New Year’s Day at the Hepworth 2019

Untitled

It’s become a tradition for us to drive over the Pennines to visit the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield on New Year’s Day, and this year was no different. We set off mid morning, driving over a quiet M62, and arriving around midday. The main exhibition at the moment is devoted to the Hepworth Sculpture Prize. This is a biannual competition and this was the second time it had been held.

After an initial quick reccie of the exhibitions we grabbed a bite to eat in the cafe before taking a proper look round. We also took advantage of the free guided tour of the Hepworth Prize exhibition, which gave us a better understanding of the works and some insights on the artists’ methods and intentions.

The Hepworth Prize recognises a British or UK-based artist of any age, at any stage in their career, who has made a significant contribution to the development of contemporary sculpture. The entrants don’t have to be of British origin, but must be working here.

There was a room for each of the five shortlisted artists –Cerith Wyn Evans,  Michael Dean, Mona Hatoum, Phillip Lai and Magali Reus, featuring new and recent work. Each artist has their own very different style – some, inevitably, more easily accessible than others.

Probably the easiest works to relate to were those by Mona Hatoum. She
was born in Beirut to Palestinian family in 1952 and now lives in London where, in 1975, she was stranded there because the war broke out in Lebanon. (Oh my goodness – a refugee!). And most of her works in the exhibition were influenced by conflict around the world.

This piece, with a circle on the floor made up of black marbles, rather reminded me of the work of Richard Long

Untitled

This globe constructed of rebar (steel bar used for reinfocing concrete) with scattered lumps of rubble. No doubt meant to represent the destruction of buildings by conflicts around the world

Untitled

A theme continued in another globe. This one with an outline of the continents made from neon filled glass tube. It was meant to light up, glowing red, to represent the “hot spots” around the world. Unfortunately there was a technical fault on the day which meant it wasn’t working and removed message and meaning.

Untitled

Another work, from a distance, looked liked decorative glass vessels. Closer inspection revealed them to be in the form of hand grenades.

The beauty of her sculptures was in contrast to their message. Conflicts around the world has an impact on people, who, understandably, are keen to flee to find a better life, often enduring considerable risks to life and limb in the process. Over Christmas we had so called “crisis” of a handful of refugees doing just that trying to cross one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in flimsy boats. It’s a pity that there’s a deficit of compassion in a country turning in on itself and erecting barriers.

After the visit, we were able to vote online for the Sculpture People’s Choice. Perhaps, not surprisingly, Mona Hatoum was the winner. Her works were accessible, pleasing to the eye and with a message. On our first walk round the exhibition she would probably have been my choice too.

In the adjacent room, Phillip Lai (who was born in Malaysia)

highlights the various chains of making and consuming materials today, and for accumulating and disposing of objects.

There were several high shelves with piles of foam mats and hand-casted plastic ‘basins’ with smears of cement, an installation featuring a pile of colourful clothes and a large aluminium counter top with two oversized objects.

I found it difficult to relate to these works. They didn’t really say very much to me and even the explanation of the artist’s methods and intentions during the guided tour didn’t really change my perception.

The winner of the prize was Cerith Wyn Evans (with a name like that he was clearly Welsh!).

His works combine ideas and influences from art, history, philosophy and science in order to transform our perception of the world around us. He is perhaps best known for his elegant neon text works that mine a particular fascination with language and light. 

His winning sculpture combines thirty-seven crystal glass flutes in two overlapping arcs. 

Untitled

Air is pumped through the flutes through plastic tubing from a pair of “breathing units” following an algorithm, producing eerie musical sounds that reverberate around the room, and can be heard throughout the other exhibition spaces in the Gallery. Light shining on the structure cast shadows on the wall and floor.

Untitled

It was a simple, attractive piece and the sounds added an additional element, and was easy to like. But it wasn’t my favourite work.

Magali Reus was born in Den Haag, The Netherlands in 1981, and currently lives and works in London. Her sculptures

are accumulations of images and things – she draws on objects she finds around her, recombining them into something strange and unfamiliar. Although a keen observer of the physical world, Reus avoids using readymade objects, instead each element of her sculptural jigsaws has been meticulously fabricated using a mixture of technological and traditionally craft-based techniques. 

Untitled

On first inspection I wasn’t sure what to make of her works. But closer inspection showed that a number of them were abstract representations of people, with sombrero hats and other items like a boot and a wine bottle.

The final room showcased a large work by Michael Dean, originally from Newcastle.

Untitled

At first glance the work looked like a jumbled mess of objects scattered around the gallery – coins, padlocks, crushed cans, plastic bags, building materials and crime scene tape. But closer inspection revealed connections and meanings that weren’t initially obvious.

A pavement of concrete slabs lead across the room that visitors were allowed to stand and walk on. Looking closer showed that the slabs were oversized tongues. Other cast body parts – crossed fingers – were scattered around the work.

There were messages too, if you looked closely. The pile of pennies represented 24 hours’ worth of minimum wage and the plastic bags contained a single person’s three-day emergency food bank allowance.

The plastic tape, based on the that used to cordon off crime scenes and the like, had different wording than expected.

Untitled

The locks on the giant heart symbol, made from rebar, perhaps represented some optimisim

Untitled

During our first walk around the exhibition I wasn’t so keen on Michael Dean’s entry. But after a second look and closer inspection and discussion with the young guide during the guided tour, it grew on me and I could see lots of depth and meaning. Even though it wasn’t as “pretty” and accessible as other works in the exhibition, this was the one I gave my vote to for the
Sculpture People’s Choice .

On a final note, interestingly, during a time when the “will of the people” includes a dislike of immigrants and outsiders (and hostility), 3 of the 5 entrants had been born outside the UK, emphasising the enterprise, ideas and different perspectives people originating elsewhere can contribute to our culture. Unfortunately, too many people disagree. Sad times.

Huis Marseille

Untitled

There are two photography museums in central Amsterdam – Huis Marseille and Foam – both on the Keizersgracht. Huis Mareille is the longest established and is located in a couple of adjacent 17th Century canal houses. During our day in Amsterdam at the end of December we decided we’d visit to see the current exhibition of work by African photographers and also to have a look at the buildings. I’d have liked to have visited Foam as well, but time was limited. I’ll have to save that for another time.

PC273428

Amsterdam’s first photography museum was opened in 1999 in the old canal house, Huis Marseille, at Keizersgracht 401. The house, which was
built around 1665, was originally owned by a French merchant called Isaac Focquier, who named the house after the French port he must have known. In September 2013, the exhibition space was was extended by incorporating the house next door, at Keizersgracht 399. Although adapted as modern exhibition spaces, both houses still include original features, such as the ceiling stuccowork in the entrance hall and a painting on the ceiling of the Garden Room.

There’s a garden at the back of the house with an 18th Century “garden house” which has been renovated and also used as an exhibition space.

Untitled
Untitled

The exhibition, Recent Histories, features images by African photographers from the museum’s own collection and also works from the Walther Collection (New York/Neu-Ulm).

The museum website tells us that

Until the last decade of the 20th century African photography was generally seen in the context of travel and ethnological photography, and usually done by Westerners.

but this exhibition reveals different aspects and interpretations of the continent by 15 African photographers, particularly

the influences that social, economic, and political developments are having on landscape, public space, architecture, and daily life, and what these developments mean for their own identity.

I didn’t have time to make any detailed notes or to take too many snaps of the images (always seems odd, photographing photographs!) However, my favourites were probably the photographs of buildings by Mame-Diarra Niang , who, although she was born in Lyon, and lives in Paris, was raised between Ivory Coast, Senegal and France.  The photos were from her series Metropolis, shot in Johannesburg and At the Wall, taken during taxi journeys in Dakar. I really liked the way that some of the photos looked more like abstract paintings than images of real buildings.

Untitled
Untitled

Haarlem’s hidden gardens

Untitled

Walking from the train station towards the Grote Markt in Haarlem, on the right on the Kruisstraat  at the beginning of the busy shopping centre, it’s hard to miss, visible through a monumental wrought-iron gate, a pleasant green courtyard surrounded on three sides by houses. This is the Hofje van Oorschot . Hofjes were groups of alms houses founded to provide homes for elderly women.

As the wealthy merchants during the Dutch Golden Age were pious Calvinists who eschewed showing off their wealth (in principle, at least), who wanted to guarantee their place in paradise by performing a charitable act and show to the world just how godly they were (and also, no doubt as a way of showing of their wealth and leaving their mark on posterity) many of them would found Hofjes which would usually be named after them. Hofjes have continued to be built over the years. In the 18th century they were founded for commercial purposes with the inhabitants paying rent. The most recent one in Haarlem was built as recent as 2007.

The occupants were women only. Elderly men were considered incapable of looking after themselves. Instead, they were admitted to “old people’s homes” where they had a room in a communal building. One example is today occupied by the Frans Hals Museum which we visited back in February last year. The design of the home – surrounding a courtyard garden, – is essentially the same as that of the Hofjes.

DSC03316

There are Hofjes in a number of towns in the Netherlands, but Haarlem is particularly noted for them with more than 21 scattered around the old town centre. Not that they are all as immediately obvious as the Hofje van Oorschot – most of them are hidden away behind walls in the old lanes and streets.

We picked up a copy of the leaflet from the Tourist Information Office in the Town Hall on the Grote Markt which showed the location of many of the Hofjes and gives a suggested walking route around them.

The Hofjes are usually built in a U-shape with a yard or garden in the middle, and a gate as entrance. There’s often a community kitchen garden with a water pump. The houses are still occupied and the although many of the courtyards can be viewed, there are restrictions on visiting hours – they are closed during weekends and public holidays so were not accessible for most of the time we were in Haarlem. But we managed to see several of them, mainly on our last day in the town (our flight home was at 9:15 in the evening). It was a cold day, though, so we didn’t complete the route. But I expect we’ll be back in Haarlem before too long so we’ll have chance to see the rest at some stage!

Two of the Hofjes – the oldest and the newest – were between the canal and the Wijde Appelaarsteeg, only a short walk from the Dutch house we were staying in.

Hidden behind a gate on the Bakenessergracht

Untitled

was an alley (or ginnel as we would say in Northern England)

Untitled

which led to the Hofje van Bakenes the oldest in the Netherlands, founded in 1395.

Untitled

Another ginnel connect this, the oldest Hofje, with the newest – the Johan Enschedé Hof.

Untitled

Here’s a few more photos I took during our tour on our last day. Not all of the courtyards were accessible and I could only photograph the doorways, but we certainly got a good feel of what they were about. You had to seek them out – the entrances weren’t always obvious – but it was worth the effort. As it was a cold, grey, winter’s day, my photos don’t do justice to the Hofjes – the gardens were relatively bare and the light wasn’t great for showing off the buildings. It would be good to revisit during the Spring or Summer when there would be more colour.

Untitled
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled

Christmas in Haarlem

Untitled

Our daughter, who is currently living and working in Haarlem in the Netherlands, wasn’t able to get enough time off over Christmas to come back home this year. So, as Mohammed wasn’t able to come to the mountain, the mountain went to Mohammed.

Untitled

This was the first time we’d ever stayed away for Christmas. In recent years, since the children have grown up, Christmas has been a little underwhelming as we mainly stay in the house watching the telly, reading, and eating and drinking. So this was going to be a bit of an adventure. In the Netherlands the main winter holiday is 5th December, ‘Sinterklaasavond’, the evening before St Nicholas’ day,  when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings Dutch children their presents! Consequently, Christmas is lower key than in the UK, although the claws of commercialism were still evident (but to a lesser degree than back home).

Untitled

We’d visited Haarlem a couple of times previously on day trips from Amsterdam, but this time we’d be staying almost a full week there. We did venture out to Amsterdam for a day but mainly spent our time in the pleasant little city.

Early Saturday morning before Christmas we drove over to Manchester airport to catch an early flight to Schipol airport where, within a few minutes of leaving the airport terminal, we caught an express bus to Haarlem arriving 40 minutes later at about 1 p.m. local time.

We’d booked a cosy little Dutch house close to one of the canals in the centre of the city for a week and made our way there to drop our bags before popping out to get a bite to eat and do some shopping.

PC223369

A short walk took us to the Grote Markt in the heart of the city centre where we called in to Tierney’s bar, the Irish pub where our daughter works to surprise her. After a drink and a bite to eat we set out to do some shopping, starting by looking round the market in the Grote Markt.

Untitled

Untitled
Untitled

We bought some bread, cheese, dips and a Christmas decoration for our Dutch house and then made our way through the pleasant shopping streets (plenty of individual shops rather than just the big chains) to the supermarket to stock up with items for the cupboard and fridge. Then it was back to the house to settle in and unpack.

After a few hour’s rest we headed back to Tierney’s

Untitled

where we were able to eat and have a few drinks (non alcoholic in my case😢 ) and, later, enjoy (!) the karaoke. Our daughter was working but took her break and joined us while we ate and also at the end of her shift. There was a good atmosphere in the pub, which is frequented by a group of Irish and British ex-pat regulars as well as Dutch locals.

The next day it was grey and rainy but after a lazy morning decided to venture out and visit the Molen de Adriaan.

Untitled

We’d been before but our son hadn’t had the chance to look inside as when we were there back in February it wasn’t open. But this time it was and we were able to book on to one of the guided tours. As during our first visit, the guide was very good and as each guide has their own angle we picked up some new information about the windmill and the history of Haarlem. Afterwards we headed into the town centre for a mooch before returning to base.

Christmas Eve was a fine, sunny day

PC243383
PC243384

and I went out for a wander round the city with our son to take a few photos and to pick up some shopping.

PC243390
PC243392
PC243395
Untitled
Untitled
PC243404
PC243402
PC243408
PC243411
PC243413
Untitled

My wife went out later with our daughter to pick up some more supplies for our traditional Christmas Eve buffet.

Untitled

Our daughter and her boyfriend came over for the meal and afterwards we set out for the Grote Markt. After a drink in Tierney’s

Untitled

we joined the crowd that were packing into the large square. The Christmas service from St Bavo’s church had been relayed onto a large screen and afterwards, just after midnight, we joined in with the crowd singing Christmas carols and songs led by a singers and a band on a stage that had been erected in the square.

PC253426

The square was packed for the communal singing, which lasted for a good hour and half, but we managed to find ourselves some space next to the Christmas tree.

Untitled

There was a great atmosphere and we really enjoyed ourselves. Afterwards, at close to 2 a.m. (late for me these days!) we were back at base for a nightcap before turning in.

Christmas day itself and we were greeted by another bright and sunny morning.

Untitled

After opening our presents (which we’d brought over with us)

Untitled

we took it easy for an hour or so before setting off to the house which my daughter and her boyfriend share with a couple of friends. (As their friends were away we had it to ourselves). It’s an old building on one of the old shopping streets in the city centre, not far from the Grote Markt, and they have 3 floors over a hairdresser’s salon.

Untitled
Untitled

They laid on a very delicious (and filling!) Christmas meal for us. Afterwards we sat and chatted before going out for a short mooch around the quiet streets to walk off some of the carbs!

Untitled

After that a couple of their friends came round and it was time for a game of Taskmaster!

Untitled

Boxing day – ‘Tweede Kerstdag’ (second Christmas day) in the Netherlands – is always something of an anti-climax after the big day. We took it easy during the morning and only went out for a couple of hours for a wander round the city centre before returning to base for a relaxing evening.

Untitled
Untitled

The Thursday was a busy day. We took the train into Amsterdam (just a 15 minute journey) with son going off with daughter and her boyfriend to the Games cafe in Haarlem, joining us later in the day. The city was hectic and packed with tourists – a bit of a shock after spending several days in a much more relaxed Haarlem.

Untitled

We wandered down the canal ring, stopping off at a “brown bar” for a bite to eat – a traditional Dutch meal of a bowl of pea soup followed by apple tart. – before visiting the Huis Marseille, one of two photographic museums on the Keizersgracht .

Son, daughter and her boyfriend joined us and we had a wander up through the Jordaan before stopping for a drink in another nice Brown Bar. After that we carried on along the canals back to Centraal station as we wanted to book on a boat trip to see the Amsterdam Light Festival. Unfortunately, we hadn’t done our homework as it seemed just about every other tourist had the same idea. I managed to book us on a trip, but we had a 3 hour wait. What to do? we decided to head over to De Pijp (a 10 minute trip on the new Metro line) and get something to eat in one of our daughter’s favourite eateries. Then it was back on the Metro to catch our boat, stopping off at Dam Square to take a look at the Christmas Tree.

Untitled

I expected the Light Festival to be a more upmarket version of Blackpool illuminations. It wasn’t quite that. 30 artworks were scattered around parts of the canal ring and could be viewed from the water or via a walking route.

Untitled

We were returning home on the Friday, but our flight wasn’t until 9:15 p.m. so after we’d packed our bags we took them over to our daughter’s house and set out for wander around the streets Haarlem, taking in a number of the Hofjes – small groups of alms houses clustered around a garden courtyard – of which there are a considerable number in Haarlem.

Untitled

Unfortunately we weren’t able to get ourselves on a tour of the Corrie Ten Boom house as they were all fully booked.

We managed to spend a few hours with our daughter and went out for a bite to eat with her before catching the bus to the airport for our flight back to Manchester.

We arrived back home close to midnight to a cold house, feeling tired. We’d had a very enjoyable break in Haarlem. It made a change to go away for a family Christmas somewhere different. It made a very refreshing change and, to be honest, it was the best Christmas we’d had since the children were little! We’ll have to go away again next year.

Untitled

Kate Rusby at the Bridgewater Hall 2018

Last Wednesday afternoon we travelled over to Manchester. We called into the City Art Gallery to take a look at the Martin Parr exhibition currently showing there, then had a look around the Christmas Market. But our main reason for the visit was to see Kate Rusby’s Christmas concert at the Bridgewater Hall.

Kate Rusby is an award winning folk singer from Penistone in South Yorkshire, very well known on the folk circuit, who’s had a number of albums that have sold well and made the album charts. Her Christmas concert is based around old traditional versions of carols as sung around the pubs in South Yorkshire . Some of the songs were well known carols but sung to a different tune – for example While Shepherd’s watched sung to “On Ilkley Moor B’aht ‘at”. She performed 3 versions in all of this well known carol, all set to different tunes. Other songs  included the familiar carols, “O little town of Bethlehem” and “Joy to the World”. 

She played with her band – a guitarists (her husband), a bouzouki player,  an accordionist, a double bassist (who also played a Moog synthesiser) and a drummer, plus a five piece brass ensemble. The brass band gave it a real northern Christmassy feel.

For someone who isn’t so tall (!) she has a big stage presence and twinkling eyes and a smile almost as wide of the stage and chatted away between the songs. She really did seem to be enjoying herself, a true performer. 

As with other of her Christmas shows we’ve seen, the concert was in 2 halves, finishing, after the encore, at 10. So they were on stage in total for over 2 hours, but it didn’t seem that long. So another enjoyable night out. And Christmas starts here!

A walk from Kirkby Lonsdale

Untitled

I had a week in Ireland this week cancelled and as I hadn’t anything particularly urgent that needed doing, I thought that, weather permitting, we might get out for a walk one day. Checking the forecast, Monday looked the best bet as it was expected to be a decent day, so that clinched it. Where to go? Given the limited hours of light in December we decided not to go to far and stick to a low level route, limiting the mileage. We’d not been to Kirkby Lonsdale before, even though it’s not so far away (just over an hour’s drive, M6 willing!), so after a little research decided on a route starting from there.

Kirkby Lonsdale is a picturesque market town in Cumbria, close to the boundaries of both Lancashire and North Yorkshire and just inside  the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s noted for it’s olde worlde town centre, a viewpoint beloved of Ruskin and Turner and an old bridge. 

Untitled

There’s plenty of free parking on the edge of town, either side of the “Devil’s Bridge” but when we arrived on a Monday morning in December, I was surprised to see how many cars were parked up. However, there were a few spaces left so we parked up and donned our boots ready for a walk. I was expecting it to be muddy so we’d brought our gaiters and a couple of walking poles – it turned out that this was a good move!

PC033341

Before setting off we had a look at the Devil’s Bridge which was built in the 12th or 13th century, and is now a scheduled ancient monument.  At one time it was the only bridge over the Lune for miles around.

Untitled

There are quite a few Devil’s Bridges around the country, all built around the same period and all have a story associated with them explaining the name.  At Kirkby Lonsdale the tale goes that one night a cow belonging to an old woman strayed across the river and as there was no crossing point on the wide, fast flowing river, she couldn’t get it back. The devil then appeared and offered to build a bridge overnight t if he could have the soul of the first one across. However, the old woman fooled him by sending her dog across first. The devil was so angry he disappeared in a cloud of smoke never to return. 

Untitled

The bridge is a popular spot over the River Lune for “tombstoning”, which involves leaping from height into water. Over the years a number people have been killed here and there’s a local bye-law forbidding the practice, but, apparently, this doesn’t stop some foolish thrill seekers. So perhaps the Devil has had the last laugh.

Untitled

We set off , crossing the main road and then heading off south through the fields. There was a good view over to the Kentmere horseshoe.

PC033328

Passing a small group of cottages we followed the track which led towards Sellet Mill. 
The narrow footpath passed between two stonewalls and was clearly an old right of way which looked like it had been cobbled at one time. About a third of the way down a stream came in from the left and the path continued alongside it. “I wonder if it ever gets flooded?” We soon found out. Not much further on the path was covered with a fast running stream. Should we turn back or chance it and continue? We took the latter option. We almost regretted this decision as the water was quite deep in places and  it wasn’t easy to avoid getting our boots submerged or slipping and falling over. The walking poles now came in very handy and we managed to stay upright and not get too wet thanks to the gaiters. After what seemed a long way the path re-emerged on the right hand bank and we were able to continue on dry land until we reached Sellet Mill. 

Untitled

From here we took the path heading west through the fields until we reached the road and then followed a narrow minor road towards Whittington, a pleasant old village. There were good views over the fields across to Ingleborough and other hills in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Untitled
Untitled

and we passed some interesting old buildings.

Untitled

Reaching the old church, which stands on the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle, we decided to stop and have a bite to eat. We had a quick look inside the church. The oldest part is the tower, which dates from the early 16th century. The rest was largely rebuilt in 1875 in the usual Victorian Gothic revival style. 

PC033329
Untitled

There was some rather nice stained glass.

Untitled
Untitled

Afterwards we found a bench in the graveyard and sat down to eat our pork pies, taking in the view on a pleasant, sunny, afternoon.

Well nourished we resumed our walk, taking the road through the village and then followed a path that cut eastwards across the fields towards the River Lune.

Untitled
PC033334
PC033336
Untitled

After recent heavy rains, the river was deep and flowing fast and the banks were muddy and slippy. In a few places it was close to the river and we were once again glad I’d put our walking poles in the boot of the car that morning.

Untitled

We followed the river bank back to Devil’s Bridge and then continued on the riverside path as we wanted to have a look around the small town and also to visit the viewpoint known as “Ruskin’s View”.

Untitled
Untitled

After about a mile we reached the “Radical Steps” that would take us up to the viewpoint. The steps were built in 1819 by Francis Pearson, a local Liberal. The locals came to call them the Radical Steps on account of his political leanings. There are allegedly 86 stone steps, although we didn’t count them. They were rather steep and uneven and probably easier to go up than down.

Untitled

Untitled

At the top of the steps we reached the edge of the churchyard and were able to take in “Ruskin’s View”. Painted by Turner, in 1875, John Ruskin described the panorama as ‘one of the loveliest views in England, therefore in the world’.

Untitled

Even though the river valley was now in the shade, it was certainly a lovely view, but I think Ruskin was rather overstating it.

After taking in the view we walked through the church yard and had a quick look around inside St Mary’s church

Untitled
PC033352

and then wandered into town where we found a cafe to have a brew before heading back to the car for the drive home. It was only 5 o’clock but the winter sun having already set it felt much later. But we’d had a good day out.

Untitled
Untitled
PC033365