Grizedale Arts

The John Ruskin Memorial Blog

Sunday 31 October '10
(from The John Ruskin Memorial Blog)

Haunted by Ruskin

Sheffield re-Coefficients Club

Hi All,

The long lost John Byrne here.

Sorry it been quite a while since my last blog entry but, amongst other things, I blame the recession inspired cuts to the arts - and the coalition hell released upon Higher Education.

Like most people in the arts I've had to try extra hard over the last few months to make anything like a positive move. Then again, like most people involved in the arts, that hasn't stopped my trying.

One thing that has stuck with me over the past few months, I'm more than mildly surprised say, is how badly I've been bitten by the big JR bug. So far, the conversations I've been having with people, and those that I've recorded for this blog, are really pointing towards a re-thinking of my relationship to art (and to art's relationship to me). The video I've popped up today is a case of this. As I grabbed a few JR interviews at the end of Grizedale's 're-Coefficients Club' event in sunny Sheffield last April, I couldn't help thinking of Alistair Hudson's prophetic flight of metaphoric fancy - that if big JR were to be around today he'd be wearing a hoodie and getting straight up the noses of the current art industry glitterati (and not, me thinks, in a necessarily neo-conservative way either). After all, just because much of today's off-the-shelf avant-gardism seems dull, vacuous and fascicle, doesn't mean we have to 'return' to traditional norms - unless, of course, those traditional norms are those long lost values of radicalism, activism and a will to coherently re-evaluate the present worth of our artistic and political efforts.

I guess some things just keep cropping up, re big JR, which I want to find out more about. Craft is one of them. Maybe not the usual idea of craft (as the pseudo hand whittled mass production of tourist tattle and middle class Sunday supplement escapist fodder), but the idea of Craft as a hands on approach to trying to do something different, something against the grain. After meeting up for a Jonathan Meese event at Grizedale almost a year ago, I had a really exciting conversation with about this with Charlie Gere. It's really stuck in my mind. I need to follow this up with Charlie and spend some more time reading Richard Sennett.

I've also become fascinated with Grizedale's idea of re-inventing the 'Mechanics Institute" as roving art and education intervention. It's not just that this idea appeals to me on the level of something I'd quite like to help out with (after all, tagging along with an itinerant bunch of art bedeviled educators may be my only option if cuts to Higher Education bite much harder), it's that John Ruskin's ideas seem to allow for a very contemporary re-appraisal of what education actually is and can do. Also, the Art and Design School that I currently work for at Liverpool John Moores University can, apparently, trace itself back to a nineteenth century mechanics institute… more of this when I check it out.

However, I have to admit that the biggest 'big JR' haunting has happened when I've been looking at contemporary (and historical) issues of how artists can simply find a way to do something different, worthwhile, against the grain. Alistair kindly joined us for the Autonomy Summer School at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in July and it was both surprising and exciting to find out how many Ruskinian strands of thought kept re-emerging. And, as well as this, 1848 has taken on more of a significance than I thought it would! Hmmmm…....

So, I have the big JR inspired bit firmly between my teeth now. Expect more interviews, musings, idling, rambling and surreptitious attempts at fitting square pegs into round holes as winter draws in and the long nights await. But what better way to spend nights beside the fire than with a laptop and the continuing ghost story of big JR?

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