23rd June

There is no escaping it, the arts cannot escape R day. Only recently I was working in a project at Fringe Arts Bath with an artist from Berlin. Without easy access to travel, no visa restrictions, and her right be be here, she could not have brought her sound equipment on a cheap flight, set it all up in a communal art space, got people engaged in the art of sound and the sound of art, and for me, most importantly, made a new friend with whom I plan to work on a European project next year.

Our differences are far less significant than our similarities- yes, I have grandparents who lived in Berlin, who were German, or at least Austro-Hungarian, (you see, there have always been political tie-ups in Europe, just some are by choice,  some by force) before World War II. So her family and mine could have known each other. We both believe in freedom, in art, in friendship, not division, hatred, bigotry and selfishness.

And I lose track of the number of friends,(ex- boyfriends, acquaintances and just people I bump into,) who are in no way “English”. Almost everyone I’ve ever met can trace their families back somewhere “foreign” – often only in one or two generations. Only today, in an estate agency in Stroud, I was talking to the owner who has Italian roots. He is horrified by the way the referendum has opened up a new festering sore- which we all thought had long been cured.

And it is worrying that most younger people seem to want us to stay within the EU but it is many older people who seem to object. We want our children to be able to be citizens of the world, to travel, to work, to live, to love, wherever life takes them. We might want that for ourselves as well. But who is most likely to vote- the older or younger voter? Apathy has no place on Thursday.

This week I wish we were like the Australians, who make it compulsory to vote.  We need everyone who thinks it’s not worth voting, or thinks it’s a done deal, to get out and tell the politicians, and those who support Brexit, who don’t give two hoots for the poor, for the workers on the minimum wage, who no doubt have exploited in their business dealings the use of cheap labour from Eastern Europe, who I’m sure would be happy to have a Croatian cleaner, a Romanian auxillary looking after their sick parents,  even a Polish builder….. that stopping people from the EU coming into the country won’t change things for the poor. It won’t make businesses pay more than the minimum wage, there will just be fewer people prepared to do the work. It will make the economy more unstable so who will suffer most, and first? those who are least able to help themselves.

I worry about attitudes that are being voiced in the red top media and blue top social media. If something good can come out of the tragic death of Jo Cox, perhaps it will shock people into realising that this country cannot turn its back on Europe. We have always been part of it- Roman Europe, Saxon and Viking Europe, Norman Europe, Northern European – think William and Mary, George 1, we still make jokes about our royal family being German and “Phil the Greek”- there is no such thing as British other than what I had always assumed was a higher level of tolerance and openness than in many countries….and we have over the centuries had thousands of invaders, migrants, of refugees, of runaways, of thinkers and fighters, believers and philosophers, artists and musicians who have made and continue to make their homes here, in a country that has become progressively more tolerant and less prejudiced against “the other”. Let’s not turn our backs on what has made Britain a dynamic forward thinking place to live. John Donne got it spot on when he stated “No man is an island”- and we cannot afford to be in 2016.

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Carlos Zapata: Carnival- exhibition at Victoria Art Gallery

This is a small select exhibition. All of the work is for sale, mostly it is small scale, although there are a couple that are much larger.

And you’re wondering who Carlos Zapata is? Well he actually lives in Falmouth- his work has that rustic charm that dates back to William Wallis and the naive school that took off in Cornwall…

But Carlos is from Columbia, and he is a totally self- taught artist. He uses mixed media- wood, wax, paint, found objects…. So straight away I am attracted to the work- the use of  rubbish- cast offs- and bright colour is a bee’s honey pot draw! By taking techniques and skills from folk art around the world he can produce almost any style of work. If he can’t do it today, tell him and he’ll learn it in a week!

His small figurines, within a landscape of cast off wood pieces, rubber and  metal carry weight far beyond that of their actual mass. These tiny figurines often are overlooked, or spend their ‘lives’ trying to escape. I was particularly moved by the series beginning with childhood and ending in death. subtly dramatic as a full scale hysterical drama could not begin to comprehend.

The larger pieces can veer from the scary- a giant bass drum of almost idol worship…. but none  can speak to it- and the deeply moving, impossible challenges – that again, no one feels they can do justice to.

Despite being exhibited within the area of the small shop, there is a closeness, a personal proximity of these pieces which somehow transcends  the cute, the toy, the meaningless and speaks, shouts at us for attention.

The exhibition is being held at the Victoria Art Gallery until 4 September and entry is free!

Victoria Art Gallery, Bath

A Room of Their Own: Lost Bloomsbury Interiors 1914-30

The only interiors that survive from the Bloomsbury group’s dynamic designs are those found at Charleston, the East Sussex home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. But the group was incredibly prolific, designing for Heals as well as taking commissions, and had their own workshop, Omega, which produced much of their work in a more commercial setting.

The group was convinced that art, fine art, could be decorative, and in no way was this ever  considered by them a pejorative term. The artists in the group practised what they preached- painting conventionally on canvas as well as on most objects that you may find in a home, including lights, pots and tables. And of course they painted images of the interiors they had created- art reflecting art.

A small but beautifully curated exhibition of the Bloomsbury group art works is currently on show at the Victoria Gallery- from fabric to furniture, ceramics to carpet (well rugs, I was going for the visual alliteration…) paintings and sketches, decorative wall plaques, mirrors and fireplaces – all in their painterly, glorious colour palettes, with deft mark making and a luxuriant hedonistic quality only reflecting their own Bohemian lifestyles and need for beauty to surround them.

By bringing together works in private and a variety of public collections, we can begin to appreciate the shock of the new in those interiors, how they jolted a new generation into living with art and the artistic. What a contrast to the chintzes and lace of late Victorian Britain….

As you can tell, I am rather a fan and in fact my furniture painting obsession probably dates back to when I first saw some of their work in the V&A and when I wandered around Bloomsbury as a teenager and student,  when I learned about the movement when I was studying for ‘S’ level English and when I discovered more about them through visiting some of the places they lived and worked.

I can also see the links between their work and those of the big names of the 20th century- such as Picasso and Matisse, both of whom took the everyday and created something extraordinary, and for artists such as Matisse, the decorative, the patterned, was as important as the subject. Picasso’s painting on ceramics follows a long line dating back to the late 19th century, William Morris and then early 20th century artists such as Duncan Grant. Remember, Roger Fry, a key member of the group, was the person who practically single-handedly brought impressionism to the UK through organising the first exhibition here.  Figurative paintings- caryatids, nymphs and so on,  echo Modgliani and Matisse’s erotic females.

There is no question that the Bloomsbury group did something quite special at the beginning of the 20th century for art and the arts in the UK; the group’s influence is still felt today when one examines the interior styling to be found even on the high street- the Habitat in its now limited form, Anthropologie, Liberty, even chains such as Oliver Bonas and so on. And we are not even considering the many boutique shops and designers that take their influences in a direct line from Bloomsbury style.

 

 

 

The exhibition is on until September 2016. Details on the gallery website, http://www.victoriagal.org.uk/events/room-their-own-lost-bloomsbury-interiors-1914-30

 

 

PREFAB-Lab Bath – and some ranting about contemporary architecture

It’s been a fantastic experience working in the PREFAB-Lab down in the depths of Milsom Place (dark, cold, no natural light- a perfect secret laboratory!)

Today was particularly successful; we managed to trap one family in the lab for an hour as they took to lab coats and disposable gloves to really enter into the experience of experiment in numerous artistic forms of expression. (we also trapped some others….) And the aunt got into the whole taking pills to improve the experience. (aka smarties!)

And quite a few decided to write some post-industrial poetry as well. And tell me their stories of their first jobs. I love it when I ask a few questions and out (eventually) pours a life story or at least some fantastic anecdotes.

Tomorrow is shake up day when the work from both the first tranche and ours is put together into the exhibition. The exhibition is open from Monday to Saturday 11.30am-6pm next week, so please do come and see it.

 

I took the opportunity today to have a quick lunch break looking at a couple of the other exhibitions- FAB 2 and Walcot Chapel, both in Walcot Street, locally known as the “artisan quarter”! Anywhere else much of this art would not be described as fringe, or vaguely alternative- just much of it good contemporary work. Sound and light as well as the usual visual, installations as well as more conventional wall pieces, and in particular, Walcot Chapel is the most incredible, atmospheric setting. One of my colleagues at PREFAB-Lab and I are quite keen on the idea of creating an installation/event there some time…..

FAB2 is situated in an old, run down townhouse, which I coveted…. but I will be honest, I’m not quite as in love with Bath as I used to be. I used to think that I would live there if I was a singleton, but although I love the architecture, the stone, the cobbles, it’s all a bit too pretty, a bit too Jane Austen. But then we are conned by her image- apparently  we don’t really know what she looked like as her sister, Cassandra’s, painting of her, her family complained, made her look awful, so we have no way of knowing… and the pictures of her on our bank notes are based on an engraving made after her death. And Bath is a bit like that. A little too glossed over now, so we are unsure of what it really was like/could be like. It’s all a bit too preserved in aspic for my liking. The architectural thought police seem to insist on life continuing in the 21st century as if we all lived 200 years ago. Colleagues at the residency, who didn’t know the area, were amazed the area round the station is all brand new.  It is shocking. Why are we building pseudo-neo-classical buildings in the 21st century? Have we no imagination, creativity…?

However I did find some good graffiti, some derelict buildings, old garages and workshops ripe for repair, and the Tramstop (now a bar and restaurant with apartments attached) and some other industrial buildings have been well converted. I even saw a rather more interesting extension oriel window, Vittoria, in the Basque Country, style, hanging over the road. I’d like to see a lot more of that kind of imaginative architecture happening here.

Having spent some time recently in Scotland, where the planners seem to be far more confident about mixing old and new, and my visits to Birmingham and a couple of quick stop offs in Manchester, it seems to me that the city in the UK is a much more confident, looking forward place architecturally than the smaller towns (and cities- I guess Bath is officially a city?)  It’s also interesting that the buildings I’m currently most fond of- Manchester’s HOME, contemporary arts centre and Birmingham’s central library, are both designed by Netherlands based Mechanoo. Where are the progressive architecture/design practices in the UK?

London has always been confident about doing its own thing architecturally, despite the Prince of Wales’ whingeing, although there is a point at which post-modern nonsense can become a little dulled and jaded. I will be the first to rhapsodise about old buildings, anything from old Yorkshire Dales barns and the whitewashed cottages facing south in Dentdale, Victorian gothic, (I had a thing for St Pancras station when I was a teenager, when most people wanted to knock it down) Victorian and Edwardian industrial factories and mills, modernist blocks of flats, Brutalist public spaces, suntrap 20s houses (my grandparents’ house was one- oh how I loved the white curves and niches and those Crittal windows…) etc but I want to see style for 2020, well at least 2016!

 

 

PREFAB-Lab @Fringe Arts Bath

The PREFAB-Lab curated by Elaine Fisher and Lucy Gresley has already been experimenting at Fringe Arts Bath since 28th May. However today the new intake of scientists arrived, including me. We include sound, movement, and verbal artists, so hope to challenge those who come in and examine what we’re up to.

Based on the lower ground floor of Milsom Place, off Milsom Street in Bath (very trendy, Carluccios, Jamies, some other eating places… a rather nice artisan cafe and lots of other (overpriced but rather gorgeous) shops are our neighbours) we are embedded in an old hairdressers’ salon. Now stark lab white with sub grey details, shelves of disposable gloves, shoes covers, face masks and goggles, meds (in the form of smarties) test tubes, and clip-boards await you. The scientists in their white lab coats are happy to explain what they’re up to and the experimental lab is open 11am-5pm tomorrow, Friday and Saturday. The exhibition of work will be next week.

Come and examine, complete graphs, answer questionnaires, and help us work out what it is to be an artist. Yes, it’s fun, it’s a giggle, you can dress up and have a laugh, but underlying it is a serious question.  What do artists do? Do we have protocols, how do we research, how do we make decisions, how do we decide what “works” and what doesn’t? We’d love to know your views as well so please do come and talk to us (well at least to this artist who will want to know all about your first job as part of her research practice.)

More to follow tomorrow when I start installing my piece. Today was typing and interviewing. I’ll continue interviewing over the duration of the Lab so stories can continue to be added to the piece.