Unbelievable

00210_s_9aem39j6m0628Gasworks (A Ganzfeld Sphere), James Turrell

The Henry Moore Sculpture Studio, Dean Clough, 1993

Photo copyright Jeremy Hardman-Jones

Here’s something quite personal, and, in keeping with the mission statement of this blog, not available on the web in any way that my google-fu can ascertain. This is a James Turrell piece that fabricated and exhibited by the now defunct Henry Moore Sculpture studio at Dean Clough Mills in Halifax. The work commissioned at the Studio at Dean Clough appears to exist in mysterious lacunae in terms of the history of contemporary art in the UK. I was the Deputy Director at the Henry Moore Sculpture Trust from 1990 to 1994 under Robert Hopper; whether it was a the perceived failure of the Artranspenine project in 1998, the premature death of Robert in 1999, the change of leadership at the Henry Moore Foundation, and the closure of the studio, I cannot say. Even my existence at the organisation seems to be a matter of some dispute, since I do not turn up in any of the online literature on the Trust despite my curation of the first exhibition at the Henry More Institute in Leeds (oh, and I designed the logo too). The programme at the Halifax studio predated the glory days of Brit art and the YBA’s (though the grant programme through the Trust supported such key early ’90’s projects as Building One, Gambler, Modern Medicine and Whiteread’s House). I remember the art we commissioned in those years like the music; the end of 1988’s  ‘second summer of love‘ when Madchester mutated in Soup Dragons, EMF or The Farm; still mining the British Sculptural Tradition before the advent of Oasis, Blur and Pulp; when Radiohead was still Pablo Honey, those weird, liminal Major years, when the past had not yet become the present.

The manufacture of the fibreglass sphere in Halifax was the culmination of the project first proposed by James Turrell in 1969 with Robert Irwin and Ed Wortz for Expo 70 and at LACMA. Here’s an excellent précis by William Poundstone from Blouin Artinfo; interestingly, no mention of the first actual manifestation of the first full body Ganzfeld sphere at Dean Clough in ’93.

This version was exhibited at the ICA in 1996 and then found itself in the hands of Larry Gagosian (at least one of these works by Turrell was exhibited at Gagosian in London in 2010). Another version appears to have been constructed at the National Sculpture Factory in Cork, again in 1996. The lovely assistants you see in my image from 1993 are Jo McGonigal, not, it appears, an associate lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University (and still, I hope, an artist) and Chris Sacker, who is definitely still an artist.

A Ganzfeld (Ger. ‘entire field’) sphere is an enclosed spherical space, lit to eliminate any visual graduation or distance reference. When inside the sphere (originally proposed as table tennis balls, cut in half, and placed over each eye), the physical act of seeing is settling on an effective nothing; the eye has only a void on which to rest. Like William Hurt in Ken Russell’s Altered States, the mind potentially enters into a state where it can only start to perceive itself; past, present and future are revealed. The viewer starts to see only what the eye is not what it sees. Gazing back into the past, maybe this was only a dream?

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Back to The Future

The Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee New Town, Victor Pasmore, 2002

The Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee New Town, Victor Pasmore, 2002

This is one from the original concept for this blog; one of the hundreds of slides that i took while working at the A**s C***cil in the late 1990’s and early 2000s.

The work afforded lots of opportunity for travel and because I’m nose-y, also allowed me to poke my nose into places where people didn’t often go. I can’t remember how I first heard about Pasmore’s Apollo Pavilion (probably while working at the H**ry M**re Foundation in the early ’90’s) but it had always been high on my list of interesting places to visit. Virtually inaccessible except by Geordie public transport or by car, the sculpture (sculpitectre? (c) Sir Anthony Caro) was a bastard to find in those far off pre-google maps days. I drove twice round Peterlee first, far too intimated to ask for directions to something that I already knew that the locals hated…but there it was, nestled in a grassy dell of the Sunny Blunts estate, surmounting a rancid lake, the Chapel Perilous by way of A Clockwork Orange: something heroic, Arthurian and abandoned, a pissy, graffitti-ed castle. The sculpture (completed 1969) was named for the moon landings, and represents the fag-end of British Modernism, as the sixties curdled into the 70’s, Alfie growing into Jack Carter. The Pavilion was a symbol, not of the heroic age of modernism, but of the slow decline of British visual culture into the 1980’s, into the apotheosis of middle-class philistinism, Margret Thatcher.

The Pavilion is now restored, having been refused listing by New Labour’s ‘Tony’ Banks in 1998 (Cool Britannia rejecting the visual culture of Old Labour in all its forms), a Community Association having been formed to protect it (how wrong I was) in 2003 and  £336,000 awarded to Peterlee from the HLF in 2008. The steps have been reinstated, the fence and ‘softening’ planting removed, as befits an icon of British modernism. In 2011 is was awarded Grade II* listed status, the second highest level of listing by English Heritage. I link to a image of it restored, but, secretly, I still prefer its abandoned state when only I, like Sir Percival, knew the location of the grail, and whom it served.

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Wilja!

WILJA by Faith Harris

WILJA by Faith Harris

Another of my Grandmother‘s potato images from Alan Wilson’s book, The Story of the Potato I just wanted to get this one up. The Wilja is good for boiling and mashing, apparently.

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This Week’s Puzzler

 

CORINUM MUSEUM CIRENCESTERRoman acrostic or word square scratched on wall plaster and containing a secret Christian message

CORINUM MUSEUM CIRENCESTER
Roman acrostic or word square scratched on wall plaster and containing a secret Christian message

We were back in the West Country for Christmas, and we went to Bath for the day. I hadn’t seen the Roman Baths for 20 years or so, and was curious to see how this site had been developed, since I remembered it as pretty cramped and BANES being not exactly a by word for quality visitor experience. The tourist stream must be incessant (as, presumably, it has been since the baths were founded 2000 years ago; plus ca change etc), and that’s difficult to handle. One thing that has always been wonderful about the baths (apart from the raw energy of the hot spring, which is an astounding thing to see on a cold grey December day in England) are the lead curses that Romano-British patrons of the baths and their attendant temples would throw into the healing and sacred waters. The messages are so immediate and present. That got to me thinking about this card, which is from the excelent Corinuim Musem in Cirencester. The Cotswolds were the play ground of the rich and monied upper classes in Roman Britain (plus ca change etc), and Cirencester (Corinium) was the richest city outside of London.

So this litle acrostic is a fun graffito from that time; and immediate record of an individual long dead; something never meant for anyone’s eyes other than the person who wrote. I’m going to be making liberal use of Wikipedia here, but here goes:

R  O  T  A  S

O  P  E  R  A

T  E  N  E  T

A  R  E  P  O

S  A  T  O  R

My card calls it an acrostic, Wikipedia calls it a pallindrome, I call it something that reads the same whichever way you look at it: Rotas (thing with a wheel), Opera (working), Tenet (has commands, preserves), Arepo ( a creeping thing, a proper names of some kind), Sator (the master, sower, the first principle).

This includes opposite and alternating directions; since Latin has no set word order, it still reads the same: ‘farmer Arepo uses a plough’. The literature on the Sator Square appears to be vast (just go to the Wikipedia page, already), especially concerning the proper name Arepo, which, apparently appears no where else (which means it’s code?A made up name?); but if it’s so famous (the Sator Square appearing from Pompeii to Cirencester to Manchester to Sienna to Dura Europos to the island of Gotland) then why didn’t people start adopting it as an actual name?

It’s been used for magic (such word play confuses the Devil, apparently), but also, it says here. contains a secret Christian message. The centre cross can be read as the first two words of the Pater Noster (Our Father, who art in heaven etc), surrounded by A and O; Alpha and Omega. As such, it could be a Christian code, something that you’d write on a wall to tell other Christians that there were Christians about, or, more simply, something that one might idly scratch to affirm ones own identity, a tag. And, as it did spread across the entire Mediterranean world and beyond, over hundreds of years, it might be earliest example of what we all now call a meme…

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Please Wipe Your Feet

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Here is another of my own slides; this was taken in Birmingham late 1994 or early 1995. It’s the rear of the Birmingham International Convention Centre, leading to the small bridge that takes you over the canal to Brindley Place and the Ikon Gallery. The bronze sculpture is Battle of the Gods and the Giants by Roderick Tye. I didn’t know that when I took the image, because then (it maybe different now) the work appeared to be un-credited in the space. The sculpture was commissioned in 1990 by The Public Art Commissions Agency. Lead by the redoubtable Vivien Lovell (now heading up her own practice), PACA was one of several regional public art commissions agencies set up by Arts Council of GB to promote best practice in public commissioning by offering subsidised services to local government and private entities. By the end of the 1990’s most of these agencies had broken up into individual private practice; National Lottery funding had made the public art sector a more stable business and the vaguries of regular Arts Council support via Regional Arts Board made publicly-supported agencies much less viable.

Tye’s work was part of a grand scheme for public art around the Convention Centre (architects Percy Thomas Partnership, 1991) and Centenary Square, including a massive surface treatment by Tess Jaray and a central sculpture by Raymond Mason, Forward.

When I used to lecture about public art, I’m afraid that I sometimes used this image to illustrate Tom Wolfe’s memorable phrase ‘Turd In the Plaza’ (a phrase taken from The Worship of Art, Harpers, 1984; attributed by Wolfe to James Wines, founder of SITE. Personally, I think Wolfe just made it up). Further public space wags then coined Plop Art , delightfully continuing the lavatorial theme, to describe public art works that appeared to be simply placed, rather than sited or fully integrated,  within the urban fabric that they were intended to enhance. Essentially it  became a term like ‘political correctness’ that was simple used to describe something that you didn’t like, a self-conciously ‘edgy’ phrase, used by artists, architects, theorists and policy-makers as a public art strawman. I felt that Battle of the Gods and the Giants expressed the concept rather well, since it was both turd-shaped and at the exit/rear of the Convention centre, in addition to being completely devoid of any conceptual or physical connection to its surroundings. Literally a cloud, floating without anchor, in a courtyard of brick, surrounded by planters and Homebase  garden furniture.  However, after reading about Roderick Tye, a sculptor, educator and fly-fisherman, who died in 2009 at aged just 50, I’m sorry that his work was not done better justice by its commissioners and owners.

Tip’o’the Pin to George Noszlopy’s The Public Sculpture of Birmingham.

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Teesdale Way

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So, long time, no blog. And here’s a change for the new year. Until I can get myself in shape to a) find and b) scan a pile of new postcards, I will be posting images from my own collection, 35 mm slides taken when I was ***** at the ****** of England. Part of my job at that institution (since it was pretty much completely unsupervised) was to go around England assessing public art work that had been paid for by the National Lottery. Since, as it appeared to me, no one else was doing it, I also photographed these works of art, since I thought that it might a good idea if the ***** of England actually had a visual record on what the public’s money had been spent. So…many happy/days hours since exploring some of the hidden corners of England, and some really evocative and authentic works of public sculpture and some of the truly dire…

This is Richard Wentworth’s work as the lead artist for the Teesdale Trail, that follows the river Tees from the Cumbrian moors down to the North Sea:  a £70,000 project headed by Teesdale District Council, and group-funded as part of the 1996 Year of Visual Arts in the North (itself part of the Arts Council’s Arts 2000 initiative, launched in 1990, project of Lord Palumbo, then Arts Council of Great Britain Chairman). There maybe more about Arts 2000 on this blog, since, coinciding with a change of government, the Arts Lottery (which paid for much of the commissioned work on the North), and the break-up of AC of GB ended up looking rather different to Peter Palumbo’s original intent. The commission of Wentworth for the trail was the first purely public art project to be supported by the National Lottery, and was managed by Cleveland Arts (Now Tees Valley Arts), who were instrumental, with a committed and expert leadership, in bringing a number of important artists to make work in the NE in the 1990’s.

I was then, and still am, a big fan of Richard Wentworth (I’m the proud owner of two of the genius black-and-white dinner plates that he produced for the famous fund-raising gala dinner for the Serpentine Gallery with Princess Diana back in 1995), who’s public work is more concerned with the everyday physical compromises and accommodations that must be made if we are to live together, rather than the grand statement. To apply him to a rural setting is a fascinating project, and a tribute to the expertise at Cleveland Arts. This resulted in an object-based series of works that obliquely referenced both Wentworth’s sculpture and the kind of historicised and forgotten objects, bollards, boot-scrapers, milestones and the like, that can be found on rural pathways. Wentworth probably isn’t as fashionable as he used to be, but his deconstructed use of found objects, visual puns and public space echo is much of what is made as sculpture today. These parish boundary markers are simply cast in iron, and are split longitudinally, with a dinner plate-shaped capital, and the parish name incised on the side (lettering by Karl Fisher). This image was taken on the boundary of the parish of Eggleston and Middleton. The markers lay on the path in the lee of Egglestone Abbey, a picturesque ruin for a spring day in the North Riding.

If I continue with these postings, I will credit the superb Public Sculpture of Britain Series, published by the PMSA and Liverpool University Press. This series of books is an invaluable gazetter of art in public space throughout the UK. I have my own resources, but these volumes are great for getting the facts right.

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Spitfire Parade

Paul Nash (1889-1946)
Battle of Britain, 1941
Oil on Canvas
(c) Imperial War Museums (art.IWM ART LD 1550)

So here’s a thing.  My grandmother was a painter, and both my parents were architects and also painted, and the tradition of mid-century English painting and design was present in my early life to such an extent that, for me as a child, it seemed that that was how painting was done…which was why my discovery of Pop or Abstract Expressionism at school such a mind-blowing revelation. Because Spencer, Nash, Moore, Ravilious, Baynes, Piper, Sutherland, Hale; that mid-century aesthetic, forged in two world wars, but coloured with the gentility of the middle class, created the way that I, we, perceive visual culture: the Home Counties Apocalypse of John Wyndam, or John Christopher, souring into the nihilistic rationalist psychedelia of Aldis and Ballard.

So it is hard for me to name this work or even see this as art, since this is a baseline from which all art (by definition, deviation) deviates. I’ve come to love it, but it is a love of nostalgia, not of knowledge. Living in the US, this work is unavailable to any real extent, in the same why that Turner, the antecedent of this work, is also a virtual unknown.  Nash’s painting as war artist of WW2 shows the conflict as a sometime surreal dream, a dream where the details, the shine of water, the tilt of the horizon from the cockpit, are more present than actual visceral realities of conflict. What strikes in this image is not the clash of man and machine, but sheer vastness of the space in which that conflict takes place.  Testimony from fighter and bomber pilots from the war are not about close contact, but about the distance between objects; the size of the canvas on which they played. And of course, for a boy (man) my age, the Battle of Britain is one of the heroic definitions of our generation. This painting makes real the revelation that the war in the air was not about ideology, men or machine, but about space (so back to Ballard and the surreal again).

We had a Nash on the wall in the JCR at college; a painting of tanks on exercise on Salisbury plain (where I was at school); though oddly I can’t find a reference for the painting online. I also knew Nash’s nephew, Peter-Paul Nash, the composer, for a while; he married a good friend of mine.

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Bridge To The Table Mountain

Crickhowell Bridge C-86836X
Judges of Hastings (01424) 420919
http://www.judges.co.uk

Staying on the Welsh theme, a postcard of Crickhowell Bridge. This was a thank you card for birthday presents from my niece, and so might be the newest card on this blog. It shows, in the boring style, an expanse of tufted green field, with the 13 spans of the bridge behind, carrying the A4077 across the Usk (Afon Wysg; River Usk) into the town of Crickhowell, and behind that the Crug Hywel, Table Mountain, from whence the town gets its name.

This is an intensely familiar vista for me, since I spent many long holidays in the Brecon Beacons with my family in the 70s and 80s; and my sister now does the same. My family have owned a house, up the A479 in nearby Tretower, since before I was born, and I know the area from before it was the gastropolo mecca that it is now. That’s not really the subject for this blog, which is about images, but maybe for another day. The bridge was built in 1709, and modified up until 1749 (and many times since; I can remember when cars passed on the bridge, and for many years a bailey bridge ran alongside before they installed the traffic lights. This was a feature that my father, an army engineer in Burma in WW2, was never tired of pointing out; and I follow in his tradition).

These vernacular architectures, designed by many other forgotten engineers and architects over the centuries are a largely untold story. Coming from an academic art historical tradition of taxonomies and conaisseurship, I long, Ballard-like, for a typology of these bridges, an analysis of source and influence. It’s amazing to me, especially given where I live now, that these simple structures still carry traffic, and are still known. Crickhowell was the birthplace of Colonel Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India, from whom we get Mount Everest. Names and histories are important.

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Windy Miller

CAMBERWICK GREEN
Peter Hazel collecting the Post
L6/8412
Series No. BBC19
(c) Gordon Murray Puppets ltd 1969 from the BBC tv series Camberwick Green and Trumpton

My mum sent me this from Wales to Oxford in 1986, because she knew, because she’s my Mum, that I used to love Camberwick Green. Like all right thinking people my favourite character was the de facto narrator Windy Miller, but Serjeant-Major Grout and the boys from Pippin Fort will do, as will Peter Hazel, emptying the boxes as quickly as he can. To unpack this image is to unpack everything about being English and being born in the 70’s (even down to the colonial uniforms of the cadets from Pippin Fort) No wonder that Life on Mars used Camberwick Green in an episode. Of everyone loved Windy because he not only had the best machine to work in, but he had the good life, self-sufficient and permanently drunk on his home brewed cider; try getting that into a nursery school programming today…I suppose that it makes me sound both old and privileged, but the village that I grew up in was just like Camberwick Green (bigger that Chigley, smaller than Trumpton), with a baker, two butchers, a greengrocer and a least 4 pubs. So, far from being some kind of prelapsarian fantasy world, the setting for these Gordon Murray programmes was intensely relevant for me as a child. I don’t know what we’ve lost, why we decided to lose it, and what we’ve gained in return, but I’m not sure things are better. As usual, I blame Thatcher. Which is ironic (and how my generation loves irony) since wasn’t it that kind of change what Thatcher was protecting us from?

One personal note, the postcard came from the Walnut Tree Stores in Llangynidr, and that is still there, and I’m pretty sure that you can still get these postcards. My mum addressed it to me at Worcester College, Oxford. Not sure that addressing would work today. And GET OFF MY LAWN!

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Chantilly 1695 Ingeborg-Ps F10

Another of Carl Nordenfalk’s study images from my Courtauld cache. This is from the Ingeborg Psalter from the Museum Chantilly in Conde, Paris. Made in 1195 for Ingeborg, the Danish wife of French king Philip II (Augustus); the first king of all France and the last of the Frankish kings. She was his second wife, and only lasted a few weeks before Phillip changed his mind about a Danish alliance, and Ingeborg spent the next 20 years as hostage in various castles in France. Hopefully this book was some comfort: it is one of the key works of early Gothic painting, sumptuously illustrated in bright colors on gold, 200 folios and 51 illustrations covering the life of Christ and the prophecies of the Psalms. So key in fact that other works by the same artist or aetelier are called by ‘The Master of the Ingeborg Psalter‘.

This an illustration of the passage from Genesis 18, where three mysterious men visit Abraham and Sarah on the plains of Mamre, announcing that she will bear a son, Issac. This a surprise to the couple, since both are old and Sarah beyond childbearing age: (Gen18:12): Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

Tradition has it that the men were actually angels, specifically Raphael, Micheal and Gabriel. I’m not sure we can indentify which angel is which, but we can certainly see the deference on the part of Abraham and the nervousness of Sarah as she peeps from the doorway of the tent. Raphael is supposed to have healed Abraham, so perhaps it it he who gestures to the Staff of Ascelpius on the table, while the Micheal is in the center, giving the blessing and announcing the baby? Gabriel is supposed to have left the meal in order to mastermind the destruction of Sodom, so perhaps he’s the one with the “hello, I must be going” gesture to the far right of the lower panel. They were served fresh bread, butter and milk, and what looks like a particularly yummy calf’s head soup.

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