Through these blogs we are trying to make the organization and our way of working more accessible.
Please contribute ideas, information and criticism.
A great job has come up, originating in our 'Creative Egremont' project a few years back - managing the new arts programme at the Florence Centre in the former mining buildings of Egremont.
See job details here - deadline Friday 11th June
Due to the long, long winter, spring came late here and the last daffodils have only just gone over mid-May. Looking at pictures of the garden this time a few years ago, it was much greener and fuller.
But given our slender means, we are happy for summer to slide in slowly as we spend 5-8.30pm most days now on the land, weeding, sowing, dividing and planting. The legend that is Mr James Herd has been back rerouting the front Farmhouse Garden pathways and retaining walls, creating a rather more formal and rather more massive border than before - about 100 sq metres - almost all filled with propagated plants from existing stock. I'm trying very hard to minimise maintenance all over the garden, using more shrubs where I can and mulching like it's going out of style, using old chipped wood (almost free but ugly) and spent mushroom compost (good looks don't come cheap). A short-term Japanese intern, Mi, has gamely saved the day by planting the orchard hedge with the already in leaf hawthorn James donated to us - it seemed a terrible shame not to get a season ahead with the plan but the scale of the challenge had beaten me and I had resigned myself to postponing it. As long as we water the plants well we can hope it will thrive.
Vegetables begun in the polytunnel and now planted out include pak choi (about to bolt due to too long in the trays I fear), broad beans 'The Sutton Dwarf' (no staking apparently), and spinach 'Bordeaux'. Verdant Leaf beet 'Oriol' has been extraordinarily hardy, the only vegetable to survive the winter's snow and hard, hard frost and still going strong. French shallots (first in in March) are doing well and spring onions and Chinese radish are both showing now.
An open evening of creative experiment - like a salon thing, you know, hang around, chat, laugh at people.
Come along, take part. If you would like to present your work or do something interesting
call Andrew Deakin on 01229 581127
Monday 17 May 7.30 - 10.30 pm
Lanternhouse The Ellers, Ulverston
Free, Free, Free
Already definitely happening - more to come
Live experimental sounds by the Octopus collective and a Gramaphone performance by Naomi Kashiwagi
'One Word for Ulverson' - pottery workshop with Adam Sutherland
Films by Damon Packard, Olivia Plender and Ken Russell, Marcus Coates, Jordan Baseman,
Olaf Breuning and Nathaniel Mellors presented by raconteur Alistair Hudson
Bumper stickers, sun strips and decals workshop with Maria Benjamin - something you want to say
about politics, love or religion in coloured vinyl on your car, make it here and now
'Picturesque Pleasantry to Environmental Fury' a lecture by Howard Hull, Director of Brantwood
'Filthy Foreign Food' by Karen Guthrie
Drinks by Lanternhouse
One of the hens is taking a battering, she used to be the Queen, then she went broody and now she's looking to be on the way out. I've moved her to the fruit cage but will I ever to able to reintroduce her. Check out the funky R&B soundfile for good advice. I find 60's soul has the answer for most major problems.
So having made it back, without any volcanic hindrance, from Galsgow at the weekend (thank you Mr Webster for a lovely do) we now embark upon our next feat of mass catering.....it's the....
Re-Coefficients Dining Club
Millennium Galleries Sheffield
St George's Day
Friday 23 April 2010
7.00 - 9.00 pm
Booking details: please call the Millenium Galleries Bookings Administrator on 0114 278 2655 or email email@example.com to reserve your place.
Book early to avoid disappointing us on the day.
Helpful hint of the day:
St. Georges Day is formally recognised by wearing a red rose in the buttonhole.
"Making John Ruskin Dull" Quote:
(John Ruskin used St George to brand his vision for a micro utopia/escape from modernity.)
"We will try to take some small piece of English ground, beautiful, peaceful and fruitful. We will have no steam-engines upon it, and no railroads; we will have no untended or unthought-of creatures on it; none wretched, but the sick; none idle, but the dead."
(None dead but the idle, none sick but the wretched - almost everything Ruskin wanted came to pass but backwards. John Ruskin was surely the world's most disappointed man.)
THIS IS WHAT THIS EVENT IS ABOUT
This entire event is an artwork - for want of a better description; you are part of it, we are all implicated in everything.
We (Grizedale Arts) want to create several short films that make us think about the systems under which we have tried to live and think about some systems we have yet to try. We want to construct systems for living that suit us as community animals, systems that help us for a time, in this next moment; accepting there are no ultimate solutions. What is certain is that the idea of freedom of the individual is unnatural, unhealthy and fantastically destructive to the species.
There is at hand a reappraisal of John Ruskin, how and why he's been forgotten since he stopped talking (and stopped breathing), whilst the world got on with absorbing so much of what he opposed. He now seems to be emerging again as a complex thinker with a strangely contemporary mindset, contradictory, nascent, tangential.
Let us set up clubs, societies, make up stuff and force some ideas on others - they'll love it once they get going.
What was the Coefficients Dining Club?
In 1902, in the shadow of John Ruskin's death, the leaders of the Fabian Society, founded the Coefficients Club to bring together the most powerful figures in the British Establishment with social critics and idealists to discuss and make plans for social reform and a new, unified liberal new world order. And eat.
Just over 100 years later we plan to re-form the Dining Club format, using this forum for discussion, to bring together six new voices to give speeches on social and cultural reform over a socially pointed menu.
The Coefficients' principle aim was to ensure the continued growth of imperially driven, liberal capitalism in the 20th century. As this idea has seemingly run its course, this event asks what are options and ideas for this century?
Members you will have heard of include H G Wells (the experience inspired The Shape of Things to Come), Bertrand Russell (who left in a bate), Alfred Milner (one of Ruskin's Road Builders) and many militarists, politicians and economists who's names will have largely slipped from public consciousness. The whole endeavour lasted seven years.
Grizedale Arts will continue to use this format until it breaks.
WHAT IS GRIZEDALE ARTS?
A residency organisation based on a farm in the centre of the Lake District. It tries to develop the way art thinking and art practice impact on society, through projects exhibitions and events developed through an extended community of artists and creative people associated with it.
What might be annoying
We are filming the dinner and making short films of each of the six speeches that can be downloaded from Grizedale's website, these speeches will be used to explain and support aspects of the Grizedale programme and we will be encouraging schools and colleges to use them as propaganda in their own education process.
The point of this dinner is to provoke action. We all talk too much about what we feel and think - who cares - just bloody get on with it.
The evening will be punctuated by interruptions, starts and stops, for the filming and audio recording, the performance will be dominated and controlled by the gathering of material for dissemination: this is part of the point.
There will be 24 invited diners at an elaborately dressed dinner table partaking of five courses of soup. The audience will sit around, cabaret/"Later with Jools Holland' style, with soup and bread and drink.
SCHEDULE (WHICH MIGHT ALSO BE ANNOYING)
Each of the speakers will give a 10 minute presentation at the head of the table. Subjects will centre on visions for ways of living. Between each speaker there will be a musical interlude provided by a Rock Orchestra (a 19th century slate harmonium) and a barbershop quartet - both tributes to John Ruskin's musical taste.
The Rock Orchestra will play the instrumental bridge from James Brown's early 60's stage show between the speeches and finish with a composition by the musicians.
The Barber Shop group will sing from the Polecat, a series of songs known to all Barber Shoppers of all races, creeds and colours - hence a common language that can be dropped into at the drop of a hat.
Writer, individualist and pike fishing hedonist Simon Crump will write a critical text about the evening, available on the blog shortly after the event. He likes to be provocative and doesn't take kindly to criticism. Try not to sit next to him.
Cristina Cerulli - School of Architecture, Sheffield University
John Atkinson - Cumbrian hill farmer and commons campaigner
John Byrne - Head of Fine Art at Liverpool School of Art, John Moores University
Alexandre Singh - New York based artist
Inderjit Bhogal - Methodist minister and CEO of the Yorkshire and Humber Faiths Forum
John Ruskin - Polymath with a dodgy reputation (played by an actor)
The Musical Stones of Skiddaw is a very large tuned percussion instrument made of a type of rare hornfels rock found near Skiddaw in Cumbria, England. Constructed between 1827 and 1840, the instrument was played all over Britain including Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria in 1848 and generated a fortune for the family that built and played it. The instrument has been housed at the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery in Cumbria from 1917 to the present day. Ruskin had his own stone xylophone made, now housed in the Ruskin Museum, Coniston.
Jamie Barnes works as a freelance Curator, artist and musician. Jamie was the Curator of Keswick Museum and Art Gallery between 2004 and 2009. In this time he helped Grizedale Arts in the revival of playing the Musical Stones and has continued to perform concerts throughout the country.
Gavin Bradshaw is a composer and musician. The majority of his output is made through his alias QXTC, and is predominantly electronic sequenced and synthesized music.
Chris Stones (no really)
Musician and coordinator of SoundWaves music programme. Chris was inspired to work with the stones by his interest in the Indonesian Gamelan tradition.
The musicians will be dressed - by their own volition - as your old school Geography teacher.
Barber Shop is a revival movement established in the 1930's to save the rapidly disappearing Minstrel Music - a black phenomena centred on the church - as it transformed into the much harsher and emotional black gospel style. Barber shop is a white American phenomena that revels in the accappella chord and is itself the base for white gospel quartet singing.
Ruskin is reported to have particularly enjoyed the touring Minstrel shows (the Georgia Minstrels amongst others toured England) performing the standards at home. Yes he was in effect a gangster rapper, eschewing the high-minded for the popular.
Bandwagon Barbershop Quartet - Bob, Andrew, Jim and Glenn, formed in April 2009 and as well as competing in the national quartet championships, provide entertainment in the form of close harmony singing in the barbershop style, through shows, at weddings and other private gatherings and at public events. All four singers also pursue their love of the genre through membership of and active involvement in the Sheffield Barbershop Harmony Club and its six times national championship winning chorus 'Hallmark of Harmony'. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bandwagon-Barbershop-Quartet/131752356536
T 0114 2630945 and Mob 07899 808479
Each of the speakers has a set of bowls and flatware made by contemporary crafts people working in Sheffield - all based at Persistence Works.
Contact - Persistence Works, 21 Brown Street, Sheffield S1 2BS
Ruskin saw Sheffield as being like Rome (with its seven hills), he was also keen on the idea that it was a hot bed of old-school craft skills - i.e. medieval - hence the collection for the Working Man, now housed in the Millennium Galleries as "The Ruskin Collection".
Stefan Tooke, (silversmith) - soup spoons and ladles.
Stefan has a passion for food and focuses his work around the theme of dining; he is particularly interested in spoons. The work references labour and craftsmanship by retaining the making marks. Each of the spoons has a specific eating function as well as fitting the contours of the hand.
Charlotte Tollyfield, (silversmith) - hand spun bowls.
Charlotte's work focuses on the process of forming; destroying and re-creating three-dimensionally shaped vessels.
Hanne Westergaard, (ceramicist) - Porcelain bowls
Hanne will be creating a set of ceramic bowls that will incorporate the influence of Rockingham Porcelain- a 19th century high-end manufacturer of porcelain based in Rotherham between 1826 and 1842. Hanne will incorporate the decorative style of Rockingham into the Danish Modernist aesthetic that informs her work.
Emilie Taylor, (ceramicist) - slip and scraffitto decorated bowls
Referencing the Arts and Crafts period consistently featured in her work, overlaid scraffitto drawings depict scenes from the 'Soup Summit' of 2008. The end of a three year period of wrangling between Westminster Council, the Church and London Voluntary Sector Organistaions as Westminster Council tried to amend byelaws that would mean soup runs would be illegal. The Soup Summit met at Tate Britain in 2008.
Penny Withers, (ceramicist) - Thrown ceramic wood fired bowls
The work references The Arts and Crafts in the making processes and the pattern used to decorate the bowls, overlaid with Penny's fluid style.
The rest of the diners will be using ceramics designed by the Marquis of Queensbury and Jessie Tate for Midwinter with further crockery by Kathie Winkle for Broadhurst.
Queensbury was a descendant of 'Bosie', Oscar Wilde's lover. Oscar Wilde claimed to be a member of Ruskin's Road builders, 'The Diggers', several of whom were members of the Coefficients Dining Club.
The audience will use and enjoy the complexity of Ryan Gander's 'Love Cups'; a rustic Japanese interpretation of Josef and Anni Albers' Bauhaus glass, silver and ebony 'Lover's Teaglass', itself based on the designs of Christopher Dresser for James Dixon and Sons, which in turn were copies of Japanese sake vessels collected on Dresser's 1876 tour of Japan. See what he's done there? But why?
Bread knives, butter knives and table tea lights made by the students of the Freeman College, Ruskin Mill Charitable Trust
'Shape' by Gerald Benney for Viners of Sheffield
Benney trained under Dunstan Pruden - of the Eric Gill Ditchling utopian Arts and Crafts community (Gill being a Ruskin disciple). He worked as a designer for Viners throughout the 60's, creating commercially successful designs of which the 'Studio' range of cutlery is the most famous, utilising his trademark 'Benney Bark Finish', now an industry standard.
Benney's legacy lives on under the unfortunately-named brand 'Benney' (Crossroads, ABBA, Hill, Jets,)
Roadside flowers - 'there is as much beauty in the planarium worm as in the neck of a swan'
Projected as a background/context for the event
Our Daily Bread - Nikolaus Geyrhalter - 92 minutes (no dialogue)
"It's not the easiest film to digest-but it's intensely important, and impossible to look away from or forget." -Andy Aaron, Very Short List
A true vision of utopia, a brave new world reality where it is the animals and plants that have been automated. The occasional visceral moments act as reminders of humanity - having a religious feel akin to the martyrdom images of the Catholic Church. People will look back on this film and wonder at the intimate nature of the relationship between people and animals it portrays.
This is the reality of what we all depend on to survive whether we eat it or not, the genius of man's supremacy over nature, in many ways a thing of great sophistication and beauty. What many have in the past strived for, buying us the time to develop so much and do so little with it.
Soup is the basic staple of any rural community and an 'al deskco' staple, John Ruskin in his blog Flors Clavigera (which means, roughly, a jolly good clubbing) repeatedly promised the ultimate soup recipe, one that would afford all a good healthy diet. He never delivered it.
A meal of five courses in five soups (entirely vegetarian) will be served to the 24 invited diners. The audience will be served Soup of Theseus from a soup kitchen, with bread and drink.
Here we will offer five possibilities on what he might have had in mind:
Gaspacho - cold tomatoes, garlic and wet bread - maybe not exactly what Ruskin was thinking.
Toge Soup - a mixed vegetable soup from the village of Toge in Northern Japan. Eaten three times a day by the rice farmers of the village and unique to their village - seaweed is the stock base.
The Soup of Theseus - Ministrone/Fassoulada - the most famous of farm soups, probably close to what Ruskin had in mind, Ruskin's reference was to the soup that Theseus prepared for Hercules before his labours.
Stilton and cauliflower - some hideous 80's invention still popular in Edinburgh and Bristol.
Ile Flottante - sweet soup with the floating island of Jonathan Swift's Lauputa in the middle, a satirical observation on an effective form of state control - sit that state on my face, calm me down a bit.
Bread hand made by the students of the Freeman College, Ruskin Mill Charitable Trust
There are a lot of men involved in this event - there does seem to be a gender disparity in the urge to create systems for living, the gender with the least experience of the actual systems taking the lead. Could be a clue in there somewhere?
Graphics by Karen Guthrie
Filmed by Maria Zeb Benjamin
Technical management and web by Dorian Moore
Edited by Alistair Hudson - the arbiter of the reasonable
Concept by Grizedale Arts Commune
Detail by Adam Sutherland
Helpers: Lucy Livingstone and Ed Bailey
Cooks, servers and cleaners - all the above
Thanks to Richard Greer, The Millennium Galleries Sheffield, John Moores University and Media Arts Northwest for supporting the event.
This is a Media Arts Northwest Action Research Project
To comment, criticise, commend or discus use the blog on http://www.grizedale.org
1. Ruskin's Roadbuilders
In 1874 Ruskin proposed to a select group of Oxford undergraduates that they endeavour to build a flower bordered road between South and North Hinksey - to assist the two communities. The group we lampooned in the press and on campus, being nicknamed the 'Diggers'. Notable members of this group included, Arnold Toynbee (social reformer), Hardewick Rawnsley (co-founder of the National Trust - lifelong Ruskin interpreter), Alfred Milner (economist and member of the Coefficents) William Powell (Whitefriars glassworks and model village) and Oscar Wilde (a lifelong Ruskin fan - but possibly just for the day). The road was not completed as the work was interrupted by the holidays, the villages of North and South Hinksey remain unconnected but an allegory exists.
2. Oscar Wilde's possibly rather embroidered version
We were coming down the street-a troop of young men, some of them like myself only nineteen, going to river or tennis-court or cricket-field-when Ruskin going up to lecture in cap and gown met us. He seemed troubled and prayed us to go back with him to his lecture, which a few of us did, and there he spoke to us not on art this time but on life, saying that it seemed to him to be wrong that all the best physique and strength of the young men in England should be spent aimlessly on cricket ground or river, without any result at all except that if one rowed well one got a pewter-pot, and if one made a good score, a cane-handled bat. He thought, he said, that we should be working at something that would do good to other people, at something by which we might show that in all labour there was something noble. Well, we were a good deal moved, and said we would do anything he wished. So he went out round Oxford and found two villages, Upper and Lower Hinksey, and between them there lay a great swamp, so that the villagers could not pass from one to the other without many miles of a round. And when we came back in winter he asked us to help him to make a road across this morass for these village people to use. So out we went, day after day, and learned how to lay levels and to break stones, and to wheel barrows along a plank-a very difficult thing to do. And Ruskin worked with us in the mist and rain and mud of an Oxford winter, and our friends and our enemies came out and mocked us from the bank. We did not mind it much then, and we did not mind it afterwards at all, but worked away for two months at our road. And what became of the road? Well, like a bad lecture it ended abruptly-in the middle of the swamp. Ruskin going away to Venice, when we came back for the next term there was no leader, and the 'diggers', as they called us, fell asunder.
3. Ruskin takes the piss out of those that worship the 'Goddess of Getting-on':
Your ideal of human life then is, I think, that it should be passed in a pleasant undulating world, with iron and coal everywhere under it. On each pleasant bank of this world is to be a beautiful mansion, with two wings; and stables, and coach-houses; a moderately-sized park; a large garden and hot-houses; and pleasant carriage drives through the shrubberies. In this mansion are to live the favoured votaries of the Goddess; the English gentleman, with his gracious wife, and his beautiful family; he always able to have the boudoir and the jewels for the wife, and the beautiful ball dresses for the daughters, and hunters for the sons, and a shooting in the Highlands for himself. At the bottom of the bank, is to be the mill; not less than a quarter of a mile long, with one steam engine at each end, and two in the middle, and a chimney three hundred feet high. In this mill are to be in constant employment from eight hundred to a thousand workers, who never drink, never strike, always go to church on Sunday, and always express themselves in respectful language.
"All movements go too far."
blog ends here
Maria opened a face book page for us, after years of resisting, finding it a bit unnerving for some reason,the visibility of all the connections is a bit scary, too much information, one's whole past at the finger tips. I know everyone else is totally used to it all.
I am talking at this event next week, all about crafts and the re visiting of the political ambitions of crafts, at least I think thats the gist of it, doing the coefficients dinner in the evening just to make it a bit more full on.
As I seem to have spent most of 2010 buried in a laptop writing funding applications, proposals, pontificating and prose (oh and galavanting off to summery Brazil), all that Ruskin talk made me make some time for garden time today. Not quite green gym, but at least sewn three trays of Pak Choi, Guy Lan and Choi Sum, all courtesy of the Manchester Chinese Allotment Ladies via the Mother in Law. If those babies take we're in for some sweet mother veg this year. Oh Christ, look I'm at the laptop again.
Edward Bailey, Lucy Livingstone and Lucy MacDonald have started work on the internship programme. Lucy L and Ed have been focused on working outside getting the garden underway, with Lucy working on the honesty stall grappling with the vaguries of voluntary payments. She has made lots of cakes, on one day people left money for them on another not!
Lucy MacDonald will be working on the collection so expect to see lots more entries on the Lawson Park collection site shortly.
We will shortly be announcing the residencies and commissions, its been taking a while to get everything in place.
After a lot of recommendations I have just finished the seminal 'natural farming' text 'One Straw Revolution' by Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukoaka, who for some 50 years pioneered a form of 'hands-off' cultivation on his mountain site which gave yields equal to conventional intensive rice-paddy techniques. In a nutshell, this was achieved by allowing 'weeds' and beneficial green manures to colonise all space between rice or grain plants, and by mulching all harvested fields immediately with the straw of the harvested plants before sowing the follow-up crop. He also advocates growing vegetables in semi-wild mixed areas, allowing self-seeding. He apparently transformed his arid mountain soil over a decade of this cycle. This approach is embedded (as he explains in the book) within a holistic lifestyle of respect for natural cycles, foraging for wild foods, eating according to season.
Having spent time in the mountainous farming village of Toge in north west Japan, I can vouch for the intensive rice-farming still practiced by diminishing numbers of elderly Japanese farmers. As I was there mid-summer, I didn't witness the busiest times but it was clear how hard it was to maintain these vertiginous paddies and to produce the prized rice. The endeavour of food production brought the whole community together year-round, and it was an intensely moving experience to live amongst them and feel this intimate connection with land even for a short time.
I haven't yet looked into how Fukoaka's evident success was disseminated amongst the Japanese farming community, but in his book he cites many clashes with chemical companies and government agencies. It would be depressing reading if it were not for his moving accounts of the satisfaction he gained from his simple relationship with his land.
With memories of the Toge villagers' excitement at spring's earliest murmers, and thinking of Fukoaka's belief in the spirituality of foraging on one's own patch, instead of disposing of the many Arctium Lappa (burdock) seedlings coming up in our fruit cage, I carefully pulled them out. These have now been boiled lightly and pickled in a mix of mirin, soy sauce and rice vinegar.
Now onto working out a way to translate his agricultural techniques to the northern European climate of Lawson Park....
Chicken arrivals - blog entry by popular demand
6 Chickens arrived from Barrow - coughing slightly from their car journey in with Julie - a kind donation from a friend of Julie's, (the chickens not the cough)
Apart from escaping almost immediately from the pen, (where they are kept for their own protection - principally from walker's dogs), they have settled in and started laying immediately. Ed built up the fence to Colditz standards, (he has been reading the 'One The Got Away' - an account of Grizedale's history as a prisoner of war camp) and I have cut their wing feathers off with a pair of rusty sissors.
The chicken types are as far as I can make out
1 Ameraucana (lays blue eggs, Chilean cross-breed)
3 Maran (the 70s dream Chicken, dark brown eggs to go with the dark brown bread and everything else)
2 Australorp (Orpington Austalian cross, light brown eggs and lots of them)
Karen has suggest calling them after female gospel singers, so - Albertina, Shirley, Clara, Cassietta, Inez, Dorothy, Loleatta, Bessie, Doris, Delores - they do all seem to be rather chickeny names - any preferences? Could simplify matters by grouping them, also under Gospel names, so the 3 Jones Sisters, The Consolers, Gloria Spencer (who worked with the by line the worlds largest gospel singer).
Listen to this for a slightly odd rap about being big and the problems of getting buried.
After the first meeting of 'The Autonomy Project' at the Van Abbe Museu in Eindhoven (www.vanabbemuseum.nl/en), I caught up with Van Abbe Director, Manchester City supporter (and all round good egg) Charels Eshe and asked him for some thoughts on Big JR. Being from Manchester (or a 'Manc' as we call those of the Manchester persuasion here in the UK - Alistair Hudson is one too) Charles' first memories of Ruskin were associated with his influence on 'News from Nowhere' and other 19th Century radical free press. It is also interesting that Charles also saw some parallels between Ruskin's struggle with the aesthetics/ethics question and the difficulties of making a meaningful socially engaged practice in today's neo-liberal economy. Charels also has some very interesting things to say on the show he would work on with Ruskin - should the big man himself come back to work with us today.
Thanks to the heroic endevours of our new land intern Ed Bailey we have finally got around to preparing the unlikely looking bit of land at the top of our SW-facing meadow, which will become a small orchard next year...Inspired by planting a wall of fruit at Abbey Gardens in London a few weeks ago, and by thinking 'If we'd planted an orchard when we first moved in here we'd be eating apples by now!'
The site will be a challenging one -200m above sea level, and rather exposed if sunny, so I'll also plant a surrounding hedge inside the dear-dissuading stock fencing - probably hawthorn as it's so twiggy and in leaf so early too. Much as I fancy shaped espaliers and fans they'd be decidely out of place up here and - more seriously - I know that with the emphasis on labour-saving we are best to choose the standard tree shape, below which -in the future - animals can graze and people can picnic.
Being organic, our ground prep (the meadow was cropped a few months ago by some hungry Exmoor ponies and is usually maintained for wildflower interest) consists of rotivating (now) the hedge-line and a 1m square for each tree (they should eventually reach circa 3m in height each) about 3.5m apart. We'll then spread a thick layer of well-rotted cow manure on this newly exposed soil, then cover with a light-excluding mulch of carpet or plastic, and let nature do the rest for the next 8 or 9 months. Then next winter I'll have a fork about under the mulch and we should see a decent if thin top soil level to plant into in Feb / March time.
I now have the delectable task of trawling through books and websites to choose the toughest apples I can find - I've decided to create the United Appledom of Grizedale by choosing 6 varieties each from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland - and by all accounts for the rare ones you need to get your orders for next winter in now. I'll be looking for early ripening varieties, and ones from the wetter parts of those countries. Any variety recommendations welcome!
Today's blog entry is a video diary as I sit in an Eindhoven Hotel waiting for a meeting at the Van Abbe Museum (www.vanabbemuseum.nl/en) about the coming launch of 'The Autonomy Project' which I've been working on for nearly two years with Charles Esche, Annie Fletcher, Steven Ten Thije and Clare Butcher.
I've been thinking a lot about what Alistair has been saying in this Sao Paulo blog entries about the difficulty of meaningfully engaging as an artists without collapsing innovative work back into the pre-requisite formulae of international Biennial Land (or Airport Art as I call it). It's a tough one and no doubt!
But it also strikes me that any questions over the possibility of autonomy today are no longer circumscribed by bankrupt Modernist debates about 'self-referentiality', or 'art for art's sake. Nor can they be sustained in the aftermath of an equally bankrupt postmodernism without some radical re-negotiation. What does remain is the question of how to be an artist, thinker, writer, curator, teacher or whatever meaningfully? How to develop a practice within the existing globalized neo-liberal economy that can still function in an oppositional sense? How to negotiate new perspectives on better ways of living? All of these seem questions that were (and still are) rooted in the problematic of John Ruskin's complex relationship between art, aesthetics and ethics?
I recently caught up with Alistair Hudson in Manchester after we'd given a presentation on 'Creative Partnerships' at Manchester Museum. In a state of some despair, brought on mainly by experiencing an update on the turf wars in UK Arts and Education Funding (which seem to be increasingly blighting the possibility of cultural experiment) Alistair took us to his family's favourite Chinese Restaurant. After eating the hottest food I have ever had in my life - a really funky Szechwan Black Pudding and various forms of Offal Soup - debate turned, as always to Big JR. Alistair went on to elucidate on the complex relationship between Grizedale and Ruskin, between Grizedale and the world and the possibility of Ruskin Returning as a Cultural Hoody stalking the self-satisfied debates over art, ethics and social engagement (Oh, and the X Factor too).
Grizedale regular Wapke Feenstra (www.wapke.nl) reads out her favorite Ruskin quotation from 'The Lamp of Beauty: Writings on Art'. According to Wapke, Ruskin reads the paintings he is talking about from a peculiarly British viewpoint and, in doing so, completely misses their point (form a Dutch perspective of course). Was this just another case of a Victorian Englander attempting to apply his world view to everything? - no change there then I hear you say!
However, whilst I was listening to Wapke read her quote (and it is her favorite Big John quote) there does seem to be a sweeping confidence in Ruskin's assertions - kinda hard not side with him on some levels. He talks of the Landscape containing a human element that can't be denied - and that would weaken art by its absence. I can't help beginning to thinking of him as some kind of Victorian moralist crossed with Simon Cowell, an ethical critic running his informed but detached eye over the runners and riders in the new business of art. In view of Alistair's recent adventures in Sao Paulo, there seems a crucial importance here. How could one even begin to conceive of a contemporary global landscape without the immediate necessity to confront the ethical as well as the aesthetic? Despite all this, It's hard not to agree with Wapke's conclusions though....
In the evening we go to see the boxer Jesus Carlos. Jesus Carlos runs a gym, boxing school and library under a flyover. He too has a mission. In Sao Paulo the spaces under the numerous concrete flyovers are a honey pot of vice, drugs and violence. Jesus Carlos has taken on the task himself of changing the society that surrounds him by establishing open air gymnasia where once there was pile of trash - in every sense.
He wants to get the wasted souls off the streets and through physical exercise and education, turn the drug addicts and gang members into citizens of healthy mind and body. Jesus prides himself on the fact that he has done this himself, without aid from the government, just with good will and determination. He calls his mission Human Recycling.
He has now established two gyms and we go to see the latest first. Sandwiched between two roads, it is transparent and open to the elements on all sides, save for a fence and the roof above provided by the freeway. There is a boxing ring, homemade exercise equipment and punch bags made from gas canisters and fridges and of course the library. This started when the kids started to bring their homework along and grew into a library to expand the minds of all its members.
Opposite the gym is a small park where the drug dealers and prostitutes make their trade. He wants to turn this area into a communal allotment, but this may take some time. Recently one of the dealers came over to kill Carlos for taking away his clients, but he didn't succeed of course; Carlos, with the looks of a Tarrantino star, is hard as nails and doesn't give up.
Whilst we talk to him there is a commotion going on over at the park; flashing lights, police, a child in handcuffs. This is the first meeting I've had in the middle of a drugs bust.
Afterwards we go to the first Gym, which is much bigger, under a bigger fly-over. It is now dark and cinematic in the sodium glow of the lighting. At the entrance, a a gap in the chain link fence, there is a reception desk made from junk furniture. The whole thing is like ghetto Edward Acland, nothing wasted and piles of spare, saved materials stacked up in neat piles. Here there are two boxing rings, extensive gym (with gas bottles and rocks for weights) a skate park, another library with lounge area and even a few tents for the eager. Now, evening the place is busy, maybe 50 or more people working out, reading, watching TV or doing spectacular stunts on BMX on the skate ramps. It looks like it's doing it's job.
Calos wants to go on. He wants a gym and library under every flyover in Brazil. He wants it to become a free university for the underclass. That's a long way off, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happened.
The parallels with the Mechanics Institute (both here and at UNAS) are direct and startling, inspirational. But the real question is how we work with all this stuff. What do we make for the Bienal that doesn't just fall into the trap of Bienality and just pointing at all this stuff, like the first colonists drawing and measuring every plant and animal and native they clapped their eyes on.
Jesus Carlos is already well known - even the AA are coming to see him for a summer school fro crying out loud.
If you are reasonably comfortable in Brazil you go to private school, if not you go to the state schools, which by all accounts are a lost cause - or you will be if you go to one.
Around town you can spot the private school kids - all white in freshly pressed coloured t-shirt and shorts, in an orderly line in a park, museum or cultural centre. The rest are hanging out, playing football in the street or at least not so visible.
The school in Heliopolis is the culmination of the self helping, self organising spirit that pervades the shanty town. The head is relaxed and casual but a man on a mission. In 1999 a 16 year old girl pupil was murdered on her way home, shot five times. He tells how, on his way out of the morgue, he decided that things had to change, that the school should take responsibility and take a leadership role in the community. In effect that that the moral reconstruction of the favella should start with the children and they in turn would lead Heliopolis in a new direction.
The first statement back then was to hold a Peace March through the streets, to lay down their intent. This now happens every year, but it is in the day to teaching that the work is really done.
We are taken on a tour of the school which now has an attached cultural and science centre - a communal place for the development of the mechanical arts - science, art, theatre and so on. In the main classroom there are over 100 children, a giant of a class. But they are seated in clusters of six each around a table and serviced by about 4 or so teachers. The tables break off into smaller rooms to work on a project and then come back to the main class to feed back and teach the others what they have learned. In this Q & A the children are sharp and witty, but also quiet and all well behaved. It is impressive to see a school working well, not just as a place of education, but also as a social model.
We have lunch at the Heliopolis branch of MacDonalds. A scratch built version of the burger chain that was recently threatened with legal action by McD's - obviously a serious threat to the food giant.
But I can see why, as it's actually really good. I have a prime steak sandwhich with salad and a freshly pressed tropical fruit drink, more than my five a day.
NB there are no fat people in Sao Paulo.
Another facet of the UNAS project is a kind of school house for children out of school that prioritises kids from difficult backgrounds, abusive or violent homes or learning difficulties. This schoolhouse/poorhouse works to equip the children of Heliopolis with the skills to operate in society and instill an ethical framework in the community.
One example we are shown is a project for the children to create and design machines that make for better living in the favella, such as litter collecting machines. This project is heavily sponsored by Lego. If you were of a cynical bent you would think this is part of an extensive global marketing strategy, but I'd like to believe that there is an interesting reworking of Victorian industrial altruism at play here.
In a Q and A session with the children it is clear what the real value of Britsh Culture is, when the first question is "Do you know Beckham".
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