Art is long

Oct. 7th, 2016 08:51 pm
shewhomust: (ayesha)
This post has been gradually accumulating over nearly two weeks, now. It began in reaction to a television programme, Who's Afraid of Conceptual Art?, which we stumbled into while looking more or less at random for an hour of diverting television. But it seems to have turned into a hybrid, partly the sort of response - I won't flatter it by calling it a review - that says well, if I'd been in charge, it would go like this... and partly just a place to stash some of the links I gathered together while thinking about that.

Cut for length and ramblings. But it might be worth it for the links. )
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
In the last week, among other things, we have been to the cinema twice (for some reason, both films included a piece of the Flower Song from Lakmé), been to two book launches (by coincidence, both books brought together images with poetry by a number of poets; that being the case, it's no coincidence that some of the same poets were at both launches) and entertained a house guest (D., who is still with us, except that he has gone out to do his own thing this evening). In brief, then:

First film: Anomalisa
Peter Bradshaw's glowing review in the Guardian; Mark Kermode's more ambivalent review in the Observer.
Does that excuse me from producing an opinion of my own? The midlife crisis of a motivational speaker, staying in a corporate-type hotel before giving a corporate-type speech. Here he meets a young woman who seems different from everyone else. This is familiar territory. But the actors are stop-motion puppets, which is not only an interesting gimmick but opens up possibilities: Lisa genuinely is different from everyone else, she has her own face and voice, while all the other characters (except Michael himself) have the same face and are voiced by the same actor. There's something called the "Fregoli delusion" apparently, which is that everyone is really the same person, and this is referenced in the name of the hotel - the Fregoli Hotel. So that was a clever reference that I didn't pick up on, and had to have pointed out to me. On the other hand, I did spot that the film on the tv in Michael's room was My Man Godfrey, and wonder why (because, says the internet, unlike Casablanca, it is in the public domain).
Extremely clever, and the character of Lisa is actually very touching. These two things ought to enhance each other; yet I react as if they were in conflict.

First book launch: Two Rivers and the Sea
Inspired by the work of Rachel Carson, poet Lisa Matthews ans visual artist Melanie Ashby spent a series of four residencies on the Northumberland coast, the circuit of A Year in Beadnell. They blogged, they took photographs, they filmed life in the rock pools, they wrote poems, they invited other poets to visit and observe with them, and they have published this record of the year.

Second film: Marguerite
Strange enough that there should be one film about Florence Foster Jenkins, but stranger still, two have come along at the same time. This is not the one with Meryl Streep, this is the other one, the French one, "based on a true story" but fictionalised. This has the drawback that you can no longer point to the story it tells and say "Incredible though this seems, it happened." It has the advantage that you are free to tell whatever story you wish, and to relocate it to the 1920s, with all the fun that offers: the frocks! the Dadaists! The tone wanders uncertainly between comedy and pathos, and there are aspects of the story whose truth I questioned which have nothing to do with Florence Foster Jenkins. But I didn't feel I'd wasted my time.

Second book launch: NORTHbound
Vane Women celebrate their silver anniversary with an anthology built around Pat Maycroft's photographs. The women themselves and invited guests contributed poems inspired by one of Pat's photos, and many of the contributors were present at today's launch, so we had an unusual reading at which each poet read a single poem. Highlights included Pru Kitching's Franz Kafka in Durham City (a moody black and white view up a vennel that could well be in Prague's Old Town), Diane Cockburn's Heloise takes the Veil (a cat at a lace curtained window) and Bob Beagrie's Amanita Muscaria (what it says in the title, with Andy Willoughby taking second voice, reading the 'shadow poem', so that I half thought the magic was in the performance until I saw how ingeniously the poem was built on the page).

Bonus art exhibition: Cercle d'Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise
The NORTHbound launch was at mima, and while we were there, we saw the current exhibition of sculptures by Congolese plantation workers. I wish I had taken my camera. Failing that, imagine a bright white room containing a number of brown sculpted figures and portrait heads, and interspersed with leafygreen potted plants. Each piece is moulded from clay, scanned and the data transmitted to somewhere (I've forgotten where) in Europe where it can be reproduced in Belgian chocolate through multiple technologies, including 3D scanning and printing. Evidently the purpose of the project is to generate income for the cocoa plantation workers, and who knows how suitable a material chocolate is outside this context. I'd have photgraphed, too, the sign on the wall saying that mima was supporting the project by purchasing one of the pieces for £3000 (through a gallery which would take its usual 50% cut): surely the starkness of the statement was intended to make me want to photograph it?
shewhomust: (dandelion)
From Sunday morning, when we discovered there was no heat in the house, to Tuesday evening, when I came home to cautiously returning warmth, ten days, during which I have posted about nothing but plumbing. But that's not the only thing I've been doing.

Sunday was jam-packed )

Monday was eaten up by getting quotes to replace the boiler. On Tuesday D. arrived bearing fan heaters and firewood, and we made an open fire. On Wednesday we took him to the pub quiz, and had a sociable evening (and our team won, which is not unusual, and dates back well before [ profile] durham_rambler and me joining the team). On Friday we cleared the dining room table, and had a proper dinner party, which was fun.

D. left us on Saturday morning, and in the evening [ profile] durham_rambler and I braved the winds and the water to drive to Barnard Castle to hear Martin Simpson, who was playing at the Witham. In fact our journey wasn't too bad, though anyone coming from the west would have had a hard time, and the audience was much diminished - pity, because it was a great show. I could (very easily) have done without the enthusiasts in the row in front of us repeatedly calling out requests for Buckets of Rain (funny the first time, but not that funny). Good to hear a couple of Dylan songs making their way back into the repertoire, especially North Country Blues, very topical. I still yearn for that album of Dylan songs Martin Simpson never made.

The main excitement of Sunday was watching the final two episodes of Doctor Who; from which you may infer that it wasn't a very exciting day. On Monday we were up early to welcome the builders, and on Tuesday we spent the day at the planning appeal over the County Hospital site, which I may or may not post about at greater length: I'd quite like to know how it turns out before I do. After which I went to the Graphic Novels Reading Group, and we all went out for a Christmas meal afterwards. Which brings us round to where I came in.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
The Bears were with us for the weekend of Lumiere, so we made a serious effort to see things. This stopped short of getting the tickets which would give access to the central area in the early evening: tickets were free, but required us to decide which evening we wanted them.

Friday night in the ticketed area )

Saturday night in the rain )

We didn't go back for more on Sunday: we discussed it, and tried to work out whether we could get to the riverbanks without going all the way through the city, but I don't think we would have tried. Then [ profile] durham_rambler found the news reports that the pieces we were talking about had been removed because the river had flooded the footpath, so we had every excuse for a leisurely dinner en famille instead.

tl:dr version: I don't think there was anything I hated, though there was a lot I was unenthusiastic about. And I enjoyed being unenthusiastic about it in good company. Plus, there were maybe three things I liked very much. Whether the exercise is worth what the Council puts into it, I don't know. But I had a fun weekend.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Yes, of course I'm thinking about Paris. But I have nothing useful to say on the subject.

So have a picture from the Lumiere Festival. After the sound and fury of the son et lumière, and the interminable procession through the maze of barriers which brought us eventually into the cathedral, after the unimpressive lighting of the cathedral itself, eventually we came into the cloister and admitted that yes, the rose window was rather good -

- and then we emerged into this garden, and it was all light and fun and good humour:

College garden

We'll go back for more tonight, if the rain holds off.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
I've been busy lately, with both pleasure (D. has, for reasons of his own, been staying with us twice in the space of ten days, with a trip home in between) and business (several clients simultaneously announcing sizable projects which needed to be added to their websites).

I did find time for a brief visit to the DLI for an exhibition of Paolozzi screenprints called General Dynamic F.U.N. "Here," says the programme, "Paolozzi makes brilliant use of the technologies of mass-reproduction – the household names and familiar faces of consumer advertising, high fashion and Hollywood." Fifty prints hung around a bright white room, not as large as I had imagined (I'd anticipated something poster-sized, I suppose, but presumably the dimensions are those of the printing screen), some of a single bold image, some a kaleidoscopic collage of detail, all reflecting the lighting and each other in a way that would normally have irritated me but here seemed appropriate:

Shadows and reflections

F.U.M. seemed about right: I thought the artist must have had great fun assembling all these raw materials, the cars and the film stars and the confectionery wrappers, and sorting them into the final images must have been fun, too. I wished I could have joined in that process, or failing that, have walked round the exhibition with someone who had, and played the game of 'do you recognise this?' and 'oh, I know where that came from...'
shewhomust: (dandelion)
[ profile] lamentables went to a WWI commemoration and it seems to have been all right, to have expressed something worth expressing:


Minimum Monument is the work of Brazilian artist Néle Azevedo, and this iteration was commissioned by the Birmingham Hippodrome. So alongside my ambivalence about commemorating the outbreak of the war - and with the news each day as sanguine as it is, to claim that we are remembering the War that was going to end all wars - you can set an entirely different class of ambivalence about art which is apparently related to a particular place and time, but which is actually the thing that a particular artist does. Nonetheless, it feels appropriate, all those fragile little beings melting away...

Another fine photo, by someone else and one that catches the dissolution of the figures.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
We had plans for Thursday evening, so we took it easy during the day, pottering around doing our various errands, taking the last chance to visit or explore or -

Egg hunt

[ profile] durham_rambler and I spent the morning disposing of recycling and doing a little light shopping. Our house had no recycling bins at all, but we had found the way to the tip earlier in the week: just past the corner where this lonely figure stood sentinel ("It's the Michelin man!" said [ profile] durham_rambler, but it isn't...).

Recycling discarded, we followed the signs to the Cheese Farm and Coffee Shop. Coffee first - and perhaps, I suggested, a little something off-diet to accompany it? "The all-day breakfast?" asked [ profile] durham_rambler. That wasn't on offer, so we had cake with our coffee, examined the menu and felt that another time this would be a place for an agreeable lunch. We bought some of their cheese: the local variety is called Anster (which is allegedly how you pronounce Anstruther, though we didn't hear anyone doing so - and something I read complicated matters still further by asserting that it's pronounced 'Enster') and is a tasty but not exciting hard cheese. I liked the younger, creamy-crumbly form better than the more mature, Cheddar-like version.

Mystery towerOn our way into Anstruther. to do a little more utilitarian shopping at the Co-op, we passed this mystery object. It stands alone, apparently in a ploughed field, in the pouring rain, and no amount of internet search has given me any clue what it is.

Though I did find this splendid gallery of Scottish castles, so my time wasn't wasted.

I spent the afternoon wandering around Pittenweem, nosing around the shops and galleries, taking pictures of the harbour, generally enjoying myself. There were some wonderful contemporary crafts, beautifully displayed, at the The Coach House, though the item I most desired was a drawing by James Barclay, of a broken creel at Cellardyke - and that was in a curious shop, which appeared to be the downstairs of the proprietor's house, full of second-hand oddments (including a shelf of books) but dotted with reasonably serious - and seriously priced - contemporary art. Can this have been The Little Gallery? I can't tell...

In the evening we all went to the folk club in Crail - upstairs in the Town Hall, which is a very fine building. The guests were James Hickman and Dan Cassidy, and they were fine: they played very varied material, something for everyone but not really conveying any focus - I'm not complaining, as I suspect the focus of their interest is not the part of their repertoire that most interests me. I enjoyed the evening, and while I wouldn't go out of my way to see them again, I wouldn't go out of my way to avoid them, either. The club had the unusual of startu=ing on time, putting the guests on for a set straight away, then after the break putting in some floor spots before the second set. Which seemed to work, and the Bears did a floor spot, so that was good.

And the next morning it was time to clear up and come home. Goodbye, Pittenweem.

shewhomust: (dandelion)
One section of our coastal walk that particularly stuck in my mind was the stretch from Kirkaldy to Dysart: after the long slog up from Kirkaldy you enter a park, and descend, looking back towards the massive ruins of Ravenscraig Castle, to a pleasant path which follows each zig and zag of the coast (the local laird was apparently determined to thwart any miner who might think to walk to work along the shore) until it vanishes into a tunnel through a spur of rock and emerges into Dysart harbour. Today we revisited that walk, and both was and was not as I had remembered.

We took the opportunity to visit the castle: it didn't delay us long, but it was a very splendid ruin, and provided fine views of the path ahead. I don't know why we didn't take the time to visit last time, except that we had a long way to go and I had the impression it was more of a detour than it was. On the other hand, the path to Dysart was as agreeable as I had remembered (this time with the bonus of a piper playing what we eventually identified as the Freedom Come All Ye) but much shorter. Emerging onto the harbour was still good, though the blue skies and high tide had made for a prettier picture.

After lunch at the Harbourmaster's House we walked Dysart's town trail in reverse order. I remember reading the boards about the Dysart Artworks, four pieces of contemorary art recently installed: but how could I not have seen Donald Urquhart's 'Sea Beams', a set of upright timbers painted a selection of tasteful shades of blue? On this visit, they struck my eye as son as we entered the town, yet I had no memory of them at all.


It's less surprising that - as we pursued our journey along the coast - we didn't see some of Dysart's splendid buildings (like all these Fife towns, it has an impressive tollbooth), or realise that the park where we had started our walk continues, and becomes a beautiful - and beautifully maintained - arboretum. This is the setting for another of the artworks, Alec Finlay's 'Nest Boxes', a dozen nesting boxes each bearing a crossword clue. What I liked about this was that it gave us a focus to walk around the arboretum looking at the trees. By the time we had had enough, we had round half a dozen of the clues, and solved three of them (sample: 'Bird on board' = 'rook'; no wonder they didn't have the cheek to attach one to the monkey puzzle!).

And home via the Co-op, cups of tea, dinner, the internet - where does the evening go?

I would like to record that last night's strawberries, bought from the farm shop as 'Pittenweem Strawberries' were among the best I have ever tasted, despite also being among the biggest.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Last weekend was all about the ephemerality of art. And about the visitors, that was a theme, too - and thinking about it, visitors with dogs: the expected visit from cousins who called in on the way from football at Sunderland to holiday cottage in Alnwick, but couldn't stay long because the dog was in the car, the unexpected visit from M. who was walking the dog and rang the bell on the off-chance we'd be in. All of this was good, but there's not much I can say about it, whereas I have plenty of pictures... So this will be a picture-heavy post. )
shewhomust: (dandelion)
What's the opposite of writer's block? Writer's flux? Each of the things that follow could have been a post of its own (not to mention the ones that I remember as soon as I have shut down my computer and gone to bed). Since that's not going to happen, here is the news in brief:
  1. Tyne at the Theatre Royal; David Whetstone's review in the Journal refers to the original production at Live Theatre, and although the Theatre Royal was both packed and appreciative, I felt it would have been more at home in the smaller, more intimate setting. I found the framing narrative more than a bit predictable, but the material it framed was enjoyable. Best thing: a story by Julia Darling that was entirely new to me, The Women Who Painted Ships (perfectly performed by Zoe Lambert and Jane Holman)

  2. I made hot cross buns, a mash-up of my basic sourdough, the recipe from Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery and what ingredients came to hand. I don't usually add sugar to my bread, the sourdough starter doesn't need it, but the remains of the jar of nutmeg jam were quietly cristalising in the fridge, so I scraped that in, and added more nutmeg as well as cloves, cinnamon and allspice. I liked the result, warm and aromatic with nutmeg. I followed Elizabeth David's instruction to make the cross by cutting the risen buns, then gave them five minutes more before putting them in the oven: this, too, worked surprisingly well (Mrs David says don't worry about getting the crosses perfectly even; the important thing is that you have made the effort. I paraphrase, but not by much - and yes, I know it's not like her to be so laid back).

  3. [ profile] valydiarosada and D. came for the weekend, and accompanied us to a curious concert at the Sage. Greater North was a Folkworks production involving a variety of performers, from recent Folk Degree graduates Horizontal Sunday to the Keelers and Maddy Prior, compered by Kate Fox. What the publicity material doesn't mention is that it was put together as the entertainment for a Rotary convention, which was a bit disconcerting, but didn't turn out to be a problem. I liked Melanie Barber's clog dancing.

  4. Sunday lunch in Cotherstone was a bit of a detour on the way to the Bowes Museum, but a very scenic detour. The museum itself is just so full of stuff you can't see it all: you could spend a entire visit on the ceramics or the paintings, or focus on the history of the building, the Founders' collection, the Swan, or head straight for the temporary exhibitions (currently Gavin Turk neons. These really deserve a post of their own, too, but the essence of it would be: you can't dislike a giant neon banana, but the accompanying information does its best to persuade you...). Then you head downstairs to the cAafé and discovery a whole other gallery hidden away. I end up wandering around exclaiming incoherently: "Mechanical mouse! Meissen starlings! Roman pottery! Cup and ring markings (on the Gainford Stone)..."

  5. [ profile] durham_rambler and I went to Helen Savage's tasting of cool climate Californian wines. Some very enjoyable wines: a classy Roederer fizz, a Kendall Jackson pinot noir (my notes say both 'butterscotch' and 'cabbage' - but then my notes also say "Beware the glassy winged sharpshooter").

  6. As a birthday treat, J. and I allowed [ profile] durham_rambler to drive us to Alston for a day out: a pub lunch of Cumberland sausage, a stroll beside the Nent, a circuitous route home - Teesdale again - and suddenly, just on that one stretch of road, lapwings everywhere, tumbling in flight and standing sentry on the flanks of the hills, smart in their olive coats and slicked back crests.

  7. And home for a quiet evening on the sofa, a bottle of Spanish red, a bowl of olives and the first episode of Shetland on television.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
I have great admiration for those single-minded folks who set up a blog to document one thing and one thing only: photographs of London's shop fronts, or descriptions of cooking their way through Julia Child, say. There are recurring obsessions in this blog, but if there is an actual theme, I have yet to discover it. I'm less enthusiastic about the collection of concrete objects (other than books, obviously), but the same applies: I don't collect, I accumulate, and the objects accumulated are things which appeal to me individually, rather than representatives of some general class of things. Naturally I try to justify myself by the precedent of the Cabinet of Curiosities.

Now, according to this recent Guardian article, the Cabinet of Curiosities is back in fashion. Of course, this means that it is no longer sufficient to gather interesting and beautiful specimens, and arrange them to your own satisfaction, whether you are an affluent gentleman with a dedicated display room in your mansion or a lead-miner constructing spar boxes from minerals smuggled away from the mine. Now we have a project at the Prado in which an artist rearranges exhibits to reflect the museum's origins as, in effect, a cabinet of curiosities, bringing together works of art and speciments from natural history (I am charmed to discover there is a painting called 'His Majesty's Anteater'). What's more, my taste is not really macabre enough to meet the criteria laid down in the article.

I comfort myself that this may be so, but that the article uses the words "carved sperm whale teeth" to describe something which is illustrated (in the paper edition only) by a piece of scrimshaw: don't they know the word? Thinking about this set me wandering about the internet, whence I return with treasure: starting with a word that I didn't know, scrimshander, a maker of scrimshaw. It's a beautiful word, and reflects a view of scrimshaw I had not previously come across, in which it is not a folk art, made by sailors with a little time and a the simplest of tools and materials, but an art exercised by specialists. This mermaid is carved on a whale tooth, but she is not scrimshaw as I have hitherto known it. This whaling scene is more representative, scratched or incised rather than "carved", and here is the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, awaiting transfer to their new scrimshaw gallery.

One last curiosity for my cabinet: thanks to [ profile] sovay for Jeff de Boer's armour for cats and mice.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
I know better than to make resolutions about the coming year. Even so, things that fall around the turn of the year seem loaded with significance: the last this, the first that... With the help of [ profile] valydiarosada and D., who have as usual been helping us see in the New Year, we managed some suitably agreeable firsts and lasts.

The last outing of 2013 was to the seaside... )

Back home, I pot-roasted a joint of venison for a special New Year's Eve dinner - not something I've done before, but a success, at least from the cook's point of view: simple, carved beautifully, tasted good. And we stayed up and saw the New Year in - not a first, but certainly the first in some years, more often I slope off to bed early.

... and so was the first outing of 2014 )

So that's one year ended pleasantly, and the next well begun.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Last weekend was the annual open studios event in the Ouseburn, Newcastle's "creative quarter" where derelict warehouses have gradually been converted into artists' and designers' studios (not to mention Seven Stories). There must be a limit to how far it can grow, how many paintings and pots, how much hand-made furniture and architectural glass the city can sustain: but new studios keep opening, so apparently we're not there yet. Many of the studios and workshops are extremely smart, yet the area retains an air of semi-dereliction: there's a lot of mural art, mostly rather well done.

City farmWe were meeting friends, and since Gail had arrived early and gone for coffee at the City Farm, we started our visit there, enjoying the sunshine, and the golden foliage, and the giraffes and other livestock (there was a very fluffy Shetland pony). The photo is taken from one of the Lime Street studios, though.

Our first stop was Northern Print, where there was much to like (although mostly I had already liked it last year), then Lime Street, where much the same applied. I liked Zoe Garner's glass work, especially the piece illustrated on the home page of her website, vertical rods of differing lengths, each somehow glowing at the tip - in fact it may be a theme of the day that I liked the glass, since another artist who stood out for me was Effie Burns, who has been casting romescu cauliflowers in glass (her website shows mainly much larger work, though the strawberry is rather fine).

Up in the attic I was interested to see Stevie Ronnie's photographs of his recent trip to the arctic, but unsatisfied by them. Perhaps when he's written something about it... The first time I met Stevie, he talked about Gontran De Poncins' book Kabloona about life in the arctic, and I reminded him of this - at which he fetched out the book and we both enthused over it. Much of the current work he was showing was book sculpture, which tends to make me uneasy. Here's an example of the sort of thing (though not one I've seen): "A poem, composed in a new form which utilises the structures of rope, has been twisted into a paper rope and mounted onto a salvaged Arctic weather balloon winch" - which makes a pretty object, but how do you read the poem? I liked some little pictures which had been made by tracing the outlines of geographical features from Google maps, then cutting them out of coloured paper: Kielder reservoir, Seaham harbour, the line of Newcastle's city wall... They made pleasing, almost abstract shapes.

We hadn't planned to eat at the Cluny - in fact, we had actively planned not to eat at the Cluny - but although the Open Studios didn't seem very busy, it was still standing room only at the Ship, and we tumbled back into the Cluny almost by default. We won't do it again: they have succumbed to the tyranny of the Sunday roast, and weren't doing it very well. I enjoyed the beer, but it's not a place to eat. Gentrification still has a little way to go, clearly.

Into the flames

That's all, folks.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Lumiere weekend has just passed - the third time Durham has hosted this festival of lights. We enjoyed the 2009 version, and had mixed feelings about the 2011 version (which is not the reason why my post about it was in two parts, part 1 and part 2).

If a picture's worth a thousand words, this is a very long post indeed )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Catch a falling starTipped off by our friend Sue, we visited the Museum of Art and Industry housed in the old swimming pool in Roubaix.

Unlikely though this sounds, it does make sense. Roubaix is one of those towns which was once industrial and very prosperous, and as the industry failed became less prosperous. So it has a number of wonderful buildings, left over from the glory days, which have survived because it never went through the period of demolition and replacement that continuing properity would probably have caused. Now it is busy reinventing itself as a lively cultural centre. (Does this sound familiar?) Among its neglected assets were the collection from the museum (which had closed down in 1940, during the war, and never reopened), and a magnificent art deco swimming pool. And someone had the bright idea of bringing them together.

This has been beautifully done, with great respect for the original building. THe main gallery is the pool itself, its width reduced by walkways along its length, the original lion's head fountain at one end balanced by a monumental ceramic arch (originally made for an international exhibition in 1913) at the other. Along the sides is displayed the museum's sculpture collection, impressive for quantity rather than quality, but gaining great charm from its unexpected setting. Between the pool and the outer walls, the shower cubicles have been left in place but opened up, the municipal green and cream brickwork providing display cabinets for smaller items, so that you can, for example, look through a group of Picasso's ceramics to the pool beyond. More works from the collection have been hung on the outer walls, and care has been taken to give priority in this area to those with aquatic themes.

Beyond are more conventional galleries, displaying other aspects of the collection, which is - well, uneven might be the best word. An attempt has been made to find a coherent thread, to take the visitor through a sequence both logically and chronologically, but it is clear that the museum has what it has, and the criteria by which it acquired it were not purely aesthetic. Once we'd worked that out, we relaxed into enjoying the show.

As witness... )
shewhomust: (Default)
Calcutta Lights

We have, it seems, been granted enlightenment. The Durham International Light Festival consists of four major installations, and a number of minor ones, and we went out yesterday evening to see what was to be seen. Of what we saw, I liked best the Calcutta Lights on Elvet Bridge - and either it's a lucky coincidence that that is also the one of which I took a satisfactory picture, or I liked it best (and was happiest with my photo of it) because it's the one I got closest to (walked through, in fact). Take your pick. I thought it was fun, and colourful - and that's about it.

After this, it gets grumpier. )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Tuesday morning we breakfasted with the relief nurse: when the Shapinsay nurse is away, she comes over from Rousay for the three midweek days, and a colleague who lives on Mainland covers the four-day weekend. I suppose eventually you become accustomed to the casual nature of this island hopping. Certainly the ferry back to Kirkwall was as straightforward as a commuter bus journey, if rather more pleasant (always bearing in mind that we were very lucky with the weather).

We spent most of the day in Stromness; it's a very agreeable town to wander about in, and I wanted to visit the Pier Art Gallery. It's a gallery I've loved since my first visit to Orkney, not so much for its collection as for its setting. It has a fine collection of modern - that is, what I think is still called "modern" - British art, but I'm not particularly modern in my tastes. The building, though, was once the offices and stores of Hudson's Bay Company, very plain and simple interiors, running down to the harbour with - like many of Stromness's harbourside buildings - its own pier. So a Barbara Hepworth sculpture could be displayed in a small, deep set window, framed by the white walls but with the sea behind it. I love sculpture in landscape, and this comes as close as an indoor gallery can. Since our last visit the gallery has been dramatically extended, and the new building has one entire wall of glass looking out onto the harbour.

Barbara Hepworth's standing stonesThe other charm of the collection is that the heart of it is just that, one woman's collection. Margaret Gardiner was a friend of many of the artists whose work she bought, especially Barbara Hepworth and Ben NIcholson. Many of the pieces are accompanied, on the descriptive label, by her comment on what it is, and how and why she bought it. I liked her account of visiting an artist (not a name I recognised, and I've now forgotten it) and saying "Everyone tells me what a good paimnter you are, but I can't see it." He replied that she needed to live with one of his paintings for a few months, unhooked one from the wall and sent her home with it. And, she explained, he was quite right, and after a few months she couldn't bear to part with it, so she bought it, and here it was.

Some of the descriptions, however, come from a different source: children from the local primary schools have also been invited to suggest what some of the works might represent. This is more successful with the purely abstract works. Works which actually do represent something are liable to fox the children: this Paolozzi collage of an oil lamp, for example (probably my favourite piece in the collection), was described as two people facing each other in profile - up to a point. But Barbara Hepworth's 'Group III (evocation)' - there's a clearer picture here, but mine has the advantage of showing it in situ - is another matter. Margaret Gardiner's note explained that it is one of a sequence of works resulting from Hepworth's visit to Venice, and observing the groups of people in St. Mark's Square. Willie Deans of class 2, however, saw it as "the Hamnavoe in the water going by the standing stones." He wins.

And at midnight we caught the ferry to Shetland.
shewhomust: (Default)
According to Chambers, hyperbolic is the adjective from 'hyperbole', and hyperbole is a figure of speech: the use exaggeration to create a vivid impression. Elsewhere, apparently, it's something to do with needlework - as when you crochet your own Great Barrier Reef (and don't miss the picture gallery).
shewhomust: (Default)
My brother and sister-in-law, otherwise known as the Bears, have been with us for a weekend visit. One of the many reasons why their visits are always fun is that they are good at excursions: GirlBear is full of ideas for places to go and things to see, and we all enjoy approaching the same kind of entertainments in the same kind of way: accompanied by plenty of walking around, and finding somewhere pleasant to lunch, and discussing what we've just seen.

On this occasion, GirlBear had brought with her a cutting from the Guardian describing an exhibition at Sunderland University's Reg Vardy Gallery called "If There Ever Was: An Exhibition Of Extinct And Impossible Smells". An exhibition of smells: we weren't even sure that the word 'exhibition' could be used of smells, let alone how the gallery might deliver on its promise of lost smells, extinct smells, the scents of extinct flowers and the perfume Cleopatra wore. But we were game to find out.

The gallery is quite small: a single T-shaped room, all painted white, with one arm of the T cut off by a sales desk, providing a space for the gallery attendant. Around the rest of the room, a panel at eye-level carries fourteen pieces of text, with a vent running along beneath (there are pictures on the Gallery's site at the moment, though the site design means I can't link to them directly, or guess whether they will be there permanently). You pause to read a passage, and your presence (presumably) triggers a mechanism which releases the corresponding scent.
"Scent is the essence of physical presence and lends proof to our surroundings. Contrastingly, the fourteen scents re-created for If There Ever Was are inspired by absence. Like a cabinet of intangible curiosities, their forms are drawn from disparate stories throughout history for which few, if any, objects remain. And although it would be easy to pass the exhibition off as a work of pure fantasy — the product of an over-active perfumer's imagination - beneath the olfactory theatricality lies a serious scientific basis, says James Wong, a botanist at Botanic Gardens Conservation International, UK."

"It would be easy to pass the exhibition off as a work of pure fantasy..." Well, yes, the presentation has a deadpan quality which made me wonder whether the whole operation was an elaborate spoof, a fine but invisible new suit for the emperor. An exhibition of smells is a sufficiently elusive undertaking in itself, without going a step further into an exhibition of extinct smells. James Wong assures us that it is scientifically impeccable, but then James Wong's job at Botanic Gardens Conservation International (according to their web site) is to create news stories highlighting the organisation's role in plant conservation. A list of artists are described as contributing, and several fragrance houses are credited; it's a sign of my ignorance in matters olfactory that none of these names meant anything to me.

The fourteen text passages - offered as contexts for the scents, rather than descriptions - varied in length, but shared the same apparently simple tone; at first this made me suspicious, especially as some of the stories were hard to believe: can the Stasi really have collected the scents of suspects on file? (Apparently yes; the BBC has a picture). But the story of Jesse Tafero (executed in the US, the scent of his last meal recreated for the exhibition) rang a bell. And the scents that went down with the Titanic are real too. (Thanks to Glass Petal Smoke blog for its helpful list of all fourteen items).

So although my initial reaction was to see the entire exhibition as one big piece of conceptual art, it's possible to regard it as a showcase for fourteen works of the parfumier's art. In which case I'm afraid that the technology is not up to the task imposed on it: the scents were not delivered clearly, or in most cases strongly, enough. A scent composed by Christophe Laudamiel, in an attempt to recreate the scents believed to protect against plague, contained among other ingredients, vinegar, rose oil, raspberry leaves, beeswax, angelica, orange peel and clove: it was almost the only one I could identify at all, as the clove scent of the mouthwash my dentist used to use. All of the subtlety was lost in transmission. There's also a book of the show, a prettily bound little volume, but as soon as I opened it, the tipped in scent samples all mingled in one overwhelming smell.

Afterwards we discussed which lost scents we might nominate for a follow-up exhibition. "Anthracite," said [ profile] durham_rambler. "Steam engines." I'm tempted by any number of historic wines: Château Margaux 1848, perhaps? Or how about a madeleine dipped in linden tea?

P.S. This seems to be the definitive documentation (PDF).

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