Writing / Grizedale Arts Blog

Zombie Ruskin Takes On The Heritage Vampires.

Charlie Gere wants to do wonderful things to the corps of John Ruskin and, to my surprise, I don't just want to watch, I want to join in!

Charlie, like myself, thinks that the heritage vampires have tried their hardest to reduce Ruskin to nothing more than an anachronistic token of neo-conservative Victorian Chic. In thier eyes, nothing remins of Big JR and his legacy besides a sign-post to a lost past and dreams of medieval craft-based evangelism.

In this interview, shot in the heartland of the academic Ruskinian heritage industry - Charlie outlines his conviction that Big JR may still be able to influence us positively from beyond the grave of museology. Tipping a wink and a nod to Derrida's book 'Spectres of Marx' (in my hazy left-wing mind his finest work), Mr Gere asserts that Big JR haunts us still, like a spectre of the undead, reminding us that ethics is at the heart of any re-assessment of what art actually is and can do.

Posted by John Byrne on 09/11/09 at 06:25

John Ruskin is Big Leggy

Big Johnny Ruskin strode the Victorian art world with balls of steel, a heart full of moral invective, keen critical sensibilities, dubious/unconventional/repressed sexuality (delete as appropriate) and a penchant for spotting and supporting young talent. Oh, and don't forget those sideburns. If he were alive today he would probably be a judge on the X-Factor.

Such a flippant view is, hopefully, anathema to supporters of the heritage industry - that specialist sector of the culture, tourism and leisure industry whose job it is to produce a dewy eyed retro market for Past Time franchises, Laura Ashley wallpaper and endless TV regurgitations of period and costume dramas. You are not the guardians of history. You are the producers of a marketable image which is just as crass, tacky and removed from the 'reality' of culture (whatever that might or could be) as Father Christmas and Sonic the Hedgehog (on second thoughts, apologies to Sonic).

This blog intends to help wrestle the memory of John Ruskin away from those who wish to fix him as a definable historical identity - all medieval moralism and anti-technological rant. Instead, it intends to return John Ruskin to the land of the living - as a complex cipher for understanding our current dilemmas with ever changing relationships between art, artists, culture and society.

Lofty stuff I hear you cry!

But manageable if you are prepared to work with me (and indulge me a little) in the production of a meandering text/video blog whose singular intention is to uncover what Ruskin might mean to artists, curators, producers and publics today. So here's looking forward to an amusing and possibly informative culture clash of the old, new, borrowed and often simply made up.

Posted by John Byrne on 01/11/09 at 18:22

Can Art Save Us?


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.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 23/10/09 at 11:37

Does Public Art Need Outsiders?


This was the title of a conference held at Lawson Park on October 7 by Situations Bristol and IXIA (a public art think tank mind gym) when we tested the new building to the max, crowbarring 40 guests and speakers into the space with the odd stroll outside to breathe in some air in between the exhalation of much art theory. Speakers included Paul Domela, Jeanne Van Heeswijk, Karlheinz Kopf, Andreas Lang and our good selves, all bundled up a packaged by Paul O'Neill.

Someone even said Lawson Park was 'the best seminar venue I have ever been too'.

If you are interested in the findings of the conference the answer was "sometimes, sometimes not, maybe".

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 19/10/09 at 16:30

Agrifashionista Triple Loop


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

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 12/10/09 at 10:27

Return of The Greasy Pole


Saturday 19 September 2009 1120hrs: Adam Kane becomes the first winner of The Greasy Pole competition since its re-introduction to Egremont's annual Crab Fair as permanent work of art/heritage artifact/sporting apparatus by artists Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane. Adam actually conquered the Pole twice, being the first up to retrieve one of the six ribbons from 30ft above and then some 10 minutes later to snatch the shortest ribbon to claim the coveted prize of £2 and a leg of lamb from Wilson's butchers. That's Wilson's butchers. The ease at which the young urchinesque Egremonthian shot up the new Carbon Fibre Nike Greasy Pole Pro suggested we should baste more WD40 on next year, although most barely managed to lift their feet from the floor.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 12/10/09 at 10:11

Eastside Gallery


Here's an image of the skeletal house/garden/kitchen advertising for rules that work fro communal living, any suggestions send them to gavin@eastside.org.uk or to Grizedale info@grizedale.org

On the evening of 8th October Grizedale will take part in a comedy night at Eastside - alongside juneau/projects and Bedwyr Williams (who they) and will be accepting applications for residencies, these will be read out and lampooned, all in the name of cheap laughs. Send your proposals to adam@grizedale.org or to Gavin at the above. We really are looking for residencies and this is as likely a way as any to find the right people for the special conditions.

Eastside will I believe be showing the comedy classic 'Starry Starry Night' featuring Van Gogh back to life entirly unreconstructed and hanging out in LA - if you havent seen it it's a must see before you make another art work.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 03/10/09 at 12:43

Residencies For


Adam Chodzko's remake of his sign for Lawson Park. The gallows is made from the old oak beams from the Lawson Park barns

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 15/09/09 at 09:35

I am Scared of Nature


Olaf Breuning's fearful garden gnome in situ. Cast by the excellent Lakeland Mouldings, a company based n the very middle of the Lake District, good, fast and cheap - a delightful surprise.

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 15/09/09 at 09:30

Paddy Fields Forever


One area of considerable satisfaction from the past year are the terraced fields orginally laid out by the Japanese farmers in 2006. Over the past 3 years we have been developing what was totally impossible soil that would sustain nothing more than bracken and grass. Through a process of mulching and green nmanure we have now got two fields working successfully as vegetable plots - the only challenge now is getting people to eat the vegetables we have produced - it is difficult to restrict a 21st century diet to 4 or 5 vegetables, people are just not used to it. The honesty stall has comments on it's notice board asking for more fruit, like so much in the world 'they just don't get it'. 

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 15/09/09 at 09:28

Depressing innit?

On last night's telly, following Jamie Oliver in the culinary desert that is the USA, we heard these immortal words as he squeezed into chaps in a rain shower:

"It's like the Lake District, really depressing"

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 09/09/09 at 20:23

Folk Float on the streets of London


The Folk Float produced by public works for Creative Egremont (a public art programme we managed) is out and about in central London - great to see after too long in the garage!

See www.diyregeneration.net for more on the project


Posted by Karen Guthrie on 18/08/09 at 13:10

Youtube uploads


Re-live on video - or catch if you didn't first time - Sir Nicholas Serota's praise for Lawson Park, given in his launch speech in June.


Posted by Karen Guthrie on 14/08/09 at 14:57

Matt & Ross do the Penguin Donkey


Matt (currently at Lawson Park) and Ross are doing a show at Elephant and Castle, it's called 'Together at the Junction', well that's the name the curators jottaCONTEMPORARY have given it. it brings together a group of artists to do stuff about the old shopping precinct in the run up to it's demolition, the once cool modernist building having fallen into 'varied' use and had the indignity of being painted pink may want to be put out of it's misery but there's a few years more to go and I suspect some further indignities to suffer.

Matt and Ross have run with the idea of the journey and the transformations that we go through in making them. They have taken the various versions of the Penguin Donkey - originally design in 1936 subsequently reworked in the 60's and further transformed more recently for Lawson Park. The artists have added further additions layering the original yet further and presented the beasts as a parade. They've also made a vast amount of Kendal Mint Cake.

Go and see/taste it at Unit 316 Lower Ground Floor, Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre 30th July to 2nd August, 12 - 6pm the opening is on Wednesday night 6 - 9pm for a more party feel

for more information try www.jotta.com 

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 28/07/09 at 02:02

NGS Open Garden - Phew!


A big thanks to all who braved the rain to work at or visit the charity open garden held yesterday for the National Garden Scheme - especially Julie, Meg, Matt, Sophie, Alison & Joe & family, David and Chris.

Sadly the weather had a big impact on visitor numbers compared to last year's 200-odd, but as the third launch we've done here this summer the odds were against us for three sunny days on demand.....

One of the garden's star performers was a very simple but stunning carpet of annuals flowering just 8 weeks after sowing, right outside the hostel. By popular demand, here's  a link to the Pictorial Meadows online shop, where the 'Candy' flower seed mix we used (see pic) can be bought.

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 27/07/09 at 11:14

NGS Open Garden Day at Lawson Park - Sunday 26th July 12- 6pm


The gardens are again open under the NGS scheme, Karen's sister Alison has arrived to make her unbelievably good cakes and the masses of children are weeding the garden to death. We are also happy to have Chris Cavalier from Somewhere's What Will the Harvest Be? project at Abbey Gardens in London working with us over the weekend.

Visit the NGS website here 

NB No visitor car access to site, please walk or use our shuttle minibus from Machell's Coppice on East of Lake road.


Posted by Adam Sutherland on 25/07/09 at 12:40

The Big Day!


What a day - many hands made light work! Great food c/o Alistair's mother-in-law, great flowers c/o Meg and a very good speech from Mr Robson, bringing together Ruskin, Grizedale and land use very neatly indeed.

And saying the gardens were "superb" too (!)

Phew - now onto the 10th and the art crowd....

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 27/06/09 at 21:28

24 hrs to go!


The scene at Lawson Park as we ready it for its local launch today, many thanks to volunteer Meg Falconer who really put in the hours, as did web guru Dorian Moore and interns Sophie Perry and Matt Do...

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 25/06/09 at 12:42

No sleep till Coniston


Here's poor Dorian our web programmer in deep Grizedale Arts code on his London commute - no sleep till Coniston.

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 19/06/09 at 22:34

Len's Gift


Len is the grandfather of artist Matt Do (of Matt & Ross fame), he recently visited Lawson Park along with a goodly sector of the Matt clan  - Matt is currently working (very hard) with us in the lead up to the opening on the 25th. Len who is 86, still works as a gardener not too mention maintaining his other interests, including wood turning. He brought a group of his turned bowls and other items as a gift for the collection. He also took a chunk of wood away with him to make into Lawson Park pens for us - now thats what I call a grandfather.



Posted by Adam Sutherland on 17/06/09 at 19:03