So Lonely: The Architecture of Hugh Grants Face

A short trailer for the So Lonely Valentines Day special at the AA.

Here is Hugh Grants face in the throws of turning down Julia Roberts in the classic Rom Com Notting Hill. Slow mo-ed and zoomed in, we can see how his face is the ne pas ultra vehicle of the British romantic comedy.

Now, I have to say, I’m fascinated by Hugh Grants face. Seeing it giant sized and glowing from bus shelter adverts is always a remarkable vision of a surreal landscape. Its a fleshy landscape that has become one of the key territories of the contemporary Rom Com. From 4 Weddings through Notting Hill to Love Actually and onwards, Grants strange mug is a device – perhaps the perfect field onto which the contemporary myth of romance is projected.

So the question is why? What is it in the architecture of Hugh Grants face that crystalises the cultural narrative of British romance? How do the the folds of his face, the flop of his foppish hair, the stammer of his delivery articulate recognisable characteristics of modern love and lovelessness?

In the coquettish tilt of his head and the way he uses his fringe is encoded a certain element of Princess Diana. Yet there is also something of the stammering, emotionally retarded aristocratic manner of Prince Charles too. If Grant is both Charles and Diana, he encapsulates a particularly British narrative of (forlorn) popular romance.

Yet there is also the detached way that he expresses himself. It is simultaneously an expression of and distancing from emotion, as though he knows we don’t believe the narrative that he is acting out, that we know more than the conventional narratives of contemporary romantic love that he peddles can possibly provide. His face is the abile to construct an image of the romantic but simultaneously express the absurdity of that construction … Anyway. More tomorrow night …

Here’s the blurb for the talk:

So Lonely
Architectural Association, 36 Bedford Square
Date: 14/2/2012
Time: 18:00:00

Venue: New Soft Room
It’s Valentine’s Day. You’re all alone. No one to watch Love Actually with, for the 17th time. You’ll have to eat that dehydrated cupcake by yourself, after your microwave ‘meal For one’. You’re so very lonesome tonight. But, you know what? Sometimes loneliness is power not weakness.

Join Shumon Basar and Sam Jacob as they trawl through a hidden history of loneliness that includes Hugh Grant’s bitter face, Howard Hughes in the Desert Inn, Jesus Christ, North Korea, Edo-era Japan and French existentialists – as well as the conspiratorial evil commonly referred to as, ‘rom coms’. Plus some sad songs performed by Tamara Barnett-Herrin.

Tamara Barnett-Herrin is a London-based vocalist, songwriter and performer. She was the lead vocalist with the UK electronica act Freeform Five and has contributed vocal performances for various artists including Lindstrom, Mylo and Shinichi Osawa. Her new solo album, Born to Burn, is released in February by Bubbletease Communications. She has collaborated extensively with the Swiss artist Mai-Thu Perret at Migros Museum Zurich, Theatre de l’Usine in Geneva and the Performa Festival, New York.

Shumon Basar is a writer, editor, curator and director of the AA’s Cultural Programme as well as the live-magazine, Format. Translated By, the AA show he co-curated with Charles Arsene-Henry, has toured to CCA Kitakyushu, and goes to Salt, Istanbul in April. He is also directing Global Art Forum_6 at Mathaf, Doha and Art Dubai in March.

Sam Jacob is a director of London-based architecture office FAT, where he has been responsible for a range of projects spanning architecture, design and masterplanning. He is contributing
editor for Icon, columnist for Art Review and contributes to many other publications. He teaches at the AA and is Professor of Architecture at UIC. He writes and edits, &

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