Thursday, 29 December 2011

Riverside Museum of Transport, Glasgow

This is a new museum designed by Zaha Hadid. I was keen to see the building, which has had rave reviews. It is a success but the building takes an elegantly low profile. The space is used to display over 3000 transport-related objects, many of them full-size, though I did not see any aeroplanes! Perhaps there were some upstairs.

The museum is a wunderkammer, crammed with wheeled and floating transport old and new - carriages, cars, trams, huge locomotives, ship's engines, and much I did not see. The organisation was definitely "post modern", in that there was no historical theme or particular way to view the exhibits. Just plunge in and enjoy! However everything was carefully, briefly, and interestingly described. Not just for petrol-heads by any means.

Very ma
ny of the most spectacular objects had been made on the Clyde, and they were a powerful reminder of what has been lost within a couple of generations. For example, this enormous steam-engine which was used in South Africa for many years. All the wasteland area now surrounding the museum was once dockland and ship yards, and not so long ago.

Best of all, a Clyde-built tall ship was moored outside and it was possible to visit, view the living quarters and imagine the conditions of the crew and see the huge hold. A fascinating video (1920s?) with a voiceover by an ex-sea captain shows the extreme hardships of life at sea. Brilliant.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Can collage by Gillian Lowndes
fibreglass tissue, sardine tin, forks and other materials

Gillian Lowndes was a "radical and original ceramic artist" way ahead of her time. In the late 1970s she was using a bricolage technique, fusing together, often in multiple firings, a huge range of materials: "including house bricks, fibreglass tissuem, Egyptian paste, nichrome wire, domestic utensils, dried loofahs and latex, among others". This approach was inspired by time spent with her partner in Nigeria. On their return "The rich textural surfaces of the materials themselves ... quietly filled her imagination".

She described herself as "a materials-driven artist" and her work as "material-based objects, not pre-planned objects".

This information is, sadly, taken from her obituary (19.11.10) in the Guardian, written by Amanda Fielding.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Liking simple things

Kauto Star flying at Kempton on Boxing Day

On Christmas evening I was driving home when "plop" "crunch" - the exhaust came off the car. I had to abandon it in a lane.
Nothing to be done. But next morning, Boxing Day, I enjoy walking the two miles through the country to meet the car recovery vehicle.

I notice a vast flock of crows gathering on the fields where I used to keep my pony. What is the purpose of their gathering there? Perhaps some complicated social ritual for these intelligent creatures, or perhaps they are seeking shelter from the gale. In summer that is the place where the lapwings nest.

The wind is so strong that it is a struggle to stay on course, but as I walk, ideas and solutions to problems arrive in my mind.

I meet the friendly guy with the pick-up truck, he kindly gives me a lift home, half an hour later he phones to say that I forgot to give him the car key! Meanwhile off he goes on his rescue duties. I am forcibly stranded at home until he is able to pass this way again. No problem, I can spend time at home enjoying the unaccustomed peace of this time of year.

I can watch Kauto Star the beautiful racehorse striding out to win his fifth King George prize. What a sight. Nothing simple in that, of course, it is huge tribute to the skill of his breeders and trainer and rider that he is able to achieve this at the age of 12.

Eventually 7 hours later the rescue man reappears looming out the dark in his vehicle and I hand over the key. I retire to my study to review the past year and sort out papers, Bach on cd player. I fear this will all sound either sad or smug according to your interpretation, but I guess there are some who will understand.

Poem for the old year

"I try saying what I feel
Without thinking about what I feel.
I try fitting words to the idea
Without going down a corridor
Of thought to find words.

I don't always succeed in feeling what I know I should feel.
My thought swims the river only quite slowly,
Heavily burdened by clothes men have made it wear.

I try divesting myself of what I've learned,
I try forgetting the mode of remembering they taught me,
And scrape off the ink they used to paint my senses,
Unpacking my true emotions,
Unwrapping myself, and being myself ...."

Fernando Pessoa
Translated from the Portuguese
With thanks to Jane-Anne Shaw who sent me this poem 11 years ago!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Wuthering Heights

Went to see this movie today, but was a little disappointed. I thought very highly of Andrea Newman's "Fish Tank" which dealt with growing up in a poor part of contemporary Britain. That film was an acute observation of frustrated aspiration and the cruelty of society, and one of its most powerful aspects was the soundtrack, much of it rap music. This soundtrack set a rhythm to the whole film.

Wuthering Heights, on the other hand, is mostly "silent" except for the natural sounds of animals and the countryside and weather. With a few human voices. This, together with the strong photography and brilliant recreation of a harsh Yorkshire farm on the moors, makes for a very realistic atmosphere moving in its bleakness, particularly when Heathcliff is cast out of the family to live in the cattle byres.

The first part of the film is very slow moving, focussing on the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy, with very many long lingering moments of Heathcliff's profile and Cathy's beautiful round sensuous face. I was not entirely convinced by the strength of this relationship. Newman is really good at portraying young people very powerfully and sympathetically, but I do not think she captured the "soul connection" that Bronte claimed between this couple. We do not get to know Heathcliff as a young man. He is silent much of the time and we have to interpret his expressions. I did not find either character particularly sympathetic.

The environment is overwhelming, both the moors and the farm. It seems much larger than either Heathcliff or Cathy, and in fact Cathy's brother and father seem much more a part of it. Although the photography is very good, the natural world is over-romanticised. Too much lingering again on details such as trapped moths, sprigs of heather, and on splendid landscapes.

The issue of class is also confusing. Cathy is considered the equal of the family in the big house even though she "runs wild". How does this fit into the strict religion of her father? Even as a farmer's daughter she has some fine horses to ride. Reference to social context is similarly confusing - what for example had Heathcliff been doing between his sad departure from the farm and his confident reappearance as an adult?

The fact that Heathcliff is a black man in this film adds to the complication. Newman may be making an effective comment on contemporary Britain, but it is also a cliche to match the Heathcliff character with such a powerful and nonconformist part. Bronte's Heathcliff is the classic "other".

Newman wanted to portray Heathcliff and Cathy as victims of prejudice and of their own passionate feelings. For me these feelings came over as nothing more than would quite naturally occur between two children playing on the farm. More cruel and real was the treatment of Heathcliff by Cathy's jealous brother.

I suspect that Newman is more suited to working in a contemporary urban context, where we recognise meanings and can read the characters immediately - and learn something from her fresh, informed and radical outlook. I did not learn much from this film.

Finally, hey, it is Christmas time! Why do I choose to go to a movie with not one moment of humour or lightness? Because it has had great reviews and this was a rare chance to see it, that's why.. But I have to confess that ultimately I was not able to sit through the whole thing. Just too dark and depressing and a little bit dull.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

My Week with Marilyn

I made an effort through the sleet and snow to see this movie and I am glad I did. For one thing, the acting is brilliant. Kenneth Branagh does a great turn as Sir Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench also great, and Michelle Williams does a wonderful Marilyn Monroe.

The movie is about the making of the Fifties film "The Prince and the Showgirl", starring Olivier and Monroe, but more deeply it is about Marilyn as a wholly instinctive actress, and the insecurities she experienced both because of her lack of formal training, and because of her traumatized childhood.

At one point, Olivier acknowledges her great presence on screen, and remarks how much pain she must endure as such a completely intuitive performer. But at the beginning he tries to bully her into following the usual rules, with absolutely no success.

Lovely portrait of an artist.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The dark side

The Baths of Caracalla, Rome

Rose Macaulay, in her magnificent book, "
The Pleasure of Ruins", describes the satisfaction of ruins and the catastrophic element they symbolise:

The literature of all ages has found beauty in the dark and violent forces, physical and spiritual, of which ruin is one symbol. The symbols change; the need does not. Oedipus, Clytemnestra, Atreus, Medea .. all the atrocious horrors of Greek drama, of Seneca, of Dante's Hell, of Tasso, of the Elizabethans and Jacobeans - these have a profoundly ruinous and welcome gloom" (p. 20)

Of course, humanity has not changed, we only have to watch the tv news or go to a multiplex movie to understand that. But difficult to accept that such a need exists, probably in all of us.

The Way of Unthinking

Johannes Itten wrote in his book "The Art of Colour"(1961), when discussing analysis of colour theory, that if "unthinking"is your way, then that is the way to work.

Reading the recent obituary of the Czech poet and translater, Ewald Osers, I was reminded of this remark. Osers write that for him, translating poetry was a natural aptitude he could not define:"I don't believe that translation theory has ever helped me to translate.....Without conscious effort a translated line ... would stand ready in my mind."

This, too, reminded me a little of J.K. Rowling's story about how the idea of Harry Potter "dropped into her mind" on a train journey to Scotland. I am definitely no Rowling/Potter fan, but I have to acknowledge the meaning of the work for many.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

"Rag Rose" and "Reworked" at the Edinburgh Craft Fair

This weekend at St. John's Church, Princes Street, in Edinburgh for a small cosy fair - fortunately covered in a marquee and with plenty of warmth in the air!
I am so impressed by many of my fellow exhibitors. Here are two I particularly like.

Rag Rose ( makes exquisite brooches and other accessories from beautifully made fabric flowers. This maker has a brilliant sense of colour and the photo only gives some idea of the quality of her work. The website is more helpful!

The Reworkd Workshop ( uses components from old manual typewriters to make into jewellery such as necklaces, pendants and cufflinks. These are SO clever and witty. I have been wearing one of their pendants since August! It is just a simple typewriter key with the letter "D". I love it.