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On Monday we took delivery of this fine
Rietdale Chair made by Harvey
Wilkinson, former curator at Blackwell. The chair is a hybrid
of the 1917 Red and Blue Chair by Gerrit Rietveld
and the Eskdale school of woodcarving, produced by itinerant
craftsmen in the valley of Eskdale in the English Lake District
around the same time. The Eskdale woodcarvers were never
recognised as a movement or driving force in arts and crafts , yet
their extraordinary designs in carved oak offer a proto-modernist
version of design evolved in this remote valley, like some lost
Harvey has not created this piece as an art joke, but as a genuine improvement on what he sees as a slightly clunky attempt at a chair. The frame is built in beech, the arms in oak and the seat and back in ply. The edition of ball and ring turning to the legs is conceived to give the whole thing 'lift' in the traditional manner. Further models with material variations are to be developed and it is surprisingly comfortable.
We celebrated Harvest Festival twice this year. The first was in collaboration with St. Andrew's church in Coniston where we received huge donations of locally grown produce. About ten or twelve volunteers came throughout the day to help with the preparation and cooking of a celebration dinner and ready meals. Thirty people came to the dinner and we made more than 120 packaged meals which were delivered to some of the elderly residents in the village. The second Harvest Festival was at Wysing Arts the following week. Wysing's base is a converted farm in Cambridgeshire and although the land is used for sculpture now and not food production, they still have some very productive fruit trees. However, we decided not to do an entirely fruit-based dinner and so managed to get a few things grown locally (onions and cabbage) before hitting the supermarket (where there was an excellent deal on squid). The Harvest Festival at Wysing consisted of a day of talks and films followed by a supper for the artists, staff, volunteers and visitors. The talks were mainly food related, including Erik Sjodin's research into the fast growing Azolla pond plant as a nutritious food source and Will Clifford's talk on the Miracle Tree (Moringa Oleifera) and it's nutritional and medical properties. Kathrin Bohm presented a project in Berlin with myvillages.org about approaches to sustainable food production and also made us a huge batch of sauerkraut (which we had to take back to Lawson Park and is still fermenting in buckets in the cold store).
I had high hopes this year for my trial of new-to-us Eastern European tomoto varieties. Down at our allotment at Monk Coniston Walled Garden we are trying 'Koralik' outside - watch this space for report - but up at Lawson Park's polytunnel this year we grew 'Father Frost' and the trusty yellow cherry tomato, 'Sungold'.
These pictures tell you all you need to know, and from past experience we will be picking Sungold right up to Christmas time. 'Father Frost' - like other Eastern European variteties - promised hardiness and vigour which I hoped would match our very tomato-unfriendly climate. At first it indeed grew very well and produced many offshoots which one is advised not to pinch out - in other words instead of the traditional cordon you got a rather unwieldy but promising bush. The problem was that by the time of ripening in August, the close foliage was getting mildewy and shading the fruits, and in addition fruit was rather haphazardly shaped and distributed. Eventually a meagre harvest was gleaned of dull-flavoured fruit.
Take in contrast the elegant 'Sungold' - a far sparser plant, almost straggly after its late January sowing. Both varities were deep-plated out in late May with the first 15cm of their stems buried in the enriched soil. Removing side shoots keeps the plant in shape and allows air and light to the fruits, which up here don't even think about ripening till very late August. But boy are they worth the wait.
I'm reminded that of course 'Sungold' has the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) and more the fool me for not choosing other varieties that share this most trustworthy of endorsements - note to self, to refer to the list of all AGM tomatoes before browsing next year's seed catalogues....
For the past year the volunteer group (The Boon Day Group as we have been named) has worked hard to get Coniston Institute back into shape. Having raised more than £10,000 (with grants from Coniston 14 and the Rawdon Smith Trust), work began today stripping out the old kitchen. It was a vintage English Rose kitchen but fits of territorial behaviour resulted in padlocks being bolted to the fronts of many of the lovely aluminium cupboards, not realising that they were a British design classic! The company that made them, Constant Speed Airscrews originally made nose cones for Spitfires and parts for Lancaster bombers throughout WW2, but after the war, being left with a large workforce and a stockpile of aircraft grade aluminium, the company went on to design the English Rose Kitchen. This was quite possibly the first ‘modular’ kitchen range in Europe. We did managed to sell the units on ebay but only for about 5% of what a reconditioned one would cost. Never mind!
2009 Greasy Pole Champion Adam Kane reclaimed his title this weekend at the 2011 Crab Fair and Sports, Egremont. In torrential conditions the Pole proved nigh on impossible, but with perseverance the competitors gradually dried the pole as they gained height with each effort. An engrossing three way dual ensued between the pack leaders Lehn and Moorfoot, with Master Kane ultimately claiming the shortest ribbon and his prize of £5.00 cash and a leg of lamb sponsored by Wilsons Butchers of Egremont. That's Wilsons Butchers of Egremont.
The organisers would like assert that Adam Kane is no relation to Alan Kane (nor Jeremy Deller) the artists responsible for bringing the Greasy Pole back into operation as a seminal public sculpture of the Discursive Age and dangerous sporting apparatus.
Greasy Pole Results:
1st Prize: Adam Kane
2nd Prize: Sarah Lehn
3rd Prize: Josh Moorfoot
A Hudson GA Sports Correspondent
There are only so many jars of traditional British pickle you can consume in a year, and my annual pickling has in recent harvests expanded to include a number of Asian varieties. This recipe book, The Perfect Pickle is a well thumbed and stained inspiration, as was our visit to Japan in 2006. One of the most magical Japanese pickles I tasted, and sadly the nost hopeless to replicate at home, was one made with rice wine lees (the stuff leftover from saki brewing) - an unforgettable, ancient flavour with all the complexity and more besides of any European fermented food. At Lawson Park we regularly make kimchi (a fiery and restorative Korean short-term pickle) for which use the legendary Madhur Jaffrey's recipe, and my nuka box (a paste of fermented rice bran into which vegetables are buried) is now in its third year, having even had to travel to Germany to help cater a Myvillages seminar.
Just now, we have a great many vegetables still in the ground that are fast deteriorating in the stormy weather. Purple shiso is a stunning-looking plant most often grown here in the UK in bedding schemes. We grow it in the polytunnel (as well as the green variety) and now is the time to harvest the large fragrant leaves for winter use. This year I'm again simply layering them flat in a glass jar with miso paste, using a flat knife as if I'm buttering a whole load of sandwiches. It'll last the whole winter, and the mix makes all sorts of delicious soup bases and dressings.
One of our volunteers Michael Davies who was with us for 3 months left us with a very interesting and well written blog entry for our website about his time at Lawson Park.
When I came to Grizedale, being a working class boy from suburban Glasgow, I couldn't have been farther from home, in these rural Lake District surroundings of the staggeringly beautiful and impeccable Lawson Park. Thankfully I was met with a genuine acceptance and quiet assistance by the residents, the degree of which has surprised me somewhat.
I came here without particular proclivity for, well, anything useful. Fresh from art school, your eyes can still be a little dewy - because art schools aren't really schools are they? And what you learn in them can so easily, and often, amount to nothing at all. In fact it seems an absurd misuse of the word art, or artist, if one thinks it can be proscribed or created through a meagre three - four years in a non-school. What they do achieve though, in general, through provision of their nurturing time, space, framework, is capacity for critical outlook and thought, which is a powerful, vastly under valued skill, and quite ominously rare. But this capacity must be applied with rigour and insight to far more than just insular gallery exhibits.
I see Lawson Park as a yardstick, a benchmark, a tan line, err... it's like white bed linen that shows up all the dirt, hair and nasty bits that we all leave behind and makes them so obvious that we really can't ignore them any longer, in fact they become to clear that we can examine them in comfort and wonder at how they came to be, and perhaps devise ways of not getting so dirty in the future. The shit streaks and sweat patches that as a society we've grown so used to hiding under dark colours and deodorant that only once you see them you realise how easily they can be washed away. Perhaps I’m being a little think with simile, but simply put, they have a good life here, and eminently worth striving for. There are so many things that are lost to habituation of city life and work - most significantly the manual work of making or growing - which has dislocated so many lives with the reality of our existence. This disjunction grows greater by the day, observable through the sense of suspicion and uncertainty on the part of the ‘offcomer’ people from cities, at anything that is not qualified by the framing mechanics of consumer packaging, sell-by-dates and GDAs - an odd reversal of the stereotypical country folk’s distrust of everything technological.
I've spent my three months here a bit like a sponge, quietly absorbing and reticently retaining as much as I could. I've even washed Andy Warhol’s collection of cups, and wiped down surfaces used by some great minds. But alas, my summer not-a-holiday at Grizedale is at an end and now I must go off into the night and squeeze myself of all this juice.
So long, and thanks for all those Sophistocakes (copyright Benjamin, M. Z. 2011)
Experienced gardeners know the quiet satisfaction of doing something at this time of year specifically to look great next year. In fact I'm lookig forward to the next NGS Open Garden Day (Sept 3rd) being over so I can rip into some other jobs that would be too carnage-inducting to attempt before a public viewing.
Like so many, we have fallen for the delights of meadows and pseudo-meadows at Lawson Park. For the last few years we have used Pictorial Meadows seed mixes in some very poor areas in front of the hostel, to magnificent effect (see pic). Until this year. Despite sowing it twice (not cheap) and weeding it very avidly we have an abismal show of mainly weeds and a few corn cockles. Perhaps duff seed, erratic weather, slugs or all of the above.
Partly based on this, and on my observations of how few native annual plants flower in a single season at this altitude / climate, I've decided to try sowing a hardy annual seed mix now (in fact it would have been better a few weeks ago but fingers crossed for a sunny September). The idea is that these seeds germinate and grow to a few inches before holding out the winter and resuming growth in spring. This would be nature's way, of course. Beautiful natives thriving here such as angelica sylvestris and arctium lappa do just this.
The area we hope to transform is the 3m curtiledge of the building on its east side (the Lake side) at the top of our lawn / meadow. A total of about 100 sq metres of mainly gravel, poor but sunny (for here) and well-drained. If our plan works we will have a Disney-esque technicolour band of colour round our grey walls for most of summer 2012. Adam has flame burned it of its worse weeds (again, this in some way mimics nature's rejuvenations) and I followed this with a rough forkover. The species we have chosed to sow were based on the most successful from our Pictorial Meadows experiments, plus I threw in some Phacelia for its insect-attractiveness. I mixed some 200g of phacelia, cornflower, corn cockle and corn marigold from Moles Seeds with coir and a little seed compost to make it handle easier. We have in the past tried to handsow at the recommended 2-3g per sq metre and it's very hard to be mean enough with the seed. I then took the unusual step of brushing the seed / coir vigorously into the gravel to bed it in. I now hope for just the right amount of sun and rain to get these wee seeds ahead before what may be a 3rd apocalypic winter in a row at Lawson Park!
And the pig fodder seed mix is taking off. Our gilt Octavia should be pregnant by now. The boar we borrowed from local Lop breeder Carole Barr (www.pigsandpoultry.co.uk) doesn't seem to be interested in our girl any more, so job done, hopefully. The gestation period is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days, and the piglets weaned around 4 or 5 weeks. This field will be ready for them by then so they will have lots of excellent rooting and nutrition before we sell them on.
During the recent ‘Terminal Convention’ Symposium in Cork, our erstwhile Ruskinite-Reformer and keen Big J R blogger Alistair Hudson began his own presentation by showing David Shrigley’s animation ‘An Important Message About the Arts’. Intended as a useful propaganda tool for yet another UK institution threatened by massive government cuts – in this case the Arts Council UK – Shrigley’s animation used the characters of a farmer and his son to make a case for Art’s economic viability (as a key driver in both the Creative and Tourism/Leisure Industries) and, perhaps more predictably, for Art’s assumed cultural and civilising values. As Alistair pointed out though, the twin towers of economy and truth tend to overlook the question of art’s use-value.
In the light of this, Alistair went on to pose a series of key questions which tend to loosely underpin the Grizedale way - what kind of thing would artist’s do if they decided to make themselves useful? What can artists begin to do as citizens? What would art look like if it wasn’t reduced to monetary imperatives on one hand or the need to ‘inform’ the masses from the dizzying heights of culture on the other? What would happen if artists didn’t necessarily commit to producing luxury consumer goods for London centric art market? In other words, what happens if we began to re-look at the possible use-value of art?
As it turns out, these are also questions that big J R had begun to ask in the latter part of his career – the bit where he moved to asking questions about the morality of aesthetics (and also the bit where people began to think he was barking mad started to ignore him). It seems these questions also drove some of big J R’s thinking behind his support for Mechanics Institutes: as educational centers for the working class, as places where art, science, theatre and music would all combine to provide a rounded education.
These questions of art’s use value, and the role they can play in education, are perhaps more pertinent today than they were in Ruskin’s time. As Universities are now asking students to take up 9K loans per year to cover their Higher Education fees, and as the UK government is proposing ‘employability’ league tables for every HE course in the country (to help prospective students and their parents chose the courses of study most likely to get them a job), it’s maybe time to give this all a little more thought? Being involved in Higher Education myself (running the both the Fine Art and History of Art Degree Programmes at Liverpool School of Art and Design – part of Liverpool John Moores University which, incidentally, can trace its roots back to an Arts and Mechanics Institute that was set up in Liverpool in 1823) I’m really interested in continuing a critical Ruskinian re-invention by beginning to pose two key post-Ruskinian questions myself – Just what kind of job is to be done by artists in today’s increasingly instrumentalised and economically driven society? And, in the light of this, what kind of work does making art become?
So, over the next months I’m proposing to ask these questions, Flip camera in hand, of anybody who is willing to attempt an answer (admittedly this may not be many). I’ll also try to link this to some of the goings on down Coniston Institute way and, of course, attempt to seek some help and guidance from the legacy of Big J R as I go. I also have a feeling that cheese, vegetables and soup may figure prominently in this analysis.
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