Munich ’72 featuring the pictogram from the famous Otl Aicher set. Read a whole lot more about archery pictograms here.


Issued by Japan on September 6, 1996 to publicise the 51st National Athletic Meet.


Designed by Polish poster artist Waldemar Swierzy (1931- ), printed by photogravure, and issued by Poland on May 20, 1972 to publicise the Summer Games in Munich.


Designed by Russian graphic artist Yuri A. Lukianov, and issued by Russia (USSR) on June 24, 1971 as one of a set of five stamps publicizing the 5th Summer Spartakiad.


from Monaco for the Tokyo Olympics 1964


Woman archer and Mount Nantai, printed by photogravure, issued by Japan on October 11, 1980 to publicize the National Archery Meet, held in Tochigi.


Three archers (wearing some very interesting outfits) and target, designed by Chun Hee-ban, printed by photogravure, and issued by Korea on October 8, 1971 to publicise the 52nd National Athletic Meet.


Stamp depicting Admiral Yi Sun-shin (1545-1598), a Korean naval commander famed for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Imjin war in the Joseon Dynasty, designed by Pak Choon-kyo, printed by lithography, and issued by Korea on October 1, 1949.


Engraved stamp depicting an archer, issued by Japan on August 22, 1954 as one of two stamps in a set publicising the 9th National Sports Festival of Japan, held in Hokkaido.



Kyudo based postmark from Japan.


Moldovan stamp celebrating Natalia Valeeva‘s bronze medal in Barcelona ’92 for the Unified Team.

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Painterly London 2012 Paralympic archery logo. (I have a badge of this one…)

There’s many more stamps out there if you want to get Googling. Almost all of the above and much of the text information came from this incredible thread at, with special mentions for users rod222 and especially nethryk. The dedication of people on the internet to their particular craft never ceases to delight and amaze me. Thanks very much indeed.


Back In The DPRK

© The Infinite Curve 2014

I went to the North Korean embassy in London to see an art exhibition.

Fourteen words I never thought I’d type, there. I’ve been fascinated by the DPRK for a while, amazed that such a place could even exist in the 21st century; a time-travelling state notable for total autocracy, almost comical diplomatic belligerence, and the cult of personality around its plump leader.  At one point I was actually considering going there for a stage-managed holiday, where you are carefully shown the glories of the empire, and nothing else. I changed my mind after I started reading about the truly appalling human rights record and found out that the money from such a (very expensive) holiday would be directly supporting the regime – although there remains an argument that visiting Westerners will continue the process of gradually opening up the country, and such visits are ultimately going to be necessary in order to speed any reunification.

But when I read about a free art exhibition of DPRK artists at their London embassy this morning, I decided I had to go. North Korea’s UK outpost isn’t anything like most embassies in London, which tend to be 18th and 19th century marble piles in upmarket central districts. It’s a seven bedroom, semi-detached house in the drab suburb of Acton Town, a long way out west near Ealing.

Apart from the DPRK flag up a pole and the black Merc with the ‘PRK 1′ plate, it looks exactly like every other house round here, down to the double glazing.  Axis Of Evil?  More like the banality of evil.

© The Infinite Curve 2014

I get there as it opens, with just a small handful of curious visitors after a mobbed press launch yesterday. A handful of polite gentlemen in black suits usher me in and eye me suspiciously.

The exhibition is limited to just two rooms on the ground floor, decorated in ornate, moneyed 1980s style: cream paint, black piano-finish cabinetry, crystal light fittings. The portraits of a smiling Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il beam on us all. The British curator and instigator of the exhibition, David Heather, is already there and explaining away.  Yesterday he told the Guardian:

… he had proposed the idea of an exhibition to North Korean officials in August, and was surprised at how quickly his suggestion had become a reality.

He said he had visited North Korea several times, and had become a collector of state-endorsed art. One of his conditions for holding the show was that North Korean artists were given the opportunity to paint real-life scenes in London, and for those pieces to be part of the exhibition, he said.

Asked about criticisms that the exhibition would bolster the North Korean government, which has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, Heather replied that that “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”…  He said he hoped the art would “transcend politics” and build positive relationships between residents of the two countries, and said he is even hoping to launch a competition for British artists to visit North Korea as part of an exchange programme next year.

The artwork on display is all state-approved, a group show of comrades from the Mansudae studio in Pyongyang, the state entity responsible for the majority of the DPRK’s art needs, from scenic oils to socialist murals. It ranges from traditional Korean ‘one-brushstroke’ watercolours on cloth:

© The Infinite Curve 2014

…with the artist himself explaining the laborious process which has no margin for error – apparently four paintings are thrown away for every one that makes it to a wall.

Choe Gyong Mi makes oils which strongly remind me of Thomas Kinkade, the vastly successful American artist whose idealistic, cutesy kitsch is designed to evoke warm and fuzzy feelings of “everything’s alright at home”. Little wonder she was selected to represent her country overseas.

© The Infinite Curve 2014

There are London street scenes too, which seem to have been painted from photographs,  as well as some better woodcuts, a near-photo-realistic work or two and a variety of impressionistic fashions. A lot of it shows reasonable technical skill, albeit in a severely limited range of styles.

© The Infinite Curve 2014

© The Infinite Curve 2014
© The Infinite Curve 2014


The overall impression is cheery, organised and resolute, with very little aesthetic range. The artists themselves have even had a say, although they naturally have perfected the art of saying nothing at all.

Of course, I’m not really here for the art, and I suspect not that many of the visitors over the five days this exhibition is open are either. I’m here to stand on what is (almost) North Korean soil, and gawp. The real attraction on display is the embassy being open at all; the Hermit Kingdom briefly, cautiously pulling back the curtain for a handful of nosy Londoners. David Heather is unfortunately wrong. When the art is merely product, carefully filtered and selected to express the values of a state; it’s all about the politics. The quality of the (perfectly charming) art is unfortunately irrelevant – the real show is nevertheless, right here. Incidentally, Britain appears to be more welcoming than most Western states to engage with the North.


So finally, and briefly, back to archery. Shortly before this year’s Incheon Asian Games, there was a plan for the DPRK’s archers to train with their Southern counterparts.  Kim Jong-Un had taken a particular interest in the team and apparently ordered the sport’s officials to develop new equipment.  You fear slightly for the squad though, with the Great Successor taking an interest in their progress – particularly as they failed to bring home a medal this year. Unfortunately, something snapped along the line and the project never happened, although the KAA apparently remains open to the idea happening again; in an atmosphere where a North v South Korea football match at the Asian Games saw the home crowd chanting “we are one” at all players on the pitch.

Art in the West, Olympic sports in the East. These carefully managed opportunities still seem like tiny nuggets of gestural politics, and it is possible they are nothing more than that. But if reunification does happen, and I think it may happen in my lifetime, it is going to involve many, many crossings of the border like this in all fields of life, all around the world. If peaceful reunification is eventually going to come to pass, as the DPRK claims to intend, then I suppose you have to start somewhere. There might be a lot of seedlings needed, but eventually you hope that mighty oaks might grow.

Short TV news piece here. 

The DPRK fine art exhibition will be open from 11am to 5pm from 4–7 November, 73 Gunnersbury Avenue, Ealing, London W5 4LP

© The Infinite Curve 2014

Archery & Money

archery cash


At the recent Asian Games, Korean archers and coaches collectively received nearly 880 million won (over £500,000 / $800,000) in bonuses from their sponsor Hyundai for the five golds, three silvers and one bronze medal they took home from Incheon.

The going rate for a gold medal is 70 million won (about £41,000 / $65,000), with 60 million won for a silver and 50 for a bronze. Not bad, and apparently more than the government bonus for Olympic gold medals in 2012 –  although in Korea that also gets you a monthly stipend for life. Hyundai handed out similar bonuses to the medallists after London, and indeed Korea’s big corporations step in with cash for all kinds of Olympic sports, and become fairy godfathers to many types of athletes.

Many nations dole out cash for Olympic success. The top payer is Singapore, who sent just 26 athletes to London, offering $800,000 dollars to any of their sportsmen who take home a gold medal (although in 2012, this prize went unclaimed). The ‘table’ looks like this:

  • Singapore $800,000 (gold)
  • Thailand: $314,000 (gold)
  • Philippines: $237,000 (gold)
  • Kyrgyzstan: $200,000 (gold)
  • Italy: $182,000 (gold)
  • Uzbekistan: $150,000 (gold)
  • Ukraine: $100,000 (gold) / $75,000 (silver) / $50,000 (bronze)
  • Tajikistan: $63,000 (gold)
  • China: $31,400 (gold)
  • Ghana: $20,000 (gold)
  • Australia: $20,000 (gold)

However, of the developed G8 countries, the gold payout table looks like this:

Pic from

more countries’ bonus details here

(Yes, that’s right. Unlike almost every country in the world, Britain pays nothing at all for Olympic achievement.)

It’s not news that being an Olympic athlete is rarely a path to great wealth, but it was somewhat depressing to read that a recurve coaching position at Archery GB, which required a great deal of world-class experience only pays £20,000 a year. I understand this is at least broadly comparable with similar positions at other UK Olympic NGBs, but for the amount of experience asked for, compared with almost any other field of endeavour, it’s really not much. Admittedly this is not the most senior coaching role available, but as to whether Archery GB can attract the best coaches with salaries like that, I can’t comment – except to say that back in 2008 the Iraqi archery federation was offering $5,000 a month to get a top Korean.


As for Korea, I am increasingly convinced that the main reason that that nation dominates the sport isn’t the training regime, or the talent identification system, or the professional leagues – it’s the money. In the case of the KAA, something like half the operating budget ultimately comes from Hyundai and its subsidiary Kia Motors. The historical reason for this is that in the early 1980s the authoritarian government leaned on their big corporations to fund Olympic sports – specifically, less popular sports – by giving them tax breaks to do so. This involved Hyundai actually taking over the NGB – thus began the Korean archery machine.

The governments changed, but over time the corporations came to see funding Olympic sports as both an excellent overseas marketing opportunity and a useful, very public exercise in social responsibility. The success of Korean archery and the success of Hyundai/Kia reflect each other; a win-win situation. The KAA and its powerful sponsor remain deeply entwined today, as was seen in Incheon when its formidable patron and chairman Chung Eui-Sun – vice-chairman of Hyundai – took the extraordinary step of rebuilding sections of the archery field after complaints were raised by the attending media. The immense amount of corporate funding allows for a deep pool of dozens of professional athletes to develop to their fullest potential, rather than the two or three per generation in every other country. That’s the real ‘secret’.

So, how can any other nation compete with that?  I still think archery in the UK could attract sponsorship money, because it is invariably intriguing and dramatic to laymen – it’s saleable, and it’s hot right now (certainly compared to many other sports). The entry barriers are lower; partly because it needs much less ‘explaining’ than some other sports. World Archery has managed to pull in long-term deals from a wide variety of international brands with very different markets and brand values.

In the UK, British Gymnastics has over a dozen sponsors and partners. Even British Fencing  – a much smaller sport than archery by numbers participating – managed to get a million quid out of an insurance firm. Archery GB, as far as I know, only has non-UK Sport cash from Foresters Friendly Society, which I’m sure is a safe place to stick your money but doesn’t really scream ‘sexy international brand.’

Of course, the Korean national team is the only archery squad in the world with that kind of cash ‘carrot’ at the end of a non-Olympic competition, and indeed,  that kind of patronage, but it is ultimately indicative of a culture. South East Asia highly values its Olympic sportsmen and women and sees international achievement as a deep source of national pride, and its oligarchical system rewards that accordingly (it should be noted that the Asian Games is played out against a daunting backdrop of fierce historical rivalries). In the UK, unless you play cricket or football you receive little more than a pat on the back and a ‘jolly good show’ from the establishment.

The cult of the amateur is over.  Unfortunately, international success in sport needs money, spent professionally and ruthlessly.

Thanks to DarkMuppet at Archery Interchange. 


arrow release in slow motion


Watch Dutch international Mick De Bakker‘s awesome face-on slow-motion video of an arrow release here. You can really see the archer’s paradox effects.

Watch the original full-frame movie of the release here, and follow Mick on Twitter here. As he likes to tag it: #everythinglooksbetterinslowmotion

canal no alvo!

Why did no one tell me about this guy before?  Canal No Alvo (which translates as ‘On Target Channel’) is the brainchild of Bernado Oliveira, a competitive archer from Brasília, who likes to make all sorts of ker-razy videos with him and his recurve bow. I particularly enjoyed ‘Pool Challenge’, which sees him try some version of bowfishing:

And the one where he shoots three arrows at a time:

Plenty more ‘joy of archery’ action to discover on his channel. He’s even been featured on local TV. What a guy. You can follow him on Facebook too. 

Guinness “World Record”


Apparently the 2015 edition of the Guinness World Records is out and:  Nancy ‘Inka” Siefker, 29, made it into the Guinness World Records 2015 book for the farthest arrow shot with the feet. The circus artist from California is able to shoot an arrow 6.09m (20ft) onto a target measuring just 5.5 inches.”  Have a look here.

Hmmm. Well, she could shoot it further by angling her legs up (I guess), so I presume they mean ‘into a target’. And Guinness apparently accept any old bullshit as a record provided you pay them to show up, but that’s not really the issue. It’s a great trick, but ultimately, what someone like Matt Stutzman does is far more amazing – and he breaks world records too.