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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘art’

Class Consciousness

In which people talk about art

Last week: the cinema, as I said. Yesterday, we happened to be around the Harbourside, so popped into the Arnolfini to see one of the current exhibitions, “Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie: Class Hegemony in Contemporary Art”. It’s a touring exhibition that has travelled around various European venues in the past three years or so, changing and unfolding each time as the artists involved respond to the discussions their exhibition provokes. In general, though, it questions the concept of working as an artist; the sort of people who work as artists, and the ways in which the art world will automatically perceive an artist and attempt to classify their work based solely on their background and origins.

As part of the exhibition, there was a talk by local artist and academic Wayne Lloyd, on the Bristol art scene. We were intrigued as to how he would describe the local art scene within the context of the exhibition; and were rather disappointed when his talk seemed entirely context-free. It was a description of a few local “artist-run spaces” which have occupied rooms in the city centre in recent years; a small part of the local art scene, but one that Lloyd clearly knew well. However, description was all we got; no sort of synthesis, no concept of how these spaces fitted into the art world or into the city itself. I would have hoped, at least, for an attempt at explaining why those specific artists did what they did.

I was left slightly puzzled as to how the talk was meant to fit with the rest of the exhibition, almost (but not quite) to the point of putting up my hand and asking a question at the end. I’m not entirely sure what the question would have been. “Given the exhibition’s title and subtitle, how do these spaces demonstrate that there is (or isn’t) a class hegemony in local art?” sounds more like an exam question. “How many people from Hartcliffe or Withywood visit these spaces?” sounds a bit flippant and glib. “Given the exhibition’s title and subtitle, how the hell was any of that relevant?” just makes me sound too ignorant, especially when everyone else in the audience other than me and K seemed to think the whole thing very meaningful. Maybe they were all part of the hegemony too.

Taking Notes

In which we list other things I am working on

Incidentally, one reason I’ve been missing the target of posting here every day recently is that I have been non-blogging about something else. Non-blogging, in the sense of a private diary; but about a specific topic, rather than vague everyday-life ramblings. In a few months, it will hopefully get published, either here or on paper; but I can’t say anything until at least the summer, and hopefully longer. But if you’re writing something like a diary, it’s best to do it as the events occur, while they’re still fresh in your mind; and it’s been soaking up the spare words in my head.

Last week I mentioned that we felt inspired to finish off our current artcraft projects. It got me thinking just how many creative projects I’m working on at the moment, that are at least vaguely concrete but haven’t been finished. There is:

  • A crochet bomb
  • A binary scarf
  • Two model railway wagons
  • A website that, as yet, is secret
  • The aforementioned diary-blog-zine-thing that is also currently secret
  • Something vague for the London Zine Symposium, heading towards us more rapidly than I care to think
  • K’s sister’s wedding album, which we definitely should have done more of by now

That’s 7 or 8 things, depending on how you count. Plus there are many other ideas which haven’t yet made it outside my head, and vague concepts such as “a photographic portfolio on the theme of disused hotels,” or “a model railway incorporating the Ostrich pub”. Really, though, I should complete some of the started-projects before embarking on anything else.

Art

In which we have an arty weekend, and get inspired

A bit of an arty weekend for us – well, an arty Sunday at least.

First off, the Bristol Artist’s Book Event – or, BABE – at the Arnolfini. The whole gallery was turned into a market for the weekend, so that people working in the field of “artists’ books” could sell their wares. Even though we couldn’t afford to buy very much, it was interesting just to treat the event as an art exhibit in itself. I’m not sure I want to become an artist’s book collector, in any case; for one thing, I wouldn’t have a clue how to file half of the things on display. They are wonderful objects to appreciate in their own right, though; hand-made, hand-bound, artisan objects. They are something I could make myself, if I had a mind to it – well, possibly not the hand-bound books, but you know what I mean. Anything can be art, after all, if made with an artistic event or viewed with an artistic sensibility. My eye was drawn to a folded concertina of a book,* a book of photographs produced by walking through a city and taking photos looking upwards at predetermined intervals. Too few people look up as they walk the world; I had trouble recognising all of the locations even though it was an area I knew well. It unfolded like a little Box Of Delights, drawing the reader in, yet fiddly to use with clumsy mind and fingers.

In the Arnolfini, we were hailed by a sandwich-board chap, laden with all sorts of things,** and a big sign saying “DRINK MORE GIN!” He gave us fliers for a corresponding exhibition at the Central Library, to go alongside BABE. We wandered across to College Green to find it, which was easier said than done. The exhibition, of artists’ books from the city library’s art collection, was squirrelled away in a conference room, in a part of the Reference Library normally well out of the public eye. When found, though, it was excellent, partly because the city library has a very good collection, and partly because of the access visitors got. We were free, under the invigilator’s beady eye, to pick the things up, read them, investigate them; quite an awkward job given the nature of some artists’ books, needing to be unpackaged and unfolded and probed gently but persistantly. The collection was biased mainly towards the last 20 years, but there were some earlier things; a pamphlet with Eric Gill illustrations, for example.*** Some were up-to-the-minute: things we’d seen on sale at the Arnolfini a few minutes before.

Finally, wandering into the Old City, we saw a placard for a temporary exhibition at the Centrespace Gallery, on Leonard Lane, tricky to find if you’ve never been before, as Leonard Lane is barely more than a doorway in a wall. You can tell it’s a street, though, because it has double yellow lines along both sides, despite being so narrow that most people could probably touch the walls on both sides at the same time at many points. The exhibition was “Dark Stars and Bleeding Hearts”, an art show by a local artist we’d not heard of before, deadgirl, also known as Keri Gardom. You can see examples of her art on her website:**** it’s brightly-coloured acrylic illustration between black outlines. The most common tag on her website gallery seems to be “morbid”; and she really should consider selling prints of her work, as well as originals. They’d sell in their thousands to “alternative” teenagers who can’t afford to spend £250 on a painting. What caught my eye, though – apart from the free sweets for visitors – was her palette. Not the selection of colours in her work, but her physical palette, sitting next to her easel in the middle of the room. It was piled up thickly with layers and layers of used paint, two or three inches deep. I wanted to take a picture; but she was busy talking to somebody else, I didn’t want to interrupt, and taking a picture of her palette without asking would be far too intrusive – like posting a photo of someone else’s desk.

In general, we felt inspired. Inspired to do things, ourselves, to get creative, to finish off our current artcraft projects. We almost went back to the Arnolfini, where one of the stalls at BABE was selling used printing blocks and sets of type. Not that we have a press, or forms, or anything else that printers need, but vintage typography can be beautiful, and the type itself even more so. Expect the Symbolic Forest Press to make an appearance one of these years, even if we don’t quite manage hand-printed or hand-bound hardbacks straight away. The world is creative, and we can be creative too.

* Unfortunately, me being me, I didn’t get the artist’s name

** although the only things that I can remember dangling off him were stripy paper bags

*** Unfortunately, me being me, I didn’t get the writer’s name.

**** Update, September 3rd 2020: the website appears to be no longer online.

Photo post of the week

In which we photograph the deep blue sea

I grew up not far from the sea. I didn’t go down to the beach or the seafront very often, but I was close enough that you could see out to sea from the top deck of my school bus. I’ve always felt good by the sea.*

On the other hand, I grew up in an area where the sea is the colour of weak milky tea. So it’s always nice to go somewhere and find that the sea can, actually, sometimes be storybook blue.**

The Carrick Roads

Gyllyngvase Beach

Porthminster Beach

Boat, St Ives

St Ives

Boats, St Ives

In other sea-related (or, at least, tidal) news: the mystery words on the shore of the Avon, which we spotted last weekend and posted about, have been identified: an artwork to highlight litter in the sea, by an artist called Pete Dolby. Thanks to Liz for writing and letting me know.

* You could argue some sort of genetic memory, because my mum’s family’s descended from a bunch of 19th-century Cornish fishermen (and smugglers, no doubt), from Looe and Polperro. On the other hand, my dad’s family’s from Derby, which is as unmaritime as you can get.

** Pure water is, as a matter of fact, very very slightly a pale blue colour. You can see it, just about, if you run a bathful of water in a white bath. That’s not the main reason the sea can look blue, though. And different cultures have seen it different ways; the Homeric adjective for it is “wine-dark”, and you know how dark Greek wine can be. I’ve heard that the ancient Greeks didn’t quite distinguish between blue and green in the same way as we do; but I don’t know enough Greek to tell you how true that is.

“1000 Tide”

In which we are briefly puzzled by some art

A few weeks ago, exploring the local area, we started walking up the Ashton-Pill path. It runs along the side of the railway up the south bank of the Avon, along the Avon Gorge and under the famous Suspension Bridge, downriver towards Pill.* We walked along it until we got bored and turned around.** En-route, though, we saw something slightly unusual. A big pile of plastic bottles, on the shore, below the path but above the tide line, corralled together.

Presumably, we thought, some sort of anti-littering campaign, fishing non-degradable bottles out of the river or out of the undergrowth. But then, the other day, we were up on the Downs on the far bank, and noticed the bottles—or, what we assume is those bottles—again. They’ve been arranged into words.

1000 Tide

We have no idea, though, what it is. An art project? An advertising slogan? An anti-littering project as we originally thought? The internet doesn’t seem to be helping – the only relevant search hit at the moment is, er, that photo. We’re puzzled.

UPDATE:, November 14th 2008: Thank you to a correspondant called Liz – who was also puzzled by it – for letting me know what it is. It is, indeed, an anti-littering art project; there are apparently 1000 plastic bottles washed up on every tide,*** hence the text. It does, though, change regularly, and eventually the artist, whose name is Pete Dolby, is going to make them all into a raft. So now we know.

* as you might expect, given its name

** after all, walking down towards Pill and back another way would have been a very long walk; and any other circular routes would have involved a stiff climb through the woods.

*** in the Avon Gorge, that is. I’m not sure what the number per mile of coastline is.

In darkness

In which we find art in a cave

One of the things I like, about living in this city, is the randomness of things one comes across. One will turn a corner and find something new happening, something unexpected, something undreamt.

We were ambling around the harbourside, at the weekend, along the stretch that is overlooked by red sandstone cliffs. There are caves dug into the cliffs there, gated and walled off now; but as we walked along the quayside we noticed that one of the gates was open, with a sign outside it: “photography exhibition, this weekend only”.

We looked closer; and saw a brick archway let into the cliff, with darkness inside it, no sign of anybody about. Tentatively, we stepped inside; the brick walls gave way to rough stone, and a sign warned of falling rocks. And, inside, in the darkness, we found: a photography exhibition.

It turned out to be by a local photographer, Jesse Alexander, who has taken long-exposure natural-light photographs of various underground locations. Caves, cellars, underground reservoirs, and so on. When I say “long exposure” I don’t mean “get the tripod out”, I mean “get the tripod out, set the camera up, then come back a week later”.* To show them in a suitable location, he’d found an unlit cave, printed transparencies of his work, and mounted it up on individual lightboxes. The whole installation he called “Threshold Zone”.**

It was an interesting and unusual concept. Printed normally, set up in a gallery, the prints would have been examples of technically good and well-composed photography, but without anything particularly distinguished about them. Mounted there, in a dark, quiet cave, they took on something special.

* although he loses out slightly, in the long-exposure stakes, to Justin Quinnell’s six-month pinhole camera exposures.

** If you go to his website, you can apparently download a PDF about the work. Whether you can read it is another thing; I can’t get it to open. But it might be worth a try.

Guerilla art

In which we talk about art and anonymity

Over the years I’ve had all sorts of plans for art projects which have never quite got off the ground. So I’ve never had to answer the question: how would I feel if I did something Artistic, which became famous all over the place, but nobody knew it was me who did it.

The local news here was full of something similar, recently. All around Yorkshire, in Goathland, Kilburn, Arthington and Braithwell, mysterious stone heads have been appearing; and some then disappearing again. Intriguing, you could say. I’m strangely attached to the idea of mysterious heads – which are reminiscent of some of the stranger stone crosses on the Yorkshire Moors – popping up in the night. Rather like crop circles, in a way.

Unfortunately, though, the mystery of the stone heads hasn’t lasted very long. Crop circles were a puzzler for a few years, back in the 1980s. The stone heads have been a mystery for a few weeks; but they’ve only stayed a mystery for a few hours now the story has hit the national news. They are apparently made by a chap called Billy Johnson. Presumably, he’s done it all for the publicity;* as he left some easily googleable clues attached to each head, it’s fairly obvious that he wanted to be found. Artists have to make money somehow, after all. Personally, I’d rather it had stayed a mystery, though.

Mysteries are good for the imagination. An anonymous sculpture, appearing out of nowhere, is something to tantalise the mind and get you wondering about all those things sitting just around the edges of the known world. A self-publicising sculptor called Billy Johnson – whether he’s real or not – is dull and mundane by comparison.

* and I’ve just helped, haven’t I. Oh, well. Billy, if you’re a self-googler and you’re reading this, I’ll tell you where my own street corner is; you can leave one there and I’ll make sure you get some more publicity for your website.

Update, August 29th 2020: This post originally linked to the website about Billy Johnson’s stone heads, which was easily findable if you did an internet search on the words attached to each head. It has since disappeared completely from the internet and the domain name bought by an entirely different woodcarver. However, the “friend of Billy’s” who set the site up is part of the “digital fiction studio” Dreaming Methods who seem to have used the publicity from the story to distribute more of Billy Johnson’s stone heads rather more widely than he could do on his own. If you want to see Billy Johnson’s work, you can find a lot of it scattered around his local area, near Barnsley.

Infernal machines (part 2)

In which we discuss an artist of invention

The other week, I wrote about W Heath Robinson, and how I first discovered him: illustrating the children’s books of Norman Hunter. He wasn’t as good for the stories, though, as a later illustrator, who is much less well known. His name is George Adamson.*

Adamson’s work is, in a sense, much more mundane and ordinary than even Robinson’s. Robinson is, in his “mechanical” work, an artist of ridiculous things. Adamson, though, makes ridiculous things look ordinary. Like, for example, a Mayor having to take his tea in a bathtub:

The Mayor taking tea in a bathtub

Robinson’s machines look entirely plausible, and their workings are out on show. Adamson’s machinery, though, is hidden away. It’s magical, because you can’t see how it might do what it’s supposed to; it fits Hunter’s descriptions of machines that can do the physically impossible. Some of them are sinister: very 1950s in design, plain cases with the occasional dial or switch, presumably painted grey or pale green. Others are more complicated, but their working is never obvious or spelled out. They are wonderful depictions of machines which never do as they are supposed to.

The Professor

* not to be confused, of course, with George Adamson

Infernal machines (part one)

In which we talk about a classic artist

A few months back, I saw, on a friend’s bookshelf, art books about members of the Robinson family: Charles Robinson and his better-known brother William Heath Robinson; and I resolved to write about them here. It’s taken me a while.

The wonderful thing about Heath Robinson’s work – apart from the army of identikit men who keep his machines running – is that everything looks entirely workable, in a certain sense. Everything looks as if it should fit together and run smoothly, especially with his little arrows and dashed lines to show that this moves that way, that cog turns like so, and the lever over on that side swings round to hit the golf ball over here.

The first place I came across Heath Robinson, though, I found him slightly unsatisfactory. In the 1930s he illustrated two children’s books by writer Norman Hunter, about an absent-minded inventor called Professor Branestawm, a creator of amazing, fantastical, physically impossible inventions. Robinson’s illustrations were just too possible—although they may well have worked, they could never have done everything described in the story. I was, as a child, disappointed. I much preferred his 1970s illustrator—but I’ll tell you about him another time.

Artwork

In which things go in phases

Do you go through phases of liking different sorts of art, different fashions, as you get older?

The other day someone said to me: “all teenage boys go through a surrealist phase”. And, it’s true, I had a surrealist phase when I was a teenager. Some of them – Salvador Dalí, for example – never grow out of it.* Most do, though, and go on to other things. When I was small, I was also a Heath Robinson fan, and it took me a while to realise that he had ever done anything other than the bizarre machinery cartoons which made him a household name.**

So, did you go through art phases when you were younger? What artists did you like then that you really don’t care about now? I want to see if this is true in general, or if it just applies to floating rocks and lobster telephones.

* Magritte, on the other hand, did grow up – I assume he just had strange fetishes for bowler hats and sleighbells.

** I have more to write about Heath Robinson soon, but no time to write it now.