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I'm a consultant and trainer specialising in the recognition, evaluation and control of health hazards in the workplace. I'm based in the North West of England, but am willing to travel (almost) anywhere

Occasional Geometries at the YSP

The exhibition at the Longside Gallery, at the other end of the park from the Underground Gallery, was coming towards the end of its run. It was much more “traditional” than the one we’d just seen featuring the works of Alfredo Jaar. Occasional Geometries, was curated by Bangladeshi-born artist Rana Begum who has selected works from the Arts Council Collection.

Immediately outside the gallery Zero to Infinity by Rasheed Araeen is an interactive work. A series of cuboid structures made of wood and painted a bright yellow, visitors are allowed, encouraged, to rearrange them, with the potential to create a massive number of possible combinations

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Inside the gallery, the large open space was filled with sculptural works

Some favourites included

Single Line (1976) by Norman Dilworth

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Hybrid Drawings (2017) by Ayesha Singh

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Better Days (2010/17) by French artist Flore Nové-JosserandIMG_3130

Soda Lake (1968) by Nigel Hall

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and this little kinetic sculpture,  + and – (1994) by Lebanese artist, Mona Hatoum

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One of the rotating metal paddles creating grooves in the sand which are swept away as the second paddle passes over them. Continual change – creation and destruction.

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The Garden of Good and Evil at the YSP

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The latest main exhibition in the Underground Gallery at the YSP had opened on 14 October, the day before our visit last weekend. It’s devoted to the work of a Chilean artist, Alfredo Jaar – “a pioneering practitioner of socially critical art” (Claire Lilley in the Exhibition Guide).

It’s a very different type of exhibition to those normally shown at the YSP as the works on display are not sculpture in the usual meaning of the word, but “installations”, film and photography.

Describing himself as “an architect making art”, Jaar constructs spaces and intricate light systems to navigate the ambiguities of what is represented and misrepresented in photographic and other media. (Exhibition Guide)

Unlike most of the major YSP exhibitions, there is only one of his installations outside the Underground Gallery (Tony Cragg’s sculptures sited outdoors from the previous exhibition are still there and will remain in place until March). This is a new work which will become a permanent exhibit in the grounds once the exhibition is over – relocated elsewhere as they won’t leave it in it’s present location immediately in front of the gallery. This work – The Garden of Good and Evil  (the exhibition is named after it) – takes the form of a grove of  101 trees sited in tubs along the length of the Underground Gallery open-air concourse. Inside this mini forest there’s a number of steel cells, of different sizes,  which are meant to reference ‘black sites’, the secret detention facilities around the world operated by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Visitors could wander through the trees discovering the individual cells – all different but all with a one-metre square base.

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The work was inspired by a poem, One Square Metre of Prison,  by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Without being aware of this the work is perhaps an interesting curiosity, but knowing the inspiration it certainly made me consider and think about how people are imprisoned for their beliefs and hidden away from public view by governments, terrorist organisations etc. And with clandestine prisons, in practice illegal or only of borderline legality, themselves hidden from view by governments so that they can be ignored by the citizens – out of sight, out of mind.

Inside the gallery there are three major installations and a small number of other works. No photographs allowed, but the nature of most of the works meant that this was not that appropriate.

The first of the major works is The Sound of Silence (2005). Visitors enter a steel cube and sitting in the dark watch a video work telling the story of a South African photographer, Kevin Carter, leading to his image of a young victim of the 1993 Sudanese famine. The photographer stood and observed a young starving child being watched by a vulture, waiting for the appropriate moment to snap his photograph. A shocking image resulted which drew global attention to the famine, leading to aid being sent to help the victim. But the image raised serious questions about the role of the photographer and raises serious ethical questions. He did nothing to help the individual but, on the other hand, the picture may have contributed to aid saving the lives of others. The suffering of one saving the lives of many others?  This clearly troubled Carter himself and he later committed suicide.

The second of the major works, A Hundred Times Nguyen (1994), has 100 images of a little girl the artist met while visiting ‘refugee detention centres’ for Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong in 1991. Jaar who photographed her five times at five-second intervals. He took four of the images altering the order in which they are shown using all possible combinations to make 100 pictures which are displayed on the walls of the gallery.  In this work the artist addresses “compassion fatigue” and

articulates the importance of the individual through many of his installations, rather than focusing on the mass of victims of the devastation and oppression he has witnessed. (Exhibition website)

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The third major work Shadows (2014) uses images taken by photographer Koen Wessing over a single day, early in the 1978 Nicaraguan Civil War, following a farmer’s murder. Entering a darkened room six of the images are displayed on the wall. Visitors then move through to a second darkened space where the seventh image is projected onto the entire back wall of the room, which shows two women grieving after the death of their father, shot by Somosa’s National Guardsman and left by the side of the road. The image alters as it is observed, the two grieving daughters being isolated from the picture and then altered and turned into a bright white silhouette.  The room then goes completely dark and the image is retained on the retina, gradually fading away after several seconds.

I’m not sure what the artist’s intention was, but I felt that it is easy to put aside the shocking images of suffering but here it wasn’t quite so easy to forget and perhaps that’s what we all need to do.

Although I’m sure many visitors will grumble about the “unorthodox” nature of the exhibition – not “proper art” will no doubt be heard – this is the second video based exhibition we’ve seen in the underground Gallery. The other being the Bill Viola exhibition we saw at the beginning of last year. That was intended to be “a sensory experience with space to pause and make time to reflect and enable an emotional or even transformational experience”. However the current exhibition is quite a different experience. Unsettling and thought provoking in a different way and making political points about cruelty and suffering and the role of the artist.

 

A warm October day at the YSP

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Sunday was forecast to be an unseasonably warm day in advance of the remains of Hurricanee Ophelia hitting us on Monday. We decided to make the most of it. I’d considered driving up to the Lakes but the forecast for there wasn’t so good so we decided to head over the M62 to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where a new exhibition – Alfredo Jaar: The Garden of Good and Evil – had just opened in the Underground Gallery. Driving home late afternoon we learned that there had been an accident on the M6 near Kendal leading to both sides of the motorway being shut for several hours. Turned out to be a good decision then.

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It was a good decision in other ways too as it was a beautiful sunny day for a walk around the grounds where we saw some new works on display, plus we caught one exhibition that had just opened in the Underground Gallery and one that was due to close in a few days in the Longside Gallery. Both were very good. More about them in future posts.

Here’s a few photos of some of the new works in the grounds.

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This stunning work, standing seven metres high on the south shore of the Lower Lake is Wilsis  by Jaume Plensa. It’s one of his series of portrait heads depicting young girls from around the world, with their eyes closed in a dreamlike state of contemplation. (Like Dream on the former Sutton Manor Colliery site in St Helens – which we’ve still never got round to visiting – although we’ve seen it many times from the motorway on the way to Liverpool)

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Wilsis is a fascinating exploration of perspective through the flattening of form, an idea that grew out of Plensa’s desire to understand what happens on the other side, on the reverse of things with which we are familiar, such as letters printed on a page, or a portrait head on a coin. From the front the head appears realistic, yet from the side it is an extremely flattened relief.

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Further along the lake we came across Bruce Beasley’s Advocate IV

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The sculpture is a collection of cubes stacked in a way so they look like a precariously balanced tower.

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We walked up to the Longside Gallery to see the exhibition  Occasional Geometries, curated by Bangladeshi-born artist Rana Begum with works selected largely from the Arts Council Collection. After we’d looked round we set off back down towards the Lower lake via the east side of the park, passing some favourite works by Andy Goldsworthy.

Walking along the north shore of the lake we spotted this sculpture by the Swedish sculptor Jørgen Haugen Sørensen  (well, he had to be Swedish with a name like that!).

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Then further on we passed Diario by Mikayel Ohanjanyan.

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A series of marble blocks bound by steel cables lying on a table.

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Looking closely we could see writing carved inside the fissures in the blocks –  listing the names of all the people the artist has ever met.

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Close by was Six Mourners and the One Alone  by Amar Kanwar.

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Made from timber from the 19th century Chapel organ that was dismantled due to irreparable damage. The seven pipes represent the six mourners, who count the
dead and the one alone, who gathers and memorises testimonies of the living.

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Anthony Gormley’s One and Other isn’t a new work, but it looked particularly good silhouetted against the blue sky

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Black and Blue: The Invisible Men and the Masque of Blackness was attracting a lot of attention. An army of identical two-metre-tall figures by the British-Trinidadian artist Zak Ové

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The figures are based on a small dark wood sculpture given to him as a child by his father,  the filmmaker Horace Ové, in the 1970s.

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Passing a new work by Julian Opie: People 15

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we came across Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads (2010) – 12 bronze animal heads representing the Chinese Zodiac

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Ai reinterpreted the 12 bronze heads representing the traditional Chinese zodiac that once adorned the famed fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, the imperial summer palace retreat in Beijing. Ransacked in 1860 during the Second Opium War by the British and French, only seven of the original heads have been returned to China – the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, horse, monkey, and boar. The locations of the other five – dragon, snake, goat, rooster, and dog – are still unknown.

Cast in bronze and standing three-metres-high, the sculptures each weigh 363kg. Through the re-interpretation of the heads on a larger scale, Ai comments and encourages debate on the politics of ownership, cultural history, repatriation and authenticity. The artist also wanted the work to be playful and accessible to the general public.

Matthew Day Jackson’s Magnificent Desolation, created by , directly references one of Auguste Rodin’s most famous sculptures Les Burghers de Calais.

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According to history, King Edward III offered to spare the town if they sacrificed six of its most powerful leaders. Rodin chose to capture the heroic expressions of the six volunteers who were to be executed to save their people. Day Jackson has taken these figures of heroic self-sacrifice and, through using a computer generated 3D model of a map, has placed them on a moonscape as subtitute astronauts. Named after Buzz Aldren’s autobiography and first-hand account of landing on the moon, Magnificent Desolation is cast in bronze, a material often used for memorials, and combines the fated heroism of both Les Burghers de Calais and the risks of space travel.

A new Henry Moore (new to YSP, that is) – Reclining Connected Forms

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Finally, I don’t recall seeing this work by Willaim Turnbull before

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Queen 2 was

inspired by his knowledge of ancient cultures and their artefacts; revealing the sculptural potential of utilitarian and functional objects.

This was only a fraction of the art works we saw during our visit. It’s always worth a visit to the YSP, a chance to look at first class art while taking a walk through a pleasant country park. Especially pleasurable on a war, sunny, autumn day.

On the marshes at Dartford

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I’ve been down to Dartford in Kent with work 4 times since July this year, staying 2 to 3 nights each time in the Premier Inn to the north of the town.  Dartford’s probably best known for the crossing – a high level bridge south bound and a tunnel north bound) over the Thames which forms part of the M25 outer London ring road (although the crossing itself isn’t officially part of the motorway). Dartford itself is nothing special – just an ordinary working class town. Traffic can be awful though, due to proximity to the crossing.

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As the town is within commuting distance of London, with trains to London Bridge, Charring Cross and Victoria, there’s a lot of new development both in the town and on the outskirts to the north. The latter is the “Bridge” development – with industrial buildings and housing estates built on reclaimed marsh land, just south of the Thames and the former power station and north of the ring road. This is where the Premier inn is located where I was staying.

During my latest stay, starting to become stir crazy, I managed to get out for a walk. I’d spotted a number of lakes as I’d been passing through the estate and Google Maps indicated that there were paths alongside the water. So that’s where I went.

It turned out to be quite pleasant and tranquil on an autumn evening. I even spotted some tufted ducks out on the water (too far away to get a decent photo with my phone, unfortunately).

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There’s a special bus only route through the new estate (the Fast track route that goes from the town centre to the Bluewater shopping mall). I spotted some art works next to a couple of the bus stops that I passed during my walk.

 

Clocking in

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A little before we clocked in and joined the production line in Tate Exchange we’d seen a series of 8,627 photographs and a film showing someone clocking in on the hour, every hour,  24 hours a day for a full 12 months during 1980-1981. One Year Perormance was undertaken by Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh in his studio in New York.

Marking the occasion by taking a self-portrait on a single frame of 16mm film, the resulting reel documents a year in his life at approximately one second per day – a pace that is polar opposite of the enduring length of the original performance

At the beginning of the project he shaved off his hair and we can see it gradually grow back in the series of photographs and the film.

It seemed such an odd thing to do. It meant that he was unable to sleep properly for a full year. He missed 133 clock-ins, and the reasons are documented on a note which is displayed amongst the contextual materials included in the exhibition along with letters, statements, uniforms, photographs, the punch clock itself and a time card. The main reason given was, not surprisingly,  sleeping through.

According to an interview in the Guardian the artist, the work

recalls the labours of Sisyphus, who, in Greek mythology, was forced to roll a rock repeatedly up a mountain, only to watch it fall down again

while it may seem to convey a message about the tedium and conformity of industrial labour, he tells Guardian Australia he is “not a political artist, although people are at liberty to interpret my work from a political standpoint … I’m interested in the universal circumstances of human life”.

Although clearly a crazy thing to do, there was something rather fascinating about the project and, personally, I can certainly see a political message about the alienation of work and how people are enslaved by work that is certainly relevant in this day of zero hour contracts and so-called self employed status workers employed by the likes of Uber and courier services.

Production at Tate Modern

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After wandering around Borough Market and visiting Southwark Cathedral, we walked the short distance along the South Bank to Tate Modern where we spent the afternoon. The Bankside gallery is huge, even more so since the addition of the massive extension, that it would take more than a day to see everything. During this visit we concentrated on the extension (now named after a rich foreign mogul who contributed to Trump’s election, so no name check for him, as far as I’m concerned it’s the extension or “Switch House”) which occupied the rest of the afternoon and we still didn’t have time to see everything in it.

The exhibition space on Level 5 of the extension is devoted to the Tate Exchange which is described as

A space for everyone to collaborate, test ideas and discover new perspectives on life, through art

Currently the space has been transformed into a pottery production line by the artist Clare Twomey an artist who

works with clay in large-scale installations, Sculpture and site-specific works

and whose

installations have the social and historical context in which the installation is created as their point of departure

Entering the gallery we had to pick up a clock card and “clock in” and were given an apron to wear .

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We were then invited to join one of the production lines where gallery staff were instructing visitors on how to weigh out materials, cast vessels from a slurry of clay (known as “slip”) or bone china flowers.

We joined the slip casting production line. We were shown how to assemble a mould, pour in the slip. The filled moulds are left a short while for clay to deposit on the sides, forming the shape of the pot. We were given one that was ready for the next stage, pouring off the excess slip, cutting off the excess clay and then opening the mould to extract the cast object.

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The next stage would be firing the pot but we were told to take the pot we’d extracted to the end of the line and exchange it for another that had already been fired, which we were then free to take home with us after clocking out and having a photograph taken of the selected objects and clock cards.

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The final stage in real pottery production would be to apply a glaze and give it a second firing. But the pots available were all unfired “biscuit”. I guess the objects made will be fired and added to the exchange for another visitor to collect.

I’ve never been in a real pottery production factory although because of my job I know about the production process and the health hazards associated with it. The main concern being exposure to silica dust from the clay, talc dust used as a parting material to stop the clay sticking to the moulds, and toxic materials, such as lead, in the glazes. So it was interesting, as well as fun, to participate in the installation.

The pottery production was the first part of the installation, lasting a week. During the second week, 5 to 8 October,

The production line stops, the workers have left and you will enter a factory soundscape. The now redundant factory becomes a space for questions. Talks from industry specialists, researchers and makers will explore how communities are built by collective labour, look at where the industrial processes of our past are informing our future and consider what we will need from factories in years to come.

Cards placed throughout the factory floor invite you to think about raw materials, how knowledge is acquired and shared, where transformation takes place and the different systems of value we apply to material culture and human relationships. Leave your thoughts and share where production exists for you in exchange for an object made in the factory.

It would have been interesting to return and participate in the second phase. Like most tradition al industry in the UK, the pottery industry which used to dominate the Staffordshire Potteries around Stoke on Trent, has declined as production and jobs have been transferred to countries where labour is cheap and conditions are often significantly worse for the workers. So the exhibition mirrors what has happened to the pottery industry in the UK. Given my professional interest, and political philosophy, I’d have plenty I could contribute to this discussion.

Everything we, and other visitors, were doing during our participation, seemed to be logged. There was a phone app we could download and log in and out of the different stages of the process. It was also possible to see the towns where the objects produced had ended up (we had to include this on our clock cards). So no doubt there is more to this project then meets the eye.

Southwark Cathedral

Southwark Cathedral stands on the south bank of the Thames, near London Bridge and I’ve walked past many times when I’ve been in London both for work and pleasure. After wandering around Borough market we decided to go and have a closer look.

There’s been a church on the site since Norman times, if not earlier. Between 1106 and 1538 it was the church of an Augustinian priory. Following the dissolution of the monasteries, it became a parish church. It only became a cathedral in 1905 when the diocese of Southwark was established.

This is an old drawing of the church  and the nearby old London Bridge from 1616 (source: Wikipedia)

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The famous panorama of London in 1647 by the Czech artist Wenceslas Hollar was drawn from the top of the tower of the church, then known as Saint Saviour’s.

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The present building is mainly Victorian Gothic following the reconstruction of the building, which was in a bad state of repair, in the 19th Century, although there are some remnants of the older structures, particularly in the retro-choir.

Looking down the Nave

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The high alter screen. The original was installed in 1520 but the two rows of statues are in excellent condition and were only added in 1905.

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An older part of the building at the far end of the nave

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Originally the building had a timber roof, but that was replaced during the Victorian restoration. However, a reproduction has been created in the crossing, underneath the tower

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The original roof would have been held together by several hundred carved bosses. Some of the originals have been preserved and are displayed at the far end of the nave. Here’s some of them.

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During Elizabethan times, the Bankside area, south of the Thames, where the church is located, was outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, and became something of a “pleasure garden”  occupied by the bear baiting pits and theatres including the Globe, Rose and Swan. The reconstructed Globe is a short walk away. So, not surprisingly, the cathedral ahs a close connection with the historic dramatists. William Shakespeare’s brother, Edmund, was buried there in 1607. His grave is unmarked, but there’s a commemorative stone in the paving of the choir.

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There is a large stained glass window dedicated to William Shakespeare, depicting scenes from his plays, at the base of which is an alabaster statue of him reclining, holding a quill.

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There’s also a memorial to Sam Wannamaker, the American actor who left the USA to avoid persecution during the McCarthy era and who inspired the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre. (Inspired isn’t the right word, really. He had to fight tooth and nail and put a lot of time, energy and sweat into getting it built)

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John Harvard the founder of Harvard University in the USA was born in the parish, and baptised in the church on 29 November 1607. He is commemorated by the Harvard Chapel in the north transept, paid for by Harvard University alumni resident in England.

There’s an attractive Arts and Crafts style stained glass window in the chapel

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There’s some other attractive stained glass in the church, though the bright autumn sunlight streaming through them made it difficult to take decent photographs.  I rather liked this modern design in the retro-chapel

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Outside there’s a small but attractive garden. Overlooked by Borough Market it’s something of an oasis of peace in a rather hectic neighbourhood.

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There was a recreated Augustinian herb garden at the back of the church. The monks would have grown herbs for both culinary and healing purposes – in medieval times the monks would have tended to the sick which is why many older hospitals have their origins in churches, monasteries and nunneries.

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A view of the shard from the churchyard.

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And a pleasant surprise. I spotted this sculpture in the churchyard. My immediate reaction was that it looked like a work by Peter Randall-Page.

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Checking out the information board confirmed my suspicion

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