Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Cannot believe I have reinvented myself

Is it possible that I am effectively speaking "techno" in digital stores and, what is more, actually taking product, going home and working through all the glitches either on my own or with assistance from experts in Southern India or the Philippines (to name but two). Well, it has taken me long enough to move from a state of total panic to something like confidence. The solution is there, just wait a while and all becomes clear.

Great to meet a creation such as the iPhone which sings out "use me, have fun and pleasure in all you do" (thanks, Apple). Goodbye to the Kindle e reader, acessible in more stylish form on iPhone, hello to portable netbook (sadly not another Apple product, maybe one day).

Not to say that this revolution in communication is the answer to everything, of course not, we are still bundles of irrational needs and emotions. It is just a medium. But (maybe I am sad) what a thrill to talk to people the other side of world and have them sort out your computer even if it takes an hour (their call). It is thrilling to be part of this huge change in human experience. I believe robots are next - but not just yet.

I like this too ...

Art Spiegelman, cartoonist, explains his working method:

".He is so paralysed by the pressure of creating the perfect sketchbook that he prefers to draw while on the phone, on Post-It notes or envelopes, which he usually throws away. If he is drawing on a newspaper scrap, it is easier to shut down the left side of the brain, so the right side is free to move around: he won't know what the drawing is until it is finished".

From : "The curse of the 5000 lb mouse" Angelique Chrisafis in Guardian, G2, 11.06.09

Sunday, 26 December 2010

"Every good work must be ruined"

I like this:

Finnish architect Marco Casagrande writes in 1.1 Architects Build Small Spaces (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, August 2010)

"First I design and then I ruin my own design. Ruin is when man-made has become part of nature. Every good work must be ruined.

When the ruin happens, control gives up so that nature can step in. This point is where the stories begin. Accident is greater than human control. Accident is nature. Architecture is a living thing."

Is this partly what Robert Smithson means when he refers to buildings and places "rising up into ruins"?

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Happy Christmas

My kind of Santa
- with thanks to Hermes
, Paris

Happy Christmas to everyone!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Ai Wei Wei

A few weeks ago, Alan Yentob profiled the Chinese dissident artist, Ai Wei Wei in the "Imagine" series (BBC1). Wei Wei has up until now been mainly known in the West for his part in designing the famous "Bird's Nest" stadium at the Beijing Olympics (together with Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron) but he works in many other media, such as ceramics, jewellery and sculpture.

Wei Wei was deeply affected by the cultural revolution. His family was exiled and made to live in poverty until the death of Mao in 1976. Wei Wei then left for his “home”, New York, and remained there for 14 years. He was strongly influenced by the conceptual art of Warhol and Duchamp.

He returned to China after the protests of Tiananmen Square in 1989, and as a political and avant-garde artist in the repressive state of contemporary China he is a target for the authorities. In 2008, for example, he sustained life threatening injuries from police following an art work he made which exposed the true extent of the losses in the Sichuan earthquake.

Wei Wei depends greatly on the internet and on feeds such as blogs and Twitter to keep in touch with the global culture. He regards this as a cultural space in which it is possible to clearly express who you are and to fight for your rights. These are fundamental for any artist, he says -
Only when art has connection to ordinary feelings or commonsense does it become most powerful”

It is interesting to compare him with Damien Hirst (see recent blog "Playing to the galleries"). They live in totally different societies and have completely different backgrounds, but both are hugely successful conceptual artists, working on an often spectacular scale. But Wei wei is a political artist with an avant-garde background and agenda.
.It can't be right that art has to depend on the market. Liberty is what makes art unique”.

Hirst comments elegantly on decay and the presence of death, a great taboo in the consumerist Western society. He is subversive in this sense but operates within the market, as his comments make clear. Art for him seems to be partly a business.

Wei Wei's famous project currently at Tate Modern comprises 100 m porcelain sunflower seeds made in the traditional way from the finest clay. First the white seed-shapes are fired in moulds, then, once painted, they are fired again. They are indistinguishable from the genuine article. The process took two and a half years and involved a team of 1600 people.

Wei Wei wants everyone to interpret the installation individually, but obviously it can be seen as a comment on China's history, both ancient and modern. During the revolutionary period the sunflower was the symbol for Mao's power and its seeds were, ironically, all that many people had to eat. Even the vast total is only one sixteenth of China's population.

To see this programme try copying and pasting:

Snow crazy

Still stuck here in the snow. Even the few hundred yards that separate my house from a navigable road is proving to be a formidable barrier. An underground water waste pipe burst und
er the ice and turned the road into a kind of glacier experience, covered with large uneven chunks of ice, lethally smooth sheets and narrow grooves formed by brave drivers.

I have not been able to get to workshop for nearly a month now.
I am just hoping the thaw arrives soon.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Playing to the galleries

Hilary Spurling, famed biographer of Matisse, has written a review of Bridget Riley's new exhibition at the National Gallery in London. As a contemporary and friend of Riley, she understands the impact of this “op-art”, as it was then known, on a hidebound and traditional British art scene of the late 1950s.

Riley's work, which is about perception, the optical and dynamic interaction of painting and viewer, became immediately famous, and appropriated commercially. “We'll have you on the back of every matchbox in Japan” said the trustee at New York MOMA in 1965, year of group show “The Responsive Eye”.

Riley was horrified by the way her work had been exploited, but Spurling points out that her paintings had in fact touched a nerve and reflected a shift in ways of seeing, a new collaboration between artist and viewer. “One moment there will be nothing to look at and the next second the canvas suddenly seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events” (Bridget Riley).

Spurling compares Riley with the late Matisse, who aimed “to clarify, liberate and restore to painting its central emotional charge”. “My aim is to make people feel alive” says Riley.

What first caught my attention in this article was a quote about Damien Hirst and his bemusement at the notion of “art for art's sake”, rather than considering how work could be marketed via the commercial galleries. There would appear to be a greater integrity in art made in isolation, but this may be misleading. Artists, unless they have private means, have always depended on patronage of different kinds
, and interaction with others is usually central to making successful or pivotal art . I think of groups such as the Impressionists and the Salon des Refuses, or Die Brucke in Germany, or indeed the YBAs.

Commercial galleries are a contemporary form of patronage, and the work remains, as ever, a fabulously expensive luxury. Yet through the media it becomes an accessible part of our culture. But it is impossible to imagine Lucian Freud worrying too much about the commercial gallery. Maybe painting is a more private and reflective activity. Hirst famously has said that he always wanted to be a painter but lacked the ability and confidence, so he started making installations instead.

I was reminded of a comment by Pacheco at "The Sacred Made Real" exhibition of Spanish sculpture and paintings last year at the National Gallery. She thinks that painting draws the spectator in, whereas sculpture comes out and meets the viewer.

Copy and paste link: (


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A poem about kindness


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye
from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems


No comment needed

My cottage this afternoon

Monday, 6 December 2010

More snow

I braved the elements
once again today. It was a pleasure once I was safely wrapped up and going. The whole environment was transformed and all sense of time lost. Please copy and paste this link to see more!

Any Human Heart - best moment

I am watching this adaptation of William Boyd's novel on Channel 4. It is an informal romp through twentieth-century history, and the acting is superb.

The best moment so far was Gloria's (Kim Cattrall) memory of spending her last shilling on violets rather than a sandwich, "because she would always remember the violets but forget the sandwich immediately".

I love this idea that common sense, although pretty useful, is not always the best way!

Monday morning

This is the scene this morning - at least 6 inches of snow fell silently and unexpectedly overnight. Now I am really stuck here, do not relish wading through the drifts to go anywhere!

Plus car broke down yesterday, now it is stranded along the road.

So - no chance of getting to studio anyway! And
it looks as though the show this weekend is a write-off.

At least it is, hopefully, not life threatening, but
I worry for the wild birds.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

It's so nice to come home..

but it's even nicer to go out.

At last I braved the elements in my car today. Some time was needed for thorough de-icing so that I could see where I was going! The hero of the hour for this proved to be my steam kettle (see above). It did a brilliant job of clearing the windscreen and the wipers.

Once on the road, I did feel a bit vulnerable, especially right out in the middle of nowhere. I had to park the car at a farm and walk about a mile along a snowy and slippery track to the workshop. I have these fear thresholds, I kept thinking of what would happen if .... but then, what are mobiles for?

It was spectacularly beautiful out there in the valley, I saw hare tracks, a deer and a great cluster of crows gathering, and the trees and hedges and mountains looked so fine. The Clydesdale filly at the farm ran through the snow with excitement. Unfortunately no camera with me. Once I got to the barn, however, EVERYTHING was frozen solid, even the medium I use for my dyes. Fortunately I rustled up some hot water by boiling snow in the kettle and managed to do a bit.

Great sense of achievement to get out and back safely in these conditions. For me, too much domestic time becomes very stifling - and there has been quite a bit this week due to weather conditions. According to the new programme "At Home with the Georgians" (bbc2 iplayer) the home was definitely the pinnacle of aspiration of people in eighteenth century Britain. It was a status symbol and also, in practical terms, the only way to achieve a comfortable existence.
Thank goodness we have more options these days.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Serious weather and serious temptation

Very beautiful but .... I have not dared to venture out with the car since S
unday, and it is now Friday evening. Today we got post first time for a week. Fortunately it has been a chance to (almost literally) get dug in and finish my year's paperwork.

To let off steam, I have been negotiating on amazon for an iPad, the great must-have, but have been encountering scams and too-good-to-be-true priced items, which just turned out to be a way of obtaining personal e mail addresses. So, still no iPad, and none in sight for now.

I want to and need to get to my workshop, but as it is way out in the valley I need to be sure I am not going to get stuck in a snow storm, and marooned for the night or worse! Today I dug out the car, so hope for good conditions tomorrow.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Another year - Mike Leigh's latest film

This was such an acute film, and beautifully made.

It is the story of a year in the life of a couple in their sixties, kind, happy and devoted to each other. Both are professionals and live in London, far from their Lancashire roots. They are extraordinarily kind to the more inadequate people around them, offering constant support and hospitality. They worry about their only son, a lawyer with Citizens Advice, as he seems to have no permanent relationship.

Everything changes when the son meets someone and brings her home. The friends suddenly become "pathetic" and "tragic" and the subject of rolling eyes and stage whispers. There is a breathless and anxious moment when the confident and feisty new girlfriend tells them about her own parents (her father is a postman) and then tells them that she herself is an occupational therapist.

The gap between generations is brilliantly portrayed, the friend in the middle a lost soul seeking for identity through acceptance as a girlish and helpless woman, at last in the final frame seeming to realise that this role is false, and her friends are adults for whom close family relationships will always come first. And that perhaps she herself has much greater value and strength than she had realised.

I interpret this film as a comment on contemporary Britain and its increasing inequalities, where family and aspiring middle class values become more important than recognising that we are ultimately all individuals with varying needs and levels of vulnerability and sensitiveness. A wider sense of community is lost, and many people fall through the gaps.
Furthermore, since the credit squeeze, there is now a gap between aspiration and reality for almost everyone.

The film also touches on the way we sometimes mask our own needs by helping others, and on how destructive this can be.

Tuition fees - John Sutherland's views

Professor John Sutherland of University College London writes in Education Guardian about the confused or just plain wrong thinking behind the rise in the tuition fees to £9,000 per year.

He points out that cadets at Sandhurst actually get paid to attend because of course the army has a discernible political role. The same could be said for subjects such as medicine or science and degrees in these subjects. The financial investment in such subjects is almost certain to yield high returns.

This is not so obvious in the case of arts degrees, the benefits of which are more subtle and longer term. Rising fees will deter students, whatever the government claims. Also the more expensive a degree and the more commercial the approach to education, claims Sutherland, the more the nature of education is corroded. The student becomes a customer and demands a good degree rather than a good education.

The danger to underfunded and under-valued arts courses is that they will lose their rigour and educational value. Financial considerations will become paramount, and good academics will distance themselves from the teaching process in order to preserve any sense of meaning and integrity.