Iron Tree by Al Weiwei

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I recently went to one of my favourite of all places, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, primarily to have a look at the Al Weiwei exhibition in the newly converted chapel on the site which I had not yet got round to seeing.  Before I went into the chapel I was mesmerised by the copper tree structure outside it which I had no idea was going to be there.

The sculpture of the tree is made up of numerous casts which capture the intricacies of the bark and the structure of the tree in all it’s glory, the texture and detailing are astonishing which is only heightened by the beautiful weathered copper colour.  When I was talking about seeing this piece a friend said that he had often thought that if trees didn’t exist naturally in such abundance we would have examples of them in museums such is their beauty.  Seeing the Iron Tree I couldn’t help think that he was right.

However the beauty was also tinged with darkness, the Iron is bolted together roughly in places and it appears as though the iron has perhaps encased the original tree killing it in the process.  I couldn’t help think of how totalitarian regimes have done exactly that throughout the generations to the fee creative spirits that have existed within them, encasing them in iron and squeezing until life, creativity and freedom of expression are extinguished.  This of course is what is happening to Al Weiwei himself (and countless others in China) placed under virtual house arrest, passport confiscated and finding it harder and harder to communicate with the world outside the iron grip of the Chinese regime.

A beautiful, stunning and thought provoking piece of art that made me think as much about freedom and creativity as it did about natural beauty.  What’s the point of art or is that art is a conversation I have with my kids on and off, sometimes you come across a piece which for me encapsulates the point brilliantly.  The Iron Tree is one of those pieces.

Barcelona and the Boys Book Club

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This year’s annual boys book club weekend away saw us continue the search for a bit of autumnal warmth by heading to Barcelona.  Our trips follow the routine that I wrote about in last years Palma post and Barcelona would be no exception, no grand plan just wander around taking the temperature of the city and it’s culture as we meander, perhaps with a bit of architecture or art thrown in for good measure.  We would of course be reviewing this months book, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, and discussing some of our own work as we had set ourselves the theme of Reliance and were tasked with coming up with something creative around that theme.  We also had a couple of new members this year who had not been away with us before so that was also going to be interesting to see how the dynamic might be affected.

Much as I’m not a fan of getting up early in the morning, the forced early start does enable you to make the most of a weekend away as we were sat with a cold beer in our hands in a lovely little plaza by lunchtime with the day before us.  We’d actually stumbled upon a historic weekend to be in Barcelona as all 881 mayors of the various towns and villages of Catalonia were in town to discuss whether they should collectively sign a memorandum calling for the right to be able to hold a referendum on independence.  As a result there were TV crews around, demonstrators and a general feeling of excitement that something was afoot heightened by incredibly loud firecrackers being let off.  Yellow badges were being handed out that it was explained to us were not necessarily signifying that the Catalans wanted independence but that they wanted the right to a referendum to decide their own fate  Echoes of course of what we have recently gone through with Scotland and what might happen with Europe.  Much as I fully support the principle of national self determination I can’t help feel that globalisation is causing communities and nations to encircle the wagons somewhat and wrap those wagons in a national flag which has potentially dangerous undercurrents.

One thing that has definitely changed, even in the short few years we’ve been doing this, is technology.  Photos can be quickly snapped on phones (in the early days a couple of the lads used to rock up with some serious proper camera gear) and of course city maps, places of interest, where to eat / drink etc can be summoned up instantly.  There are many advantages to this but at the same time it can add a bit of tension for those who want to experience things in the moment and not second hand through the glow of a screen or someone else’s recommendation.  The same is also true of the books, do you read it with no prior knowledge or do you use the easily available information to find out more ?  In our book club it is very much frowned upon to do research around the book / author but for some this is a very difficult temptation to resist

Friday’s wanderings saw us drift down through the Gothic quarter mazing our way away from the crowds down through Bareloneta to the beach before thinking about eating (we did a lot of both thinking about it and doing it over the weekend).  A few people had said to me before the trip that you’ll get stung in Barcelona, really expensive.  This was of course true if you couldn’t be bothered to walk a couple of streets away from the honey traps.  If you could then you could (and we did) eat and drink like kings for staggeringly reasonable prices – much cheaper and better quality than Leeds that’s for sure.  Walking away from the seafront area saw us adopt the method for the weekend, a simple neighbourhood bar with a few tables outside and a tapas board delivered fantastic quality and value both from a drink and food perspective every time.  As in every other Spanish city the vast majority of places to eat and drink are small, independents which makes such a refreshing change from the branded sameness of much of the UK these days

We lazily headed back towards the centre of town keeping our eyes open for somewhere good to eat in the evening and popping our heads into anything that looked interesting, which included me joining some lively looking locals for a game of street table tennis.  Before heading out for the evening we had a very quick turnaround at the hotel before regrouping at a local pinchos bar to discuss our own work.  This is always an interesting and eye opening part of the weekend and we started doing it partly as an experiment but also we spend a lot of time critiquing ‘professional’ writers so what does it feel like to have a go yourself and open yourself up to a bit of peer reviewing.  This year we had some great interpretations on the theme, from a Haiku to poetry and short stories, some funny others reflective and some genuinely moving.  I think it really adds something to the weekend and it also proved to me that no matter what we do for our day jobs there is some hidden talent and creativity amongst the group.  Hopefully with the author’s permission I’ll post a couple of the pieces on here.  After more wandering, eating and drinking we turned in after covering a good ten miles during the day, which we would do again on the Saturday.

After clearing our heads – how nice it is to be able to do this sat in a nice plaza with a fresh coffee and orange juice – we decided to have a wander up to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece.  Historically of course cathedrals did often take hundreds of years to complete but it feels slightly surreal that this is still the case today – I think 2026 is the anticipated finishing date to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi’s death, but I have my doubts.  It’s a very difficult building to describe but it is undoubtedly one of the most staggering pieces or architecture (or works of art?) that I’ve come across.  Of course there is plenty more of Gaudi’s work dotted about the city that you will come across from the astonishing to the mundane as he designed some of the paving you will be walking on and, as I’ve written about previously, I think you can tell a lot about a city from it’s paving.

After another stunningly good value pavement lunch we wandered down to the Museum of Contemporary Art which had a real mixed bag of a collection in it, a great exhibition called Nitrate by Xavier Ribas contrasted sharply to me against a couple of floors of impenetrable offerings and several surreal items including songs by the Housemartins and the Smiths ?  We all needed something to drink after wandering round the museum before we gathered ourselves for the evening meal and a debate on The Moonstone.  Despite a valiant attempt by one member to point out the relevance of the book it’s fair to say it was universally not enjoyed and I doubt very much if it will enter the reckoning for our book of the year awards in December.

Although we had the odd focal point what I enjoyed most about the weekend was the aimless wandering, the randomness of the conversation and getting to know the other members more.  As we wandered about you would find yourself drifting in and out of different conversations as you walked next to a different person or sat next to someone different at the next bar, these moments are for me what makes the boys book club such a wonderfully rich and rewarding experience.

The photos on this post are a mixture of mine, Phil’s and Andrew’s taken over the weekend.

Summer Photo Fun – 2014 – Memory

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So the summer holidays draws to a close and with it our final theme set by the kids of Memory, a lovely theme on which to close as we look back over the last few weeks and hopefully remember the good times we’ve had, days out, laughs, perhaps foreign climates, adventures, family, fun, good food etc.  This has definitely been my experience of the summer holidays and I hope it has been for you as well.  When the final theme was announced someone said how do you photograph a memory, which is of course a good point but at the same time we use photographs to capture our memories all the time and there are many things that remind us of them, whether that memory is one freshly made or from a lifetime ago.  Smells, colours, clothes, jewellery, places, food, everyday objects, things around the house, stuff stuck on the fridge door etc there are constant reminders all around us of our memories and these have been beautifully captured in the collection of images that came in this week.  Of course whilst many memories are shared they are all personal to us individually and this I think was captured beautifully both by the war memorials and the photographs of children, some who have now grown into adults while others are newly born.  I thought this was a lovely way to end this summers series.

I’ve actually put one of my photos at the top this week, I’ve never done that before so I hope you’ll forgive me indulgence.  For me music is an important part of my life and acts as a trigger to so many memories some momentous and important others mundane.  For example whenever I hear The Whole of the Moon by the Waterboys I am transported back to a wet and cold evening standing waiting for a train on London Bridge station !  I’ve been a fervent gig goer for many years even if now it’s only on occasion that I go to see a band as opposed to the several times a week when I was younger.  Ticket stubbs get stuffed in pockets and left on the side somewhere but I ended up sticking lots of them in an envelope, where many still are, but a few years ago I got a picture frame and put a collage of some of them up on my wall.  It might not be to everyone’s taste but each ticket contains a powerful memory.

As always huge thanks to those of you who play along interpreting the kids themes, sending in your photos and making it all so much fun, we really enjoy and appreciate it.  As ever click on the gallery to open it and you can see the photos in full.  Do let us know which ones you liked.  So that’s it for another year, we have done three years of this now and it’s always been great fun.  We will I expect continue to do the other holidays – half term photo fun; christmas photo fun etc and will occasionally just throw in a random weekend photo fun so if you like the idea and want to join in just follow me on twitter (@ianstreet67) which is where the themes get announced.  I’ve also toyed with the idea of doing some sort of exhibition of themes and the whole photofun idea, not sure if I’ll ever get round to that but it could be good fun I think.

Summer Photo Fun – 2014 – Texture

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The kids chose Texture as the penultimate theme of this weeks SummerPhotoFun which was a great theme I thought.  I like it when the themes they choose can be interpreted in so many different ways depending upon how you see the world and texture is a classic sample of that, everything you see or touch has an element of texture to it be it part of the built environment or something natural.  What could me more natural than an animal and the photo of the octopus is surely an amazing example of the variety of textures contained with the animal kingdom.  Texture can also bring out the absolute beauty in the simplest things that we take for granted, brick, slate, wood, plastic, sand, wool, stone and plastic all look amazing when looked at as they are and then of course they change again when constructed into something, the incredible shape and texture of the bullring in Birmingham or the sand sculpture of Einstein for example.  I really enjoyed this weeks theme and as always huge thanks to everyone who contributed.

Click on the gallery to open it and you can see all of the photos individually in full size, there really are some crackers this week.  Apologies if I’ve missed anyone out, if I have just let me know.

 

Summer Photo Fun – 2014 – Simple

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Simple was the theme set by the kids this week for our summerphotofun project and as ever some lovely, thought provoking and funny pictures came in.  Many of you used the theme of simple pleasures with things stripped back to their essence, nature, food and experiences featuring strongly along with a couple of very moving but simple memorials.  You hear a lot about wanting to live a simple life as an antidote to the perception that life is now too complicated or fast paced.  I’m not sure personally that I buy into the over complication argument but I also know that I live a simple, slow life in many respects and have done a long time before the slow movement became a fashionable thing.  For me to enjoy life all you need are to concentrate on the simple things, time with family and friends, good food, spending time outdoors and enjoying new experiences, get that right (and I don’t think it’s difficult to do) and you have a path to contentment.  All things outside this are just distractions, ignore as many of them as you can.  I think when you look at the photos that have come in this week a lot of them are perfect slices of this way of living, none more so perhaps than the photo at the top.

As ever thanks go out to all of you who have contributed and come up with such a lovely varied gallery (I loved the oil and water shot), just click on the gallery to open it and see the photos full size.  Do let us know which ones you liked in particular this week.  I hope I haven’t forgotten to include any but if I have let me know and I’ll amend the gallery.

 

Summer Photo Fun – 2014 – Curl

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I always enjoy the themes that the kids choose and over the last few years we have been playing around with this they have got progressively better at choosing themes as they think about what might come in. They like to come up with a theme that is both definitive in nature but gives lots of scope for interpretation.  I often think that some of the best themes they have chosen are colours or geometric shapes but this weeks theme of Curl was definitely one of the best they’ve chosen and there have been some brilliant interpretations that have come in from you all week.

We’ve just sat down to go through them and there were so many we enjoyed and it gave a real insight into how individuals can take a simple word and interpret it but also how photographs can make you think of the world around you, whether that be nature, art, jobs etc.  I loved the photo that a cardiac nurse sent in of her stethoscope entitled ‘tool of the trade’ and the curl of the blade runner is also a very powerful image.  As always our photofun would not work without all of you who take part and we’d really like to pass on our thanks that you take the time to do so and make it so much fun.  When the pictures are all put together in the gallery they create a vibrant tableau of the world around us.  As always click on the gallery to open it and you can see the photos as they came in, do let us know which ones you like.  Lots of crackers this week we thought.

 

Summer Photo Fun – 2014 – Balance

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We kicked off this summers photo fun a week late this year due to holidays etc but while we were away in Ithaca the kids got planning on some themes for the remainder of the summer.  They are getting dab hands at this now and come up with lots of ideas to form a long list and then whittle it down to give a good mix.  As always I was unsure if people would play along with us but sure enough the Balance photos started arriving during the week and there have been some lovely photos and interpretations.  The wedding ring photo for example was sent in by someone on their 10th anniversary who said that to succeed in marriage you need to strike the right balance which I liked very much.  There were a few of you who enjoy Yoga and of course bikes feature which brings to mind Einstein’s great quote “Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving”.  I particularly liked the cheeky photo of cricketer Gary Ballance scoring his 100 the other day which was certainly not a photo I’d have anticipated which is why we love doing this so much, you might think you know what will come in but we are always surprised.  I didn’t imagine a car stuck up a tree either.

As always this idea only works if you take part so a huge thanks to all of you who have submitted photos, I think the gallery looks great.  If you just click on the gallery you can scroll through each photo in the correct size.  Some of the Balance is obvious but some you’ll have to think about.  Do let us know which ones you like.  I’ve been having a few technical issues so I do apologise if I’ve missed any of your photos out, if I have let me know and I’ll update the gallery.