Easter Photo Fun 2015 – Week 1 – Point

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Point has been the first theme for the two weeks of EasterPhotoFun set by the kids and as always you have sent in some lovely interpretations, some very obvious points others indicating low points for example.  I loved the railway point, knitting needles, ballet shoes, pens/pencils and must give a biased shout out to one of my kids for her photo of the picture frames that I thought was a really good interpretation.

However my fav was I think the photo of Verity, the mammoth 20m sculpture by Damien Hirst that looks over Ilfracombe harbour.  A pregnant woman, holding the scales of justice, standing on a pile of books and wielding a large sword.  This was the largest sculpture in Britain when it was put up in 2012.  I’ve never seen it in the flesh but standing higher than the Angel of the North this must be some sight.  Whenever I see things like this it always makes me angry that Leeds turned down the option to have our own massive brick man sculpture (before the Angel of the North) that was proposed by Anthony Gormley.  However Verity is surely the most perfect interpretation of point, not least of course from the sword in her hand but from the viewpoint that many people will have of this and other modern art when they ask what’s the point.

As always many thanks for all who have chipped in with your interpretations it’s been a really fun week.  Do click on the gallery and you can scroll through the pictures in the size they came in.  Do let us know which ones you liked.

The Dying Graves In Spring

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My jumping-jack cat has shown up. He used to be a part of my childhood and now he’s back again. Wearing 17th century Thirty Years’ War gear (or so I think), he looks rather special. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) was so utterly horrific and dying so much more common than it always has been anyway that it was as fashionable to reflect on one’s own death as it is fashionable to dream of 15 minutes of fame nowadays (even though vanity was also a huge thing in the Baroque period). That memento mori has its place in Lent as Christians prepare for remembering the death of Christ. Curiously my walk took me to a cemetery today. It was sunny and I wanted to see the early flowers of spring. In other words: life. What do we love about these early spring flowers? They are the heralds of spring, of a beginning of a new life. They defy the final frosty days of winter, fight their way through frozen soil and layers of old leaves from last year’s autumn. In a world still dipped in shades of brown and grey they are a colourful delight to our eyes. Oh, how wonderful they looked today, in white, blue, purple and yellow! They were pure poetry. But their lives will be short – just like those of the people who lived during the Thirty Years’ War.

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The old parts of the cemetery date back to the 19th century. I’m a lover of 19th century art so this place has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, decay has been massive. Here it’s the graves which are dying and being buried by Mother Nature herself. What once was splendour is now reduced to rubble. These graves survived a war but not indifference. The spring flowers here are Nature’s oxymoron to Mankind’s crafts.

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I enter the hospital where I was treated for pneumonia a few days ago. I want to visit an old woman who I shared a room with. I find she is back to her home and nobody is able to tell me which one. A few days back, when I was caressing her cheeks and holding her hands she looked at me and smiled: “You are a good person. Hopefully we will meet in Heaven.”

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The Known Unknown: Berlin’s Hansaviertel

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been to a place countless times but you had no idea how special a place it is? There is quite a fascination to the discovery of already known places. In this case it is the Hansaviertel in Berlin, an area that I had always thought of as being situated somewhere else and that holds famous architecture of some of the most renowned architects of the Bauhaus, Neues Bauen and Modernism, such as Walter Gropius, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, and Max Taut.

Only last year did I begin to explore the architecture of Berlin, which is an exciting place in this regard. Berlin is not exactly a beautiful city in a conventional sense, but its history has led to the most unusual, if not unique, developments. The grandeur of the 19th and early 20th century was followed by a war that left Berlin in rubble. The Cold War that ensued and led to the separation of the town and its people by the Berlin Wall turned Berlin into a battlefield of the architecture of two opposing systems – without actually having any money for it. Reunification, the moving of the government from Bonn to Berlin and the latest boom have added to a seemingly endless frenzy of a city that never ceases to change, a city that is never finished. You leave Berlin for a week to go on a holiday and when you come back, you won’t recognise it.

The Hansaviertel in the heart of West Berlin saw its splendour of exuberant Gründerzeit style houses almost completely destroyed in 1943. Ten years later Berlin decided to build a model future city on its grounds and invited the biggest international star architects to develop a new settlement – in rivalry to the truly gigantic and monumental Stalinallee (later Karl-Marx-Allee), that was being built in East Berlin. Both East and West wanted to show to the world that it is they who provided the best living conditions to their respective citizens. While the Stalinallee provided representative flats in which you can easily get lost, the Hansaviertel was equipped with small flats in primarily functional buildings of small, medium and high-rise format, loosely scattered, each surrounded by specifically designed green space. Two Brutalist churches, an underground station, a shopping area, a cinema (now a theatre), and a library as well as some cafés and restaurants (schools were nearby) completed a mostly independent living unit.

As I leave Bellevue S-Bahn station I’m greeted by two of the five highrisers (“Punkthäuser”) from 1957, when the new settlement was presented as the site of the Interbau exhibition. Are they pretty? No. All of the houses had to be built with as little money as possible and it shows, just like their age. Right behind them is the familiar Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), where I saw Macbeth, Brave New World and The Grapes of Wrath in the English language as a teenager. It presents itself in a modernist individual, yet modest style with a naked Henry Moore bronze sunbathing. Smaller houses that remind me of the holiday camps of my childhood pop up here and there. They look as if living here is attractive. All the houses have their balconies directed towards the south and the green space makes the whole place look very comfortable. It’s mostly clean and graffiti is rare. Yes, I understand why the people who moved in in the 1950’s and 60’s have never moved out. Beauty in an aesthetic sense is not a criterion to apply here, but a highly individual character of each single building can’t be denied. It is this specific character that you get when every single building has a different designer.

The most famous of them all is the Oscar Niemeyer Haus, Niemeyer’s only building in all of Germany. It is a crazy one: it stands on filigree feet, which makes you wonder how they can possibly carry such a large building. The lift, that stops only at two floors, is kept in an extra tower outside the house. London residents may know the Balfron Tower (1967) that has a similar concept (but looks less pretty…).

The lofty, green Hansaviertel, that is situated right between the two city centres, feels like a world of its own. But then again every Berlin Kiez does, each an intriguing little universe in itself. I can’t wait to explore the next one.

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Thanks to Ian and Jason for their support.

Half Term Photo Fun – 2015 – Arch

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The kids picked Arch as the theme for #Halftermphotofun and in my mind I thought, ah it’ll just be all bridges and churches and while we certainly got some of those we had lots of other great interpretations proving yet again that my kids know better than I do.  The humble arch is, once you start looking, everywhere around us both in nature and the built environment as it it is the building block to so much of the world around us from an architectural point of view.  Writing that sentence I’ve just noticed that architecture begins with arch !  I did know that there were different styles of arch but didn’t realise that there were quite so many designs, I think I came across about 15 styles doing a little bit of research – the Ogee arch anyone ?  I’m not sure how many styles we’ve managed to have represented here but quite a few I reckon.

What I particularly liked when you see all of the arches together here is how inquisitive it made me feel, what’s through there ? adventure ? mystery ? are they portals to another world ? and then there were the different interpretations, arch enemies/ rivals of the rugby team forming an arch in the scrum, the arch of the foot or the eye, the fun the little boy is having making an arch and I think it was this photo that made me put the family photo at the top, if you can’t find an arch you can just make your own.

As always thanks so much to all of you who took part contributing and interpreting throughout the week, it’s been great fun as always.  I hope I haven’t missed any out but if I have then do get in touch and I’ll amend the gallery.  We’ll be back for Easter, unless we throw a random weekendphotofun in so if you are reading this and want to take part then you are more than welcome, just follow me on twitter @ianstreet67 or keep an eye on the twitter hashtags #halftermphotofun, #easterphotofun, #summerphotofun etc you get the drift.  Thanks everyone.

Song for Coal

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This year sees the 30th anniversary of the miners strike, an event that is still etched in the minds and consciousness of many, and which did so much to change the political and social landscape of Britain – whatever side of the political fence you happened to be on, things would not be the same.

To mark this event Nick Crowe and Ian Robertson have produced an amazing audio visual piece that is currently showing in the chapel at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  You enter through what at first appears to be total pitch black, you can hear haunting singing and monk like chanting while projected up on the wall is what appears to be a stunning visual representation of a stain glass window.  As your eyes slowly adjust you can find a bench and sit down and let yourself be immersed in sound and visual.

The ‘window’ is an astonishing thing, firstly that it looks so right projected as it is inside a church but it takes a while to get used to as it is moving and flickering as you watch it.  The colours are incredibly vivid and your eyes try to work out what is happening.  The window is comprised of 152 panels and each panel contains a film that looks at the history of coal, from it’s origins before mankind through to it powering the industrial revolution and beyond.  As the films play in the panels it creates a hypnotic kaleidoscopic effect that is enhanced by the music and singing (sung by Opera North) that accompanies the visuals.  You see flickers of plants, cars, flame, sculptures, Davy lamps, miners faces morphing constantly across the window to a mesmerising effect.

As I sat in the darkness, eyes transfixed by the visual and sound surrounding me you could hear occasional words like ‘it made us strong’ but it brought memories to me of the coalman delivering sacks to the house, of lighting the fire that heated the house, through to the strike and it’s devastating consequences and then made me think of our need to move beyond fossil fuels so that what once powered our world remains buried below the surface.

 

 

The Vanity of Small Differences

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When I first came across Grayson Perry I have to say I was distinctly underwhelmed, I think because it all seemed to be about him and not about the art.  As I result I ignored him for a while but slowly as I started to come across him more, listen to what he was saying and look at his art my mind was totally changed.  In fact I now think that he is not only one of Britain’s best contemporary artists but he is also one of the best commentators on art, he has an engaging quizzical style that enables him to get across concepts and ideas in a very accessible style.  This perhaps culminated in his Bafta award winning documentary series All in the Best Possible Taste in which Grayson visited Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotsworlds and created tapestries depicting a story inspired by art history and the different social groups, classes and tastes that he came across during the visit to the very different regions of England.

Since seeing the documentary I’ve always wanted to see the tapestries so was very excited when I heard that they were coming to Leeds and would be installed for a period in Temple Newsam House.  It’s worth mentioning the curation of the exhibition as I think it was a very clever idea to place the tapestries within a stately home as opposed to an art gallery.  The tapestries themselves primarily deal with issues of taste and class and are full of artefacts that reflect this.  Seeing them hanging on the walls (each one in a different room) of the South Wing surrounded by the changing styles and taste of previous centuries gave them a suitable backdrop that could not be recreated in any art gallery.

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The tapestries tell the story of Tim Rakewell and his rise from impoverished working class Sunderland to nouveau riche stately home owner after Tim’s success as an app developer and his sale of his company to Richard Branson and finally his death after crashing his Ferrari showing off to his new trophy wife.  The Story is “The Geek’s Progress” – a headline that appears on the ipad on tapestry 4 and is a nod to William Hogarth’s “A Rakes Progess” which tells the story of Tom Rakewell and his descent from inherited riches to madness, destitution and death.  Grayson’s modern take on Hogarth’s work is brought into focus in the exhibition which enables you to compare the two bodies of work as all 8 of Hogarth’s pictures are reproduced in the room that houses Grayson’s final tapestry.

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Whilst I’d seen pictures of the tapestries and seen the documentary on the inspiration behind them nothing can prepare you for the stunning colours, vividness and detail of seeing them in them up close.  There is so much detail that personally I could look at each one for a considerable period of time, they hold your eye as you take in all that is going on and in looking at them for a prolonged period my brain was totally engaged in thinking about Tim’s progress and what this tells us about Britain today and who we are.

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(The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal)

Artefacts play out strongly across the tapestries, and this again links through to where they exhibited as you pass through rooms full of artefacts of the period before you get to the tapestries.  From the miners lamp, to the cafetiere, the football shirt to the Cath Kidston bag so many assumptions are made on the clothes and artefacts we wear and surround ourselves with.  Technology and how it has changed is also strongly reflected throughout the journey, from the very first tapestry where the baby Tim reaches out his mother’s mobile phone screen, the huge cranes of the declining shipyards to be replaced by call centres, the tablet computers and app development that brought Tim his fortune.

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(The Upper Class at Bay, Or An Endangered Species Brought Down)

In comparison to A Rake’s Progress which dealt with someone’s descent from riches to rags, The Geek’s Progress charts the successful rise from impoverished background to stately home.  As Britain becomes more and more unequal and social mobility less and less achievable Perry is I think asking important questions on what sort of society we want.  On one of the tapestries Jamie Oliver is depicted as the god of social mobility looking down as Tim moves across to the middle classes, however Tim as Grayson did attended a Grammar School and I wonder if Grayson is making comment here that this is now one of the only ways to achieve social mobility.  In the end though both Tim and Tom lie naked and dead each destroyed by their wealth.

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(#Lamentation)

Across these six tapestries Grayson Perry weaves an extraordinary exploration of British social history over the last thirty years encompassing politics, class, taste, social observation, art history, celebrity culture, changing industry, technology and social media.

It does all of this is a very accessible format, my kids came with me and both said how much they’d enjoyed it partly because they could follow and understand it.  The accompanying booklet is really excellent, there is an app that you can also download and this is available on tablets in the exhibition so that you can explore the tapestries in more detail and look up many of the other historical pieces of art from the 15th century that inspired the work.

The exhibition is on till December 7, I’ll definitely be going again.