The art gallery as art

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There has been a trend when it comes to the architecture of art galleries that the gallery becomes a piece of art in it’s own right and perhaps is sometimes of more interest than the art inside it.  I can remember having this discussion when I was in Rome with a few friends and we went to the MAXXI designed by Zaha Hadid which carries on a trend perhaps started by the Guggenheim in Bilbao.  Closer to home the Hepworth is a visually impressive piece of architecture as it appears to float on the river.

In Leeds the Henry Moore Institute is striking in a different way, although I go there regularly it’s architecture is not accessible, it does not draw you in in a welcoming fashion as it’s smooth black facade appears more like the outside of Darth Vadar’s house than somewhere you’d want to enter.

I was somewhat taken aback therefore as I walked past it today to see hoards of kids playing around the front of the gallery picking hunks of clay off a big mound and basically doing what they wanted with it including covering the outside of the gallery as well as building sculptures, putting their names etc all around the entrance, steps and hand rails.  It was a real what the ….. moment and just made me smile.  I couldn’t do it justice in the photo but some have managed to throw blobs of clay right up to the top of the building.  It’s totally anarchic, surreal and playful.  Who knows the kids doing this might look at this building in a very different way now and might over the years start to venture inside, their journey into discovering sculpture ignited by splattering blobs of clay against the front of the gallery.

Generative Art

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As I often do on a Saturday morning I popped into @coloursmayvary to check out the latest publications and give my eyes a visual treat with the lovely prints to buy.  As well as being a gorgeous shop they often have stuff going on, the other week they had old school printing machines in there and they’d been running letterpress workshops, today there was this huge mural that you could get busy on.  It’s been created as part of the run up to the British Art Show which is coming to Leeds in October and will apparently feature the largest collection of contemporary art in the UK.  Prior to this there will be all sorts of activities in the run up to the launch.

The illustration / mural above is part of the lead in, it’s been created by three artists with a Leeds connection – Lucas Jubb, Jay Cover and Kristyna Baczynski - each one of whom has created elements that have then been generated by code to produce this huge mural.  Apparently this is a new process called Generative Art/Design.  We the public can then get involved and colour in the mural and when it’s complete it will tour round Leeds in the run up to the British Art Show.

Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of colouring in ?  I found it quite hypnotic to sit there grab a pen and fill bits of the mural in, as you are colouring, little bits of the city appear – The Corn Exchange, Town Hall, Broadcasting House all connected in a random fashion (presumably due to the programming code) with swirls and a myriad of different shapes.  As I was trying to stay between the lines (not always successfully) it made me ponder a bit about Leeds and it’s future and perhaps this mural represents the ideal vision where technology, collaboration and interaction form the basis for the city and it’s people to thrive?

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The Smiles are the Same

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Today was an amazing experience riding with some great people, the weather was incredible for a winters day, bright blue sky’s with a low retina burning sun but it was still very cold and as we climbed onto the moor tops there was solid ice, snow and freezing fog that rolled in.  It was one of those classic British Mountain Biking days, and we had more wardrobe changes than a fashion show as layers came on and off as the temperature and conditions fluctuated wildly.

The were some highly technical (for) me sections on the ride that I took immense pleasure from just about riding although my fragile confidence did take a knock in places.  However what I thought about as we were riding round is how unique mountain biking is as an activity in terms of the enjoyment you can get riding with people of different ability.  The people that I was riding with today are miles better riders than me but we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in a way that I don’t think is possible in any other sport.  If I was playing tennis for example against someone really good then it would be a very dull experience however on a mountain bike that all changes.  You can ride along together chatting, laughing and chewing the fat and then if you get to a more technical or quick section the better riders can take it at the pace they want picking all sorts of lines and I’ll attempt to snail my way down.  We meet at the bottom all having enjoyed it equally in our own way and then ride on together to the next bit.

As always we finish at a pub for a pint chatting over the ride and the fun we’ve had, no matter the difference in our abilities the smiles are the same.

Sketching

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The ubiquitousness of phones in pockets means that the places where we are get documented in a way that’s never happened before, quick snap, up on instagram move on.  The instantaneous nature of this raises question on what are you actually seeing and documenting, although for those of us with no artistic ability whatsoever perhaps we are aiming to capture the drawing of that moment in our minds eye.  I was down in London earlier this week and caught up with my good mate @phildean1963 and of course we headed to the pub for a few beers and a bite to eat.

Phil has started a new project this year where he is trying to sketch pubs and restaurants that he goes in so as we sipped our pints and chatted Phil got to work and without hardly making any effort, glided and swept his pen across the notebook and in 10 mins had sketched the pub we were in (The Peasant – above).  I was quite mesmerised watching him do this and seeing the sketch take shape, where he started on the page, which bit of the pub he drew first and how it all came together.  It captured things in a way that is so far removed from the phone shot and looking at it again now it brings back memories in a way that my photograph of the pub simply doesn’t.  Now I don’t suffer from jealousy but I tell you I hugely admire people with talent and I’d love to be able to do this.  My dad loved to sketch and paint watercolour and one of my kids is taking a real interest in art and will often doodle and draw when we are out and about.  Appears it missed a generation with me though which is a real shame.

I’ve seen a few of Phil’s drawings before and what he really likes is to put a bit of detail in which he didn’t really have time to do when we were out.  Yesterday though he was at it again.  Talented guy and an all round good egg to boot.

 

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Year of the Snail – 2014

 

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I’m now two years into my Project Snail idea, which in a nutshell, was to have more fun on my bikes and to do this by trying to improve my fitness, skill and confidence – all of which when I looked at myself I realised were areas where I was lacking quite a bit.  At this point last year I looked back over my first year and realised I had moved on quite a bit through a combination of riding more, riding with different people in different places and having some coaching from the marvellous Ed Oxley.

This year has very much carried on in the same vein and whilst I still have pretty major confidence issues I do feel like I’m improving slowly and I have definitely had a huge amount of fun over the year which is the whole point for me of riding my bikes.  As well as simply trying to ride as many days as I can, which hugely helps on the fitness front – little and often, I actually bought myself a proper full suspension bike which has brought me endless smiles, I simply love it.  It was great to have another session with Ed shortly after I bought it when the picture at the top was taken.  That section was a classic for me, I looked at it and bottled it numerous times but with Ed’s gentle encouragement I finally made it and I actually look like a proper rider I think on that photo.  Later on in the day we rode the section at the end of a run with Ed following me down, as we approached he veered off on another route whooping through the woods and when we got to the bottom he just said I knew you were going to be fine and would ride it so left you to it.  It was one of many small steps I took during the year each one of which, while nothing for many people, filled me with a huge sense of achievement.

I also rode in a couple of events, the Morvelo City Cross in Leeds which was huge fun and attempted to ride up a steep hill which was quite frankly silly and fun at the same time.  Although it did not involve riding I did put on an event which combined books and cycling with a couple of authors coming to talk about their adventures.  Having never done anything like this before I was worried it would be a shambles but it actually turned out to be a cracking night in front of a packed house.  I’ve got some ideas for some similar events this year as well.  Talking of events I guess the main one was witnessing the Tour de France take place in Yorkshire a weekend that will live long in the memory.  Seeing all the events that took place around the tour as part of the Yorkshire Festival and seeing different people on bikes in and around Leeds on a daily basis I’ve set up Leeds Rides which aims to show the human side of cycling in the city.  I’m hoping to try and get a thousand people on it in 2015 and then have a bit of an exhibition and a party.

Perhaps the most exhilarating step I took this year was to venture into night riding, something that genuinely terrified me but which is something that I have hugely enjoyed doing and which created some amazing memories and pictures. It also enabled me to ride much more over the winter which I’m hoping will pay dividends as the weather and the light improves and will have helped me considerably on the Project Snail plan.

Without doubt though the most important thing for me in my riding has been the people who I’ve ridden with who have helped, coached and cajoled me along.  Thanks to all of you it’s been genuinely humbling and loads of fun.  There are too many to mention in person but the Garage Bikes community in particular are a special group of people and riders who are great to be around and who make my world a better place.  I’m not a competitive person on a bike, for me it’s all about the social side of things, riding, having a chat and finishing with a beer (or occasionally having a cheeky swig from a hip flask on the ride) and this side of things has been the real highlight of the year for me.  The day before yesterday was a classic case in point, 3 of us on an amazing ride around Hebden Bridge, me out of my comfort zone but being encouraged by better riders, all of us enjoying one of the best rides of the year chewing the fat as we rode and finishing with a cracking pint.  If I have more rides like that in 2015 I’ll be very happy indeed.

Rob finished the the ride and tweeted the following.  I still think Project Snail is ongoing but who knows maybe I need a new nickname.  Any ideas ?

 

 

Me and the Manics

 

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Ever since I set this blog up I’ve wanted (but struggled) to write a post on the Manic Street Preachers and I guess more specifically my relationship with them and what they mean to me.  This week I’ll be going to London to see the Holy Bible gig at the Camden Roundhouse (thanks Phil) and I’m excited beyond belief and certainly perhaps more than a man of my age should be but that in itself is testament to the band, their longevity and relevance.

When the Mancis burst onto the scene in the early 90’s proclaiming they were going to be bigger than Guns N Roses and Public Enemy many (especially those in the music press, yes Steve Lamacq I’m looking at you) sneered and dismissed them as fake but what I heard was ambition.  Ambition was an important attribute in South Wales, not in the naked greed sense displayed by the plastic spray tanned idiots paraded on our TV screens on a daily basis, but in the ‘I don’t want my kids to have to work in the pits type of way’.  ‘I want you to get an education and get a good job’.  Good jobs were often seen to be teachers, lawyers, ministers and to this day if you walk into any secondary school in England there will be a good chance you will find teachers of Welsh heritage.  It was recognised that to escape the manual labour and better yourself then education was important.  This had been the case in South Wales right from the early days of industrialisation through the formation of the strong trade unions, miners welfare and institutes that established principles of looking to improve both yourself and your community along lines of equality and social justice.  Many left leaning leaders came out of this approach none more so that Nye Bevan, founder of the National Health Service. Libraries did indeed give us power.

When the Manics started releasing incendiary recordings chock full of pride, passion, emotion and intelligence I felt a clear lineage through to the likes of Bevan using the microphone in a different way but still using it for powerful oratory, strong messages and vision.  They were light years ahead of any other band at the time and picked up the gladioli dropped by Morrissey and breathed some Welsh fire back into the music scene.  It’s impossible in a simple blog post to cover all of the themes, authors, philosophers, cultural and political reference points that make up so much of their music because to do so would require the writing of a book.  Suffice to say that for me it is so good to have a band writing songs that actually mean something, have been thought about and that provide a fantastic education in their own right.  Having an intelligence in your lyrics however is irrelevant unless you can back them up with brilliant tunes and scorching, visceral live performances which the Manics do in spades.  I’ve been lucky enough to see them in all sorts of venues over the years from tiny sweat stained clubs to Glastonbury declaring they should build a car park over the lot of it.

I grew up in Newport in South Wales, and after stumbling through school travelled north each day up the Gwent valleys to go to Crosskeys 6th Form college.  This was at a time when my home area was being decimated by the Thatcher government and the miners strike was honing my political education.  The year below me at that college were the individuals who would, a few years later, emerge as the Manics and I understood where they’d come from and what they were singing about.  Over the last 20 odd years I’ve aged along with them, but also hopefully changed and developed along the way as they have.  Whenever I hear them, and particularly when it is live, I am transported back to where I’m from and I experience feelings of pride, passion and emotion that no other band can provoke within me.

The Manic Street Preachers – original, intelligent, controversial, ambitious, exciting – simply one of Britain’s greatest ever bands.

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As the viaduct looms like a bird of doom

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I wrote recently of my new found exploration into night time MTB riding and I was not expecting to write something else on it so soon but last night I was out again and this photo of me and my experience encapsulated in many ways what is so magical about it.  A short time before this photo was taken we’d careered / slithered down a muddy field and I was trying to learn fast how to control a bike that was quite frankly moving around all over the place as my wheels skidded and skipped in the mud.  I tried very hard to relax, stay off the brakes and feel the movement, letting the front wheel go where it wants and slowly correcting.  Trying to do this intuitively and by feel was tricky but I did reasonably well I thought.  Plenty to build on and a very interesting experience.

Then after much mirth and a short pedal I looked up and wow, this incredible structure loomed up in front of us.  Being pitch black you couldn’t see it until you were almost underneath it.  It was a jaw dropping moment.  The others who ride the area regularly take it for granted but I thought it was mesmerising.  It reminded me of some old mid west American coal or gold mining track and it was really eerie and atmospheric.  Apparently we’d ridden over it an hour or so previously on our way out on the ride and it’s pretty cool on the top but approaching it from below in pitch black was just ace.

I must admit that I love bridges, there is something about the concept of reaching out to cross a divide that appeals to me, perhaps because it goes to the heart of human desire for exploration as in “I wonder what’s over there?” but also because bridges link places and help people to connect with one another which I think is a fundamentally good thing.   Although perhaps they just remind me of my own mortality, no matter how many bridges I cross, I can’t escape the ultimate crossing from life to death.

All these thoughts and heightened images were whirling around in my head as I pedalled off under the bridge and Rob @chasingsheepMTB took the amazing atmospheric photo above.  As I rode under it there was one song that was playing in my head, the brilliant Red Right Hand by Nick Cave, the lyrics to which I’ve used for the title to this post as it was so apt.  The track is below if you don’t know it.