Grizedale Arts

The John Ruskin Memorial Blog

Wednesday 21 April '10
(from The John Ruskin Memorial Blog)

The Ashcloud of the 21st Century

An edible tribute to Jim Lambie

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's the....

Re-Coefficients Dining Club

Millennium Galleries Sheffield

Arundel Gate


S1 2PP

St George's Day

Friday 23 April 2010

7.00 - 9.00 pm

Admission £4/£3.60

Booking details: please call the Millenium Galleries Bookings Administrator on 0114 278 2655 or email 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."

John Ruskin

(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 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.


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.


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'.

T 0114 2630945 and Mob 07899 808479


Table settings

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

Other cutlery:

'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



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."

Bertrand Russell

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