This week the exhibition Can Art Save Us? opened at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield. The exhibition is part of a series of exhibitions on John Ruskin organised by the Museum, with historic works interspersed with contemporary articulations (as they say in art land) of Ruskin themes. We were asked to make a contribution to the show so turned up with a box of objects from Lawson Park and laid them on a table. (from their collections and designated by Ruskin as the ideal display table for displaying objects and artefacts). The idea is to show attempts of art, design and craft that attempt to have social or political ambitions. The list of objects is:
1. The Water Yeat tea urn and tea pot by Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane
2. A Bernard Leach mug
3. A Lakes pottery mug from Truro
4. A Whitefriars glass jug by Geoffrey Baxter
5. A Ruskin Pottery vase
6. A Robert Welch ice bucket
7. A Keswick School of Industrial Arts platter
8. Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope's Lilliput made Titschy Kitschy ornament of Lawson Park
9. A Blue Angel Bunny gift from the Guangzhou Triennial
10. Keith Murray Wedgewood mug
11. Dried food stuffs from Nanling China in Crochet packaging by Kai Oi Jay Yung
12. A Roadshow mug with Mark Titchner graphic
13. A George Cook Ambleside Pottery vase
14. A Ryan Gander version of a Joseph Albers Love Cup
15. An english made Japanese tea bowl
16. A Public Works display shelf from their Egremont Folk Float
17. An Ikea plastic cup
18. The aforementioned table
19. Adam Chodzko's re-upholstered Eric Lyons Tecta chair with Crass logo leather jacket seat pad
20. A Vanson Peter Hayward Chair re-upholstered with Laura Davies' Nanling fabric
21. An engraving of Turners' 'Meeting of the Waters' (from Sheffield Museums)
22. A Bunney drawing of Chamonix (from Sheffield Museums)
To explain this selection you have to view the key on a chipboard copy of the table (beautifully made by the Museum technicians and surely a future design classic) upon which we have hand written a subjective commentary on the exhibits in something approximating the blood red pen of Ruskin. Ruskinians might view this as too irreverent or even silly as one historic curator commented not so long ago, but I think you'll find Big John actually had a sense of humour. I come on surely he must have to appear in Desperate Romantics. Anyway the Guild of St George seemed to love it.
The exhibit forms the end of the show, which, I think I described to a visitor at the opening as a symphony spoilt at the end by a bum note from the Tuba.
Full versions of the texts will be available online soon.
Can Art Save Us? Runs until 31 January 2010 and we will be holding a related event in Sheffield in January, watch this site for details.
John Byrne, head of fine art at Liverpool John Moores University paid us a visit to Lawson Park on Friday to start work in earnest on this very blog and to discuss the range of projects that will evolve into the Force of Culture project, to rethink Ruskin as a prescient force in postmodern and postpostmodern culture.
The next day, with my head full of Ruskin related thoughts, I saw an image in the paper from the Chanel ready-to-wear Spring-Summer show in Paris, in which Karl Largerfeld (crafted I'm sure by his own leather gloved hands) presented his collection in a copy of a barn from Marie Antoinette's ferme ornee at Versailles. Including Lily Allen performing a hoe down, whilst the models got down in the hay. I showed the video - see for yourself at http://www.chanel.com/fashion/7#7-ready-to-wear-spring-summer-2010-show-chanel-fashion-show-14,7 - to our resident Dutch artist/agriculturalist Wapke Feenstra, who commented that a true farmer should surely not view such underfed cattle as attractive.
I have to say I found the image quite spectacular and surely the apogee of all current and accumulated complexities around demodernisation, pastoralism and suburban organic fetishism. This must be what Ruskin intended.
Karl had this to say
"I'm from the country, darling. I hear all this talk about organic farming and the environment, and I'm all for it. But there must be a certain sophistication, so it's not used as an excuse to let things go to seed. We had little pigs that we were going to bring onto the catwalk, but they were so smelly we didn't dare to let them out"
Only a farm boy could try so hard to get away from the mud
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