harry has penned an article on the arts - the arts are no disposable luxury
getting stuck in christchurch in new zealand longer than planned meant i had time to wander the streets a bit with camera in hand. i really don't do that enough - linger in a place with time on my hands and get lost on the streets. it's such a great way to see a place.
one of the immediate things in christchurch that you see is that it is still very much post earthquake and i'll come back to that in a later post. but the other thing i began to notice was street art. i subsquently discovered that post-quake christchurch has become a hub for street art with various festivals and artists commissioned to paint huge murals.
i began to reflect on the contrast between the more fixed statues in the city and the newer street art. lots of cities have pompous statues - london has plenty! look at this guy john robert godley who was the founder of the canterbury settlement ariving in 1850. i really don't like this statue which is in front of christchurch cathedral! he has a sort of english colonialist swagger about him towering over you. it may be totally unfair and i don't know much about him. but i am not naive about english colonial behaviour either. reading up on him, the canterbury settlement (which is the wider area christchurch is in) was particularly tied up with the church of england and he worked to set up the canterbury association with edward wakefield securing 300 000 acres of land. that involved dealing with the new zealand company. when you read artilces in wikipedia or in encylopedias they are very matter of fact about it all. i am not a historian but i am pretty suspicious about this sort of story - so sure enough a bit of digging and it turns out that the wakefield brothers and the new zealand company were a very shady land grabbing company hustling all sorts of property and land from maori by whatever means legal or illegal or inbetween. they lobbied hard to get the treaty of waitangi dismissed. i'll come back to the treaty in a later post but it is the treaty between maori and the british that gives equal rights to maori and settlers. the new zealand company also hated the missionaries with a vengeance because they advocated for the maori. so even if he was a good guy there were some other shameful things going on.
here's another statue in the road below hagley park - james edward fitzgerald. i read up what i could find on him and to be honest they made him sound a really incredible man. it must have been so challenging to work to build a settlement. but he too worked with the wakefields on the settlement. i was giving him the benefit of the doubt. but then his name cropped up in bible and treaty by keith newman which i was reading which said "when the national assembly first met in 1854 the the colonial office had already agreed that native affairs would be the sole preserve of the governor. premier james edward fitzgerald also used the occasion to to announce his plan to acquire 12 million acres - about forty percent of the north island - for settlement. while some maori would resist, the balance should be acquired." wow! according to this article he was an advocate for maori rights, and for self government for new zealand and wanted maori to take part in government and tried to develop policies to improve relations. but at the same time he was securing as much land for settlement as he could. clearly not straightforward and certainly more swagger in the christchurch landscape.
i got slightly obsessed with street art and have added an album of photos - street art in christchurch. i photographed things that caught my attention rather than everything i saw. but two things immediately grabbed me. the first is that the iconography of street saints inc hcristchurch is so different to the statues. the predominant figure celebrated in the landscape is a woman and by and large those women are indigenous. i love the mural above for example. this is whero o te rangi bailey painted by kevin ledo. she was a local elder who the artist painted from a photograph. she was a teacher, counsellor, and "a humble woman who radiated a peaceful and loving energy which was felt by all" according to her daughter.
here is another. it is painted by erika pearce and is of harlem-croz atarangi ihaia. this brings me on to the second thing i noticed - birds. the bird in this picture is the huia which is extinct - sadly the only place i saw one was in canterbury museum stuffed. in this image the woman is wearing kawakawa leaves which would be worn in mourning so it's an image that speaks of sadness and loss. othe birds that feature are largely indigenous birds - the tui, bellbird and kiwi for example.
there were others too such as this image kaitaki by fin dac with an owl and kingfisher - i'd love to read the iconography of that image if someone has any ideas. i have read up that it is about protection and a warning but the image is so interesting. what do the birds represent? the feathers? the eye mask? the kiwi is obviously a national icon but it seemed to me that the birds in so many murals both mourn something that has been lost and express a longing for something too. the loss is real - through settlement the population of birds has been decimated both through the felling of forests but also through the introduction of predators as this mural bunnies vs birds articulates. it's also a loss of deeper and wider things i suspect. but i wonder if they also represent a deep longing, a longing for a recovery of something, to be at home in the land in an environment where the indigenous bird and people are free to be at home. perhaps the longing is not just for recovery but for a new future?
there is a new mural that went up this year on welles street which is really bright and zingy. i didn't photograph the whole thing but you can see an image of the full mural here. it is called cassandra's dream and painted by yoobee design students caitlin booth, sarah dickie, caleb harris, victoria marshall, kayla salt, and phillipa suckling. it is very celebratory and includes all sorts of aspects of christchurch life - creativity, innovation, nature, food, design, dancing, heritage. cassandra in greek mythology uttered true prophecies that no one believed. i can't believe the name is a coincidence or random though i couldn't find anything about it online (cassandra's dream is also the name of a woody allen film). here is a vision that a new christchurch, a new new zealand is possible but will anyone believe it could be so?!
at cms pioneer training we have a day each year where we explore a particular theme in pioneering mission. these conversations days have been really wonderful and have led to books like the pioneer gift or future present. this year's theme is art and mission. if you know me you will know i love both those things! there is a day in both the south and the north - oxford and penrith respectively. i am currently sat in penrith so have been talking about that one and it sounds great - ends up with a gallery space with wine and nibbles after a day of workshops and exploration. the oxford one also looks amazing with a whole range of contributors including davd benjamin blower, lou baker, iain cotton... info on who is taking part in the oxford one is in this blog post from sarah clarke who will be framing the day at both.
tickets for the penrith one are here
tickets for the oxford one are here
[the photo above is loubakerartist who is leading one of the oxford workshops and setting up an installation]
i really loved the 24/7 exhibition at somerset house. it's on until 23 feb. inspired by a book by jonathan crary's book of the same name it explores the always on nature of our lives. i found it powerful, challenging and in some ways a bit disturbing. there are a whole range of installations. the photos above are from one that alternates between a relaxing slow moving sleep state projection through several layers of perspex (the top image) and then switches to projecting real time tweets including the word sleep from a part of the world (the second image). it's made by a company in somerset house who interpret data. the tweets made you feel like it's no wonder we struggle to sleep at times! this was simply one among many brilliant pieces. one of may favourites was some alternative design watches which i didn't photograph but they played with time in very different ways. this would be an ideal exhibition for lent but it finishes just before. go if you get the chance...
having plugged harry baker's tour in my last blog post, i am now plugging esther baker's play (my sister). she is the director. turns out the family are on a roll!
esther is directing the special relationship for a month at soho theatre. this is pretty huge! i am not expecting you to come and hang out with me necessarily but jen and i are going on feb 27. the play explores issues of immigration, detention and deportation. i have seen loads of plays over the years directed by esther and they are always exploring contemporary challenges in the system for those at the edges. ths has been written out of conversations with ex prisoners and those involved in immigration - should be good and no doubt hard hitting.
harry baker has a solo poetry tour i am 10000 from feb to may. it may well be coming to a town near you. the rumour on twitter is that london has virtually sold out so not sure if another date will get added but i think other venues are fine. you can see here a list of dates. this is his show from edinburgh festival in the summer which was fab. i can't go to the london gig so am thinking i will make the oxford one if anyone else fancies joining me at that? i really enjoy harry and chris but if you've not seen the solo poetry it is really good too and quite different. go support your poets (and my family!).
i have blogged before about art and how much i identify with artists and the way they see the world. i like to think i am one even though it's not my life's work. when i read books on art i always find myself playing with the the way pioneers interact with the world and switching the word artist for pioneer. i think it's probably because pioneering is a gift of sight and imagination. which is true of art. in both cases they also go on to make or translate into something tangible out of that gift of sight. it's also perhaps because that seeing has to suspend what is 'normal' to see and imagine differently and is a form of truth speaking and acting. it can't sell itself, it has to embody gift.
a book i read a year ago was art objects by jeanette winterson. it is a collection of essays on art written in 1996 that i absolutely loved. she says about it:
I wanted to communicate the passionate excitement I have for art of all kinds. I really believe in the redemptive, persuasive, healing power of art. We all need it.
she is a wonderful writer. her sentences are so beautifully crafted. i have heard he speak twice and loved what she had to say. she is someone who thinks and lives deeply. as is my (probably bad) habit i underlined various sections of the book and particularly loved an essay called 'imagination and reality' in which she says that the currency of art is the currency of imagination and that the original role of the artist is as a visionary. artists see beyond the view from the window, beyond the mundane and interestingly she says that is why art fares better alongside religion than capitalism or communism. here are a few quotes i liked...
Art’s true effort is to open us to dimensions of the spirit and of the self that normally lie smothered under the weight of living
In a money culture, art by its nature objects. It fields its own realities, lives by its own currency, aloof to riches and want. Art is dangerous
The artist is a translator; one who has learned how to pass into her own language the language gathered from stones, from birds, from dreams, from the body, from the material world, from the invisible world, from sex, from death, from love.
The charge laid on artists is to bring back visions
The rebellion of art is a daily rebellion against the state of living death routinely called real life.
Art is pushing at the boundaries we thought were fixed. the convenient lies fall; the only boundaries are the boundaries of our imagination.
Art is pushing at the boundaries we thought were fixed. the convenient lies fall; the only boundaries are the boundaries of our imagination. How much can we imagine? The artist is an imaginer. The artist imagines the forbidden because to her it is not forbidden. If she is freer than other people it is the freedom of her single allegiance to her work. Most of us have divided loyalties, most of us have sold ourselves. The artist is not divided and she is not for sale.
the book is totally brilliant for inspiring about art so let it do that work for your heart and soul. but if your brain works like mine and you are a pioneer, you might also try and switch the word art for pioneering or artist for pioneer and see how that resonates...
there is a fabulous installation at the moment at vinyl factory by uva called other spaces. i have loved all the things of theirs i have seen (chorus, onedotzero, speed of light, momentum). this exhibition has three installations. one is a reworking of momentum, the second a lazer depth of field experience that reminded me of perspective drawings at school (though somewhat cooler), and the third the great animal orchestra. you can read about it here. and i have a few photos here though after taking a couple was asked not to so there are not many.
the great animal orchestra in some ways is a fitting follow on to my previous post. it is a sort of celebration at the wonder of the world but also a lament. bernie krause has recorded animal sounds in various landscapes. these are played in a dark room with led screens making up three walls. in front of the screens is a pool of dark water which reflects the projections in mesmerising fashion. the projections are digital graphs or spectograms of the sounds. as the sound goes up and down so the lines respond. when a creature's noise first appears the name appears on the screen and slowly moves round the wall. the whole thing lasts about an hour. it's a gorgeous experience (apart from when you either step in the pool or put your hand in it because you don't realise it's there!). the lament side of it is one track before and after where the sound is first played at two points recorded in time. the second is after the landscape has been wiped out or eroded in some way so the absence of animal voices is an immense loss that is brought into the room in its absence.
the space itself is an like an alternative worship dream! we have got lazy at grace but we used to create three walls to project onto to be surrounded by projected images and have beanbags in the centre as a space for reflection, with ambient music playing. we still do create that kind of space to some degree but this was so well done. i'd love to have use of a space like that. it was a very fitting space to visit during extinction rebellion. and just as poignant as the planetary mass. go and see it if you can - it's free and runs until december 8th.
i would put it down as a worship trick but i'm just not sure anyone else could pull it off in the same way!
there is a second exhibition at the other side of the vinyl factory which is not quite as amazing but does include an installation by doug aitken - one of my all time favourite artists - so it's worth it for that piece called new era. i love his video installations.
the chihuly exhibition at kew gardens is amazing. we visited at night. i am sure it looks incredible in the day but i love this sort of thing after dark. it's hard to photograph but i had a go and there's an album of some of my better attempts here.
i was delighted that we managed to get to see the B wing exhibition at shepton mallet prison exploring themes of incarceration in a very evocative way. and i was super proud of @loubakerartist - her centre piece of shadow sacks dripping over a black pool was amazing. the piece is inspired by the idea that we push away our shadow self but eventually it leaks out and we need to face it, welcome it, integrate it. the show was part of somerset art weeks 2019. i have added a few photos to flickr album b wing. lou's web site is here
i enjoyed visiting in real life - olafur eliasson's exhibition at the tate modern. this exhibit wasn't working properly but seemed to look nice without the rainbows or whatever else was supposed to happen! it was also good to go to an exhibition where they let you take photos... there are a few more over at my flickr site
jenny and i visited edinburgh festival for four days last weekend. it's such an incredible festival with so much going on. i genuinely don't know how they pack all the events into the city let alone where all the people find places to stay. it brims over with life, joy, poignancy, artfulness celebrating life.
we first visited i think in 2009 when harry took part in an open mic at a free fringe event. he was subsequently invited to a poetry event in london and that was the beginning of an adventure which included exploring poetry for a gap year and went ever upwards from there. so it was incredible to be back at the festival again and see harry with a solo show in underbelly and a harry and chris show in underbelly both selling out when we attended. it's harry's seventh festival i think with three solo shows and three harry and chris before now. i of course have a totally unbiased view but they were fantastic. it's not just me as you'll see from these 5 star reviews. i have added some photos to an album here.
we packed in about four shows a day of comedy, circus, theatre and also visited some of the art festival. it's hard to pick highlights but we loved in no particular order occam's razor, john robbins, jessica fostekew, matt winning, milton jones, bryony kimmings, tom crosby, lazerkiwis, nathan coley, alfredo jaar. it's surprising how much you can pack in to a few days (and how much you can spend!).
a little bit of a tenuous photo link but thinking about blue being the colour having enjoyed chelsea's brilliant second half performance to win the europa cup last night in what almost certainly was hazard's last game. it now looks like a weirdly successful season even though chelsea have not fired on all cylinders. they are good at winning things!
the photo is from a sculpture in the rwa open sculpture exhibition at bristol which is now in its last week.
this is a photo of seyed's edalatpour's incredible sculpture crate which is in the RWA open sculpture exhibition in May 2109. see this photo for the whole piece. the notes don't say much about it but on his web site he speaks of a long and dangerous journey as a refugee from iran which didn't come as a surprise. this sculpture is so evocative! i found it utterly compelling. i love work in wood like this too.
on the way back from the yurt we stayed with dave (my brother) and lou. lou baker is a textile artist creating extraordinary sculptures in textiles - usually incorporating knitting. we saw one of her pieces pillar of fire in the open sculpture exhibition at the rwa in bristol. this photo is an abstract enjoying the colour but click here to see what it actually looked like. i'll be adding some photos of pieces in the show by other artists in the next week or so...
i love artists - the way they see, think and make. so much so that i am happy to say 'yes' if anyone asks me if i am an artist. i have blogged before about books about artists - notably think like an artist, and the creative stance. as you probably know if you read this blog regularly i train pioneers people who have ideas for making the world a better place, people who see possibilities and then build things out of their seeing, people who imagine and can gather communities of people who follow christ which don’t require them to leave their culture behind. whenever i read a book about artists or art i find myself replacing the word art with mission or pioneering. it’s quite a fun game to play. for christmas this year my son harry gave me a book art matters which has four essays or reflections by neil gaiman illustrated by chris riddell. one off the pieces is called make good art and is the text of a speech neil made in 2012 at the university off the arts - the text and video are here. it’s absolutely brilliant - do digest it in full its own right. but i have taken the liberty of taking a few of his quotes and switching the words the arts or art for pioneering or pioneer. i have placed them in brackets so it’s obvious. anyway see what you think…
When you start out in [pioneering] you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not.. If you don't know it's impossible it's easier to do. And because nobody's done it before, they haven't made up rules to stop anyone doing that again, yet.
If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.
When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thickskinned, to learn that not every project will survive.
I decided that I would do my best in future not to [pioneer] just for the money. If you didn't get the money, then you didn't have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn't get the money, at least I'd have the work. Every now and again, I forget that rule, and whenever I do, the universe kicks me hard and reminds me. The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I've never regretted the time I spent on any of them.
I hope you'll make mistakes. If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something.
Do the stuff that only you can do. The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that's not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we've sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So [pioneer] as only you can.
Where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work?
People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today's world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don't even need all three. Two out of three is fine.
That was the hardest lesson for me, I think: to let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places.
The rules, the assumptions, the now-we're supposed to's of how you [pioneer], and what you do then, are breaking down. The gatekeepers are leaving their gates. You can be as creative as you need to be. The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are. So make up your own rules.
And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. [Pioneer]
had a wonderful day off yesterday - the weather is amazing at the moment - sadly probably global warming! but i visited two exhibtions and went to see massive attack in concert in the evening. one of the exhibitions was life death rebirth with bill viola video installations and michael angelo drawings. i'd actualluy seen a lot of the viola installations at various exhibitions over the years but it is amazing. i am convinced my heart rate was slower when i came out - i think we took getting on for a couple of hours going round. his work is very spiritual drawing on religious themes. i found the curators comments next to some pieces quite annoying though! one of things that was strange was how the view of spirituality seemed to buy into a negative view of the world and the notion of getting the soul out - it's kind of a platonic view of the world that has informed some bad what i call escaplogy theology over the years. the worst case of it was next to a drawing by michael angelo of the resurrected christ which was a really great drawing of a body bursting out with energy and the curator had sai something like a suprising embodied drawing of the resurrected christ - duh! what exactly did you think the resurrection is if not a body???!!! anyway that aside it is a fantastic exhibition. this photo is of the piece fire woman which is amazing - possibly my favourite piece. of course there are no photos allowed by i took this photo years back at an exhibition where i got thrown out for taking photos which is the only time that has ever happend to me.
massive attack were great as ever - i have no idea how many times i have seen them - a lot! but just as in the manchester international festival adam curtis was doing the visuals. it was a wide ranging set of visuals of life in our crazy world - once again he was opening up the idea that we are stuck in our own past rather than able to imagine a different future as we are fed things based on feedback llops - you like this so you'll love that. one memorable sequence was a series of projected slogans from politicians that sounded great in their own right but when projected together came across as hollow slogans which is what we have got used to. it was pretty bleak... but i found it also woke me up - it's so easy to be numb.
it's so great living in london!
this advent i am going to read through this lovely little book the art of advent by jane williams which has a painting for each day of advent with a short reflection. it's full colour and less than ten pounds! i was delighted to see meg wroe's reworked rublev's icon is in the book.
the wonderful si smith has published a graphic novel with valley press. it's gorgeous drawing as ever and a powerful story in its own right, a story of loss and withdrawal. it's also clearly informed by christ's journey to the wilderness though i don't think you need to make that connection necessarily. it was originally commissioned as a piece to work with schools but is good news that is has made it to a wider audience. si says...
I’d previously produced work that relocated biblical narratives to present-day Leeds, and also explored the story of Christ in the wilderness, so this comic felt very much like a natural progression for me,’ Si explained. ‘It was a way of reflecting on the season of Lent, packing it with references and layering up the meaning so it bears repeated reading. It’s also deliberately quite open to interpretation, so readers can invest the narrative with their own meanings
follow this link to the books, chapters, articles and music i have published.